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Can houses be sold like cars? (i.e online and mass-customised)

5 June 2020
Can houses be sold like cars? (i.e online and mass-customised)

It is no big secret that there’s a huge shift in the car-buyers’ behaviour from using virtual trade platforms instead of brick-and-mortar dealerships. Car companies and dealers are forced to and are indeed responding to this trend by digitising buyer journeys and by creating smoother, more enjoyable and informed ways of getting your new car. Those businesses which fail to go along with the changes in consumer behaviour will eventually suffer, says an economist Christian Jaccarini from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). ref

In many ways, houses are following the same trends as the car industry. This is particularly evident in the off-site construction sector. House manufacturers around the globe are taking the automation of production to the new level by following the methods invented and practiced by Toyota and other car manufacturers. What the off-site construction still has to learn from selling and making cars is how to integrate the design customisation process in the buying experience.

Automotive companies are developing increasingly sophisticated online technologies that enable customers to configure their ideal vehicle to order. In such configurators, the buyer has the real-time visibility of their choices as well as seeing how each change will affect the price.

Nevertheless, houses are not cars. While cars are particularly placeless objects as they need to fit into many different contexts, houses are grounded to one place and need to be …let’s say localised. Despite much rearer occurrence of online configurators, housing is not far behind the car industry.

For example one of our UK clients NU Living is operating 3 configurable house types for a development of 251 houses. These houses, designed specifically for the West Beechwood neighbourhood by Pollard Thomas Edwards architects are manufactured in the NU build modular factory to match the customer order.

The user customisation process starts with the selection of an available plot. With the plot comes a dedicated house type with a large set of design choices ranging from floor layouts to interior and exterior cladding materials, and kitchen appliances. Options are automatically budgeted, to give customers the clearest possible preview before contacting the sales team. Following the configuration, the entire sales process can be completed online by digitally signing the order, and sending the request to the factory to start the production process.

See NU livings house configurators on

According to USA today amongst the main benefits of virtual sales offered by car companies is transparent pricing including upfront trade-in price quotes and contact signing online or remotely. On top of the same benefits, we see that house configurators also lead to better customer engagement and satisfaction and generate better profits from upsells.

Virtual sales also reduce the need for an extended sales team. According to the CEBR, online car sales could cost 27 thousand UK automotive sales jobs in ten years, when one in five cars will be sold on the internet. Will the housing industry follow? I have no doubt that it will. Buyers are already online.