Social networking sites and websites hosting forums grew their market share by nearly 62 percent during the year ending in May — the largest gain among any real estate-related category, according to a new quarterly report from online metrics firm Hitwise.

Visits to websites in the real estate category during May were down 24.3 percent from a year ago — the 12th consecutive month of year-over-year traffic declines dating to June 2009, the report said.

Hitwise’s quarterly US Online Media Round-up showed rental sites featuring homes and apartments grew their market share by 24.9 percent during the same period.

In a webinar last month discussing findings through April (see charts above), Hitwise’s director of research theorized that the rental market for houses and apartments is benefiting from tightened credit markets and increased foreclosures (see story).

Although the federal homebuyer tax credit sparked interest in searches related to home purchases, the use of search terms related to rentals has grown at a faster pace.

During the first three months of 2010, Hitwise said, searches for "houses for sale" increased 32 percent from a year ago. Searches for "homes for sale in Florida" were up 73 percent, and "homes for sale in Michigan" up 74 percent.

Searches around the rental market, such as "houses for rent" and "homes for rent," were up 171 percent.

Interest in house and apartment rental sites was particularly elevated in Atlanta, Detroit, Orlando, Tampa, and Greenwood-Greenville, Miss., the report said.


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