Despite the fact the U.S. property market continues to struggle, some real estate sites appear to be reaping rewards from the situation. They’re accruing substantial gains in both traffic and advertiser interest as the industry transitions to an online model, and users and buyers make increasingly considered purchases.
Over the past 12 months, popular sites such as Zillow, Trulia, and Yahoo's and MSN's respective real estate properties have seen large growth in their audiences. And despite house sales plummeting 27.2 percent in July according to data released this week by the National Association of Realtors, that growth shows no signs of slowing.
Trulia's head of communications Ken Shuman implied the market conditions were actually having a positive effect on his company's business, with users spending far more time researching and considering potential purchases. "These days consumers are taking more and more time to research, and coming back month after month to view properties. What used to be a three month process is now a 12 to 18 month search, and people are trying to make really smart decisions," he said.
According to Shuman, Trulia's growth is also translating into increased advertiser interest, and increased revenue for the site itself. While its audience has increased 44 percent in the past year, its ad revenue has doubled, Shuman said. He added, not only are agents and brokers making increasing use of its ad products, but brand advertisers have also upped their spend.
"There are so many verticals that play well into our space," he said, suggesting new homeowners often go on to make related purchases such as insurance or TV/Internet packages, or new vehicles soon afterwards. Recent brand advertisers have included Chevrolet, Verizon FiOS, and Bank of America, he said.
Meanwhile, Zillow's VP of ad sales Greg Schwartz described a similar trend for his own company's ad sales. "Counter intuitively, we have never had more real estate advertisers, mortgage, or home services advertisers running on Zillow," he said adding, "The web is now so important to the buying, financing and improvement of homes… real estate ad dollars are following it."
According to a Zillow spokesperson, year-over-year traffic to the site was up 35 percent in July, while its competitor Trulia said it witnessed growth of around 44 percent over the same period. Zillow said July was actually a record traffic month for the site, during which it attracted 12 million unique visitors. Trulia, meanwhile, said it attracted 8.4 million uniques in July, up 17 percent from the 7.2 million it attracted in June.
Though audience data from third party measurement firms such as comScore and Hitwise differs from those firms' internal numbers, all sources report continued and substantial growth for most major sites in the real estate space, suggesting that despite the slowdown in actual property sales, they don't appear to be victims of the same fortunes as the market they serve.
|Top 10 Real Estate Sites by Unique Visitors, May, June, and July 2010.|
|Property||Total Unique Visitors, May 2010 (000)||Total Unique Visitors, June 2010 (000)||Total Unique Visitors, July 2010 (000)||Change in Total Unique Visitors, July vs May 2010 (%)|
|Yahoo Real Estate||6,137||6,961||7,455||21.5|
|MSN Real Estate||5,489||4,959||6,400||9.3|
|Homes.com & ForRent.com Network||5,372||5,575||6,184||15.1|
|Primedia Apartments/Rentals Network||4,199||4,221||4,652||10.8|
|AOL Real Estate||2,912||3,480||3,414||17.2|
|Source: comScore 2010|
|Top 10 Sites in Real Estate Category Ranked by Share of Visits, July 2010 vs July 2009.|
|Property||Share of Visits in Catgeory, July 2009 (%)||Share of Visits in Category, July 2010 (%)||Change in Share of Visits (%)|
|Yahoo Real Estate||4.03||4.45||10|
|MSN Real Estate||1.39||2.18||57|
|RE/MAX Real Estate||1.47||1.40||-5|
|Source: Hitwise 2010|
Given the current economic climate, it's unsurprising that some consumers are spending more time and effort researching their purchases, and that phenomenon is likely to apply to several verticals.
However, both Shuman and Schwartz suggested the real estate industry has been affected more deeply by the recession than others, and that online resources are positioned well to capitalize on a complete restructuring of the landscape as it begins to recover.
"This is something that will never really be forgotten, and will have a lasting effect on the way real estate is handled. The buying of a home will never be a quick decision any more, and people will always do a great deal of research from now on," Shuman said. Schwartz agreed, describing a "historic shift" in the way consumers go about buying property, and subsequently the way that advertisers must approach the market. "We’re seeing a massive shift of ad dollars go from less accountable media to the web, a very accountable platform," he said.
To further capitalize on advertiser interest, both firms have also invested heavily in the mobile space, offering mobile applications and mobile-specific sites. Shuman said Trulia is "doubling down" its investment on the platform. Mobile devices currently account for 10 to 15 percent of the firm’s weekend traffic, which continues to grow, Shuman said. Zillow, meanwhile, currently offers apps for iPhone, Android, iPad, and Windows Mobile.
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Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.
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