Some homebuyers, be they empty-nesters or those just looking for a little more privacy, love space. Quieter locations, larger homes, bigger lots… it's as much a lifestyle choice as it is a new home selection. Georgian International, with unique communities in locations such as Blue Mountain and Horseshoe Valley, is one builder that caters to this demand.
It's early days yet, but some experts suggest these very homebuyers might become a fast-growing demographic in a post-pandemic market.
And Georgian, offering "more than a floorplan, but an opportunity for a more balanced way of life," seems well positioned to deliver.
Mike Parker, vice-president of sales and marketing, discusses the Georgian approach – pre- and post-COVID-19.
When we last spoke, for our Special Report: Outlook 2020 in our January issue, you were quite bullish on the outlook for 2020. How were things unfolding before COVID-19… pretty much as you expected?
Yes, we had a positive start to the year. All of our sites were essentially in the same position, with final lots and suites in current phases well positioned to be sold out by the end of the first quarter. We continue to have strong interest in our communities with people connecting with us daily, collecting information and asking questions, however, people are more cautious to move forward with a purchase at this time. Due to demand, we opened our final phase at Mountain House in Blue Mountain just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, this altered our outcome, however, a good percentage of our purchasers continued with their purchase.
The pandemic has obviously changed everything, at least for the time being. How is Georgian Communities operating during this time – for example, accepting sales centre visits by appointment only, giving virtual tours…
Like all businesses, we've had to adapt to new health and safety measures to help ensure the well-being of our staff, and of course the public. Our production team continues to construct our homes and condos, albeit under stricter working protocols. We've increased communication with our onsite team to ensure they and our trade partners have the necessary support to conduct their activities safely. Currently, our sales centres and model homes are closed, but we have kept our regular sales centre hours the same with our team working remotely. We previously introduced virtual tours of our model homes and we connect with people through phone, video conference and, of course, email. We've had a 30-per-cent increase in website registrations with people spending more time online. This is positive, as it keeps our team busy with follow-up and one-on-one engagement.
And how is all that going?
Our immediate priority is to maintain and promote personal engagement with people. In many aspects, we are conducting our sales operation in the same manner we always have. It's not unusual for the majority of our initial communication to be done remotely. However, what's obviously missing, and what I feel will always be important, is the tangible aspects of visiting us. Walking through our model homes, taking in the views, enjoying the local restaurants and shops to get a sense of the area, and of course the in-person interaction with our team are all important components of our sales process. Technology is a tool, and one we absolutely could not operate business without. However, for us, and the nature-rich based communities we have, we want people to be able to experience what we have in person. We look forward to this returning. What we are offering is so much more than a floorplan. It's an opportunity for a new, more balanced way of life.
Given that your community locations are outside the GTA, how conducive is that to success when the market returns to "normal"?
We are very optimistic that we will see an increase in demand for all of our communities. Windfall and Mountain House in Blue Mountain offer private enclaves away from urban congestion, close to all daily necessities, and set in one of the most beautiful four-season recreational playgrounds.
Similarly, Braestone offers large estate lots set in the picturesque Horseshoe Valley region, another four-season playground. Many of our residents have the ability to work from home, and we suspect this trend will continue as companies have been forced to provide and embrace remote working solutions. We are extremely confident that we have the locations, lifestyle and homes that people desire and, when individual consumer confidence returns, we will remain well positioned.
What is the status of Windfall? How is that project coming along?
Windfall continues to be one of the most sought-after communities in Blue Mountain. Located next to the mountain and within minutes of the slope-side village, it continues to exceed our expectations. To date, we have delivered more than 250 homes and, assuming we will be able to continue building, our construction pipeline is full through the second quarter of 2021. We are not delaying the launch of our next phase, which is scheduled for May/June 2020. You can literally walk to the chair lift from this part of our community and people are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to live here. We have, of course, been in touch with our potential future homeowners to gauge their interest, given the current circumstance, and most plan on moving ahead when we do, in fact, release.
Braestone is a country estate community located in the Horseshoe Valley region with convenient access to neighbouring Barrie and Orillia. It offers large estate lots with beautiful natural amenities such as berry and pumpkin patches, a maple syrup producing sugar shack, kilometres of trails and unbelievable value compared to the GTA. Residents truly enjoy a life altering style of living, and we believe this community will increase in demand as more and more people look for options further away from the city. Similar to Windfall, we are not delaying the release of our next phase. In fact, we've taken advanced reservations on 40 per cent of the upcoming release. We are extremely excited about the escalated increase in interest for Braestone.
How will you welcome buyers back, when things return to normal and the market "reopens"? For example, will you offer any incentives, price discounts or free upgrades…?
We've always positioned our homes to offer value that exceeds their price and to be extremely competitive in the market. We have no plans to discount pricing, however, we will continue to offer decor incentives as we always have, as a means to help our customers obtain their priority upgrades.
Our sales philosophy is based on sharing, not selling. Our team simply shares what our communities have to offer, what lifestyle improvements our residents experience, and we provide information through a more holistic approach. Each community we build is designed to create positive interactions between neighbours – places for adventure, dreams, inspiration and coming together in shared experiences. We look forward to this being normal again.
What's next for Georgian? What other new opportunities are you considering bringing to market?
We are very excited about our future development in the village of Craighurst, which is currently in the planning stages. Located minutes from Hwy. 400 and just 15 kms from north Barrie, this small town community will be embedded in nature, yet minutes to city conveniences. Additionally, we continue to study opportunities within "our own backyard" in the Grey and Simcoe County regions.