Do you know where your owners go after they sell their home? Know that you should be doing an exit survey, but don’t know what kinds of questions should you ask? Already have your buyers filling out an exit survey, but not know what to do next? If so, read on.
Everyone agrees it’s a good idea to listen to our homeowners, but in a recent poll of programs, only one third of the responding organizations had an exit survey up and running. Exit surveys include a standard set of questions a program routinely ask at the time of resale or shortly after. Sometimes it’s a survey, but sometimes it’s a feedback loop embedded in an existing process. Exit surveys can be paper, online, or even more informal but the important thing to note is that without one, you’ll have no idea where people went or are going after your program, and it’s really hard to go back and fill in the blanks years later. More importantly, without gathering feedback from your homeowners, you won’t be able to make program improvements or share their story with others.
Let’s review the purpose and benefits of an exit survey:
1. Collect Stories.
Exit surveys give sellers a chance to describe their experience in your program. With an exit survey you can collect stories on the longer term benefits of homeownership over the years, as a seller reflects back. Look at the featured homeowners stories on your website and count how many are captured at the time the owner sells, as opposed to shortly after they move in. I recently saw an owner story that featured a homeowner that had owned their land trust home for several decades, and it struck me as a refreshing perspective. From what I’ve seen, stories told many years after purchase are not that common, despite being a big part of the impact story.
2. Solicit Feedback.
You can improve your program design and policies by asking sellers to rate their experience with your program, as well as your service providers like lenders and real estate agents. As Mike Williams of Habitat Palm Beach County said in his pre-webinar survey, “We have a simple Survey Monkey survey that assesses the applicant/homeowner’s experience with us.” Proud Ground, in Portland Oregon doesn’t wait for a resale to ask for feedback. They survey current owners to learn more about homeowner perceptions, “What has been your biggest challenge as a homeowner?” and encourage engagement, “Would you like to be involved with Proud Ground in any of the following ways? (Attend workshops, share my story, volunteer, etc…).
3. Identify Trends.
With exit surveys, you can collect and aggregate a lot of information quickly, allowing for simple reporting and trend spotting. Do you know why your homeowners sell? Home to small? Desire to own a market rate unit? Costs to high? Change in Family size? What’s the most common reason and has it changed over the years? What patterns are you seeing in your data and how might your staff and program respond? There is so much we don’t know about the people we seek to help, so remember to analyze and reflect on the data your program collects in order to learn more about the trends that affect your target market.
4. Measure Impact.
If you’re using HomeKeeper you can easily create dashboards to measure program impact and benchmark your results with your peers. By submitting a subset of program data to the HomeKeeper National Data Hub, you’re also contributing to the larger effort to measure the impact of our sector as a whole. Do you know whether sellers are moving on to market rate homeownership? Are they buying another home, or are they gong back to renting? How do your foreclosure rates compare to other programs like yours? Even if you’re not using HomeKeeper yet, you can tally your surveys annually and put your impact results on your website or into your funding proposals.
5. Stay in Touch.
Lastly, by simply asking folks for new contact information, you can track long-term impact and convert sellers into donors or volunteers. Can you contact a former owner if you need to? Have you ever had a graduate student intern follow up with past owners 5 years later? It’s hard to do that if you don’t know how to contact them. If you collect personal references as part of your intake application, have your owners update those references when they exit the program.
What should you include in an Exit Survey?
The following list is what HomeKeeper users are currently collecting and reporting to the HomeKeeper National Data Hub. You can collect a lot more information, a lot more frequently-certainly most programs do-but at a very minimum, make sure you at least include these questions at the time of resale:
- What was seller’s next home tenure type. Will they rent or own?
- What was their overall experience in the program?
- If the seller is purchasing another home, have or will they receive financial assistance from a public agency to help with the purchase?
- What was the primary reason for sale?
- What’s the seller’s next residential address?
If you don’t already have an exit survey in place, these questions are a good place to start. To get started, download our Universal Exit Survey Template and start using it today. On a recent peer-to-peer webinar, Kelly Hassinger of Upper Valley Mend shared their simple questionnaire that she uses to collect this information.
Tips from your peers
1. Aim for a high completion rate.
Even if you don’t get a survey back, you should try to get the information anyway you can and make your best attempt to collect the information. It’s not really worth having an exit survey if your response rate is very low. The benefits covered above don’t come from having the process in place to solicit feedback, they come from collecting enough feedback for analysis so focus on a high completion rate. Some programs raffle off a gift card to encourage participation, and others collect feedback at the same time other required information is being sent in. Other programs will pick up the phone or send off a quick email to gather missing survey information. Having multiple avenues for buyers to give you feedback also helps you get to a higher completion rate.
2. Embed in an existing process.
In order to get more complete exit data, Homestead Community Land Trust embedded the question into an existing process by adding these questions into their Resale Application. CityFirst Homes has taken this one step further by putting their resale application online as a web form that feed information directly into HomeKeeeper. These programs have a 100% completion rate because sellers have to submit that information in order to proceed with the resale process. You could also include questions as part of a notice of intent to resale template owners download from your website, or add a survey into the closing documents and closing instructions. By combining the process of gathering feedback into the existing process, you can consolidate your workflows and ensure a higher response rate.
3. Just Ask.
Some groups simply make it a point to casually ask homeowners the five questions at some point in the resale process. Champlain Housing Trust attends all of their closing meetings. So while the buyer is signing their documents, the program staff person chats with the sellers and gathers the information. They have a survey form that the seller can complete, but sometimes it’s the staff that completes it during or immediately after the conversation.
4. Consider Interim Surveys.
Several Habitat for Humanity affiliates have shared that they do interim surveys 5 and 10 years out, since their homeowners tend to stay a very long time. Proud Ground also does this. Instead of asking the minimum questions listed above reviewed, they collect other information about impact.
5. Do something with your data.
It is not worth collecting exit survey data unless you are going to do something with it. Here’s another graph from a HomeKeeper dashboard. If you learned only 42% of your sellers stay in your county, what would this tell you? If you knew a homeowner wished they had access to better schools, what would you tell those applying to buy? Once you explore and analyze your data, you can make changes to your outreach and program design, dig deeper into reasons to explain what you see and extract quotes to personalize your impact stories and set appropriate expectations for new applicants who are applying to buy a home. You can also use the data to support your advocacy efforts or collaborate with your local university to conduct research projects on the long term impact.
It’s your turn to share! If you have an exit survey,
- How do you collect them?
- What strategies do you use to ensure completion?
If you don’t have an exit survey,
- What other ways to do you gather this information?
- What do you want to know from your peers?