It is a virtual world

Martin Slofstra, Toronto Sun • New Homes And Condos (Original article)

December 03, 2022

New home buyers enjoy the benefits of going on-line

It seems to be a bit of far-fetched notion, to research, to shop for and to buy a new home entirely online, never to enter a sales office or visit a model home. But not only can it be done; the reality is the majority of new home buyers are preferring it that way.

It may also not be what Canadian software designers Rob Nicolucci and Rick Haws could foresee happening in 2006 when they co-founded a software system called SaleFish, a simple streamlined and secure platform for real estate transactions and for builders to sell new homes.

The goal initially was to make the sales process easier by providing more up-to-date information, and earlier versions of the software catered to needs of salespeople who worked for new home builders.

Fast forward to now, it’s also helping new home buyers change the way they research and buy new homes, and fundamentally alter the way the new home and condo industry operates.

And the turning point? Says Haws simply: “COVID-19 changed everything, they (the builders) had to adapt.”

The pandemic, of course, made in-person visit to a sales office impossible, at least for a few months. That the software can be used by customers and sales reps to back-up and streamline appointments online became one of its most important features.

Using the software, buyer and seller can browse listings or new home sites, and receive accurate and timely information, gaining details and pricing of each model or home.

Along the way, many other benefits were also realized.

Line-ups at sales offices were eliminated, and so too the madhouse scene of a dozen or so salespersons in a trailer at a new home site chasing after customers scrambling around hoping that a certain lot at a certain price was still available.

Using the software, all price changes, site details, plans could be updated instantly, and in theory, the reach of the sales office could be extended to any remote computer, whether an iPad, touch-display device or laptop computer.

All the way around it just makes the sales process more enjoyable, “it’s no longer a pressure-cooker when it comes time to buying a new home,” says Richard Mariani, sales and marketing manager, CountryWide Homes, which uses the software at its new homes sites now open in Bradford, Brampton, Caledon, East Gwillimbury, Holland Landing, Markham, Oakville, Richmond Hill and Simcoe County.

Mariani says that in spring 2020, the builder had to pivot. “During the early onset of the pandemic, most of us were wondering if we would still have a job. But by June 2020, people were ready to buy,” he says.

The rest, of course, is history, as the Toronto real estate and new home market would in the next two years enter into one of its hottest sales periods ever. Obviously, the pandemic changed everything, but Mariani observes there is now also a much greater comfort level with technology.

“The buyer is more educated than ever and does their homework in advance and on web sites. Customers already know what they want in terms of models, pricing, neighbourhood amenities and they have access to all this information at their fingertips,” he says. “Many purchasers come to an online meeting already prepared to make a deal.”

In addition, the software enables the builder to receive analytics, helping them to see trends such as which design features and amenities are the most popular. And by eliminating much of the paperwork in the process, “It allows us to open projects more quickly, get to market sooner and gives management the information they need to make decisions,” says Mariani.

Software development of course is an ongoing process and work is now being done to give SaleFish a sleek, modern feel with an intuitive user interface, while enabling it to more easily integrate with other kinds of business software and with third-party solutions.

Now set to unveil its “biggest platform changes in years,” other features will address three major needs: Security, identity verification and payments. “The identity verification piece is a big one, nobody is doing that,” says Haws.

Not only can SaleFish automatically fill in documents by scanning driver’s licenses and securing that data, but it can also verify that it’s scanning a live person (rather than a bot) and compare the person’s face with the ID provided. This has become an imperative feature with remote buying being more commonplace.

Another big consideration is security. SaleFish is also the only real estate platform to have a CyberSecure Canada certification for meeting the highest levels of security for data storage.

With payments, buyers will have the option to make all their deposits and initial down payment online.

Having fundamentally changed the new home buying process, there will be no going back.

Research shows 75 per cent of new home buyers prefer an online appointment versus live one, and the comfort level with software tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom has never been higher.

Mariani acknowledges too there always be those who insist on meeting in person, but that is now a minority of new home buyers.

That being the case, the only thing left for the new home buyers to do live and in person is pick up the keys. Safe to say, the software will take care of the rest.