While digital transformation has disrupted almost every sector, the real estate industry has been relatively slow to catch up – until now.
A web-based sales solution for developers, and sales agents called Salefish has taken the real estate business by storm, with one in six low-rise homes in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Greater Golden Horseshoe of Southern Ontario being sold using the software in 2016. The platform provides up-to-date information like unit details, pricing, and availability so agents can sell and manage their properties in a more efficient manner.
“This is something that has never been done before and it works,” Salefish Inc. co-founder Rob Nicolucci told CDN at a recent presentation showing what Salefish can offer to new home and townhouse builders, condominium developers, sales agencies, and home buyers.
Salefish won the Global Innovation Award from the National Association of Home Builders in 2016, almost a decade after its initial genesis through Canada’s largest low-rise residential design firm, RN Design.
Traditionally, new subdivisions (or condos) are mapped out into various sized lots and potential purchasers can either choose a unit design that will fit on their desired lot, or find a lot that fits their selected unit design. Due to Ontario’s architectural guidelines, neighbourhoods need to be visually diverse and two houses of the same external design can’t be placed beside each other or across from each other – in fact, they need to be separated by at least two or three other houses to “add variety and visual interest along the streetscape,” according to the 2017 Streetscape/Architectural Control Guidelines.
Therefore, whenever a lot and home are purchased, that restricts what designs other buyers can choose and where they can put it.
“The legacy way of planning low-rise neighbourhoods is called a sitting analysis, which is basically a table or chart that tells builders what could be put on a lot based on what fits in it. But every sales office will have their own table to update every time a sale goes through, so the process can be slow and confusing,” says Rick Haws, president and co-founder at Salefish.
New home purchases were all managed on paper until Concord, Ont.-based Salefish’s solution came along to digitize the experience. Used in sales offices through touchscreen kiosks or as an app on iPads, the interactive software reduces duplicate sales by updating in real time and allows sales agents to search new planned communities by house model type or lot size. It provides everything in the house purchasing journey, including unit prices, floor plans, lot sites, and premium options, as well as generates sales documents.
“Salefish has modernized the process so that it’s cloud-based with real-time updates. In a grid of 100 houses, for example, when you sell one it changes the whole grid and what can go where. With Salefish technology, those grids are online and automatically update so that agents don’t sell things to families that they can’t build. It improves communication and efficiency of sales,” Haws adds.
The software is available as a licensed product for any builder to use for their developments. Nicolucci says it costs between $15,000 [CAD] and $20,000 to launch a site for a low-rise development, or around $10,000 to $15,000 for a high-rise site. It hopes to begin white-labelling the program for other real estate service providers this year.
Would you buy a home online?
In 2016, Salefish improved its own platform by adding the Home Buyer Live point of sale (POS) system, which gives home buyers the ability to buy a new home or condo online. The system creates an interactive map of all the lots and unit designs available in a planned community that developers and sales agencies can send as a link to their customers.
While buying homes online sounds like a far-fetched idea, the concept has proved to be successful. For example, Zancor Homes, Pristine Homes, and Fernbrook Homes teamed up with Salefish to sell new homes online at the Belle Aire Shores development in Innisfil, Ont., in March 2017.
The map went live the night before so customers could do their due diligence, and when the sales window opened, 19 homes were sold in the first 19 minutes and the rest were gone within that very evening.
“We were definitely skeptical at first, but to sell that many homes in such a short period of time was absolutely phenomenal. People were actually in control of their own destiny and weren’t relying on salespeople telling them ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a lengthy in-person purchasing experience,” Roy Hobbs, president of digital marketing company Crescendo Real Estate Solutions, explains. “I had one customer tell us that he was on a business trip in the US and still bought a home because of this Salefish technology – it lets you buy from anywhere in the world.”
It also cuts what is generally a 45-minute sales transaction to less than five minutes. Salefish was involved in 2,567 low-rise lot sales in 2016 and at least 3,567 in 2017 – however, final figures for 2017 have yet to be confirmed and this number is likely higher. The company was also involved in 1,266 high-rise suite sales in 2016 and 2,769 so far in 2017.
Overall, the Salefish platform reduces or eliminates altogether the need for sales offices and even material like brochures. Joseph Alberga, sales and marketing director at Toronto-based real estate development organization Lindvest, explains that this is a good thing as sales offices are expensive and often not worth it, given that new homes can either sell really quickly – “what’s the point of spending a million dollars to put up a sales location for a few days?” – or sell slowly – “if you put in all that money to build [a sales location] but sit there for five years, people will ask why you were there for so long,” he points out.
But in an era where there is heavy concern that technology will replace humans in the workforce, Alberga stresses that it won’t eliminate the need for real estate agents; instead, the software will make salespeople more efficient and productive. Lindvest is a Toronto-based real estate development organization.
“The role of the realtor will change, but it won’t disappear,” he says, using the transition of travel agents in an online booking world as an example of how the realtor job will evolve. “Just like how travel agents still exist despite the ability to book things online on your own, real estate agents will still be necessary. They’ll work more productively using this technology.”
Salesfish president Haws adds that with all the work upfront – like meeting people and closing sales – real estate agents won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
“You’re not eliminating any of that work by using the software. Plus, the older generations are still generally wary of technology, so there will always be some sort of demand for in-person sales,” Haws concludes.
Looking ahead, Salefish wants to expand its presence in Canada and enter the US market, as well as bring its services to niche sectors like retirement communities and rental buildings.