Having gone into the festive period in the midst of a relatively bullish market, we’re in a singular position this January. The start of the year is traditionally a key selling period for the sector, but with the end of the stamp duty holiday looming, the jobs market uncertain, Help to Buy restrictions changed and a new lockdown in place, there’s plenty that might curb consumer appetite to move home. With many developers well sold into Q2, a drop off in interest may be less concerning in the short term, but there’s also the chance that limited availability will contribute to a declining share, particularly with the second-hand market still (just) able to offer completion dates that would fall before SDLT becomes payable once more. With so much turmoil, immediate access to data that might indicate upper-funnel intent is vital, and with this in mind we have looked back at the close of 2020 and taken an early glimpse at how January 2021 is shaping up.
Looking back at the close of 2020, sessions to websites in our new homes developer pool were down 4.86% in December compared to November, but despite being a move in the wrong direction, this was a relatively rosy situation, since it defied both the trend from 2019 (-11% Dec vs Nov) and earlier forecasts of a more significant dip in traffic during December.
The ‘Boxing Day bounce’ is anticipated each year – between 26th-31st December 2019, daily sessions were on average 1.15 times higher than the average across the month. In 2020 the bounce was more pronounced; that figure was 1.48 times. With Christmas out of the way, some last-gasp effort to take advantage of the SDLT holiday was perhaps a factor, although how long that can bolster interest remains to be seen – with plenty of news of delays, and a number of transactions already likely to miss out before the end of March.
Following the December general election in 2019, January 2020 saw web sessions swell by 32% MoM. This significant surge persisted into February; then lockdown restrictions and the effective closing of the property market in mid-March hit hard.
The daily average sessions figure for the first fortnight of January 2021 hasn’t reached the increases seen last year: only +21% at present. However, we are dealing with a larger volume of web sessions year on year (up 22% on January 2020) and conversion rates to high intent goal completions (those based on booking appointments to view) are back on the rise having been in decline since October.
Interest – Google search trends
Search interest in the real estate topic as monitored via Google Trends across the entire period 2019-2020 supports the notion that interest declined through Q4 until later in December in ‘20 than seen in ‘19, but picked up strongly to end up in alignment during Christmas week. Also visible here are the impact on interest during lockdown in March-May as the market locked down, and subsequent peaks into Jun-August from pent-up demand following reopening, with the added impetus of the announcement of the stamp duty holiday.
Online channel mix
December saw organic search lose the largest share of total sessions during the month, occupying c.26% of all traffic, down from 30% in November. PPC held steady at 24% in each month. Social, email and display sessions all increased share, coinciding with an expected annual peak in new visitor percentages, which sat at 60% for the month.
Our next update will follow in February when we’ll look to establish a fuller picture in relation to changes in key metrics following the announcement of lockdown 3 at the beginning of January.