The NAR and Google recently released a digital study on how home buyers used digital media and the Internet. These sorts of studies are important to be aware of, since some perceptions about how people search for real estate on the web are outdated. This study contains some surprising yet welcome data. Here are some of the highlights, from our perspective: [View the full report here]

Searching Online

  • 90% of home buyers searched online at some point in their buying process
  • Real estate-related Google searches climbed by 22% from 2011 (up 253% over the last 4 years)

The Internet has clearly become a default resource for people seeking property, so it’s more important than ever to have good visibility online and get found for relevant content.  Real estate agents need to pay attention to search engines and other online resources when planning their marketing strategy. The on-site search experience is important, too.  Providing sophisticated search options for visitors once you’ve acquired them is imperative to nurture leads. Your website must make it easy to find property from a wide range of criteria and then display these results in an easily digestible way. If your website cannot provide this, visitors won’t stick around for long, nor come back.

Website Conversions

  • On average, buyers perform 11 searches on a site before converting to a lead
  • 69% who convert on a site came from a local search
  • 24% convert on a site the first day of their search but 40% take 120 days to convert, meaning that the initial site response and ongoing value are BOTH important.
  • 78% go to 3+ sites before converting

This data really speaks to the importance of having a strong user experience and reason to come back. What tools does your site or blog offer that will be useful in their quest? What information can you provide that is trust-worthy and speaks from authority? Everything from your home page copy to thank you pages must put your best foot forward. You can have an enticing shop window but there must be good items inside and good customer service.

Mobile Search

  • 89% of new home shoppers use a mobile device during their search
  • 1/5 of real estate related searches happen on mobile devices
  • Activity: 48% use mobile to get directions, 44% to compare prices, 35% check company’s inventory, 28% call a brokerage, 21% locate a listing agent, 16% watch a listing video, 21% read reviews

image (2)Our phones and tablets have become an indispensable tool for shopping, and homes are no exception. With nearly 9 of 10 home shoppers using mobile devices to find their new home, having a well honed mobile experience has become vital for real estate agencies to remain competitive. With real estate in particular, we are faced with many challenges unique to the industry. Our development team at Union Street Media had this to say: “The sheer volume of information associated with each property is daunting and can be difficult to digest even with a full desktop browser experience. At Union Street Media we have developed a collection of tools which aggregate and display listing data in a mobile friendly way – leveraging new technologies like Geo-location and device identification. We’ve spent so much time, in fact, that our mobile real estate sites behave more or less precisely like a native application without the barrier of having to download and install another app. Essentially we’ve removed every barrier to user participation – giving them all the information they need in a format that is dead-simple to digest.”

Video in Real Estate

  • 86% use video to learn about a community, 70% view house tours
  • Agent-related searches on YouTube climbed 46% year on year

It’s not surprising that people look for videos on communities. What is surprising is that 86% choose to look for that first. Most of the time, real estate videos fall into two camps. One is the overly-long property tour set to Muzak. The other is the highly professional walking tour for luxury properties by large brokerages. There is a middle ground that can be exploited with basic videos that have a genuine story about communities, interviews with locals and agents, which can live quite happily on a blog and social media. Reserve more resources for an evergreen company video or agent profile, if, you are motivated or are willing to spend on outsourcing this to a professional.

The Home Buying process

  • Average buyer takes 3 months to buy but contacts an agent earlier, after 3 weeks

All real estate markets are different, but this speaks to timing. If your busiest season is typically the spring time, then spend time during the winter to make sure your website and other profiles are at their best. Use the time wisely so you are not having to worry about a re-design or changing CMS software right when the highest volume of people are looking for property. Also, agents should maximize this time during the buying window by encouraging them to sign up for an account to receive updates to their favorite searches and keep an eye on favorited properties.

Visitor Demographics

  • The 25-35 age group makes up the largest share of home shoppers who take action on a real estate website, at 31%
  • Gender is relatively equal when it comes to registering with real estate sites (53% women, 47% men)
  • 75% of senior home buyers go online to search for a home
  • Seniors care about neighborhood info and interactive maps

There is lots of good data here for us. The younger, first time home buyer is much more tech savvy, so it’s important to offer this group easy ways to contact you, to share listings socially, and to get onto email updates. They want to be in control but won’t waste time on ‘figuring out’ your website. The older demographic may be more patient but no less frustrated if the site is hard to navigate or confusing. Also, a unique perspective about neighborhoods will appeal to all ages, so make sure to write for your audience while not alienating others.

First Time Home Buyers

  • 47% of first-time home buyers used the Internet to search for a home
  • 52% of first-time home buyers started their search online
  • 77% of first-time buyers drove by a home viewed online

These numbers are unsurprising given the average age of first time home buyers, but if this is your target market, then it’s imperative to provide a streamlined experience for these users. They are likely to find you across multiple channels including your website, blog, mobile site and social media. Providing helpful information about first-time home buying can help steer a fickle market back to you. This audience segment needs re-assurance and one way to reinforce your credentials is with social media testimonials from ‘real people’ on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.