“Surgeon General Warns of Uptick in COVID-Cases as Cold Weather Arrives”
The headline on my phone this morning was not a surprise. Day after day, the updates about the virus seem unable to hint at any real improvement. The end is not yet in sight. This is a reality we can neither escape nor ignore. For home builders navigating these issues with customers, several steps can be taken.
Depending on local statistics in your area, you may have modified how you conduct customer meetings. Figure 1 offers some ideas in a handout that can be added to your homeowner guide or delivered separately to prospects. It lists steps you can take to maximize everyone’s safety and describes options available for online meetings.
Developing skills for online meetings can foster staff confidence and effectiveness. Regardless of which meeting system you use, frontline employees should be familiar with the function of the various icons and be prepared to work with customers who may be less familiar with such systems. If a customer indicates little or no experience with this approach, emailing a bulleted list of tips a day or two prior to a scheduled meeting can help.
Early in the selling process, alerting prospects to the possibility of delivery date uncertainty and/or missing materials or products needed to complete the new home is essential. Use a take charge attitude: “These issues are our challenge and responsibility and at the same time we are unable to completely protect you from them. We’ve established systems to monitor events and keep you informed.”
Reinforce this conversation with input from industry publications. You might install a bulletin board in the sales center or have a folder with recent articles on these subjects. Also be prepared to demonstrate how accurate records help the company track which homeowners still need items in their homes. How are updates provided? Emails at regular intervals make sense but need to be accurate and avoid overpromising on details outside your control. Having one person manage this (or one person for each community) can avoid the risk of delivering mixed messages.
Offer choices when and where you can. Can home buyers make an alternate selection? Is there a product you can install temporarily for their use until the original choice is available? This might work satisfactorily for light fixtures and other items that are relatively easy to switch later.
The communication skills (and patience) of sales and selection consultants, construction staff, orientation hosts, and warranty reps will be essential for success. Demonstrating empathy while still being candid and forthright requires balance and thoughtfulness. Role playing conversations with frustrated homeowners who are tired of waiting can create self-confidence—and patience. Staff updates regarding the status of new home delivery times and shortages need to be provided regularly. Share details about the tracking system you’ve established.
Next consider how to approach the issue of arranging for installation of missing items when they finally become available. While some homeowners may express exasperation over this, each homeowner is only concerned about one house. Your team may be facing missing items from dozens of homes. Some of those will likely need the participation of several trades to accomplish late installations. Additionally, there is likely to be some follow up attention for the occasional cosmetic damage that can occur during some appointments.
Service after Move-In
Completing orientation items and providing routine warranty service may also be impacted by these circumstances. Figure 2 offers an example of how to approach this subject with homeowners. Note that the final bullet relieves service technicians of the responsibility of making an exception for a customer who believes the pandemic is a hoax and precautions are unnecessary: Personnel can explain that failure to follow these policies can result in termination.
If extreme virus conditions are occurring in your area, you may decide to suspend non-emergency service temporarily until conditions are more conducive to everyone’s health and safety. Again, accurate tracing of which homes and the related timeframes are essential. The letter in Figure 3 illustrates how to resume service when conditions improve. Note that emergency services need to continue to be available with precautions taken.
If you are interested in online classes addressing the issues of customer expectations, meeting skills, warranty service, or communication, check out my website at cjsmithhomeaddress.com. And if your company has 100 or more employees, be aware of OSHA’s position on vaccinations and testing in this article:
After roughly 20 months of virus adventures, most of us are long past ready for this to come to an end. However, the reality is that we need to continue to apply practices that protect our home buyers, associates, and employees. Pandemics have occurred many times in human history; they eventually come to an end. This one will, too.
Copy and customize the content below to create handouts and/or letters for your buyers.
Home Buyer Meetings & Communication
In the Virus Environment
The introduction of our homeowner guide* includes an overview of the steps in our new home process (“What Happens Next?”) which involve several routine meetings with you. Our communication guidelines (“Who’s Who?”) are also described. Due to the unusual and challenging circumstances with which we are all coping, some adjustments to our normal practices have been implemented. These interim measures are intended to protect you, our employees, and associates.
Routine Meetings can be held in person or virtually.
- For in person choices, we will sanitize the meeting space prior to the meeting, require all participants to wear masks, and practice social distancing during the meeting. Hand sanitizer will be available.
- For virtual meetings, we use [meeting system] and can accommodate multiple participant locations, including, if applicable, your Realtor.
- In either case, the agenda for the scheduled meeting and appropriate preparation reminders will be emailed to you prior to the appointment.
- Action item notes taken during the meeting will also be emailed to all meeting participants immediately after the meeting.
Purchase Agreement signing can be managed online using electronic signatures.
