Aside from worrying about immediate concerns around how to restructure their businesses, what their competitors are doing and if there will be any yeast left at the shop, property portal executives would do well to pay attention to shifting user behaviour.
The global pandemic has changed property hunter priorities and if you have been idly perusing the pages of your country’s portals over the last few weeks you might have noticed that the types of properties you’ve been clicking on haven’t adhered to your usual criteria.
An obvious starting point in a property portal centric look at user behaviour is the question: “Are people still looking to buy houses?”.
Worldwide searches on Google for “Houses for sale”, seen below in blue, experienced a huge drop as most countries went into lockdown before recovering to some extent over the last week. “Apartments for rent” on the other hand has not seen such large fluctuations. Could this be a reflection of the fact that rental transactions are driven more by necessity than those in the sales market?
As for branded terms for the property portals themselves, “Rightmove” (UK), “Daft” (Ireland) and “99acres” (India) have seen nothing but dropping interest. However, “Zillow”(US) and “Seloger” have seen a slight uptick in searches in the last few days. An increase in qualified leads or bored window shoppers?
Inman.com found that searches for adjacent terms such as “mortgage” have been up in the US since the start of the pandemic. Taken as a weather vane for the property industry we can perhaps conclude that users are less concerned about actually moving house and that sites that offer additional services such as mortgage calculation, such as US #1 portal Zillow, may see increased traffic to these services.
If users are not contemplating moving home now, what are they doing on property portals? Reality has been heavy, relentless and everywhere for the past month or so. Portals with their pretty professional pictures of manicured mansions and isolated island cottages provide a valuable service right now: escapism.
According to The Times, pageviews of luxury property listings are up in the UK and estate agents specialising in the high-end market have seen increased interest from potential buyers.
Not all the interest in fantasy properties is sustained or useful though. One country agent was quoted as saying that their internet inquiries “are up from this time last year, with a noticeable spike in demand during the evenings, but there is no response from these people when the agents try to contact them the following day.”
Escape is not limited to the realm of fantasy for many though, as data from Spanish #1 portal idealista.com shows. According to their study, Spanish portal users are increasingly looking at properties away from the large cities, with only 38% of searches for regional capitals post-outbreak compared to 44% before. A desire to relocate outside of urban centres, perhaps fuelled by the realisation that working from home is a viable option, could well fuel property viewing trends for a significant period.
Rightmove have also recently released data that supports the idea that portal users are increasingly thinking about having more space in their lives and perhaps moving away from the cramped confines of the city. “Garage”, “Annexe”, “Acre”, “Garden” and “Detached” make up the top five most searched for terms on the site’s Keyword Sort tool. Hardly terms associated with urban living.
Both Rightmove and UK rival Zoopla have keyword search functionality in addition to predefined filters for users to narrow down their search results. We may see a trend of more portals offering increased granularity and results for properties with specific features as users become more exacting with their house hunting criteria and expect keyword search as standard.
As a new reality is forged over this time of flux, these germs of tendencies, which may appear nebulous or even irrelevant today, may sprout and grow. In doing so they will dictate which portals are able to build their marketplaces and which fall by the wayside.