David is CEO of Move, Inc./realtor.com. Realtor.com makes buying, selling, and living in homes easier and more rewarding for everyone.
Before I joined realtor.com, I thought of online home search the way most people probably do — a way to look at pretty pictures of homes, dream about where my family and I might live, and learn about what’s available in any given market and how much I’d have to spend for a home that suits my needs.
But as I’ve come to understand, and as any real estate professional knows, it’s about so much more than that. When people become homeowners, they invest more fully in a community, and the quality of their lives in that home is affected by a lot of factors outside of those four walls. Socioeconomic conditions, public policies, geography and climate can all significantly impact the homeownership experience.
Agents and brokers can provide this context and insight to their clients, but 93% of today’s homebuyers search for homes online. That’s why I believe it’s incumbent upon those of us in the industry to find ways to integrate some of these factors into the online home search. On digital platforms, we can develop features that incorporate relevant data seamlessly into the search experience, and bring to life how trends from that data may affect individual properties and communities.
Flood risk is one timely example of data integration we closely considered when adding features to our own platform search experience. In the middle of hurricane season, flooding is certainly top-of-mind for many of us, homeowners, buyers and sellers, and real estate professionals included. After all, flooding is one of the most expensive natural disasters in the United States, costing more than $1 trillion, once adjusted for inflation, since 1980.
However, balancing a consummate consumer search experience with industry nuance and insights can be difficult at times. Online search features like flood risk, automated valuation models, noise filters and crime overlays can help consumers add context to their home search, but sometimes can be controversial with real estate professionals. It’s human nature to resist change and to be concerned about what those changes may mean for businesses and livelihoods, but the digital real estate marketplace opens the door to ways of doing business that weren’t possible before. Consumer-friendly features that engage people ultimately benefit the professionals who want to work with them. Applied data analytics from consumer engagement gives agents and brokers greater insights into potential customers’ intentions, so they can focus efforts on leads that are most likely to convert. Online search patterns can inform larger demographic and psychographic trends, which helps agents understand how to best market and position homes for sale.
The real estate journey is undoubtedly changing, from search to closing and beyond. But at the end of the day, we all need to think about the consumer experience and our role in creating and delivering services, guidance and resources to help home buyers and sellers succeed. What’s good for consumers should also be good for the industry. In that vein, here are a few questions we should all be asking ourselves.
Who are today’s homebuyers?
Millennials now account for more than 50% of all mortgage originations, and the oldest members of Generation Z are beginning to enter the market. Many of these up-and-coming home buyers and sellers are digital natives, and as these generations grow in market influence, their behaviors and preferences will shape how homes are bought and sold into the future.
What do they want?
They want on-demand service, instant gratification and personalization. They want access to information at their fingertips, professionals who understand them and what they need and want in a home. The right mix of technology and personal service can make the process as easy and pain-free as possible for these home buyers.
How can we help them?
This generation of home buyers will gravitate toward the resources and professionals that give them what they want, expect and need. We must make it as easy as possible for people to find what they’re looking for and help them understand the big picture because homeownership is larger than the sum of a home’s listing photos.
Agents should embrace ways of communicating beyond phone calls and emails to texts and video chats as well as offer virtual/3D tours and livestream open houses. Consumers really seem to respond to this content — 34% of listings on realtor.com currently include a virtual tour, and our internal metrics show that those listings attract 48% of users.
We will also continue to evolve online search experiences that include ways to assess quality-of-life issues, like commute time, affordability and neighborhood features. Working together, we can create digital marketplaces that harness a vast universe of real estate-related data and help connect people with the professionals they need to make buying, selling and living in homes easier and more enjoyable for everyone.