VIRUS OUTBREAK

Developers explore new ideas to market projects safely

They are using technology like 3D video walkthroughs and online marketing, besides curtailing gallery visiting hours

Singapore

DEVELOPERS are exploring different ways to safely market their residential projects amid the Covid-19 virus outbreak, from stepping up the use of digital solutions to curtailing hours at their sales galleries.

While a number of developers have already rolled out precautionary measures at their showflats - such as temperature screening, recording travel history declarations and ramping up cleaning frequencies - they are said to be looking at additional avenues after the DORSCON level was raised to Orange on Feb 7.

Alice Tan, senior director (research and consulting) at Edmund Tie & Company, said that developers are looking to scale up efforts in areas such as online marketing, including interactive e-brochures, 3D video walkthroughs to simulate walking through the showflat and curating content for social media.

Karamjit Singh, chief executive officer of proptech firm Showsuite, told The Business Times: "We have seen a rise in enquiries from developers keen to step up digital solutions to market and transact with buyers who are naturally apprehensive of crowds or contact. These include allowing them to view their showflats virtually through 360 degree photography, having the buyers sign pre-sale documents digitally and paying deposits electronically using our e-payment feature from the comfort of their homes."

Sharing a similar sentiment, ERA Realty's head of research and consultancy, Nicholas Mak, said that developers are considering using technology along with other methods to minimise the risks to prospective buyers, pointing to examples such as 3D virtual showflats. Nonetheless, he reckons most buyers would still want to visit a showflat before making a purchase.

For its part, ERA has rolled out a digital contact tracing and health declaration form via ERA's mobile app, which enables clients to fill up their details and submit it to their property agents digitally. The real estate agency highlighted that through the initiative, agents will be able to easily trace their clients' viewing records, while the data will help the firm identify close contacts who might be at risk of infection should there be a confirmed case of the virus.

As developers prepare for upcoming launches, they are also in talks with Showsuite on how to best implement either digital balloting or having the balloting process video-streamed live for buyers to maintain transparency and fairness, Mr Singh said.

One project that has already chosen this route is executive condominium (EC) Parc Canberra along Canberra Link. Co-developers Hoi Hup Realty and Sunway Developments will live-stream the balloting process on Friday. To spread out the crowds, applicants were asked to drop off their ballot tickets in person over two days - instead of one - at the sales gallery in front of an auditor. At 10am on Feb 14, the balloting exercise will be broadcast live on Parc Canberra's Facebook page. Successful applications will then be asked to visit the sales gallery during allocated time slots on Feb 15 to book their preferred unit.

As part of their precautionary measures, some developers are also reducing the opening hours for their sales galleries.

For UOL Group's projects The Tre Ver and Avenue South Residence, viewings of the showflats are through appointment from Monday to Thursday, while the showflat remains open between noon and 6pm from Friday to Sunday.

Jesline Goh, chief investment and asset officer at UOL, said: "Buyers can also choose to complete their sales and purchase documentation through our sales e-system without having to go down to the showflat."

Another developer, who declined to be named, is carrying out viewings purely by appointment only for its existing projects, BT understands.

Meanwhile, Wing Tai Asia's 522-unit The M condominium will be launched for public preview on Saturday.

Aside from other precautionary measures that are being introduced, Wing Tai will schedule prospective buyers to visit the sales gallery at different times and limit the number of people in the gallery in a bid to prevent large crowds.

Still, as others scale back, at least one project is going full steam ahead. The 548-unit EC OLÁ Residences in Sengkang by Evia Real Estate and Gamuda Land is slated for launch on Feb 15, and promises a "carnival atmosphere" with dancers, jugglers and stilt walkers in a 17,000 square foot (sq ft) interactive sales gallery.

In addition to temperature screening and recording visitors' travel history, co-developer Evia told BT that it will be putting in place measures such as air purifiers and circulating fresh air using its air-conditioners.

"Should the situation turn more serious, we have prepared videos for buyers and online bookings to enable buyers to select units," said Vincent Ong, managing partner of Evia.

Bukit Sembawang Estates is also conducting a preview for the final phase of its 999-year landed development, Luxus Hills, this week and is poised to launch the remaining units this month.

When it comes to using technology to marketing launches, though, the positioning of the project does matter. In the case of high-end projects, ultimately the look and the feel of the showflat is quite important to woo buyers, Ms Tan pointed out.

"High-end projects may still have to stick to an on-site strategy as prospective buyers also need dedicated face-to-face time with agents and bankers," she said. But with prospective buyers generally less inclined to visit sales galleries, developers with luxury projects "may have to hunker down and brave through until the situation improves", she added.

Nonetheless, agents and developers are keeping in touch with high-end buyers to provide supporting marketing tools, such as price updates, she said.