The end of 2020 is in sight. While some—okay, MANY—people are saying, “Good riddance!”, we can’t completely dismiss the year without looking at everything that happened. There were many lessons from what we experienced. I asked some of my colleagues and friends in the homebuilding industry to share their insights. Here’s what we learned in and from 2020.
Ronda Conger, Vice President, CBH Homes, Boise, ID
Stay focused on the present. Focus on what you can control…your mindset, attitude, energy. Be unshakeable. Understand that life is full of unknowns and that’s okay.
One of my favorite quotes is, “if you’re handed it, you can handle it.” That’s the look we’re going for. Stop listening to the “what ifs”, the maybes, the Chicken Littles. Take a deep breath, put a smile on your face, and keep moving forward. All else will lead you down the wrong path. Stop looking back, we’re not going that way. Trying to predict what’s next or the future will set you up for disappointment. Be where your feet are, be grateful for all you are, and all you have.
Philip Jalufka, CEO, Legacy International Resort Properties, Austin, TX
People: It was more important than ever this year to communicate—and do it often. Communication is the only medium of predictability—to hear from a collaborative team member or a team leader
Process: Fundamentals win championships. Sharpen the sales process—even with the digital transformation and enhancement of storytelling resources
Project and Product: The importance of “home” versus a “house”. It will be wise for all developers and builders to be true to placemaking in community, neighborhood, and the home. As markets adjust going forward, those who reward demographic shifts and pandemic-related distancing measures will succeed better
Mike Tuskes, Vice President, Tuskes Homes, Easton, PA
I learned that It is possible to sell real estate over the Internet with the right tools and systems in place. The process of home purchasing has changed drastically. We have closed our models; sales agents work in them, but we no longer have public hours and are “by appointment only”. This has eliminated all the unqualified or “just looking” buyers and resulted in a higher closing rate.
We don’t need to be in the office to function as a company. We had put all laptops into place in late 2019, so if an employee were to be stuck at home in a snowstorm, they could still work and connect securely to our server. We also implemented a number of communication processes across our entire company—using Microsoft Teams and Zoom—to operate from outside of the office. We now allow employees to work from home when needed; some who travel more than 30 minutes each way asked to work from home twice per week, resulting in more work hours and higher production.
We will continue to use the “By Appointment Only” approach. This has led us to reshape the sales arm of the company, adding a second online sales consultant without adding more sales agents in the field, even with new communities opening. We will take the next step to allow sales agents to cross-sell over a few communities, eliminating the need to add additional employees, while converting at a higher pace.
Matt Riley, Vice President, Group Two, Raleigh, NC
For 2020, it’s real simple: Don’t forget about focusing on the basics. The builders who focused on the “basics” prior to COVID had the most success during the pandemic. That can be the basics of your sales process and even the basics for marketing and operations as well. Get and create great content, have the right partners who tell you all the things you need to hear to put the right strategies in place, and be easy to do business with. That includes making it easy for your sales team to get info and pricing to buyers on the spot so they can say “yes” quickly.
Chris Hartley, Vice President of Sales, K. Hovnanian Homes, Dallas, TX
What I learned in 2020 is such a loaded question as it has been such a wild ride for us all! When the pandemic first shut down sales offices in March, I quickly realized that I could be one of two types of leaders; the first being the type of leader that sat back in fear like so many were doing and waited for someone else to give direction; or the second, which recognized that it was alright to be afraid but it was NOT alright to stay afraid. Action must be taken and it was my responsibility and privilege to drive such action.
I was always taught that true leaders recognize when others are afraid and are there to recognize that fear and to help their team look ahead to better days. Rather than waiting for what’s next, I rallied with so many industry experts to discuss ways we could all be better.
Unlike the Great Recession where it felt like “every homebuilder for themselves”, the pandemic of 2020 brought about collaboration like I have never witnessed. It was heartfelt and beautiful.
The second quarter of 2020 was much about understanding our new normal. How did we show our homeowners in backlog that their true motivation for purchasing a new home was just as evident now than it ever was before? If they were employed, if their jobs were secure, there was no better time to close on a new home than when you were truly forced to quarantine in your environment. We all quickly saw that if we were going to be quarantined now or ever in the future, we wanted to truly love where we lived!
The third quarter was exciting; sales were rampant, interest rates were sub-3%, and we couldn’t build homes fast enough. The question that lingered in the back of all our minds however was, “How long could this last?” Smart leaders took note that streamlining processes was the only way to build homes at this pace with satisfied homeowners. Smart sales leaders started talking about “Success Disease” and how to keep their sales teams humble. Hindsight Bias is a REAL thing. How were we going to continue to motivate our teams while also reinforcing the inevitable reality? The success we were seeing was above average and lasting success lies in the details of training, improving, and implementing processes that drive customer satisfaction.
The fourth quarter saw an election that was sure to slow down sales in some form or another, right??? Wrong! Like everything else in 2020, nothing seemed predictable. What is predictable for me, however, is very simple: My mindset. If my mindset is off, my performance and my team’s performance will be off. If my mindset is strong, if I continue to preach positivity, collaboration, love, and happiness, there will always be great days ahead.
My team is full of exceptional humans and I can’t wait to see what 2021 and beyond brings for us all!
Angela McKay, ECI | Lasso Data Systems, British Columbia, Canada
The big thing for me has been managing distractions and looking after myself—physically and mentally. Building positive habits and rituals set you up for success. Things aren’t always going to go the way you hoped, but if you have a good foundation/core, you can weather the storm a heck of a lot better. For the past 8 months, I have gotten up almost every day at about 5am. Doing this has allowed me to get in a workout and wake up my mind. I try really hard (haven’t perfected this yet!) to not look at my phone until after my workout. I function better after I have worked out. I am more productive. Getting up early has also changed my nighttime routine. I used to be a night owl and would work into the wee hours; this has completely changed. I try to limit work after I’ve left my home office and I am typically in bed by 9pm. Routine is important to me and this routine has kept me grounded and able to manage some of the curve balls thrown.
Myers Barnes, New Home Sales Expert, Kitty Hawk, NC
You didn’t think I’d share all of these lessons from 2020 without throwing in my own two cents, did you?
2020 delivered more curveballs than Sandy Koufax (for you youngsters, he was a phenomenal big league pitcher). I saw some people swing frantically in desperation. Others—like each of the people who contributed to this post—showed agility, finesse, decisiveness, and powerful leadership.
Those who had invested in strengthening their teams, processes, and digital marketing fared best. They experienced record-breaking sales. But they also understood that this amazing housing market will not last forever. When life transitions to yet another “New Normal” and interest rates rise, will we be prepared to work harder to cultivate leads and close sales?
A true champion never stops pursuing excellence. Keep working at being better—a better leader, partner, role model, and human.