Q&A With Sue Scholfield: Working In Unprecedented Times

This year, businesses around the world have changed how they operate, while working in an unknown market. Millions googled ‘furlough definition’, group meetings started taking place virtually… from home, and many companies were forced to close temporarily. With the Government easing its lockdown measures to allow the reopening of new-build sales centres, teams from Vistry – which includes Bovis and Linden Homes – had to adapt quickly, while ensuring health and safety was paramount.

Sue Scholfield, Vistry Group’s sales and marketing director, tells us what’s been going on behind the scenes and explains how the stamp duty holiday announcement is great news for homebuyers and the industry as a whole…

Sue has over 30 years’ housebuilding experience and has been a sales director for 21 years. She works for the company’s Western region that operates in Gloucestershire, Bristol, Somerset and Wiltshire.

How have you adapted to help homebuyers in the current market?
It was obvious from an early stage that we were going to have to change how we work dramatically and it was imperative we actively engaged with our customers, even if it was to tell them we weren’t sure of the answer. Whether they were a new homebuyer interested in moving or they had reserved and were waiting for their home to be completed, our customers needed to know that we were still available. When we first went into lockdown, I had all calls directed to me personally and it’s been a good opportunity to talk as the slower pace of life has meant customers have more time available.

We’ve used Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype to communicate with our customers, and as we couldn’t organise physical appointments initially, we adapted and arranged virtual tours. We also uploaded show home tours to our website. Homebuyers can now choose between a video tour or a real visit, it’s completely down to the individual; they’re benefitting from a very personal service.

Have you been busy? What type of buyers are you seeing?
Yes, I’ve been surprised how busy and it’s only going to get busier with the stamp duty holiday announcement. Initially we were quieter, with perhaps 20 new enquiries a week, but that quickly doubled and we’ve been receiving over 100 for the past few weeks. We did notice a reduction of first time buyers but now the mortgage lenders have returned, we’re seeing a rise in that figure too.

How have buyers’ habits changed?
Buyers’ habits have changed enormously; we’re not receiving enquiries from people thinking about moving next year anymore, our enquiries are from serious homebuyers who have done their homework and are looking to move now.

What type of properties and features are proving popular?
Outside space has become a priority for many. The current situation has highlighted what’s important to us all and lots of buyers are wanting to move to a larger property in a more rural location. Also, a home office or a fourth bedroom – which could be used as a study – is being frequently requested.

Has this been one of the most challenging periods during your career?
Yes, without a doubt! I’ve worked through recessions but this was completely different. It’s touched everyone’s lives, we’re talking life and death, which sounds scary but that was the reality and we had a huge responsibility to our team and to our customers to find a way to work safely.

How has your team adapted?
In the Western region, we hold regular meetings on Skype and Microsoft Teams and we’ve been on lots of video calls, which has been lovely, especially seeing colleagues’ pets and children walking around in the background! We’ve also had low times, when we’ve missed family and friends, and sometimes working from home can bleed into the day so it’s been important for us to talk openly to each other and establish boundaries so you also get that important down time too.

We wanted our customers to have our full support and I’m very proud that we’ve been able to offer such a personal service. We’ve even created digital handshakes, which is a video welcome from the sales executive to the customer, so it’s not a faceless name at the end of the phone.

The lockdown situation showed us we can work flexibly and we’re now changing how we work moving forward. We’re in the process of creating new home hubs which will support three or four developments, enabling us to tailor a visit around the customer’s needs.

What can potential homebuyers expect if they contact you now?
When you call, you’ll speak to a member of the sales team and we’ll ask you to get pre-qualified by an independent mortgage advisor. You can then find out how much you can afford to spend and we’ll be better placed to help you find the right home to suit your needs and budget.

The next step is to organise an appointment. This could be a virtual appointment from the comfort of your own home while we walk around the property on site for you, answering questions along the way or if you’d prefer to visit, you’ll need to book an appointment, with a maximum of two visitors in attendance.

Health and safety has been our main priority. As well as our new procedures, there is also clear signage, plus screens and hand sanitisers for extra protection. A lot of planning has gone into the changes and they’ve been carried out in a measured, phased and safe manner. As time goes on, the plans will undoubtedly evolve to encompass the latest guidance to ensure everyone’s safety.

What’s surprised you the most about the current situation?
Probably the sheer number of people who are interested in moving. We had Brexit and an election at the end of 2019, so I think many people who have thought about moving are now ready to get on with it, especially with the support offered by good mortgage rates and the stamp duty holiday.

What did you think of the stamp duty holiday announcement?
It’s fantastic news for the whole industry and will ensure it continues to thrive. Homebuyers can often find it difficult to raise the stamp duty tax so it will benefit them enormously, especially second or third time movers who will be able to move without the financial pressure of having to pay thousands in stamp duty. For example, a family moving to a home costing £450,000 will save £12,500 in stamp duty!

What’s been the biggest difficulty?
At the beginning, we couldn’t do everything as quickly as normal and that was difficult. One example is that we couldn’t organise our usual home demonstration visits. This is where we show our customers their new home before they move and we explain how their oven works and demonstrate how to set the heating. To get around this, we made personalised videos and customers have loved them, as they can replay the videos when needed. Customers have been so understanding and we’ve had to challenge the norm and work creatively.

Worst lock down memory?
There were times when you could see members of the team look anxious and that broke my heart.

Best lockdown memory?
All the shared videos. As a team, we were sending fun videos of our time at home and we had someone demonstrate how to make banana bread, an exercise class, gardening tips, a movie trailer, jokes from their family, it’s been lovely to be immersed in everyone’s lives and we’ve certainly come out of it closer.

Any tips or advice for anyone thinking of moving?
Yes, my tips for homebuyers:

Sue Scholfield, Sales and Marketing
Director at Vistry Group (Western).
Linden Homes’ Spinnaker
development in Westbury.
Linden Homes’ The Orchards
development in Thornbury
Bovis Homes’ Priory Fields development in Wells

-ENDS-

Contact: Emma Mackay, Bovis Homes and Linden Homes, 077383 12960, emma.mackay@vistry.co.uk

22 July 2020

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