Competing effectively in today’s homebuilding and selling markets takes more than just blueprints and colorful brochures.
For Meritage Homes, an Arizona-based real estate development company, the essential tools of the trade also include about 1,200 iPad devices.
“Our sales, surveying and construction staff are constantly out and about, and in order to be as productive and efficient as possible, they need access to information in real-time, the moment they need it,” says Josh Vogel, Meritage’s senior desktop support manager.
The 30-year-old company previously deployed notebooks to 98 percent of its end users, but Vogel says the iPad “gives our frontline employees more mobility.”
“It’s so light and small,” he says. “There’s no boot-up time to use an application. It has a longer battery life. It’s just a lot more convenient than carrying a bulky laptop.”
Meritage’s initial decision to deploy the devices had nothing to do with employee mobility. In 2013, Vogel and his team decided to place an iPad on a table inside one of the company’s model home offices to replace a paper-based customer registration process.
Outfitted with a custom-built application, the iPad allowed prospective homebuyers to enter all of their personal information and home-buying interests. The app then transmitted information directly back to a company database for recordkeeping and reporting.
The project was so well received that the company began looking into a broader tablet rollout. Although Vogel and his team initially considered other device options, “the iPad seemed to be the most consistent, and the Apple operating system seemed to be the most stable.”
“Most of our end users were more familiar with iPad devices than with Android tablets, so we felt the learning curve would be easier.”
Meritage’s IT department also deployed mobile device management (MDM) from MobileIron, a highly scalable solution that allows administrators to proactively push out software applications and other updates, set up user groups to automatically access shared servers and applications and even remotely wipe any device that’s lost or stolen.
“It’s quite a convenient tool,” Vogel says.
For broader technical support, Meritage opted for a long-term AppleCare+ for iPad warranty on the devices. If employees have any issues, they can simply visit an Apple retail store for help.
Vogel and his team first issued iPad devices in a trial deployment to sales associates. Soon after, they deployed the devices to construction managers and the land department’s surveying staff.
Although everyone still uses a notebook, frontline employees armed with iPad devices proved quickly that the device offers not only a smaller, more convenient computing alternative, but also greater functionality.
Ann Lombardo, a Meritage sales associate based in Austin, Texas, frequently uses her iPad to photograph homes under construction and email the photos to her clients. And construction managers traveling between jobsites enjoy nearly uninterrupted Wi-Fi connectivity via cell towers. Meritage’s land surveyors rely on cellular signals to easily access geographic information systems or apps that can help them to verify property boundaries.
“I can stand in a brand-new community that’s just dirt and streets and show people pictures of what their new home or their front door will look like,” Lombardo says. “If someone asks me, ‘What’s the dimension of this room?’ or something specific like that, I can use my iPad to pull up a program that has all of our floor plans and blueprints and answer the question right then, instead of having to wait until we walk back to the office.”
Gintautas Urbonavicius, Meritage’s scheduling and continuous improvement manager, says employees and contracted vendors use their iPad devices every day to access the company’s scheduling system in real time, from anywhere.
“They know exactly what’s going on in terms of what’s scheduled, what’s been changed, what’s been updated, who’s going to be working where and what jobs are coming up,” he says. “It really streamlines the process and makes everything quicker, more accurate and a lot more efficient.”
Meritage staff also use the iPad to photograph, describe and document defects that may need to be corrected by a vendor. The DocuSign app allows construction teams to sign quickly for deliveries. Homebuyers can sign homeowner orientation or preclosing walk-through documents electronically.
Vogel and his team plan to expand their iPad deployment into model homes by connecting the devices to large-screen monitors, providing prospective homebuyers better views of available home styles and floor plans.
From there, the company will slowly phase out company-issued notebooks in favor of the iPad devices, Vogel says. Each sales office and construction trailer will maintain a single desktop computer to handle heavy word processing, accounting and administrative duties.
Cost is a key driver of the transition, Vogel says. For Meritage, each iPad device costs less than $700 — including the long-term AppleCare+ for iPad warranty — compared with about $2,000 for a fully outfitted notebook. Desktop computers also cost the company significantly less than notebooks.
“We see this strategy as one that will enable our employees to do more at a lower overall cost, in terms of initial acquisition and ongoing support,” says Vogel. “We’re very optimistic that this is going to help our business now and in the long term.”