Physical distancing is changing the ways we do business, and while the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed what was a booming Greater Toronto Area housing market, innovations are providing new methods to keep the boom alive. The closing of presentation centres and postponing of sales events have made it much harder to buy and sell homes, so a new way to address the combined needs of home builders, brokers, and home buyers is needed: the real estate industry is important to Canada's economy. In response, Avesdo Technologies, a software company known for their real estate deal management software, launched the first online home buying marketplace earlier this month, known as OffPlan.
OffPlan allows consumers and realtors to purchase new and pre-construction homes remotely and securely through an online marketplace. Realtors can select and share properties with their clients, along with the option to reserve immediately from selections of new construction homes, while buyers can make secure payments through the platform without the need for presentation centre visits or face-to-face meetings typical of home sales.
The process starts with a project being entered into OffPlan's digital marketplace. Builders can then tap into engagement from realtors and/or purchasers. Like the physical sales model that existed before it, builders sharing inventory of pre-construction homes on OffPlan can allocate select units to specific realtors they work closely with. Once the offering is shared with the public, prospective purchasers can review all relevant unit marketing material from their mobile devices. After reviewing options and once ready to move forward, buyers can begin the process immediately with the same ease of online purchasing we've all come to expect during quarantine.
“We’re thrilled to launch the evolution of new construction home buying,” reads a statement issued on launch by Tyler Proud, CEO of Avesdo Technologies. “OffPlan makes it as easy as possible for realtors and home buyers to find and purchase homes from top real estate developers. All the information a purchaser needs, and would regularly receive from a visit to a sales centre, is available on OffPlan.”
One of the early adopters of this technology is developer Aoyuan International, now using OffPlan to market and sell units for their One Central project in Surrey, BC. We spoke with Ben Smith, President of Kinsman Marketing Partners and VP Sales & Marketing (Western Canada) for Aoyuan International, on how OffPlan is being utilized to keep home sales moving during a moment where the future of face-to-face transactions seems uncertain.
While digital marketing is an important part of driving sales, after capturing the attention of a prospective buyer it can lose some value without a means to finalize the purchase. "The real win with OffPlan is the addition of 'digital sales' which no one else in our market can offer," said Smith. "You can give a customer every bit of content in your arsenal, but if they don’t have the ability to buy it when they absorb that content then it is frustrating for them and a potential lost opportunity for the developer if they change their mind before coming back to the presentation centre."
This becomes especially important when the majority of the population is locked down, so a rethink of how we limit face-to-face business after the dust settles seems inevitable. In the context of OffPlan, Smith refers to the COVID-19 pandemic as a "fire starter for change" that has been looming on the horizon for many years. Technologies like OffPlan, while perfectly suited to the unprecedented situation we've entered, can be expected to remain in the post-COVID world in response to newfound demand. "I don’t think we’ll ever go back," said Smith, continuing "the customer won’t let us once they experience the ease and convenience of buying online, and it is happening in many other markets around the world—so in many ways we are late to the party."
In the Vancouver market—heavily regulated under BC's Real Estate Development Marketing Act (REDMA)—real estate marketing and sales regulations are especially complex, and the platform was carefully scrutinized by Aoyuan's legal teams before being put into use. "[Avesdo was] founded by lawyers, which is a critical piece for developers to feel comfortable that the system, and their process conforms to all the regulations we are beholden to," said Smith.
Summarizing OffPlan's benefits, Smith's endorsement underscores a mix of necessity and familiarity: "Why OffPlan? Really simply… they are the only ones who are offering it. Many of us are already using their original software to manage our contracts digitally so it is a very easy add-on," referring to Avesdo’s 2016-launched deal management software already responsible for tens of billions of dollars in property transactions worldwide.
Avesdo plans to have 200 new and pre-construction projects available on OffPlan this year.
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