There are 67 million people looking to buy, sell, rent or finance a home on the Internet, but real estate professionals who want to land their business should look at them as four distinct audience segments.

That’s the rather wonkish takeaway of a white paper commissioned by Yahoo Real Estate, "Embracing the Online Real Estate Market," which also offers loads of practical advice about marketing to each group.

There are 67 million people looking to buy, sell, rent or finance a home on the Internet, but real estate professionals who want to land their business should look at them as four distinct audience segments.

That’s the rather wonkish takeaway of a white paper commissioned by Yahoo Real Estate, "Embracing the Online Real Estate Market," which also offers loads of practical advice about marketing to each group.

Whether they are the rarest breed — "Passionates," who tend to be highly engaged real estate consumers who are also influential with their friends or families — or the ubiquitous "Future Prospects" who are "just looking right now," it pays to know what type of information they consume and how to best reach them online, the study said.

Yahoo Real Estate commissioned comScore to study "in-market real estate consumers," people who plan to rent, buy, sell or finance a property in the next six months or who use the Internet to track the real estate market. Based on surveys of 1,507 respondents and observations of the online activity of another 744 people in the fall of 2007, comScore came up with four audience segments.

Passionates

While only 6 percent of the audience, or about 4 million consumers, "Passionates" nevertheless represent "an extremely attractive target," the study found. Some 79 percent are in the market to buy, 82 percent to finance, and 45 percent to sell real estate in the next six months.

Picture a highly educated 38-year-old male with an average household income of $202,000 who probably owns a property worth an average of $838,000 and you have an idea of the typical Passionate.

Passionates are "advanced" Internet users, early adopters who visit multiple real estate sites early in the buying process with specific goals in mind, the study found.

"Since Passionates spend a lot of time online on multiple Web sites, it is important to reach them where they are online," the study recommended. "Authoring your own blog, being present on mainstream social networks and industry-targeted communities, and participating in other consumer focused (question-and-answer) sites are great ways to reach Passionates."

Because Passionates love search engines, "it goes without saying that real estate professionals should have their own agent or broker Web site and that those Web sites should incorporate an ongoing search-engine optimization effort as well as a sponsored-search marketing program," comScore recommended.

Conventionals

Because they tend to use offline sources such as newspapers as a first step in the real estate research process, real estate agents are the most important source of information for "Conventionals."

This segment represents about 14 percent of in-market real estate consumers, or 9 million people. Average income for the segment is $69,000, with 82 percent owning property with an average value of $349,000; 53 percent are male. Although Conventionals may begin the research process offline, 83 percent eventually get online when buying a home, and 40 percent turn to MLS sites as the first place they do research.

Because they may start the process offline, it’s important to think of reaching Conventionals online "as an extension of your offline marketing efforts," the study said. Offline marketing copy "should reinforce your presence online, including your Web site URL, your blog URL, your e-mail address, or your social network profile names. Keep in mind that even though their name implies that they are offline, Conventionals spend time researching online to supplement their offline activities."

Actives

Actives are the second-largest group of real estate consumers, numbering about 13 million, or 19 percent of the audience. Most Actives — 71 percent — are financing properties, while just over half are buyers and about one in four are sellers. The typical Active is a highly educated 44-year-old married male with an income of $87,000, and 82 percent own property with an average value of $410,000.

Actives seek out information in a thorough way, often using online sources as a first step. Most use multiple sites and many tools, with no single source considered a "one-stop shop," the study found.

Because Actives use multiple sites, "you should have a presence on many real estate Web sites," comScore recommends. "In particular, real estate professionals should distribute their listings to as many real estate search and portal sites as appropriate. Actives are also busy financing, so partnering with mortgage brokers, both online and offline, is a great way to reach them by sharing referrals."

Online real estate agent directories are also used by Actives, an important consideration since repeated "impressions" in front of this group "is critical, as Actives are still contemplating what service providers to collaborate with."

Future Prospects

Future Prospects who are "just looking" are the largest group of active real estate consumers, comprising 61 percent of the category, or 41 million people. They mostly go online to view listings and follow the market, and less than 10 percent are working with or even looking for a real estate agent. But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

"Once this segment becomes more serious about home shopping and buying they will rely on a real estate agent to assist them, so investments that get you in front of their selection process are important," the study recommended. "For this group, awareness is the most important marketing objective, and marketing investments should be geared toward consistently putting your brand front-and-center. Graphic media campaigns on newspapers sites and real estate sites that enable local targeting, search-engine marketing in your local market, and listing your profile in the emerging category of online real agent directories should be considered in the marketing mix for this segment."

The typical future prospect is a 45-year-old married female with an average income of $69,000, with two-thirds owning property worth an average of $324,000.

"Since they are the least knowledgeable about real estate compared to the other segments, Future Prospects are more likely to enlist outside help," the study advised.

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