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How Do Buyers Shop For Homes?

May 31 2010

If you’re wondering what you real estate agent is going to do to market your home, you should know that the effectiveness of advertising has changed.

Home buyers relied less on newspapers and open houses, and turned more to online resources to get home buying information as well as to peruse homes for sale, according to the 2009 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

First-time home buyers want to learn about the home buying process by reading online content, comparing notes with friends and family, and searching online for homes.

Buyers over the age of 44 are more traditional. They like talking to real estate agents, driving by homes and looking at ads in the newspaper. By contrast, half of home buyers under 44 began their search for a home online and 60% walked through the homes they saw. 

Ninety percent of home buyers today use the Internet to search for homes, up exponentially from the mid-nineties when online use by home buyers was in the single digits.

But use of the Internet hasn’t sped the home buying process. Possibly due to higher inventories of homes, the tenuous job market, and tax credits requiring home buyers to homestead at least three years, buyers are being very cautious. Internet buyers are taking twice as long to search for a home and visiting three times as many homes as traditional home buyers.

Internet home searchers were more likely to be married couple households, with higher median incomes than those who don’t use the Internet. They also tend to be younger – 37 years of age as opposed to a median of 55 years of age.

But, no matter how things change, some things remain the same. Real estate agents are still the most important source of information for home buyers.

Internet home buyers were more likely to contact a real estate agent (89%) than buyers who did not use the Internet to search for homes (70%.)  And an astonishing 36% of home buyers found their home online, the same number as those who used a real estate agent.

Among the most popular sites to find a home are local multiple listing service websites, real estate company websites such as www.bhgrealestate.com, and national sites such as REALTOR.com and Zillow.com.  These sites are all populated with listings from real estate agents.

The typical home search took 12 weeks in 2009, up from 10 weeks in 2008. First-time home buyers tended to educate themselves for about three weeks before contacting a real estate agent. First-timers were nearly 51% of the market in 2009.

Buyers who use the Internet also made greater use of other information sources, such as real estate agents, yard signs, open houses, print advertisements, home books and so on. However, they didn’t rank them in the same order for usefulness. Home buyers still ranked real estate agents as the most useful source of information (81%) compared to the Internet(77%), yard signs (42%) billboards (31%) television (17%) and open houses (10%.). Coming in last were newspapers and print advertisements.

Buyers most often found the home they purchased through a real estate agent (40%) as opposed to the Internet (35%.) When they did look at agent listings, what buyers valued most were photos (84%), detailed property information (82%)0, virtual tours (63%), real estate agent contact information (46%) and interactive maps (43%.)

Real estate professionals are involved in four out of five transactions in the U.S.