Debra Wyatte is the Chief Commerical Officer with Cecilian Partners, a customer-experience company focused on real estate.
Health and wellness is not a new concept or trend in residential real estate. In 2013, the Urban Land Institute, of which I’m a proud member, established the Building Healthy Places Initiatives to make health and social equity more mainstream in the industry with toolkits and resources. The approach of having open space, parks, gyms and sustainable energy options like solar have become the standard way of promoting a healthy, sustainable community. However, in GlobalScan’s 2020 study across 27 markets, the overwhelming response was that people are trying to improve their health and well-being but don’t know where to start. If the focus on health isn’t new, then why is there such a large disconnect on how where we live can improve our health?
When it comes to residential real estate, the customer disconnect comes down to two things. First, the lack of awareness of how one’s built environment impacts health and, second, a lack of education from the industry to promote what they are doing to help in a relatable way.
Over the last year, the importance of air quality and how it impacts our health has started to shift customer awareness. Unfortunately, we can’t tell if an indoor space has good air quality the same way we can tell if a restaurant has passed a health code inspection. Or could we? There are various third-party certifications for buildings that promote health and sustainability, but unless the customer sees the plaque on the wall and understands what it means, the opportunity to connect it to them and the impact on their lives falls short.
This is likely to change with programs that aim to promote user confidence in public spaces, such as the recent development from the International WELL Building Institute. IWBI’s approach is to provide the general public peace of mind when going into public places when they see the WELL seal. Unlike a plaque on the wall, this visible decal has celebrities leading the call to action: look for the seal. The celebrity influence is likely to create an increase in the general public awareness on how health and the built environment are connected.
Knowing this awareness is coming, developers and builders have a real opportunity to connect community design and product offerings and share how they improve the overall health of the families that choose to live in their constructions. So what should you do?
Start by elevating what you’re currently doing through a health lens, emphasize the positive impact it has and start communicating it in a way that consumers understand. Throwing around stats about air particulates can be impactful, but explaining their connection to common health concerns like asthma makes it relatable.
Here are two quick ideas that don’t require launching a new community or product series — only a shift in the marketing approach.
1. If the land plan promotes walkability, share the benefits of having safe access to the outdoors and what that does for mental and physical health.
2. In new construction, show a before and after picture of the HVAC ducts to the buyer to give them confidence that they won’t be exposed to construction dust, but will start off with the best air quality possible.
In the end, our goal should be to make the customer’s choices around health and well-being easy to understand and relatable. Per the GlobalScan study, “Easy is good: Clear guidance and accessible options will facilitate healthy and sustainable living as people are unlikely to embrace change if they think it is difficult. When trying to be healthier and more sustainable, the easier something is perceived to be, the more interested people are in changing that behavior.”
So I challenge our industry to truly embrace this shift in approach and help our customers find easy ways to make living a healthier more sustainable lifestyle attainable.