In December 2020, Homes England reported that between 1st April and 30th September that year, the number of housing starts was the lowest since 2012-2013, at 11,313 homes. Housing completions had also decreased to 11,358 houses - the lowest since 2015-2016. The reduction of both starts and completions is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which caused significant complications for housebuilding activity. Affordable housing made up 79% of housing starts in this period, which has decreased by 32% from the previous year – putting the number of affordable homes at its lowest since 2017-2018. Housing associations are under pressure to provide affordable housing for those in need, and the pressure is greater during the current period of economic uncertainty, furlough, and redundancy.
With a large number of enquiries, housing associations have plenty of people ready to take a step on the property ladder – through both full and shared ownership. The current issue is the lack of houses, making it even more important to match the right people to the right house, within a suitable timescale.
Historically, housing associations have stored their enquiry, property, and opportunity data in separate spreadsheets which has negatively impacted communication and productivity by increasing the chance of human error. Spreadsheets lack clarity, so process simplification is essential to smooth running systems.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 not only simplifies processes, workflows, and enquiries, but also consumes data from external sources thanks to integration opportunities - helping to synergise data. Using one system from development to sale shortens lead time, as it is easy to understand when a property is available or when an enquiry would be a good match. By choosing to be pro-active rather than reactive, operations become automated and streamlined. While centralising data on a common platform means that information can be consumed by multiple sources efficiently.
Housing associations have been using legacy housing management systems, with archaic allocations processes that are predominantly used for onboarding rental customers rather than home ownership. By shoehorning the sales process into the legacy system, home ownership is a time consuming and unorganised procedure. When information is stored in Dynamics 365, viewing the pipeline is simplified, and conversion rates, marketing data and KPI’s are readily available on dashboards. This means enquiry to opportunity conversion data and the time taken from application to sale is up to date and readily available – reducing human error and making analysis more effective. The homebuying process isn’t just about sales, which is why full integration and customer journey visibility is so important.
External sources such as enquiry portals (Rightmove/Zoopla) can be integrated through Dynamics 365 providing additional benefits. Some housing associations, such as Platform Housing Group, have integrated their own custom property portal to surface more interaction and information from customers. Buyers interested in shared ownership can be evaluated for suitability, and the custom platform pro-actively sells better suited properties to the right people. With the current housing market in mind, the key to effective operational management focuses on productivity and managing the surge in demand with sensible lead qualification.
Customer data gathered through emails and conversations aid in opportunity conversion, and Microsoft Virtual Agent captures initial enquiry data and probes deeper to match customers to the current portfolio. As in-person viewings and show home visits are unavailable due to COVID-19, modern technologies are able to bridge the gap between housing association and customer, and Virtual Agent not only captures the data but also processes it. Augmented reality can measure rooms wall-to-wall for virtual lettings, increasing opportunities and availability during the pandemic.
The conveyancing process is not only simplified for the housing association, customers are also able to view a basic portal which outlines the actions and stages for each process. By keeping the customer in the loop, their overall engagement and experience is more positive as they are aware of any hold-ups or additional requirements. With different home ownership options – including shared ownership and staircasing – each method is catered for within the solutions and all processes are captured. The portal is flexible and easy to use, thanks to low-code/no-code Microsoft Power Platform, so updates or government changes can be introduced quickly. By configuring the system, staircasing changes can be applied with a minimal amount of training. Crimson aren’t the gatekeepers of the solution – leave the technical details and foundations of the platform to us and make adjustments and configurations internally.
Housing associations can deliver affordable homes for full or shared ownership to their customers to combat the current housing crisis, while also improving cash flow to support the wider community. Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Platform improve proactiveness by reducing the chance for human error, improving clarity of information, and shortening the sales process. The solutions capture demand to inform the development strategy, with support from Power BI and analytics. By organising the demand for housing, cancellations can be reduced, conversion rates can increase, and sale cycles can be shortened – all without taking on any additional staff.
An efficient and productive housing association can support the fringes of the community thanks to home sales.