By Peter Ricci
Real estate has undergone a radical change in the last 15 years, but perhaps no area of the industry has changed more dramatically than that of how prospective homebuyers search for properties. What used to be exclusive information on the MLS is now largely public on sites such as Trulia, Realtor.com and Redfin, and homebuyers’ use of that information has completely changed how real estate works…or has it? In our latest look at the 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers from the National Association of Realtors, we’re looking at the home search process, and what it says about today’s crop of prospective homebuyers.
Searching for Homes in the Technological Sphere
Unsurprisingly, the Internet was the dominant medium in the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, with the majority of homebuyers utilizing it for a variety of tasks:
- Ninety percent of homebuyers now use the Internet in their home searching (a slight increase from 2011), and for prospective homebuyers aged 44 or under, that number jumps to an incredible 96 percent.
- The Internet dwarfs other forms of communication; compared to the 90 percent of buyers who use the Internet, just 53 percent use yard signs, 45 percent open houses and – bad news for newspapers – 27 percent review print or newspaper advertisements.
- The ratios are similarly disjointed on how homebuyers first learn of the homes they purchased: 42 percent said the Internet, compared to 10 percent for yard signs or open houses; 6 percent from a friend, neighbor or relative; 5 percent from homebuilders; 2 percent from the seller; and a mortifying 1 percent from a print or newspaper ad.
- In terms of what sites are visited the most, local metro MLS websites were the most popular, with 54 percent of homebuyers utilizing them, followed by: 51 percent for Realtor.com; 47 percent for real estate agent websites; 39 percent for company sites; 27 percent for syndication sites; and, in a definite sign of the times, 13 percent for mobile/tablet apps and 12 percent for mobile/tablet websites.
Agents and the Internet in the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers
So, where does all this leave agents? Thankfully, as widely-used a tool as the Internet is, it does not seem to have reduced the need for real estate agents among homebuyers. Though 90 percent used the Internet, 87 percent used a real estate agent, and though 42 percent learned of their property through the Web, 34 percent learned from an agent. And, most important of all, 91 percent of buyers who used the Internet ended up purchasing through an agent.
Elizabeth Jakatis, an agent with Prudential Rubloff in Lake Forest, said that it’s the “inside scoop” of a property that real estate agents provide clients, the local expertise that an online listing simply can’t supplement.
“The Internet could show a cute picture of a home at a great price, but it won’t tell you specifics about the neighborhood,” Jakatis said. “It could be located in an undesirable part of the neighborhood.”