Photo: James Bombales

When the novel coronavirus took off in Canada around mid-March, it left us scrambling — whether it was suddenly coordinating a company-wide work from home process, or shoppers stocking up on essential supplies, many people found themselves preparing for a life of social distancing at a rapid pace.

The same can be said for the new home construction industry, which has found itself needing to rapidly adapt its business practices in the COVID-19 era.

“I think over the last five weeks, we’ve probably had over 30 new groups that we’ve previously never had relationships with reach out across North America to us,” said Tim Ng, Principal of ADHOC STUDIO.

A year and a half ago, ADHOC STUDIO officially launched their Blackline platform, a web-based sales and marketing product that allows sales teams to remotely present real estate. Noticing that more sales presentations were taking place outside of the brick-and-mortar sales centre, Ng and his team created Blackline so developers and sales professionals could wheel and deal real estate from any location, whether it be a Starbucks or the dining room table.

“The whole idea around it is really just having the sales centre in your pocket so that you can sell real estate anywhere you are and present real estate anywhere you are,” explains Ng.

The pandemic has forced sales centres to restrict in-person operations or close entirely while potential buyers stay at home. As a result, Ng said that Blackline has seen a boost in inquiries from developers about its services and how they can quickly adjust their sales. Spanning the United States, British Columbia and Toronto, over 30 new companies have reached out.

“They’re just mainly trying to do their homework and figure out what platform to continue to sell real estate,” said Ng. “Fortunately, in an unfortunate situation, Blackline has actually, if anything, blown up. We’ve been very successful already in the last year and a half.”

Interface rendering: Blackline

For the developers and builders who already use Blackline, Ng said they didn’t have to change their strategies too much. Instead, their primary concerns have mostly revolved around the availability of buyers in the market during their next project launch. On Blackline, launches can be hosted remotely — buyers are able to digitally reserve units on the platform and developers can allocate inventory to brokers ahead of time.

Meanwhile, those not currently using Blackline, Ng said, have been looking for answers.

“I get a lot of calls from a lot of people asking me, ‘What do I do?’ or, ‘What solutions do you recommend?’ and things like that,” he said.

The pandemic has been an agent of change, forcing real estate companies to embrace digitalization. While we don’t have a crystal clear picture of what the market will look like in the near future, taking steps to implement digital sales now as social distancing rules loosen up could benefit developers.

“Everything can be done online and the technology is there to give home purchasers amazing tools to be able to do it from anywhere, to get that feeling, it’s just changing the way things are done,” said Matthew Slutsky, President of BuzzBuzzHome, during a recent webinar about adapting sales centres digitally during COVID-19. “The builders who are taking advantage of it right now are going to be so ahead of the game when things do turn.”

Ng said that developers can also try to forge a path forward by working with digital consultants and creating a sales roadmap that still keeps the process personable, without the in-person part.

“It is trying to mimic what it was before and more of that in-person feeling, but try to just figure out what the tools are,” he said. “What is your toolset or toolbox to kind of continue that flow of how you traditionally did things.”

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