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homes062914-1by LISA LEE

Smartphones and tablets are quickly becoming the preferred tools of consumers looking to buy homes.

Sixty-eight percent of home shoppers use mobile apps during their searches, according to a recent study by Google and the National Association of Realtors, making the popular devices a trusted research technology.

Real estate firms that want to remain competitive must serve their customers when — and how — they choose to shop. While 77 percent of home shoppers use their Smart-phones and tablets at home, the study found that 31 percent check their devices at work, 28 percent peek while waiting in line, and 27 percent take a look at restaurants.

The growth is not surprising. Ninety percent of home shoppers now rely on Internet web-sites as primary sources of information when researching home options, according to the study, and more than half go online as their first step in the house hunting process. Real estate searches on Google have jumped 22 percent year-over-year.

With low interest rates and pent up consumer demand from the recession, home sales are surging despite a near-record low inventory. Home-buyers and sellers are looking for tools that will give them an edge in Oahu’s intense real estate market.

“In today’s competitive landscape where homes may literally be selling overnight, buyers have a need for speed,” said Linh DePledge, vice president of marketing at Prudential

Locations, which has a comprehensive mobile app for its customers. “Our mobile application helps buyers to be the first to know. We put the power of information in their hands. Giving customers what they want has always been our philosophy.”

Smartphone and tablet users that find a business online have a conversion percentage that is nearly three times higher than the same searches done on desktop or laptop computers. Consumers who use mobile apps are typically on the go. Searching on a smartphone usually involves immediate intent, such as finding a restaurant for dinner, a blouse to wear on a surprise date, or a tire shop after an unexpected flat.

Mobile searchers are likely buyers.

For real estate agents, mobile apps provide a new way to interact with and engage with potential clients. But the rise in mobile app usage also comes with a higher expectation of service from consumers that agents will respond in real time.

The urgency is because many of these consumers, research from Google shows, are ready to buy. This demand pressure can reduce the traditional sales pipeline from months to days to hours.

Seventy percent of all mobile searches result in some type of consumer action within an hour, research found, a dramatic difference when compared to the 70 percent of online searches that lead to action within a month.

“For example, with the app, buyers can find homes for sale in a neighborhood, search for specific listings or price ranges, get complete property details, view photos, find open house times and locations, and connect directly with their agent — all while they are on the go,” DePledge said.

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