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For Agents, Good News from the National Association of Realtors: You’re Still Needed

By Colin Ryan

Industry News

This year's NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers suggests consumers are still looking for the expertise agents offer.

Like many people in the real estate biz, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks parsing the 2011 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. The NAR polled buyers and sellers on a variety of topics, including their personal real estate histories and the role of technology in their decision-making; but the most interesting findings have to do with the role agents currently play and will continue to play in the process. Perhaps surprisingly, the news is, well, good.

 

Let’s start with the basics. When buyers were asked where they first learned about the home they purchased, 40 percent said the Internet. But if you’re worried that this jeopardizes agents, have no fear: agents take a close second with 35 percent. Furthermore, it seems agents’ share of that Internet traffic is more substantial than the recent controversy over third-party websites might suggest. Sure, individual agent websites have a hard time competing with giants like Realtor.com, Zillow, and Trulia. But that doesn’t mean people are ignoring them: While local metropolitan MLS websites are the most popular Internet resource, with 56 percent of buyers using them (which shouldn’t be seen as a problem, since they have a fiduciary obligation to real estate professionals), real estate agent websites are the next most popular, edging out Realtor.com 46 percent to 45 percent.

 

The data gets even better when buyers move from the search phase to the actual purchase. In general, 89 percent of home buyers in 2011 purchased through realtors, a 6 percent increase from last year and a 20 percent increase since 2001. Additionally, rumors of the real estate agent’s DIY demise, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated. Of home buyers who used the Internet to search for a home, 91 percent purchased through a real estate agent. That’s an even larger share than non-Internet users, 70 percent of whom did the same.

 

Sellers, for their part, are also not flocking to the Internet to do everything themselves. The study found that 80 percent of sellers working with agents used a full-service brokerage. And you can pat yourselves on the back, because this tendency is based on positive results: the median transaction price for sellers who used an agent was $215,000, well above the $150,000 median for a home sold directly by an owner.

 

Finally, as for what’s expected of agents and how they’re judged, the data shows that this is still very much a business of traditional social interactions and face-to-face evaluations. For instance, 41 percent of buyers last year found their agent through a friend, neighbor, or relative, while only 9 percent made the connection through an Internet website. When it comes to what buyers were looking for in an agent, the most sought-after qualities across the board were “honesty and integrity,” with 98 percent of all buyers citing them as “very important.”

 

This is, of course, a pretty obvious statistic. Even crooks think twice before working with other crooks. Not as obvious, however, were buyers’ attitudes toward technology, with “skills with technology” appearing last on the list at 41 percent. Does this mean technology shouldn’t figure into your business as an agent? Of course not. It does, however, mean agents need to keep their priorities straight. Remember, buyers are looking for results, not methods. Chances are the more you talk up your tech credibility, the more it’s distracting you from doing the real work of an agent. What matters is using technology not for its own sake, but rather to satisfy qualities like responsiveness or communication skills, considered very important by 94 and 84 percent of respondents, respectively—and the data shows there’s room for improvement in both categories.

 

As you go about making your adjustments for 2012, a final bit of encouragement: 72 percent of buyers said they would definitely use their real estate agent again in the future. Keep up the good work, agents!

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