Five percent of Internet users went online yesterday to find a place to live, according to Pew Research.

Call it virtual voyeurism: By August 2006, 51% of all Internet users had taken a virtual tour of a piece of real estate, according to the latest release from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, up from 45% in November 2004. Likewise, 39% of adult Internet users went online to look for information about a place to live in 2006, compared with 34% in 2004 and just 27% in 2000. Pew surveyed 2,928 adults in August; 1,990 were Internet users and 972 were asked the "place to live" question.

Age is a better predictor for house hunters than is connection speed or the number of years of online experience, Pew found. More than half (51%) of the youngest adult Internet users, ages 18 to 29, have looked for new digs online, compared to 43% of users ages 30 to 49 and 27% of users ages 50 to 64. Income does not dictate who searches for housing online, Pew found. The percentages are roughly the same: 43% of people who make less than $30,000 a year looked for real estate online, 42% of earners who make between $30,000 and $49,000 a year and 45% of those who make more than $75,000 a year. Still, just 32% of people who make between $50,000 and $74,999 a year have ever searched for homes online. It may be that they are already happy where they are.

Online experience has a lot to do with who searches real estate ads online. Only 23% of people with three years or less time logged online were house-hunting, compared with 30% of Internet users who had been online four to five years and 45% of people with more than six years of Internet experience. Broadband connections, as usual, made a difference too. Just 30% of people with dial-up connections used the Web for housing information vs. 45% of people with broadband connections.

Realtors have taken notice of the increasing online activity too. Nearly 45% of real estate ad spending, about $3.4 billion, went online in 2006, according to the Kelsey Group. The study, reported by MediaPost, found 7.3% of sellers would place an ad online first and 27% of buyers would go online to look for real estate classifieds.