Deena Pantalone keeps our eye on the future here at National Homes. The Managing Partner and Director of Marketing & Innovation, Deena plans and oversees all marketing, sales, innovation, architecture, design and public relations activity throughout Canada and the USA. This week we sat down with Deena to talk about her recent trip to The Globe and Mail’s National Housing Innovation Summit in Vancouver exploring topics important to our industry like innovation, technology, sustainability and affordability.
How was the conference?
In a word – inspiring. It was great to be able to add our voice to leading experts and innovators from around the world. Our industry has been stuck in some old-world thinking for too long and has been in desperate need for innovation for some time. Real Estate has some of the lowest R&D levels of any sector. If we are going to truly confront the challenges of our time we must adapt, so it was marvelous to see the conversation growing.
Where does Canada sit on the global front with this?
Supply and affordability are burning issues here. For young people and newcomers to Canada, the dream of enjoying life in a vibrant metropolitan area is really a challenge. Look at Vancouver where the summit took place. Median home prices long ago surpassed $1-million a year while incomes hover around $72k. Conservative estimates say Vancouver requires 10,000 affordable units a year to address their rental crisis.
How is National Homes addressing key issues of the day?
At National, we are very focused on designing developments supported by Proptech. I spend my days looking at how we can build communities that meet the demands of new buyers, who are faced with challenging market dynamics. Traditional approaches to home design and neighbourhood planning need to evolve.
Innovation is a little like fortune telling. How do you meet the needs of buyers today and predict what homebuyers are going to want in the future?
Our design process has always included surveys, micro workshops and focus groups. In fact, our brand is built around the tag line “you are the blueprint”. So we keep stats, but spreadsheets and statistics don’t tell us the whole story. In fact, sometimes they can separate us from the real needs of real people. Listening can do so much more than tell us whether there is a market for our product, or how to price it. Listening to real people can spark ideas that can lead to better, more informed design.
So how do you listen?
Well, recently we wanted to know how our community and home designs could improve people’s quality of life at an affordable price. So we put our tag line into practice by developing a whole new way of doing research. We created a one-day think-tank event called The Blueprint Workshop. The event was all about engagement so we included a diverse group of over 70 homeowners and potential homeowners along with architects, engineers, planning students from Schulich Real Estate Master’s program and four different tech companies. It generated real, evidence-based, actionable data based on the needs, desires, hopes and dreams of our purchasers
What did you learn?
We learned that new home buyers are much more focused on how their space is used than how large that space is. We heard that storage is top of the list for smaller homes. That technology is important but only if it makes their lives easier and not more complicated. They want to do their part in saving the planet, but they also wouldn’t mind lower monthly energy bills. They don’t mind density, but they want gentle density. Multi-generational co-living is on their mind too.
That’s a tall list, how do you build all of these ideas into a home and make it affordable?
We are looking at creative and innovative designs to help build affordability and at the same time, develop community engagement. We are about to test drive many of these new ideas with our newest community, The Vale in Courtice. This neighborhood is being geared towards first time buyers, millennials, most likely moving from the city to get into ownership. From our research, we found that millennials are not interested in a traditional cookie cutter approach, where builders maximize the number of units, with a small number of home designs, repeated. So we developed a unique site plan with several types of townhomes and 15 different floorplans to create a more naturally evolved sense of community. We wanted to give our buyers flexibility and choice with both rental and ownership options with the majority of our homes priced under $500,000.
OK, but can you really include some of the smart home or fun options at that price point?
Absolutely. We offer things like USB smart charging and white boards. A physical Amazon Drop Box that’s built right into your home. Family Centres with all-in-one storage, floating shelves and interesting storage options like a pull-down cupboard and rotating shoe closets. We’ve even included innovations like dog wash stations in the garage to keep your house cleaner!
What’s the next steps for the Real Estate Industry?
As an industry, we have to keep pushing the envelope, we have to keep talking to the people who will actually live in our communities and homes. Not assuming or inferring from another person’s research. We need to offer functional design answers to real human needs. Problems we were able to solve, because we started by listening. If we can show the industry proof that this is what customers want, if we can share the knowledge, involve municipalities in our research, then we can all work together to build the kind of homes and the communities that our changing Canadian marketplace wants to live in and can afford.