Selection appointments begin with our online catalog and the Menu of Choices for your floor plan. You are invited to review and consider these at your leisure. Once you have settled on initial choices, in-person review and finalization is arranged by appointment with one home buyer at a time. We respectfully ask that children be comfortably cared for elsewhere. This meeting can be managed virtually if your choices are definite and do not require seeing samples in person.
Preconstruction Conferences are managed virtually with your superintendent and sales consultant both joining the meeting.
Frame Stage Tours are hosted by the superintendent with all participants wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
The Homeowner Orientation is a particularly important meeting and due to its nature and the length of the agenda, we also offer to conduct that either with masks and social distancing or virtually. If you elect to participate virtually, you will also have an opportunity to inspect your new home alone prior to closing and report any concerns to our construction team for review and evaluation. Confirmation tours have been temporarily suspended.
Closing appointments are managed by the title company and they will share their methods with you in the weeks leading up to that appointment.
Warranty visit adjustments are discussed in a separate additional page at the front of Chapter 7, Caring for Your Home.
Homeowners Association committee meetings will all be virtual as directed by the management company. Normal exterior maintenance activities will continue with appropriate protective gear used. Due to social distancing requirements, some services may take longer to complete than is typical. Report any concerns to the management company.
*If your company does not yet have a homeowner guide or if yours needs an update, contact me for a template.
with a Smile and a Mask
Servicing new homes almost always requires physical presence and interaction between warranty personnel and/or trade contractors and the homeowner. The normal practices described in Chapter 7 of your homeowner guide, Caring for Your Home, require several adjustments in response to the current virus situation.
We appreciate your patience with these steps and your understanding that orientation items and warranty service may take longer than normal until the pandemic comes to an end. At this time and in recognition of these circumstances, we are extending your one-year warranty by 90 days to mitigate the scheduling challenges and provide all of us with peace of mind. A further extension may be necessary, and we will make that decision as we approach the end of this 15-month period.
Meanwhile, out of an abundance of caution and until further notice, the following guidelines will apply—
- [Builder] requires all company personnel, trade contractors, and homeowners involved in warranty appointments to use appropriate personal protective equipment. At a minimum, this will include wearing a mask. Service personnel will also be using hand sanitizer before and after the appointment.
- Social distancing is also recommended whenever practical even with protective personal equipment in use.
- We ask that whenever possible you arrange for only one adult to be present in the home during warranty appointments. If that is impossible, all persons present in the home during any inspection or repair appointment will need to wear a mask during the entire appointment when they are in the same room or area as service personnel.
- For their protection, children should remain comfortable in other rooms besides where a warranty inspection or repair is occurring.
- Please note that Trade Day appointments are suspended until further notice with the exception of having one trade at a time working inside and another working outside your home. This safety precaution will extend the time needed to complete warranty work.
- If following these guidelines is inconvenient, we will re-schedule the appointment for a time when these recommendations can be observed by all parties present or when the threat of virus spread has ended.
These requirements are necessary for both ethical and legal reasons. Please note, service personnel and trade contractors who fail to follow these policies have been informed by [Builder] that they are subject to termination . Therefore, your co-operation is much appreciated during this unusual time.
We thank you for your understanding regarding the inevitable service backlog that will result from these precautions. If additional policy changes are made, we will notify you via email, phone call, or letter. If you have any questions or concerns, please email or call me directly—contact details follow. With you, we look forward to returning to more normal routines!
Warranty Service Update
Thank you for your patience with our recent suspension of non-emergency warranty service. We continue to monitor COVID 19 details as new information becomes available, updating our practices accordingly. Our intention is to error on the side of safety for everyone. We are now offering to resume routine warranty activities under specific conditions.
- The first of these is your comfort level and willingness to have warranty or trade personnel visit your home, whether for inspection or repair appointments.
- All appointments, whether for inspection or repairs, will include any warranty representative wearing a mask. This will apply to exterior as well as interior items. Our trade contractors have been informed of this requirement as well.
- We ask that all individuals at your home during a warranty appointment also wear masks. We are happy to place any work orders on temporary hold if you prefer not to participate in this manner.
- Tools used and parts installed, where applicable, will be carefully sanitized before they are brought into your home.
- Warranty representatives conducting inspections or performing repairs will maintain “social distance” of six feet or more throughout each appointment.
Our previous commitment remains: We continue to respond to your phone calls, emails, and reports of emergency issues, defined as—
- No heat
- No water
- No power
- Water leaks that require shutting off the water to the entire home
- Security issues, such as an exterior door lock that fails to function
Your comfort and safety as well as that of our company and trade contractor personnel are of primary importance. If you have any questions or concerns, please email, or call me.