Nearly 3.5 million Web surfers, or 2 percent of the active online population, went to Realtor.com in December 2003, according to a report by Nielsen//NetRatings.

Realtor.com was ranked the highest among real estate Web sites in the monthly brand ratings report. The Web site ranked number 202 in the overall valuation of some 3,000 Internet sites. The average time spent surfing Realtor.com was 29 minutes.

Millions of Web users are going to real estate, mortgage and rental sites to research homes, find a real estate agent and calculate mortgage payments. In fact, the majority of home buyers and sellers now use the Web for research before they contact an agent.

Other real estate Web sites on the NetRatings report included Homestore, which ranked 274 overall and had 2.7 million visitors who spent an average of six minutes on the Web site and ServiceMagic, which had 897,000 visitors who spent an average of two minutes on the Web site.

LendingTree had 904,000 visitors who each spent about eight minutes on the site and about 753,000 Web users visited RealEstate.com for an average of seven minutes. LendingTree bought RealEstate.com from Primedia some weeks ago and plans to redesign the Web site.

Some 745,000 people visited HomeGain for an average of two minutes. Homes.com had 436,000 visitors who spent 11 minutes on the site on average. About 504,000 Web surfers clicked on RE/MAX.com for an average of one minute, and 431,000 people visited ZipRealty for an average of four minutes.

The federal government’s housing agency was an online hot spot as well. About 688,000 people surfed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Web site for an average of 14 minutes in December.

The 10 highest ranked Web sites in the brand ratings report in order were Yahoo!, MSN, Microsoft, AOL, Google, eBay, Amazon, Lycos Network, About Network and MapQuest.

Nielsen//NetRatings measures consumer and business usage of the Internet. ComScore Media Metrix is another well-known Web use measuring service. The two companies use different methodologies and statistical techniques to gather their numerical results, so results may differ in a given month.

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