Photo: Glen Buttigieg, TCS Marketing Systems

Canada is now over a month into the spring real estate market and it’s nothing like what we saw this time last year.

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 came just as Canada’s spring market was taking off. Typically one of the most active times of the year for homebuyers and sellers, spring 2020 was instead marked by plummeting sales in both the resale and new construction market, shuttered sales centres and open house bans.

But through multiple lockdowns now, new construction sales teams have overcome all of the COVID-19 obstacles thrown their way over the last 12 months. Now with the busy spring 2021 market underway, they’re applying all that they’ve learned from the past year to their sales processes.

Glen Buttigieg, TCS Marketing System’s Vice President of Sales, is a 20-year industry veteran with experience building sales strategies and guiding clients through the active spring season. Livabl caught up with Buttigieg to talk more about his approach to new construction sales in 2021, and how he and his team have prepared for this spring.

Livabl: One year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic took off in Canada just as the busy spring market was kicking off. What are the biggest challenges and differences that you’ve observed between 2020 and today in regards to new construction sales and how we’ve adapted?

Glen Buttigieg: As everyone knows, the pandemic forced the pre-construction industry to pivot from being a paper-heavy, in-person transaction industry towards electronic signing methods like DocuSign. However, the most interesting insight is that we have seen that purchasers are more reliant on their real estate agents than pre-COVID.

For years, startup technology firms have targeted our industry thinking digitizing it would effectively cut out the human relationship side, speeding up transactions and making things more efficient or convenient for the purchaser, whereas COVID-19 proved the exact opposite. Even though people could browse “pressure free” in the comfort of their own homes, they leaned into their agents to help walk them through projects in a much more detailed approach than in years past.

Contrary to the disruptor’s belief, purchasers proved that in times of extremely limited face-to-face contact, they craved it more, resulting in longer appointment times with listing agents like myself, the cooperating broker and their client.

Photo: TCS Marketing Systems team
From Left to Right: Glen Buttigieg, Onkar Dhillion, Mark Cohen and Serena Quaglia

L: How have you and your team prepared for this year’s spring market?

GB: My team at TCS Marketing Systems has a disciplined approach every business quarter. Our in-house market research team and our in-house analysts are always monitoring, in real time, comps and trends.

Because our Managing Partner, Mark Cohen, has been in the industry for 37 years, he hears and knows what shovel is going in the ground where, years before projects even enter the market. Our relationships — coupled with technology, data analysis, and experience from land-acquisition to final closings — means that even with stay-at-home-orders, we will keep up with business. That does not stand still.

L: You’ve worked at TCS Marketing Systems for a little over 14 years. From a sales perspective, what would you say are the company’s biggest milestones and achievements that you’ve been a part of?

Fourteen years in the pre-construction industry may as well be 100 years because of the pace and complexities we, as an industry, face. Each project we work on has its own merits, and the success of each is achieved through our forward-thinking approach. From a sales perspective, it is our experience selling mid-rise boutique condominiums, where, unlike towers with 600 units, you can’t make any mistakes.

We have also achieved tremendous success entering new markets and creating bespoke sales programs for each of our developer clients to ensure we can sell for more. A great example of a recently achieved milestone is Debut Condos in Barrie, where we have sold over 200 units through a pandemic at record prices. The stunning waterfront site will be an iconic development in Barrie for years to come.

Debut_Exterior1 Rendering: Début Waterfront Residences, Gary Silverberg. TCS Marketing Systems is overseeing this project.

L: As an industry expert, what experiences during the course of your career and the pandemic have shaped your approach and philosophy when it comes to selling new construction homes?

GB: That even amidst the most difficult, most digitally-advanced times, pre-construction real estate is — at its core — a face-to-face, person-to-person, relationship-to-relationship, trust-to-trust based industry. Building trust with developers and with cooperating agents and clients is everything. Period.

L: Sales centres in Ontario will remain shut for the foreseeable future, and in-person interaction is extremely limited. How do you think real estate sales professionals can best build client relationships with these restrictions in place?

GB: Excellent client service and excellent client experience are still the greatest tools a sales professional can offer. With the current constraints in place, the old-school phone conversation has made a roaring comeback. With limited face-to-face time, you have to be prepared for multiple touchpoints to get a client comfortable and being knowledgeable is key.

To build that trust, you have to know everything about your product and be able to express the value that speaks to the buyers who now can’t walk through a space and visualize it.

Rendering: Kazmir Condos, Lormel Homes. TCS Marketing Systems is overseeing this project.

L: In its latest report, BILD noted that the new construction spring market would yield an increase in activity this year, but economic complications caused by the pandemic could create roadblocks. How is this year’s spring market panning out in terms of supply and demand?

GB: We watch industry trends and what buyers are looking for, and while pricing is front-of-mind for everyone, it is things like access to outdoor space, smaller buildings and flex spaces that help the work-from-home lifestyle that have been big selling points. All our projects we are currently selling and preparing to launch feature these elements and position us to sell through the economic challenges.

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