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Eye Tracking in Real Estate

by | Feb 1, 2024

Our eyes give us away, and marketers are increasingly focused on measuring micro-eye movements to get past our words and into our minds. This is because, quite frequently, we don’t truly know what we want, or do not want to admit to wanting certain things.

I’ll clarify what I mean by making a mildly embarrassing admission; when home shopping, I always am drawn towards homes that look really big. I’m probably not alone in this, but I’ve realized that I don’t care if the house is actually big; it only has to look that way. For example, a sprawling, 6,000 square foot home that only looks like a small garage from the street would not interest me, but a 2,000 square foot home that looks extremely imposing from the street view is much more my style. However, if someone were to ask me “Do you only care about whether the house looks big?” I probably would say “Omg, no, of course not, I guess I just don’t want it to be too hidden, you know?” If you were to show me homes that met my expressed preferences, but didn’t look big from the street, I would probably find reasons not to like them, whether I was aware of my motivations or not.

I don’t really like this about myself, but this is a reality. My point in oversharing is to say that directly asking someone for information about themselves can be a terrible way to find out the truth. I don’t mean to say that my experience is universal, but we all have different insecurities that we’re either unaware of or uncomfortable discussing, but nevertheless influence us deeply (or shallowly, in my case).

So, how do you find out what clients want if they won’t tell you what they’re actually looking for? Two words: gaze tracking, also known as eye tracking. Gaze tracking is rapidly taking over the marketing industry; eye tracking studies are used by Google, Amazon, Nike, Apple, and countless others to understand what customers are actually looking at. Eye trackers generally use near-infrared light that reflects off the cornea, and back into a camera. This camera can then deduce gaze direction, rotation of the eye, dilation of the pupil, and many other micro-movements.

A recent eye tracking study conducted in the UK demonstrated somewhat surprising focal points of homebuyers touring a house. Apparently, most buyers’ eyes went immediately to the accessories in each room–pillows, throws, and the like. This is fascinating, because I imagine most people assume that these accessories wouldn’t play much of a part in forming one’s impression of a house, and perhaps they don’t… but we’re all looking at them immediately.

Another strange result of this study involved smell, which is a surprising thing for the eyes to sense. After completing the vitally important pillow inventory, one of the next things customers commonly did was spot diffusers, candles, and other scent sources. It’s unclear what exactly this means, but it does suggest an attempt to pinpoint scent immediately upon arrival.

Scent and accessories are, of course, not part of the home sale; it’s fascinating that some of the least relevant and least quantifiable elements of property value were also the first things noticed. Though we may like to think that we can be objective about a home, our first impressions seem to be framed by irrelevant accessories.

It’s difficult to measure how exactly scent and accessories influenced each buyer, but it’s unlikely that they had no influence whatsoever. Just because something is impossible to quantify doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. If I hadn’t read this study, I wouldn’t assume I cared much about accessories; I would have assumed that I was busy thinking of important things, like does the construction look sound, does the house look huge, etc.

This somewhat creepy marketing technique can bypass the stories we tell ourselves about what we think matters to us; it doesn’t really make sense to focus on pillows, so I probably wouldn’t even mention them when describing what I thought of the house. How fascinating, then, that something I wouldn’t even mention is also the very first thing I likely noticed.

In our attempts to constantly organize the world into rationality and logic, we often ignore things that are irrational and un-measurable. If someone asked what you thought of a house you wanted to buy, and all you talked about were the pillows, people would think you were insane… but you might actually be the only one telling the truth.









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