Ten Best Practices ...
Ten Best Practices for Managing Construction Delays with Buyers
When building a new home, there’s nothing buyers look forward to more than the move-in date — the day when they see the months of planning, designing, and waiting pay off and can finally experience their first moments of life in their new place.
Although they have a specific date in mind of when they’ll step foot into their new home for the first time, many external factors can impact this projected date. The COVID-19 pandemic is just one factor that has had a significant impact on new home construction build times over the past year and a half. When the pandemic first began last March, it shut down many plants altogether as everyone was uncertain of how the virus would spread. Once we gained more knowledge about the impact of the virus and everything slowly reopened, most facilities adopted new safety standards, which also slowed their production time. Fewer workers could be in a facility or a given part of a facility, which meant less capacity to produce the needed product and led to fewer units of a given product produced per day, week, and month.
At the same time, demand for housing kept climbing. With increases in demand and decreases in capacity to produce materials, build times began to extend. And although rising vaccination rates and state reopenings have enabled facilities to operate at a normal capacity, the global supply chain is still feeling the lasting effects of the pandemic.
With these external factors at play, along with others, including natural disasters and weather-related delays, it’s critical that builders work with strong sales agents who know how to communicate about setbacks and prepare clients for worst-case scenarios while still keeping them excited about their new home purchase. If sales agents don’t educate their clients on potential delays and help them mentally prepare for a potential later move-in date, builders and agents risk damaging client relationships and instilling a negative outlook about the homebuying process overall. But tactfully managing construction delay conversations with buyers before setbacks happen and after the fact is easier said than done — here are ten best practices.
1. Know when to emphasize projected time frames.
When sales agents present the initial home contract to the buyer, they need to set proper completion time frame expectations at the start so everyone can walk away with a clear understanding of build time estimates and know that they can change depending on external factors. Some contracts say one year, others say two; there’s always specific jargon that states the maximum amount of time it could take to build. At New Home Star, we say our sales agents need to “eat the frog” and always share the most realistic completion date versus the best-case scenario that only sets agents and builders up for potential failure. At the same time, we also tell our agents to recognize when sharing time frames for smaller-scale updates could lead to potential letdowns. For project-based updates, like the specific day when countertop installations will be finished, it’s often better to forego sharing a specific date of completion to avoid buyer disappointment. Once initial trust is broken, the agent-buyer relationship can quickly spiral into a negative one that is difficult to mend.
2. Remind buyers of all the work that goes into building a home.
It’s important to remind your buyer that a house is still made with human hands — no machinery can speed the process, and it takes time to build. If there’s a hurricane in Florida or a fire in California, for example, the materials won’t be there on time, and workers won’t be able to work on the house for days, weeks, or in extreme cases, even months. Sales agents need to remind their clients that there is nothing they can do in those unfortunate circumstances and that they want to make sure the right workers are on the job to build the highest-quality home possible, so patience is key.
3. Discuss a plan B before building starts.
In the contract planning phase, make a backup plan to account for any factors that could slow down building. We like to be super clear with our customers and say something like, “Based on what we know right now, we are aiming for XX date, however, because of these reasons listed, there are factors that could delay us.” Then, we collaborate with them to create a realistic plan B that fits their needs. Ideally, the customer would be ok with more time needed for building, but for those aiming for their move-in date to align with a new school year, a new baby, a wedding, etc., you need to make sure they can wrap their minds around a plan B. Some suggestions for a plan B could include staying in a short-term Airbnb or a hotel or switching to a month-to-month contract after a lease expires.
4. Stay in constant communication during good and bad times.
Sales agents should always be proactively communicating with their clients, ideally on a weekly basis, to build a strong relationship with them. If you’re constantly communicating, you’ve built rapport and gained credibility by the time a delay has presented itself, so the news will be better received. Weekly updates can be a call, email, or text message — recently, our team has been doing a combination of all three and including pictures and video updates. It’s also important to note that every client has a preference for how and when they like to receive messages from you, so use what you know from past interactions and confirm with them if you’re unsure.
5. Share critical updates in person or via Zoom.
Sharing potentially disappointing news either in person or on Zoom is always better than over the phone because it gives you a chance to read clients’ body language and get a sense of how they’re taking the news. If you don’t meet face-to-face, you risk minimizing the situation in the customers' eyes; making an effort to see them shows them that you take this update seriously. Email should always be a last resort in these cases.
