Even as economists warn that the United States is officially in a recession due to the coronavirus pandemic, record homebuying growth during the spring and summer of this year has been bolstered by factors ranging from the newfound flexibility of remote working to government stimulus payments. Reflective of this trend in consumer behavior, installs of homebuying apps saw a significant surge in August, with the top app seeing its greatest single-month adoption by new users in at least six years. In an analysis of U.S. homebuying app adoption, Sensor Tower Store Intelligence estimates reveal that the top five such apps reached approximately 2.3 million first-time installs collectively last month, up 21 percent year-over-year compared to 6 percent growth between August 2018 and 2019.
Based on their performance in previous years, consumer adoption of homebuying apps typically begins to decline in July, reaching a nadir in December. These apps traditionally see a spike in January, with their best months for installs continuing through late spring. This year, combined installs of the top five apps in August were 15 percent greater than in January, and exceeded their downloads during April—when strict lockdowns were more widespread—by 28 percent.
Top Homebuying Apps
Zillow led the top five apps in August in terms of both Y/Y growth and downloads, with installs growing 47 percent from August 2019. In addition, last month was Zillow’s best ever for U.S. downloads since at least January 2014 when our Android data collection begins.
Its rival Redfin also saw a similarly positive Y/Y impact to its downloads, which grew 45 percent from the year-ago period. Realtor.com’s app accounted for the second greatest number of downloads in August, but increased only about 3 percent from the year prior.
Despite seeing the third-greatest number of downloads among the top five apps last month, Trulia’s number of new adopters actually fell 16 percent Y/Y from August 2019. Homesnap had the fifth most installs out of the cohort, and its first-time installs grew by 27 percent Y/Y.
The U.S. Rental Market
Apartment and home rental apps were up last month in the U.S. as well, with the top five apps in that category climbing a combined 33 percent Y/Y. Zillow was also at the top of this category, followed by Apartments.com, which grew 19 percent Y/Y, along with Zillow Rentals and Apartment List, which both grew 16 percent. Rent.com, which had the fifth most installs during August, was up 55 percent Y/Y.
The Future of Homebuying
The surge in homebuying app downloads is just another example of the coronavirus pandemic affecting consumer behavior in sometimes unanticipated ways. Like other mobile trends that have emerged amid the COVID-19 public health crisis, it’s difficult to predict whether the associated uptick in property buying will persist. While some experts suggest consumers are moving out of densely populated cities to areas with more space amid a push to limit physical contact with neighbors, others have called the exodus for the suburbs overstated. What’s certain is that there’s more focus on these apps now than in recent memory. Category leaders including those in our analysis will need to deliver more frequent, meaningful updates in order to retain their hard-won new users, while their challengers must adapt acquisition strategies to the even more competitive landscape this outlier year presents.
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