Anticipate Demand, Understand Shifts in Consumer Behavior, Says Real Estate Developers

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The real estate sector faces a new challenge in the form of a worldwide public health crisis: the coronavirus outbreak. Discussing its repercussions to make sense of how the industry can cope, Lamudi launched its webinar series on March 20, starting with a discussion titled Surviving Broker Business in the Time of COVID.

In the first webinar episode for developers, the series talked about Strategizing Real Estate Marketing: An Industry Response to COVID-19. The speakers were Vince Abejo, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Filinvest Land, Inc. and Cary Lagdameo, First Vice President of Damosa Land, Inc.

Facilitated by Mark Bailey, Lamudi’s Corporate Accounts Lead, the developer webinar pointed out these strategies on keeping the real estate business going amid COVID-19:

Re-evaluate Projects Wisely

Since the pandemic caused major business operations to take a halt, Lagdameo and his team felt compelled to review their on-going projects. 

“I think all of us would agree that our 2020 projections are just all out of the window. But we really had to take a look at that and see which projects we’re really going to undertake for this year: what CapEx we’re still going to pursue, if ever we’re going to push back, how far back would we be pushing it, and also which projects would be essential for this year,” he said. 

Lagdameo brought up the possibility of the economy going into recession, therefore advising that it’s important to be selective about which projects should be pursued. He shared that his team has been reviewing projects not just on a weekly basis, but daily.

Make Technology Central to the Continuity Plan

Abejo shared that part of their emergency response to the health crisis is discussing the activation of the business continuity plan to protect the venture as well as the welfare of the employees. “The backbone of this whole business continuity plan is technology,” he noted. “Our investments in technology really paid off in a big way.”

Mentioning the value of technology in reaching out to people, he pointed out, “When the enhanced community quarantine was declared, we sent out different types of communications to all of our stakeholders, [from] customers and shareholders to employees and business partners to sellers, essentially telling them what’s going on and what they needed to do in order for our business to continue.”

He added later on to the discussion that they converted resources to digital forms to better serve the market. “We had to digitize some of our project communication materials that haven’t been digitized. For the first week of quarantine, we were essentially going through several projects and digitizing our communications to them,” Abejo said.

Show Genuine Concern for Clients and Colleagues 

“All of the marketing initiatives we had planned for the year can be executed at any given time. It’s just a matter of when we’re going to execute them, when the proper time would be. We pushed back our community events, sales events, road shows,” Lagdameo said. 

Instead, their team is focusing on strengthening relationships with clients. He advised the sales group, “Be in touch with [clients], even if it’s simply checking in on them, seeing how they’re doing. Update them whether it’s through social media pages or through calls or whatnot.”

Lagdameo added, “We’re making sure that [property seekers] see us on social media, so that at the right time, when we can go out and sell to them in a more normal manner, then we would be able to do so.”

In the meantime, he shared that they re-allocated a portion of their marketing budget to make sure that their workers are paid during this time of crisis. He also added that they’re focusing on corporate social responsibility programs, helping the community they’re in. Simply put, Lagdameo and his team prioritize taking care of stakeholders.

Maintain Customer Focus

Even before the pandemic started, Abejo and his team have been using digital tools to improve service to stakeholders. Today, these platforms have been very handy in making sure that they deliver high-quality service despite the Covid-19 crisis.

“We’ve invested in analytics. At any given time, given the different brands and geographic playing field, we’re able to understand who these consumers are, what are their pain points, what are their happy points, what makes them tick.”

He added, “We’re able to look into the customer, understand what [they want], and come up with measurements that allow us to generate insights.” With a good understanding of buyers, it led to the creation of an automatic booking system for buyers.

Abejo noted, “The app allows our sellers to have a conversation with our buyers and be in a position to provide them accurate selling prices, unit prices. If the buyer wants to get [the property], we can easily book via that app the particular unit that the buyer wants.”

He likewise added that they’re using an electronic customer relationship management portal.  “We manage the sales funnel and we’re able to identify what [the sellers’] challenges are, and be in a position, as a developer, to intervene at any point in time. I’m also able to identify what the training needs of my sellers are, and come up with digital-based programs.”

