Self-employed workers have a hard time demonstrating to mortgage lenders that they meet income requirements
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Five years ago, about half of consumers in the market for new homes started their searches online, according to Do You Convert president Mike Lyon. Today, 76% of new-home buyers get online to begin looking, and 95% of all home buyers compare home builders, read reviews, and save floor plans online, according to the National Association of Realtors. Zillow found that more than half of new-home buyers move from another city, state, or country, and they’re forced to rely on digital research because they can’t physically visit homes and communities.

Today’s digital home buyer is also better informed and market-savvy, acculturated by Google, Amazon, and Yelp. Millennials refuse to engage with pushy salespeople when they can buy everything, from a vacuum cleaner to a car, from the comfort of their sofa, without ever visiting a brick-and-mortar store and interacting with a real person. Today’s consumers trust reviews by online friends and strangers far more than they trust advertisements and salespeople.

“The buyer has changed drastically in the last two years, and we have to drastically evolve how we follow up with prospects who can now buy things with their thumbs and even their faces,” says Chris Hartley, vice president of sales and marketing for Houston-based Trendmaker Homes, which recently purchased Dallas-based Dunhill & Nathan Carlisle Homes. “The future of this is, we have to let buyers do things on their own time.”

Hartley has always been struck by the number of people kicking tires at car lots in Texas on Sundays—when they’re closed by law—and he surmises that’s because they don’t want to be bothered with a hard sell. Last year Dunhill & Nathan Carlisle began offering potential home buyers an app that gives them a one-time code allowing them to enter and tour model homes during daylight hours without anyone from the firm present.

Salespeople, who are immediately alerted whenever someone enters a model, initially wanted to rush over to meet with the prospects, Hartley says. Letting potential buyers wander around by themselves went against everything the associates had been taught, and many of them thought it was the worst idea ever.

Minds are changing as the program pays off: Last July Fourth, 32 people walked through the company’s models, with salespeople following up a few days later. Six of the prospects signed contracts within the week.