Earlier this summer, Taylor Morrison—the No. 5 builder on the 2021 Builder 100—launched its virtual home buying platform, where buyers can purchase a new home from the comfort of their couch.
The company’s new digital configuration and reservation system for to-be-built homes guides customers to choose a floor plan, select a homesite using an interactive map, choose from a variety of exterior elevations, and then reserve that home entirely online.
"Today's consumers crave ease and simplicity, whether they're purchasing a car, groceries, or a new home online—this new tool takes the friction out of home buying," says Sheryl Palmer, Taylor Morrison chairman and CEO.
To learn more about the system, the behind-the-scenes work, and the consumer response and feedback since the launch, BUILDER spoke with Erik Heuser, executive vice president and chief corporate operations officer at Taylor Morrison. He sheds some light on the new-home buyer shopping experience and how this tool can help propel the industry into the future.
BUILDER: What was the motivation to launch a new digital configuration and reservation system?
Heuser: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the home building industry and how we do business in a number of ways. When the pandemic hit, we quickly pivoted to serve customers in a remote world and expanded our range of innovative digital tools by implementing virtual tours, self-guided tours, and a shopping cart feature to reserve inventory homes. Most recently, we launched our digital configuration and reservation system for to-be-built homes, which allows customers to select a floor plan, homesite, and exterior elevation, then reserve the home of their dreams all from the comfort of their couch.
With virtual home buying, customers have access to a greater scope of tools to make educated decisions and feel empowered in their home buying journey. Given the historically high demand we’re experiencing in today’s housing market, this kind of technology isn’t needed to sell homes, it’s simply the way a vast number of consumers prefer to shop and engage with brands in the evolving world of e-commerce.
BUILDER: What processes did the company have to take to implement this new technology?
Heuser: It’s no surprise that the impacts of COVID-19 forced us to accelerate the adoptions of many changes in our lives, including the way we design and purchase homes. While Taylor Morrison was already on track to implement future-focused programs that make home buying more convenient, several certainly came sooner as a result of the pandemic. We shifted our business to a virtual environment to meet customers where they are in both a physical and psychological sense with a range of tools. As this trend toward virtual home buying continues to impact the real estate market, implementing the online to-be-built reservation feature was the next step to give consumers even greater control and flexibility. To successfully launch the tool, our team took part in thorough product testing and collaborated closely with sales teams across our divisions to ensure it worked effectively and met customer needs.
BUILDER: How long has this been in the works? When did it officially launch online and in what markets?
Heuser: After updating and reconfiguring our website in late 2019, we were fortunately poised strategically to launch a greater scope of digital tools. With the onset of the pandemic, this certainly sped up the process and we were excited to launch this new system earlier than first expected. The digital to-be-built configuration and reservation system launched in early June in nearly 25 communities across 11 divisions.
BUILDER: What steps does the potential buyer take online?
BUILDER: Does the buyer have to complete anything in-person?
Heuser: If the home buyer would like to do anything in-person, such as meet with a community sales manager, they certainly have that option. However, our online to-be-built reservation system and suite of digital tools, from 3D virtual tours to Chatbot Liv, make buying a home 100% virtually possible. Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 615 homes have been sold entirely virtually, with no physical contact with the buyer. As more customers opt for virtual options when shopping for their home, our forward-thinking strategy has allowed us to meet consumers where and how they want to be met.
BUILDER: How many homes have been purchased online so far? What kind of feedback has the company received?
Heuser: Within just 90 minutes of the digital to-be-built configuration and reservation system launching, a buyer in Dallas was the first customer to secure an online reservation.
Feedback from customers who have used this new tool has been positive. Houston resident Kristen Milburn had been shopping for a new home for three months when she came across Taylor Morrison’s digital to-be-built reservation system. After researching homes online, she used the tool to reserve her new home completely virtually for our Morgan’s Landing community in La Porte, Texas.
"When shopping for a home, I had not seen anything like Taylor Morrison's reservation system,” said Milburn, a first-time home buyer. “The tool was really easy to use—we picked our homesite, floor plan, and elevation then simply reserved everything online, all in a couple of minutes. The floor plan we ended up picking was even based on online virtual tours and photos. The new digital reservation tool and website were so informative; I loved having the chance to look online and see everything, from price to virtual tours, and all in one place."
BUILDER: What’s next for the system?
Heuser: The technology is currently available to reserve a to-be-built home across 12 divisions with expansion plans nationwide. Since launching, we have modified the system for a pre-sales environment and to support various selling strategies. In addition, we have integrated existing technologies such as 3D virtual tours with the reservation system to help make buying your dream home online easier than ever before.
BUILDER: What advice do you have for other builders looking to adopt this technology?
Heuser: When adopting a technology such as this, it’s vital to listen to your customer base and keep a pulse on their feedback. In everything we do, we strive to put our customers first, and, especially during today’s historically competitive market, our teams continue to communicate openly and provide an unmatched home buying experience from start to finish.