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Insights Into The Mind Of An App-Obsessed House Hunter

Remember that commercial that popularized the catchphrase “There’s an app for that?” Imagine what viewers would say if they saw it today.  “Duh,” one might say.  “There’s more like 20 apps for that,” another might quip.  Not only are there innumerable apps for all things shopping-, money-, and real estate-related, virtually everyone who is in a position to buy or sell a home also totes a smart phone around with them, all day, every day.

These two truths create a third: home buyers don’t just like to use apps here and there – they actually rely on them to conduct their daily lives. Get this: behavioral scientists have actually recognized the existence of a new psychological condition called “nomophobia,” the emotional panic and depression –the feeling that you’re unable to function normally – when you have lost your phone or forgotten it at home.

There’s a whole conversation we could have about whether or not we all should be so reliant on our phones and addicted to our favorite apps. But like it or not, the mobile mindset is here to stay for a while. The upshot: if you market yourself or your listings to buyers, understanding their app-obsessed mindsets is more than just a good idea – it’s a responsibility and a massive, massive opportunity.

To help you get the lay of the land, here are a handful of insights into the today’s app-obsessed home buyer, and how they think and act:

1. They are bringing back the drive-by house hunt, and elevating it…
When I was a kid and it was time to move, my parents would get in the car and drive around their favorite neighborhoods in an effort to spot For Sale signs. When they saw one on a house they liked, they’d write down the property address and the phone numbers from the sign, so they could call the listing agent when we got home.  Of course, then, agents held all the informational cards, and we had no idea whether the home had enough bedrooms or was in our price range until we got them on the phone (which sometimes took days).

Then, listing details became available on the internet and the house hunt moved largely online, with upwards of 90 percent of home buyers kicking their home searches off from the comfort of their living room.

Today, the app-obsessed buyer certainly will still start their house hunt online. But chances are equally good that buyers will come to a listing or an agent because they were already house hunting in earnest and happened to fall in love with a friend’s neighborhood or drive down a street that hits them as an ideal, then pulled over and open the Trulia app.  It’s like déjà vu!  But this is not my parents’ drive-by house hunt: today’s mobile house hunters expect much more information, instantly, including:

(a) any and every listing in the area,
(b) what the general price range is for the area,
(c) the price, specs and pics of any active listings that appeal to them from the curb
(d) whether any of the homes that interest them are being held open – at the moment they  are driving by, or anytime soon.

I’ve known people who weren’t house hunting drive by, fall in love with a neighborhood, and start house hunting then and there, via apps.  And the same is true for would-be sellers.  I’m not in the market to sell my house, but I certainly have pulled out my phone to check the Trulia listings of homes in my area when I see a sign go in the yard, while I’m walking my dogs or out on a run.  These “out-of-curiousity” checks can evolve into conversations with listing agents or agents who have mobile ads – especially with sellers who have been staying put waiting for the market to recover, who use apps to see what nearby homes are listed and/or recently sold for.

Apps re-inject serendipity and into the house hunt equation.  App-obsessed buyers (and sellers for that matter) are no longer stuck stuck with homes that fit within the constraints of their online searches.  (For buyers who simply don’t know precisely what they’re looking for until they see it, apps are a particular godsend.) The availability of listing information anytime, anywhere empowers them to simply discover homes and listings while they are out and about in the real world.

And it empowers you to reach them there, too.

So, what does this mean for you? Obviously, that your listings should be available and meticulously detailed on Trulia.  Obviously.  But that’s just the beginning:

Make sure that your listings include a large number of well-labeled photos.  Lots. Anything you think a drive-by house hunter would be tempted to peek at over the fence or through a curtain crack is something you should make easily viewable when they pull up the mobile version of the listing.

If you are holding your listing open or you are setting an advance time frame for offers, put this information at the very beginning of your listing description text, so that it pops out to mobile house hunters who might not spend time reading all the way through. Just place Open 11/4, 2-5 pm or Offers 11/13 by 3pm, for example, right at the beginning of your listing, in the days prior to the open house or offer deadline.

If you don’t have listings, you don’t necessarily have to miss out – Trulia Mobile Ads allow you to have a presence on listings in the areas where you’d like to represent buyers.

2. Multi-screening is mainstream…
Over 50 percent of people who own a laptop, smartphone or tablet say that they “multi-screen,” meaning that they use their device(s) while they are watching TV.  So, it is increasingly common for buyers to house hunt on their phones and tablets while they are at home, watching Million Dollar Listing, House Hunters International or the Super Bowl, for that matter.

