If you're not employing social media tools in your homebuying search, you may be putting yourself at a disadvantage.
That's the primary takeaway from a recent survey conducted by the California division of the National Association of Realtors, which concluded online connectivity is essential not only for industry professionals, but also the customers seeking their services. Today's buyers have plenty of resources at their disposal - sometimes so many that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed - and managing them can be equal parts challenging and rewarding. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, buyers list Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. Instagram and Pinterest among the many social networking tools they use to connect with professionals and enhance their house-hunting capabilities.
Getting ahead of the curve
Most tellingly, the survey found 75 percent of buyers in the state of California - one of the most competitive state real estate markets in the country - used social media during their searches. The lesson, therefore, is simple: Prospective homeowners not utilizing such platforms leave themselves limited margin for error. The need to act quickly is heightened when buyers are not utilizing social media, because chances are their competition is tapping into these outlets.
The functions of these social media tools are varied. Buyers are using them to compare local home prices, but also to take pictures of properties, their amenities and the neighborhoods they populate. Their proliferation is also forcing real estate industry professionals to adjust their approaches, as buyers now expect increased transparency. In other words, rather than simply conducting a Google search of their agent, house hunters now expect to see a Facebook or LinkedIn profile - preferably both - that offers information regarding the professional's services, experience, areas of specialty and industry connections.
According to the survey, the top reasons buyers cited for making a new home purchase included:
- Changes in listed prices (54 percent)
- Changes to personal income or wealth, such as those stemming from a new job or promotion (34 percent)
- Low mortgage interest rates (29 percent)
- Favorable financing terms (19 percent)
Money better invested
Buyer optimism seems to be improving, especially in regard to return on investment. Those who made a new home purchase within the past year have reason to believe their properties will appreciate, with 81 percent of respondents indicating an expectation local home prices will rise over the next five years and 60 percent believing they'll see value accrued within the next year. Those figures highlight a key element of the housing market's recent turnaround, especially in metro areas along the West Coast, where healthy appreciation rates have provided many homeowners with renewed wealth. By comparison, in 2009, just 35 percent of surveyed homeowners said they believed their properties would grow in value over the following five years.
Other recent shifts in the market were evident, as buyers reported having made down payments of 28 percent on average - up from 20 percent in 2009. Fixed-rate mortgages are more commonly used now, with 92 percent of buyers agreeing to such financing terms. Five years earlier, 69 percent of buyers agreed to fixed rates - an indication of how favorable borrowing costs have led many buyers to lock in their rates in 2014.
More than anything, though, the difference in buyer approach is most evident in the reliance on tools designed to assist the search process. While 88 percent of homebuyers still use the services of a real estate agent, the number of shoppers who found their agents online dramatically increased from 38 percent in 2003 to 65 percent in 2014. That final statistic underscores the importance of being connected for both shoppers and professionals, as well as the impact a well-crafted public-facing profile can have.