Researcher Michael Seiler tracked the eye movements of 45 people viewing 10 online real estate listings and determined that 95 percent of participants viewed the first photo-an exterior property shot-for just 20 seconds.
"You have to grab people's attention within two seconds," Seiler said. "Do it the way a billboard does."
The study is relevant because knowing how house-hunters view a listing online can help owners and agents fine-tune their marketing approach.
Seiler, founder and director of Old Dominion University's Institute for Behavioral and Experimental Real Estate, said participants moved their eyes in a "Z" pattern from the upper left corner and after reaching the bottom right corner, they scanned up the right column of the screen.
After viewing the home's exterior photo, 76 percent looked at the property description but 41.5 percent did not bother to ever read the remarks. Researchers also cautioned practitioners against using all capital letters, overhyped adjectives, and brand names in property descriptions.
Seiler determined that overall, participants devoted 60 percent of their time to photos, 20 percent to property descriptions, and 20 percent to the agent's comments; and he found that their interest diminished after clicking through numerous properties.