Pandemic presents challenges, new ideas for condo pre-sales

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure to walk-in customers of most sales centres for condo projects in the Lower Mainland

The COVID-19 pandemic could spell the end to the splashy condo sales centre. 

At least for one local developer. 

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Most of the centres that also serve as model homes to give prospective buyers a sense of what their new home might look like are closed because of the public health emergency, so developers are discovering new ways to engage customers. 

For Kush Panatch, whose scheduled launch of pre-sales for the second phase of his 50 Electronic Avenue project in Port Moody was derailed by the pandemic, the rejig to the traditional way of selling condos has led to some startling revelations. Like questioning the value of spending up to $1 million to design, build and furnish a sales centre for every project 

Panatch said that as soon as the B.C. government ordered a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, his sales team created a video walk-through of the model one- and two-bedroom homes that it was able to post to the project’s website. They also set up an online chat service to answer questions from virtual visitors and made arrangements for the processing of digital sales contracts. 

Panatch said using virtual sales tools has been a challenge. 

“None of us had a playbook for this,” he said. “This is a business you have to touch and feel.” 

Not that giving clients the chance to open and close cupboard doors and peer into closets is totally out of the question. Panatch and marketers for several other projects in the Tri-Cities, like Beedie Living’s The Heights project in Coquitlam and Onni’s The Grande in Port Moody, are opening their sales centres to exclusive pre-arranged appointments so interested clients can walk through the show homes and sign documents. 

Panatch said the extra effort has slowed the process, though. 

“It’s taking longer,” he said. “There’s a lot of exchanging information. You have to go into detail about every little thing.” 

The upside is once buyers get to that intense inquiry stage, they’re usually motivated to see their interest through to an actual purchase, Panatch said, adding it’s not unusual for less than 5% of visitors to a sales centre being converted into buyers. 

“You’re not getting many looky-loos. They’re pretty serious about buying a home in the current environment.” 

The depth of information and virtual experience a developer is able to offer online is also opening marketing opportunities further afield. 

“People are willing to do a lot more stuff online and distant,” Panatch said. “Not everything has to be done in person.” 

Which has him questioning the value of spending so much money on a full-size sales centre near every project when he could build a modular centre at a central location that could be repurposed and reconfigured as various projects evolve. 

“When adversity hits you, you have to be willing to learn and ready to pivot,” Panatch said.

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