Consumers' online experiences are increasingly influencing their homebuying activity offline, according to a joint study from search giant Google and the National Association of Realtors.
The report, "The Digital House Hunt: Consumer and Market Trends in Real Estate," includes custom research from NAR's 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers as well as internal Google data and research conducted by Google and third-party marketing firm Compete.
Real estate-related searches on Google.com rose 253 percent over the past four years and 22 percent on annual basis in the third quarter, according to internal Google data. Of the latter, about one-fifth of such searches occurred on mobile devices -- a 120 percent year-over-year increase.
Nine out of 10 house hunters searched online during the homebuying process with 52 percent choosing that as their first step in the process, the report said. Those who used search engines were 9 percent more likely to take an action on a real estate brand website than those who did not search and those who searched performed an average of 11 searches prior to taking an action, the report said.
Google and Compete tracked the behavior of users who completed a specific desired "conversion activity" at a real estate website during second-quarter 2011 and second-quarter 2012.
These activities included registering to buy or sell a home, sharing a listing, submitting a lead form, using a mortgage calculator, viewing a contact phone number, or viewing directions to a home or agent office. Google and Compete backtracked 90 days from the time a user completed one of these actions to uncover behavior patterns that lead to the activity.
In 2011, the companies tracked behavior for home shoppers in general. In 2012, they tracked new-home shoppers specifically. The real estate websites considered included brokerage websites and listing aggregators.
The report's findings included insights on how house hunters are using online search, mobile devices, and video more and more in their homebuying endeavors.
"Increasingly, online technologies are driving offline behaviors, and homebuying is no exception," said Patrick Grandinetti, Google's head of real estate, in a statement.
"With 90 percent of homebuyers searching online during their homebuying 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."
Nearly 7 out of 10 home shoppers who took action on a real estate brand website began their research with a local term on a search engine, i.e., "Houston homes for sale," the report said, and 52 percent of those who took action on a real estate brand site came directly from a local search on a search engine.
New-home shoppers were most likely to use a mobile search engine at the beginning of their search process, use general news websites and maps in the middle, and use mobile applications throughout the process.