Provide Tools for Business Partners

Harping on robust analytics, Abejo pointed out that it helped them improve the workforce, the most valuable asset in such a crisis like this. “[Analytics made us] more deliberative and purposive in hiring the salespeople, [as well as] in creating the training curriculum. Actually, today, we’ve developed a personalized training curriculum for all of [the team members].”

On the broker side, he noted, “We were able to come up with B2B solutions.” He shared that it’s deeply important to empower partners with tools that let them have a “360 view” of the business environment they play in, as well as opportunities present.

Anticipate the New Needs of Seekers

Abejo recognized that there will be changes in the buying priorities of people. These may not be seismic shifts, but the “nuanced changes,” as he put it, definitely necessitate some tweaks in strategy. He said, “What this whole event has really brought home is the need for a very strong property management organization, [which] ensures that the place is clean and sanitized.

He added, “The community functions as a whole, as one organic whole, is concerned for each other; generates information, care, and compassion for each other; and essentially recreates a lifestyle everybody wants, while still maintaining safety protocols. I think this is one differentiator that has really come to the forefront.” 

Lagdameo agreed with this, saying that there’s going to be so much focus on good property management. “Smaller developers, such as ourselves, are already thinking of how to invest more in it. It’s going to be a more integral part of our whole operation. It’s not just a service that you have to have. It’s something that people would really be looking at closely.”

Abejo likewise mentioned that these new needs come with new behaviors. Many people will be hesitant to dive into the real estate market after the crisis. He then pointed out, “It’s our role as developers to help our customers reconnect with their aspirations and dreams.”

“Our role is to be there for our clients […] guide them in making the right decisions. It’s also incumbent upon us to provide customers what they need even before they know they need it. It all goes back to understanding shifts in consumer behavior and philosophy,” he added.

Promote Continuity in Messages  

In terms of communications, Lagdameo said that they’re going to retain what they’ve been putting forward to the public when they resume normal marketing efforts, as it centers on promoting investment in key locations outside Metro Manila, ideal for business continuity.   

“We’ve always been an advocate for additional investments coming into Mindanao and Davao. In our office segment, a lot more tenants, such as BPOs, will start to look at cities such as Davao and other key cities, as an alternative destination for business.”  

He added, “Even for our industrial partners, I think we’ll see manufacturing companies coming our way. Just because of business continuity. We’re also big on flexible working spaces. That’s something that we will be investing a lot in the next coming years. I think those kinds of businesses we’ve been advocating, we will still be keeping that message.”

Continue to Prepare for Demand

While there may be a slowdown in sales, Lagdameo is positive that the industry will recover fast. “In the office sector, the demand is still there. Obviously, the locators are on a wait-and-see mode. It’s not very long. I think they just want the quarantine to be over first, and then after that, wait and see. But the investment, I believe, is still going to happen. They’re just obviously asking for a little bit of time before committing or building out offices.” 

He added, “The same thing also with our industrial part of business. For these types of customers, they have the capacity to invest. It’s not really a matter of whether they can or cannot; it’s just really a matter of timing. We still believe there’s going to be good demand from BPOs.”

Lagdameo, however, mentioned a different scenario in the residential space, as they saw a bit of hesitation. “There were definitely a number of calls from buyers, [asking] if they can extend their payment period or if the transaction isn’t done yet, they would prefer to transact after the quarantine period is over.” It’s then important to be ready to accommodate these needs.

Abejo agrees, saying, “I anticipate demand will continue to be robust. [Some of our clients] still make bookings. Some of them are still making those sales. Once the enhanced community quarantine is over, the next challenge is how to accommodate all of these potential buyers who expressed interest in buying into our projects.”

Ultimately, Lagdameo and Abejo are optimistic about the future of the real estate industry. The former noted, “At the end of the day, you need to have a home. Crisis or no crisis, ultimately, people will look to real estate as a good safe haven investment — both as an investment and a place for them to live.”

As for Abejo, he reiterated a few times, “The sun will shine tomorrow.”

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