September 24, 2022

Home buying goes digital: How marketers can reach future homebuyers online

From browsing prospective houses to making a down payment, nearly every aspect of the home buying process has migrated online. For digital marketers, this means more entry points to prospective clients than ever before, and those relying on traditional data sources like change-of-address forms and deed transfers run the risk of losing out on opportunities to more digitally savvy marketers. 

“Thanks to technology, we can search homes and request tours at our fingertips,” said Katy Vanderdoes, senior manager of buyer growth at Homie. “We can easily create an offer and sign it virtually. We can use Bluetooth to get keys out of super’s boxes. Technology has created a way for real estate to be more transparent and more accessible for home buyers.”

And with more accessibility and transparency comes more indicator points from which advertisers can find consumers, both before and after a purchase. 

“A big component of the digitization of buying a home is that it’s made understanding where somebody is in the process much easier,” said James Beveridge, vice president of data, at Audience Town. 

Here are some of the ways digital marketers can be more strategic about finding new audiences throughout the home buying process. 

Browsing, but not always buying

According to Beveridge, previous indicators like browsing homes on Zillow or Trulia have become increasingly misleading. In the modern era of homebuying, scrolling through listings is a practice akin to scrolling on Instagram.

“It's another form of entertainment. It's equivalent to a social feed,” he said. “You can't assume that everyone who is on Zillow is truly in the home research process. Most people are just killing time.” 

Whereas in the past, marketers may have used approaches like tracking users making repeat visits to a website, it’s now essential to consult a much wider array of digital resources to understand the intentions of a consumer, Beveridge said. 

“Now you really have to employ tools like machine learning and look for signals coming from outside of that one platform to really achieve a reasonable degree of confidence that you found someone who is actively researching and seriously considering moving,” he said. 

According to Beveridge, marketers have long relied on the “Five Ds” — diapers diploma, death, divorce, and “daily grind” — to target potential homebuyers. However, these pieces of demographic data, often gleaned from traditional offline data sources, are now the bare minimum when it comes to predicting a move.

In order to stay ahead, Beveridge said today’s marketers need to use these events as a foundation for targeting, while further breaking down factors and consulting the myriad digital indicators at their disposal. 

Identifying digital indicators 

One such indicator is the rise of transaction management platforms, online tools which help not only with financial components like down payments, but also in overseeing home assessments, appraisals, and inspections — pieces of the home buying and selling process that until recently were largely conducted offline.

“One emerging trend we've seen is a movement towards transaction management platforms that help to shepherd a buyer through all of the critical steps when they are in the finishing shoot of applying for a home,” Beveridge said. 

Another way to stay ahead of prospective homebuyers is by tapping into digital finance tools, which have become increasingly attractive to potential homebuyers in an increasingly competitive market. 

According to Vanderdoes of Homie, January 2022 was the most competitive month on the market in recent years, as the pandemic has shifted buying habits and prompted an increase in demand for homeownership. As a result, cash offers are becoming increasingly desirable to sellers, leading to the rise of new finance tools to help prospective buyers submit offers more quickly. 

Homie, which primarily caters to young professionals and families in their thirties and forties, started its own financing arm in an effort to make the company a “one-stop shop” in such occasions, Vanderdoes said.

“We want to make sure that people feel confident in order to do this and that we’re giving them the tools to become a homeowner and achieve that dream,” she said. 

Embracing experimentation 

Beyond simplifying the experience for a prospective buyer, such channels can also be helpful to marketers as another vantage point to zero in on target audiences. 

Both Vanderdoes and Beveridge said using these emerging digital homebuying tools are essential to experimentation and testing, practices that are critical to reaching the right demographics of movers, particularly in today’s fast-moving housing market. 

“Oftentimes advertisers have a strong feeling that people immediately preceding the move or immediately following the move are the most receptive moment to receive a message,” Beveridge said. “It's fine to start from that. But we’re trying to educate our partners that we have the ability to experiment around people who are earlier or later in that journey.”

However, he cautioned that it’s important “not to consider the recent mover a monolith,” but instead to consider the confluence of factors that drive a move. 

“All those factors come together to create new personas and sub-audiences that maybe an advertiser hasn't thought about,” he said. “And so supporting our partners’ ability to test into those different groups typically does turn up new audiences.”