House hunting goes increasingly digital

WASHINGTON: Real estate-related searches for US homes on Google have grown 253% over the past four years, according to a joint study from the US-based National Association of Realtors (NAR) and Google.

“These results parallel the trends shown in NAR’s economic research reports,” said NAR president Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, California in a recent press release.

“As home sales and prices continue to trend up, more people are regaining confidence to invest in their future through home ownership.”

The Digital House Hunt: Consumer and Market Trends in Real Estate is a joint report by NAR and Google that examines the connection between consumer Internet use and online home search and shopping patterns.

The study leverages on NAR’s custom research and Google’s proprietary and third-party research. Google collaborated with Compete in 2011 and 2012 to survey and analyse the behaviours of people in the market for new and existing homes.

That research focused on people who had completed an online “conversion” — taking the next step of contacting an agent or requesting additional information from a real estate brand’s website.

According to the analysis, buyers used specific online tools at different points during their home search process. Buyers tend to rely on search engines and general websites when they begin their search, use maps more in the middle of the process, and engage mobile applications most toward the end of their search.

In their online search queries, first-time buyers frequently searched terms like “FHA loan”, “FHA”, “home grants”, “home loan”, and “home buyer assistance”.

Last year, more than four out of 10 first-time buyers purchased their homes with a Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage.

“The fact that first-time buyers are looking for information about FHA loan programmes and home buyer assistance underscores some of the challenges today’s home buyers face in today’s tight credit environment,” said Thomas. “Realtors are excellent sources of information and can help buyers navigate the mortgage financing process.”

Both first-time and repeat buyers rely on realtors in their home search.  According to the 2012 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, multiple listing service websites and were the top two websites used in recent home searches., NAR’s official property listing website, attracts an average of more than 20 million unique visitors per month. Mirroring the Google/NAR study, search activity on had picked up significantly too — a 31% increase nationwide between March and October last year.

According to data from, today’s buyers search most frequently on numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms; square footage; garages; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; and swimming pools. These home features represent 70% of all searched features on the site.

Mobile devices are significantly changing the way people search for homes, as well. According to results from Google’s aforementioned home shopper research with Compete, 48% of people who used a mobile device in their home search used the device to get directions to homes for sale, and 45% used the device to request more information about specific home features or real estate services.

“Increasingly, online technologies are driving offline behaviours, and home buying is no exception,” said Google head of Real Estate Patrick Grandinetti. “With 90% of home buyers searching online during their home buying process, the real estate industry is smart to target these people where they look for and consume information — for example through paid search, relevant websites, video environments, and mobile applications.”

“Technology has transformed the way realtors do business,” said Steven Berkowitz, CEO of Move, Inc, which operates

“The Internet is actually helping connect realtors with home buyers. And realtors are responding by leveraging resources like, Facebook and YouTube to engage buyers and sellers in ever-evolving ways.”

The NAR is America’s largest trade association, representing one million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.



This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on Jan 11, 2013.

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