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Digital Home Search Beats Digging Out Driveways

The first Monday of the year turned in a reading of 14 degrees below zero at high noon in downtown Chicago. As ice chunks floated down the Mississippi River and Niagara Falls appeared frozen in time, much of the nation dealt with the coldest day of the 21st century by bunkering down indoors.

Even with normal weather conditions, home prices decrease in the colder months due to less buyer activity. Watching your breath freeze while shoveling the driveway may be unavoidable for some, but even the most intent of buyers is unlikely to be that motivated by an open house invitation.

However, new information indicates that the polar vortex freeze matters a great deal less than we may think when it comes to seasonality in the housing marketplace.

During the first week of January, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and Google jointly released a study, "The Digital House Hunt: Consumer and Market Trends in Real Estate." In releasing the report, NAR quoted Google Head of Real Estate Patrick Grandinetti as saying the nation now has "...90 percent of home buyers searching online during their home buying process..." The research focused on people who had taken the next step of contacting an agent or a realtor's website.

Using the internet initially in the dream stages, a buyer's typical search process begins with home loan assistance information, proceeds to property and agent searches, moves on to videos, reviews, maps and eventually drills down to more detailed, local mobile applications before the offer stage.

According to the study, "Real estate-related searches on have grown 253 percent over the past four years." Not surprisingly, tablet and mobile search are increasingly popular, with Google reporting that real estate-related searches on mobile devices grew 120 percent percent year-over-year from 2011 to 2012. 

First-time buyers searched for homes most in these top five states: Louisiana, South Dakota, Delaware, Mississippi and Wyoming, using the internet 52 percent of the time to begin their search. Seniors searched primarily in Oregon, North Carolina, Nebraska, Washington and Virginia. In the second-home market, 56 percent of all vacation home shoppers began their search online, focusing mainly in Florida, South Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina and Ohio.

The actionable point is that sellers who wish to close in the spring should have their property listed now, because a typical 90-120 day search-to-buy process is most likely to begin online.

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things in her adopted San Francisco. A dedicated urbanite, she's a transplanted New Yorker by way of a couple of decades in London as a hotel sales and marketing manager. Follow her work on @ReferencePlease, USA Today, Yahoo! and on

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