Real Estate

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly accelerated e-commerce, from groceries to household goods, and now you can even buy a new construction home fully online.

Two major public homebuilders, Taylor Morrison Home and PulteGroup, recently piloted programs in which buyers can choose, design and finance a new home virtually and just put it in their shopping cart.

“Really what our industry needs to do is catch up with world of e-commerce and what every other industry is doing,” said Sheryl Palmer, CEO of Taylor Morrison. “That doesn’t mean that everybody will buy a house online, but we want to make sure that we give the control to the consumer so that they can communicate with us the way they want to.” 

Twenty-eight-year-old Emily Moore was one of the first to use the Taylor Morrison online portal. She is a first-time homebuyer, but she said she felt very comfortable purchasing the Houston home without ever entering a showroom. 

“A few years ago, people laughed at buying your car online, and I just bought a house online!” exclaimed Moore, who added that part of the reason she did it was the pandemic and social distancing. 

“That, and it was really convenient,” she added. 

Palmer admitted even she was surprised by the swift demand for the new program. 

“We’ve only done the to-be-built reservation system for the last six weeks, and in total we’ve seen over 1,500 shopping cart entries, and probably something close to a 60% conversion [to sales]. That’s 10 times what you would normally see.” 

Contractors raise framed walls at the PulteGroup Onyx housing development in San Jose, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Atlanta-based PulteGroup also just launched a similar 100% virtual homebuying program for its buyers. 

“It allows them to choose among different floor plans. Then they would choose exterior elevation and colors, and then they make choices with their design options, cabinet color, those types of things,” explained Brandon Jones, area president at Pulte. “Once those choices are complete, it shows the total price of the home, which the customer can review, and then a home purchase agreement is generated.” 

Consumers can also apply for a loan through Pulte Mortgage. Put it all in the cart and click go. 

Both Jones and Palmer said the trend toward virtual homebuying was definitely accelerated by the pandemic, but it will not go away. More than half of all buyers of previously-owned, existing homes made their offers online during Covid, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage. 

“Consumers have gotten significantly more comfortable making big decisions behind screens. They do research behind screens, they want to compare different options behind screens on their own terms on their own timing when they’re home alone,” said Jones. 

But unlike a pair of shoes that don’t fit, you can’t exactly return a home, so both Pulte and Taylor Morrison are staying in closer touch with virtual buyers.   

“Our salespeople are following up confirming that the customer feels good about that decision and fortunately, changes can still be made,” added Jones. 

The only variable in the new process is the closing. Some states allow virtual signings for sale and title documents, but others still require a so-called “wet signature.” 

“The regulations, you’ll continue to see evolve. And that’s what Covid really did do is it absolutely accelerated every part of the process,” said Palmer. 

For Emily Moore, “It was definitely nerve-wracking doing it,” she laughed. “But honestly, I don’t think I would change anything.”

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