This means that so called “mobile” house hunting is not just for looky-loos who are in their cars or walking down the street.  And it also means that it’s essential for your listings and your own brand, as an agent, to make a strong showing on mobile platforms that allow buyers to do two things in particular:

(a) sync their favorite listings across all their devices, regardless of whether they are searching on their computer at work, or their own iPhone or their husband’s Android, and
(b) ping their agent to request a showing across devices: tablets, smart phones, laptops and beyond.  These are the real estate apps that serious house hunters gravitate to.

You should get very familiar with all the capabilities these sorts of mobile apps provide for smart house hunters. This will give you insight into what your buyer clients are doing with it, but also allows you to make smart recommendations to your buyers who are already using them about how to best interact and communicate with you about listings they find via the app.  In fact, if your clients aren’t already using apps for anything but home finding, it positions you as tech-savvy when you can advise them that they can reach out to you directly via an app like Trulia and even show them how simple it is to do it.

3. They look beyond real estate apps even for real estate matters…
The truly app-obsessed buyer sees paper as passé less because of the tree-killing clutter, and more because the actual content it contains is not searchable or organize-able in a way that makes sense to their own brains.

Increasingly, buyers are using apps, spreadsheets and other digital tools not just to discover new listings or get information about them, but as organizational and decision-making tools. For example, buyers use all sorts of non-real estate apps to do things like:

Collect the listings they like and their own feedback on them;
Compare listings, their prices and their other specs to each other and map listing details against their own lists of wants, needs and resources.

To understand and factor this buyer behavior into your own marketing and interactions with them, you have to go beyond the realm of the real estate app.  Start using and working with the same sorts of apps that your buyers are using. Not only can you benefit from their utilities, but this enables you to work more efficiently with the buyers who use them or would like to, even offering recommendations for apps that can help them create digital order out of the chaotic home decision-making process – and how to use them.

For example, many buyers are using:
Evernote to organize their house hunts, home improvement plans and home lives, during and beyond the transaction.
Pinterest to visualize their dream décor and even to communicate their aesthetic tastes to their agents.
Mint and Manilla to set their financial goals around down payment savings, to track their progress and to gather their financial documentation.

4. They have “Google tics.”
I recently took a vacation to a rural village, where there was no cell service for an hour’s drive in any direction. Even I was surprised at the number of times I turned to my phone for various tasks before I remembered it wasn’t an option. One of the most common things I kept turning to my phone for was simple fact-checking and question-answering, like:  “How’d the village get its name?” (From Gold Rush miners) and “How many people live here?” (500) and “Which actor named Jason is Michelle Williams dating?” (Segal) and even “Is corn a vegetable or a grain?” (It’s a grain, folks – and I won that bet, by the way!)

Without even resorting to my go-to WebMD app, I diagnosed myself with what I like to call a Google tic. I recently defined this ‘condition’ on Urban Dictionary as…

“The uncontrollable urge to conduct a Google search on any and every question, thought, concept, word or name that comes to mind, including new acquaintances, products and companies.”

App-obsessed buyers also have Google tics, almost without exception. Do not be surprised if you’re driving them around or meeting them at Open Houses, and you find them frequently pulling out their phones to figure out things like:

What the comps are like
What that open space is behind a listing they like
What other homes might be for sale right now near a listing they’re viewing
The scores for a nearby school
What color paint is on the wall
What residents are saying about the neighborhood
The shortest commute route from a place to their office
Whether their preferred provider’s cable, 4g or other networks are available in the property, or
Where the nearest hiking, yoga, coffee shops or train stations are
– all while they are still with you, in the car, or in the property.

Just about anything that used to be something buyers, sellers and agents would go back to their homes and offices to research is now something buyers expect to be able to find out on the spot, without delay.  And they expect that of you, too:  don’t tell them you’ll need to research something and get back to them if it’s a relatively simple question you should be able to find out quickly, via your phone.

And if you don’t know what questions you should be able to quickly research on your phone, you’ve simply got to slip on the shoes of an app-obsessed home buyer, no matter how outside your comfort zone that might be, and get up to speed – even if you think it’s a fad, or silly.

Given the trajectory in app usage among American phone users, becoming well-versed in the apps that your buyers are working with is not only not silly, it’s a high ROI way to invest a few moments of your time.