Don't Count Newspapers Out Yet

Newspaper Web sites connect with consumers.

July 1, 2002

The Internet has caught up with newspapers as a preferred method of searching for homes by homebuyers. But don't count newspapers out yet. Once the dominant source of home-sale listings, newspapers may have lost audience share to the Internet, but their Web sites are catering to a valuable consumer segment of younger, upscale, first-time homebuyers, according to a new study.

"Real Estate Classifieds: Big Changes Ahead for the Home Listings Business, Part II" by Borrell Associates Inc. details the results of surveys of 3,914 online home seekers.

Newspaper Web sites have captured home seekers who are two years younger than the national median, have a median household income that is 55 percent higher, and are generally not newspaper subscribers, the report indicates. It also found that a remarkable 57 percent of homebuyers on these sites were renters seeking to buy their first home.

"The amazing thing," said Mike Donatello, vice president of research for Borrell Associates, "is that this mature industry has been successful in building a bridge between its older, more settled audience of newspaper readers and the younger crowd that prefers TV or the Net."

Donatello said newspapers have been making the transition by combining listings and other real estate content with the types of "soft" things that home seekers say they want most from a Web site--credibility, accuracy and trustworthiness.

"These attributes comprised three of the top five most-valued features," Donatello said. "Past research has shown that consumers give high marks in these areas to advertising in traditional, print newspapers. So, the newspaper brand appears to be an important factor in helping newspapers reach that non-print audience."

The most recent release is the second half of Borrell's two-part report focusing on online real estate advertising. The reports describe a "triple threat" to newspaper classifieds of shifting consumer home-seeking habits, a new policy allowing salespeople to publish home listings online, and stewing anti-newspaper sentiment as the catalysts. The new policy, known as "IDX" or "broker reciprocity," took effect on Jan. 1, 2002, and is squarely positioning brokers as competitors with classified ad publishers, the report says.

Among other findings in the latest release:

  • Web sites operated by brokers and individual salespeople are most popular with consumers, but only because of their sheer numbers (more than 300,000, according to the report) and the aggressiveness of many real estate professionals in listing themselves in search engines. This information dovetails nicely with NAR's report that real estate salespeople sites rank third as most used by consumers in home searches behind Realtor.com and real estate company Web sites.
  • Comprehensive, updated listings are important to consumers. Sites that offer MLS listings generate up to 30 times the number of unique visitors. The NAR says detailed property information is the number one most valued online feature for online homebuyers.
  • The need for a salesperson is not diminished by the Internet.

Eighty-six percent of the respondents said they were considering using a real estate professional to complete their purchase. This also corresponds with NAR's report that 70 percent of homebuyers used the services of a broker or salesperson overall. Seventy-seven percent of Internet buyers bought a home using the services of a salesperson, while only 64 percent of traditional buyers did so.

Editor's note: The Newspaper Association of America has purchased distribution rights to the report for its membership. The survey is sponsored in part by InsightExpress, LLC, a provider of online research tools, and by CityXpress Corp., which offers online real estate content. For more information, contact www.borrellassociates.com, or gborrell@borrellassociates.com.

(c) Copyright 2002 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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