6. Use “feel, felt, found.”
The “feel, felt, found” tactic helps buyers know they’re not alone in facing the tricky situation of construction delays. Using this method, sales agents might say something like, “Families across the country have been feeling the same burden with construction delays. We’ve found that our families in [name of town] take comfort knowing that [name of builder] is taking a proactive approach by communicating current time frame expectations.” Another option: “Other buyers have felt a delay was a huge inconvenience but found once they moved into their home, the few month delay was well worth the years of enjoyment that their new home will offer.”
7. Empathize but be strong if you need to defend your builder.
It can be easy in a conversation about construction delays for sales agents to find themselves agreeing with the buyers. Can’t we all admit that if we were buying a house, we’d be pretty shaken up by news of delays as well? A less experienced salesperson might take requests from the buyers to “see what we can do” to try to help them out, which can be a slippery slope. Sales agents need to stand firm in the face of buyers’ objections and requests. If they show the client that they believe the builder will do the best job they can with the resources they have available, then the client will have a better chance of believing it.
8. Bring them into a gain frame.
Despite all of the amazing things that happen to us in our lives, as humans, we tend to hold on to the little things that impact us negatively. If someone steals $10 from you, you’re going to remember that moment more than the times you made thousands of dollars. Your customers are no different. They’ll focus on that one negative piece of news, and until you can bring them into a gain frame, that objection will get closer and closer to them until it’s all they can see. To get them into the gain frame, try these tactics: 1) remind them that their home is appreciating while under contract, 2) bring them back to the long waitlist of people waiting for homes, 3) remind them that this is only temporary.
9. Use their family hot buttons and remind them about the benefits of the home.
Buyers have specific sets of hot buttons — key drivers and values that matter most to them when looking for a new home. When you have to share news of delays, remind them during the conversation about all the reasons they bought the home in the first place; maybe it was the floor plan, the community amenities, or the proximity to the school district. A strong customer experience is all about personalization, so remind clients of the unique reasons they decided to build and why personalizing their homebuying experience — even with some delays — is a better choice for them than alternatives.
10. Follow-up is key.
Follow-up is critical after sharing any news of construction delays, regardless of a positive, neutral, or negative client reaction. Sales agents should follow up via a personal text letting the buyer know they empathize with the situation and stating all of the good reasons to still buy based on any objections that came up in the previous conversation. If you have pictures of when the buyer made the decision to purchase — a screenshot of a video call, a selfie they took with their contract, etc. — resend that photo to the client and remind them how exciting it will feel once the build is done and everything comes full circle. Then, follow up via a formal email [see end of article for email template] summarizing the discussion to help solidify the key points.
Finally, sales agents need to remind buyers that they’re on the same team as them — you’re all playing against market conditions and variables — and the builders are on that team too. We like to acknowledge that hopefully, we won’t have to discuss delays again, but if we do, we know we’ll all be on the same page throughout the entire process. Focus on a team-first attitude and help them know they’re not alone in handling any challenges that arise.
Construction delays can cause stress for every party involved. But when communicated and handled appropriately by sales agents, the client-sales-builder relationships can remain strong and even grow stronger than before.
To learn more about New Home Star's extensive sales training program, click here.
Follow-Up Email Template
We wanted to reach out to follow up on our recent communication regarding construction delays. As mentioned, the demand for housing has far exceeded supply. This high demand has impacted the length of our permitting times, and currently, we are estimating a two-to-three-month delay on the start of your home.
We understand how you may feel hearing this news and our other homebuyers in the same position have felt the same stress of finding other housing. Fortunately, these buyers have found that there were options available that accommodate their construction delays. We would love to schedule a Zoom call at your convenience to discuss other possible housing options and any other concerns that you have regarding this short-term delay. One option would be reviewing your lease to see if there is an early termination option with a six-month continuation of your rental. Another option is to check out Airbnb, which many of our buyers are currently using at this time. I included a few links below my signature with some options.
We are working hard to limit capacity so that we will not experience any further delays. Due to this unanticipated surge in demand during the global pandemic, we will be limiting our sales to five homes per month going forward. We believe that this is in the best interest of our homebuyers like you who are already under contract.
Again, we would like to discuss this further via Zoom to address any additional concerns. We apologize for the delays that you’re experiencing and want you to know that we are here to help in any way we can.Best,
Originally published Aug 18, 2021 4:43:18 PM under New Home Sales, updated September 7, 2021
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