Google hasn’t just shaped how consumers buy products, who won a basketball game or find out how to get a stimulus check. Increasingly, as the pandemic unfolded, locating a new place to live emerged as one of the most prominent uses of the giant online search tool.
In fact, a new report by Point2Homes.com reveals that most real estate purchases take place online now. Prospective homebuyers, renters, or homeowners planning an improvement project now typically turn to Google as the first place they go to for advice, tips, and inspiration.
Researchers at Point2Homes say Google has emerged as the ultimate mirror, reflecting the collective location preferences and home decor desires, as well as expectations about price and space. When an event as momentous as a global pandemic occurs, preferences and expectations are significantly changed. By analyzing Google searches, it became obvious that renters, buyers and owners alike have changed their online behavior to better match their offline needs. Specifically, in the past two years, searches and questions about mortgage refinancing, movers’ availability, home office design, and home renovations have soared compared to pre-pandemic times.
Point2 analysts looked at search terms like “affordable homes for sale,” “apartment with balcony,” “movers near me,” “rent assistance,” and even “how to paint kitchen cabinets” to see how the pandemic and the restrictions that followed affected interest in these aspects of housing. The findings are as interesting as they are telling.
Homebuyers drove the biggest spikes in the number of monthly searches for terms such as “affordable homes for sale” (up 108% in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic times), followed by search phrases such as “first-time homebuyer” and “tiny home for sale” — but also “luxury condos” which was up 50% compared to 2019.
Renters caused certain search phrases to appear in 2020 and 2021 that, prior to the pandemic, few — if any — people knew about or were interested in. An example is the term, “rent relief,” which soared from 90 searches per month in 2019 to 9,900 in 2020 and 49,500 in 2021. Likewise, “eviction moratorium” was searched only 40 times per month in 2019, but came up a staggering 40,500 times in 202, as well as 201,000 times in 2021.
Homeowners drove up the search term, “mortgage refinancing,” 124% in 2020 compared to 2019, as well as improving what they already had. It was interesting to see that as the government lockdowns, and companies’ work-from-home policies were in effect, the key phrase “home office design” jumped 125% from 2019 to 2020, remaining high in 2021 as well. That pandemic-era term was followed by the search phrase “buying a second home,” which jumped 53% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Another interesting search trend involved first-time and repeat homebuyers, who showed increased interesting in foreclosures, FSBOs and Tiny Homes, as well as luxury condos. This trend supported the theory that the pandemic generated a K-shaped response. Prospective homebuyers revealed several diverging homebuying paths: one being home-seekers either showing interest in “affordable homes for sale” (up 108% in 2020 compared to 2019, and increasing a further 30% in 2021 compared to 2020) and “tiny home for sale” (for which the number of monthly searches went up by 82% in 2020 compared to the previous year) or they were looking for “luxury homes” and “penthouse for sale” (monthly searches for both key phrases jumped 50% in 2020).
Renters in the post-pandemic era paid more attention to “Rent Relief” & “Eviction Moratorium,” while searches for “Renter-Friendly Renovations” also increased. The first group of searches that exploded on the rental scene likely were a direct result of the massive, pandemic-induced changes in lifestyle, and not surprisingly those keywords also started occupying more real estate in renters’ minds, as well.
If a renter was being forced to steer clear of a big city, many probably had to consider the option of subleasing when moving to another area. As a result, that likely drove increases in monthly searches for the keyword “subleasing,” which increased 22% during 2020’s most uncertain months of the most uncertain year.
Those who rent by choice, typically more affluent segments of the homebuying profile, also started looking for better living conditions, and likely more living space. That drove up searches for “luxury home for rent” and “luxury condo for rent” by roughly 50% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The pandemic also made homeowners focus on “House Renovations” & Creating a Great “Home Office.” That stands to reason during a year when homes became the focus and hub of daily lives. People naturally worked to improve and beautify their living and working space. Both renters and homeowners upped their green game, with many people also opting to get a pet. Owners, more so than renters, had the freedom to bring in as many plants and pets as possible to brighten up their pandemic life. As a result, searches for “apartment plants” increased by 53% during the first year of the pandemic, remaining high despite a slight dip in 2021. Similarly, searches for “home office design” also rose in 2020, more than doubling compared to the previous year, when working from home was a working arrangement that typically only freelancers embraced.
Google serves as the home to virtually all the world’s information, now also is the ultimate storeroom of homebuying trends, the evolution of home prices, rental availability, neighborhood walkability, renovation costs, and not to mention all fashion and manor of items related to homes. Thus, it makes sense that an event as powerful as the Covid-19 pandemic would influence people’s interests, which are reflected in their Google searches. The searches buyers, owners, and renters now undertake online speak volumes about new and changing housing preferences and needs. That makes it wise for real estate professionals to monitor and understand how to meet that demand with real-world real estate opportunities.