Surfing the Web might conjure up images of young, agile bodies hanging 10 in cyber land. But in the 21st century, larger and more diverse segments of the population are discovering that the Internet has an ocean of information, and a majority of home buyers are diving in.
The sixth annual California Association of Realtors Internet Versus Traditional Buyers Survey turned up these tidbits:
* Home buyers who used the Internet as a key part of the process grew from 56 percent in 2004 to 62 percent in 2005.
* Internet home buyers devoted more time to research before working with a real estate agent. But after that, they moved quickly, spending just two weeks looking for a home with an agent, and viewing only 6.2 homes.
By contrast, traditional buyers spent less time doing their own research, and relied more heavily on an agent, spending seven weeks searching for a home with an agent and viewing 14.5 homes.
* Information from the Internet has complemented - not diminished - the role played by real estate professionals, as four out of five Internet buyers used an agent in the home buying process.
* Satisfactory consumer experiences for both Internet and traditional buyers depended mainly on their agents' quick responses, communication skills and professional expertise.
* First-time and repeat buyers were somewhat alike in their use of the Internet to find an agent or a firm, or to learn about specific homes.
First-time buyers were more likely to use the Internet to get information about home financing and to narrow their search for a given home, while repeat buyers were more likely to use the Internet to obtain specific information about neighborhoods where they were buying a home.
* Both groups used a variety of sites to obtain real estate information. However, repeat buyers were slightly more inclined than first-timers to use Realtor.com, while a larger proportion of first- timers than repeat buyers reported that they used third-party sites, such as HomeAdvisor and msn.com.
Meanwhile, in October, the National Association of Home Builders' Institute. of Residential Marketing, in association with HomeBuilder.com, sponsored a research study, conducted by Harris Interactive Inc., to understand how the media are used in new home construction and buying.
Here's what the survey discovered:
* Consumers value online resources most in the search for new homes, while builders continue to rely heavily on traditional media.
Home buyers say they use builders' Web sites (27 percent), signage (27 percent), Internet listing services (26 percent), and newspapers (23 percent) the most when searching for their newly constructed homes.
But builders report that consumers use signage, newspapers/home magazines, and Realtor promotions most often to find their new homes.
* Gaps persist between consumer and builder marketing behaviors: New home buyers report that their buying process is about 180 days long - from initial research to final purchase; while homebuilders' perceptions are about half of what consumers claim.
* Builders believe that 18 percent of consumers find their new homes through builder Web sites, and 11 percent through the Internet listing services when, in fact, more than 25 percent of consumers surveyed say they found their homes through each of these sources.
* Builders allocate less than one-fifth of their budgets to Internet-based media, while online consumers spend one-half of their time using online media. Still, homebuilders plan on allocating significantly more of their marketing dollars to more traditional media, such as newspapers, and plan to make only minor increases in allocations to online media.
* When asked which one information source they would use to start their own next new home buying search, home buyers chose Internet listing services (28 percent), a Realtor (24 percent), and the builder's Web site (13 percent) as their top three choices.
Nearly six in 10 homebuilders surveyed report using third parties to represent them and sell their homes, with individual real estate agents making up the bulk of thirdparty representation.
* Search engines used by the home buyers surveyed were Google (60 percent), Yahoo (44 percent) and msn (20 percent).
Realtor.com is rated as the best Web site by nearly three in 10 home buyers (29 percent), followed by HomeBuilder.com (9 percent), NewHomes.com (6 percent) and iNest.com (5 percent).
Quantity and comprehensiveness of information, and ease of navigation, are cited as the best features of these Web sites.
* Some 73 percent of builders surveyed say they have a Web site; 47 percent of custom builders say they don't have a Web site; and most builders use mass media advertising and new home listings on third-party Web sites to drive traffic to their sites.
Of the 2 percent of online consumers who contacted a builder by e- mail, 69 percent of online builders responded to their inquiries through a personal e-mail; and more than one-quarter responded with a phone call.
On average, most online home buyers who e-mailed the community or builder said that it took one day to receive a response - considered by most buyers an appropriate amount of time; nearly three-quarters of those surveyed who e-mailed their community or builder were influenced by the response time in their decision to work with that builder.
* Only 8 percent of participating builders reported having a dedicated Internet salesperson to handle leads, while 24 percent of custom builders said that no one in their organization handles Internet leads.
"Builders are missing an easy opportunity to connect with the target audience, and would benefit by having a staff person dedicated to handling Internet leads," the report concluded.
Copyright San Diego Business Journal Mar 27, 2006