The Silent Majority is Lurking

J Philip Faranda June 3, 2011

With apologies for the political and foreboding overtones of a silent majority lurking, the term applied to the real estate market is quite accurate. Having read Richard Willard’s excellent post on the reaction of people to the “disappearance” of a listing when he and his client strategically allowed to liasting to “expire and air out,” I am moved to share my thoughts and expriences. To understand why people would call only after a listing disappears from the open market, one first has to understand the players involved. 

Lurking is an Internet term for people who read and observe online articles and various media such as blogs and social networks, but do not submit comments or participate. They just read. There is nothing sinister about it, as the term is rather ironic, because the vast majority of any blog post’s readers (like this one) are lurking, as in reading without commenting. 

Hundreds read without commenting or "lurk," while dozens comment

Real Estate Lurking occurs too. I have clients who do it, and there are legions of others who aren’t even with an agent yet, but just watching. Essentially, they find a house or two that they like and they watch it, almost daily. They are watching for price dops, new photos, and, um, price drops. If a price goes low enough, they may act. They are, essenitally, in a war of attrition with home sellers, because they won’t go forward until prices reduce more. 

Upon occasion, I get a call from a consumer when a house goes under contract or sells, because it disappears from the active listings. This is when the lurker reveals themself. 

The chart below shows the number of unique hits a sample listing get in a week on Realtor.com. Over the course of 2 months, about 200 unique clicks are recorded on the property each week. That is 200 people that actually view the property, not just have it show up in the search results. It might not actually be 200 different people, it could be 65 people viewing it four times each week. But either way, over the same period we averaged about a showing per week. The rest watch and wait. And they represent the majority of people looking at the real estate market online these days. 

200 online views per week. 199 Lurk, 1 arranges a showing.

The moral of the story is that the lion’s share of would-be home buyers are patiently-and quietly- waiting and watching on the sidelines, waiting for prices to go down even further. They are even willing to risk losing a nice house if it mitgates the risk of overpaying for one. The degree to which they stop lurking and start buying is the metric by which we’ll measure a true recovery. 

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