Original article by: BUILDER Pulse Newsletter

The Idaho-based builder's Tour Now and Buy Online options helped the company adapt during the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the rise of Amazon, Airbnb, and Carvana, today’s consumers expect to purchase products—large and small—on their own time, at their own pace, and with extreme convenience. Some home builders have struggled to keep up, concerned that home purchases are too large and complicated to complete online, but others have broken into the e-commerce market and are beginning to sell their homes directly from their websites.

Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Idaho-based builder CBH Homes launched its Tour Now and Buy Online features, which allow potential home buyers to tour a home on their own time with a specialized lock and code and then buy it from the comfort of wherever, whenever. Initially, the new tool additions were implemented to give consumers more control, but they have also helped the company adapt and move faster during this global pandemic.

BUILDER had the chance to speak with Ronda Conger, vice president at CBH, which ranks No. 38 on the latest Builder 100 list, to hear more about the programs and how they have affected the firm’s traffic and sales before COVID-19 hit the U.S. and after Americans were required to spend more time apart.

1. How does the Tour Now feature work? How did the idea come to be?
If you think about it, the old traditional way to get into a house is with a sales agent or a realtor. There’s this complete barrier to our homes because there are only two ways to get in. We realized people want to get into the homes, and they don’t always want to do it on a set schedule 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. We’ve turned into a society where we want control. We want to do everything ourselves, and we want it now. When you look at VRBO and Airbnb and all these ways you can get into homes, why aren’t we doing the same thing? That really kind of spurred this idea.

I asked some friends in the industry about different lock systems and how we could do this. We researched and found a company called Rently. We started with 10 locks. Basically, you take this keypad lock, you put it on your home, and the home buyer pulls up. They have to—for a security measure—provide their driver’s license. It’s really to prove it’s truly them and to keep out any vandalism. They pay the 99 cents to do a security check, they receive a code, and in they go on their time. They can stay as long as they want and then the door will lock behind them and the code expires.

In my opinion, we, as builders, have to keep evolving and changing, and we really haven’t. I’ve been in this industry for 30 years and it’s the exact same model trap that I started with 30 years ago. The only way that we sell homes is if we get people in our homes, so that’s got to be our motive. We started with 10 and realized we had a home run because people were popping those locks, getting codes, and coming in at a very high rate. Now, I think we have close to 150 locks out there.

Courtesy CBH Homes

2. Since its launch in August 2019, how have buyers responded to Tour Now?
It’s been crazy! As we started to launch it and shout it from the rooftops, we realized that people who normally would not talk with us or make contact with us were popping locks. They were going into the homes and buying. In six months’ time, 30% of our buyers are coming from people who have popped a lock, went into the home, and may or may not have ever made contact with us. They probably have been on their sofa surfing [the internet], but they didn’t register with us, they didn’t walk into a sales center and fill out a reg card, they’ve just been quietly stalking us. Now, with them having the ability to tour the house on their own, they went in, they loved it, and they are buying. It has absolutely increased sales and traffic.

As a result of the recent pandemic, Tour Now sales have jumped to nearly 70% of CBH home sales. Due to the success, CBH has invested in the purchase of 100 more Tour Now locks, giving access to over 200 available homes throughout Idaho’s Treasure Valley.

3. From there, what led to Buy Online? How will buyers be able to reserve a home online?
Tour Now proved to us that buyers want to be in control of this whole process, look at Carvana. There’s so many things out there where people are used to having control and being in the driver seat with what they are purchasing. We realized we can give them that same experience. We went from 10 locks to 150 locks and that was because the response was overwhelming, people coming into our homes. Now, they have the power to look at it on their own, and we realized we needed to give them the power to buy it when they want to as well. If they are home at 10 p.m. and decide they want it, they don’t need to text a realtor or wait for our office to open, they can just hit the ‘Buy Now’ button and know that the house is theirs.

[With Buy Online, once the customer provides a $500 deposit, which is applied toward the price of the home, the house will be reserved for one full business day. Buyers are then required to make an appointment with a CBH sales specialist and will continue the process from there.]

The other thing that happens is maybe they don’t know all the options and we want to say, ‘You want to buy this one, but do you know that we have this one that might be a better fit for you?’ We want to give the opportunity to acknowledge that this is still a very big purchase. So, let’s get you into our office, sit you down with one of our representatives, and ask if this the best thing for you. And if it is, let’s do it, or maybe there is this or this. It’s kind of protecting them, but also giving them the opportunity to take that house out of the running for a minute.

Courtesy CBH Homes

4. How have buyers responded to the Buy Online feature?
We launched it on a Friday to the public, and by the following Monday we sold our first one online. That’s record time to me. We are so happy and they loved it, too. They were at home, they had been looking at it and thinking about it, and that function came online. They said, ‘Let’s take it off the market.’ It kind of gives you peace of mind, in my opinion.

We are continually watching our numbers and like what we are seeing. People are clicking on the Buy Now button, adding to the cart, and we have about a 10% click through rate. We are happy with the initial sales and know that it will just keep growing in this environment.