How Buying New Construction Has Changed – and How it Hasn’t

by Brian Hoffman


Brian Hoffman is the vice chairman/CFO of Red Seal

Red Seal Homes has been building homes for more than 80 years. Not many builders can say that. Over the past eight decades, a great deal has changed in our industry, but what’s even more remarkable is what hasn’t changed.

In many ways, buying a new construction home today isn’t much different than it was in the 1930s. Many of the fundamentals of designing and constructing a home are the same. However, the biggest change is where the process is unfolding, with technology making it possible for much of a transaction to take place online rather than in person.

Consider some of those technologies: virtual tours; online chats and property searches; and interactive floor plans. Tech-enabled services like those were rare and, in some cases, nonexistent just 10 years ago. At that time, it was relatively new that a buyer could even view floor plans online, and the majority of research and feature selections were done at a sales center and by walking through model homes. Instead of Googling a particular address or neighborhood, buyers learned about builders through their Realtor or by reading the real estate section of the weekend newspaper.

Today, the information available to buyers is practically limitless, and anything not provided by a builder can be gleaned through: sites like Google Earth for area images; MLS aggregators like Redfin and Zillow, which also offer property reviews written by agents; and online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, where buyers can read about the experiences others have had with a particular builder. All of this is to say that before a buyer even sets foot in a sales center, they can have a pretty complete picture of the builder, community and floor plans. And they can do it on their own time, which is not only convenient, but also vital considering how busy our buyers are in today’s fast-paced society.

Regardless of these virtual advances, though, Red Seal has found nothing replaces in-person, one-on-one communication. That is the one thing online tools can’t replicate, and is essential to the successful planning of a new home. When we sit down with our clients and get to know them as individuals, we always discover something that greatly impacts the home we build for them. There is no app that captures the emotion our buyers share when discussing their lifestyle, and nothing virtual could ever replace standing on the home site to show them where their front door will be.

When it comes to home building and, truly, most aspects of our industry, Alphonse Karr said it best: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Brian Hoffman is the vice chairman/CFO of Red Seal, where he is responsible for the builder’s market strategy and targeted land acquisitions. He oversees the firm’s sales and financing efforts, having arranged equity and debt facilities to accommodate in excess of $1 billion dollars in new construction and development. Over the past 21 years within the Chicago area Mr. Hoffman has been involved in the development, construction or property management of properties as diverse as the $270,000,000 redevelopment of Fort Sheridan and the restoration of the historic Admiral’s Row at Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago.

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