2 min read November 2022 — COO of ICI Homes, Tom McCall, spoke with Invest: about staying ahead of market needs and attracting customers to Jacksonville. He talked about shifting priorities since the COVID-19 pandemic and how ICI Homes is rethinking marketing for a new age of clients.
How have the needs of your customers changed since the pandemic?
The customer profile has changed, people value their house now very differently than they did pre-pandemic. They are staying home more often, they want to work, play, live and enjoy their home. The view used to be that your house is a place you’d come home to, grab something to eat, watch a little TV and go to bed. Today, people are planning not only to have gatherings and outdoor living spaces, but they’re also working from home. Our focus as a higher end builder is the second home and retirees who are moving up, so our average sales price is very high. What we’ve found is that spacing of the houses is very critical. For example, more people are working from home, sometimes both husband and wife, and you can’t make phone calls if both of you are in the office. That’s something that we’ve added to a lot of our plans. We were able to adapt a lot quicker to new demands than other builders because we customize so we were able to adjust the house, move walls and make that work. We’ve taken a lot of that education and adapted our standard plans. People also want to live outdoors, they want to gather with firepits and TVs for great outdoor living. Instead of a communal clubhouse, they want to have little areas to gather with friends and family so we’ve integrated that into our existing and new communities. We’re hyper-focused on the latest and greatest design and spacing. To meet this demand, we’ve opened three new communities in the last month. Silver Leaf and Middlebourne are located in St. Johns county, and Seven Pines in Duval county, which is our largest community.
What is the impact of higher interest rates on your clients’ demands?
Everybody is impacted by the higher mortgage rates. We have been a lot less impacted because of our higher price point. Fifty percent of our customers are retirees, and the other 50 have previously bought houses, so they have equity in their homes and are often cash buyers. We’ve found that our customers are prioritizing location. They are willing to have less square footage but they still want the finishes and spaces. If they’re going to sacrifice, they’re not going to sacrifice location or quality, they’re going to sacrifice the size of the home to make it more affordable based on the interest rate.
How do you confront issues of land scarcity?
Not only is land becoming increasingly scarce but it’s also more expensive. It’s harder today to get entitlements and it takes longer to develop the land. At ICI Homes, we’re blessed for a couple of reasons. We’ve been here for 43 years and our customer base has a vision of buying for the long term. We have several large communities and we have a very good pipeline. For example, Seven Pines is over 1,500 lots that we share with our development partner. We’re also a private company so we don’t have some of the pressures that a public company might have.
What separates Jacksonville from other markets?
The job growth and the number of businesses moving in has been incredible. In fact, we were meeting with one of our builder partners two weeks ago who builds all over the country, and he said that the Jacksonville market was his best market in the whole country. The area is less expensive than other parts of Florida, especially South Florida, and has a lot to offer with its beaches and job growth. It’s a diamond in the rough. People are not going to stop wanting to come to coastal Florida. It’s one of the top couple markets in the country, in my opinion.
What are your priorities for ICI Homes?
We now have a committee of architects who examine the latest and greatest models to update and keep our offerings competitive. We try to outdo each build and improve every time. We’re also working on more effectively marketing through our new website. With the pandemic, we needed an alternative to in-person meetings. We rely on videos and virtual conferencing to give walkthroughs to our clients. We have been able to personalize virtual selling, and in 2020, a third of our sales were done that way. We’ve seen that trend continue. The market has been shifting like crazy but we are nimble and able to adapt. Out-of-state marketing has become a new focus for us since the fourth quarter of 2021. We have many years of experience, so we were able to see the upcoming booms and busts in the cycle and get ahead of them. We’ve invested a lot of money in data mining software to improve our marketing and better understand our customers. We are honing in on our marketing process to find the right clients. The market is transitioning now, but people still buy what they see, so we are focused on making our properties available and equipping them with all the bells and whistles.
How do you see the market growing in the near term?
For years and years, people are going to want to come to Florida, particularly coastal Florida. It has to do with lifestyle and the ability to work from home. If you can work from home and live near a beach, why not? I see the Florida markets as the strongest in the country. A lot of the South Florida markets like Naples and Miami have lots of traffic and extremely high prices. Everybody used to go that direction to retire but I think we’re seeing a shift now.
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