Multiple listing service (MLS) websites were used by more homebuyers when searching for their home than any other source of online information, including third-party listing sites and mobile apps, according to the National Association of Realtors’ 2012 survey of 8,501 homebuyers and sellers.

Fifty-four percent of the homebuyers who used the Internet (90 percent of respondents) to help them find a home used their local MLS site, according to the survey, conducted in June 2012 and representing the 12 months spanning July 2011 to the end of June. All respondents had purchased a home in that time period.

Websites used in home search


Website usage among buyers using the Internet to conduct searches. Source: National Association of Realtors, "Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012."

After MLS sites, the next most popular Web tool for buyers was, used by 51 percent of homebuyers surveyed, followed by: agents’ real estate websites, 47 percent; real estate company sites (brokerage website), 39 percent; other website with real estate listings like Zillow and Trulia, 27 percent; search engines, 19 percent; mobile/tablet applications and for-sale-by-owner sites, 13 percent each; mobile or tablet websites, 12 percent; and mobile or tablet search engines, 11 percent.

For the second year in a row, more buyers first saw the house they eventually purchased on the Internet (42 percent) than heard about it from a real estate agent (34 percent). Yard signs clued 10 percent of buyers in to the house they eventually purchased, while 6 percent found out about the house they closed on through a friend, relative or neighbor.

Only 11 percent of buyers who used an agent found their agent on the Internet, the survey showed. The most frequently cited method of finding an agent was through a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative (40 percent). Another 10 percent used an agent they’d previously worked with to buy or sell a home, while 6 percent relied on contact information from a for-sale or open house sign. 

How buyers found real estate agents

Source: National Association of Realtors, "Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012."

The survey also showed that 91 percent of buyers who used the Internet in their home search bought their home through a real estate agent or broker, compared with 71 percent among those who did not use the Internet to search. Among those who did not use the Internet to search, 17 percent bought directly from the previous owner, who in most cases was known to them, and 11 percent bought directly from a builder or builder’s agent.

All in all, only 11 percent of buyers purchased directly from a builder or builder’s agent (6 percent) or the previous owner (5 percent). That compares with 30 percent in 2001, when 15 percent purchased directly from a builder and 15 percent purchased from the previous owner.

Buyers were most likely to cite helping them find the right property as the service they most wanted from real estate agents (50 percent), followed by help with price negotiations (12 percent), help negotiating terms of sale (12 percent), help identifying comparable properties (8 percent), and help with paperwork (7 percent). Only a few (4 percent) identified advice on how much home they could afford as a most-wanted service, or helping arrange financing (3 percent) or providing information about a neighborhood (2 percent).

What buyers want most from real estate agents


Source: National Association of Realtors, "Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012."

The median 2011 income of all homebuyers was $78,600 and the average age 42, down from 45 in 2011. Seventy-nine percent purchased detached, single-family homes.

First-time homebuyers represented 39 percent of buyers, up 2 percentage points from last year’s survey. With a median age of 31 and median income of $61,800, first-timers bought homes at a median price of $154,100 at a median size of 1,600 square feet.

Repeat buyers, in contrast, had a median age of 51 and median income of $93,100, and purchased homes with a median size of 2,100 square feet and a median price of $220,000.

First-time homebuyers placed a median down payment of 4 percent down on their homes, compared with 13 percent for repeat buyers. Of those entry-level buyers who financed, 76 percent tapped into savings; 24 percent used a gift from a friend or relative, most often parents; 11 percent used 401(k) funds; 6 percent sold stocks or bonds; and 6 percent the same proportion received a loan from a friend or relative.

Neighborhood quality was the No. 1 factor for neighborhood choice by buyers (61 percent), followed by commute-to-work convenience (43 percent), affordability of homes (39 percent), and proximity to family and friends (35 percent).

Seller characteristics

The median age for home sellers was 53 with an income of $95,400. Their homes were on the market for an average of 11 weeks and they moved a median distance of 19 miles from the home they sold.

Only 9 percent of sellers said they sold their home without the assistance of an agent ("for sale by owner," or FSBO), down from 14 percent in 2003. And 1 in 3 FSBO sales were to buyers who were previously known to the seller; in 57 percent of those sales, the seller did not actively market their home. 

Only 32 percent of FSBO sellers marketed their homes on the Internet. FSBO sellers also used yard signs (48 percent), and marketed to friends, relatives and neighbors (30 percent). 

Among sellers who used an agent, nearly all (93 percent) said their agent listed their home on the Internet. While 28 percent said their home was marketed on "nontraditional" websites, only 7 percent said their home was featured on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Traditional marketing techniques remained prevalent, with 79 percent of sellers saying their agent employed yard signs, and 55 percent reporting that their agent held an open house. Other marketing techniques employed by agents included print newspaper ads (27 percent), direct mail (17 percent) and video (14 percent).

Most sellers (65 percent) said they contacted only one agent before selecting one to assist them with the sale of their home, typically relying on a referral by a friend, neighbor or relative (38 percent), or using an agent they’d previously worked with (23 percent).    

Reputation was the the most important factor in choosing a listing agent for 37 percent of sellers, followed by honesty (19 percent), the fact that the agent was a friend or family member (13 percent), and the agent’s knowledge of the neighborhood. Only 4 percent said the agent’s association with a particular firm was the most important factor, and just 3 in 100 sellers said the agent’s commission was the top consideration.

Most important factor in choosing a listing agent


Source: National Association of Realtors, "Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012."

Eight in 10 sellers said their agent provided a full set of services, while 12 percent said they hired an agent to place their home in the MLS and perform few if any additional services. Another 8 percent hired an agent to perform a limited set of services. 

Sellers who sold their home after owning it for nine years realized a 12 percent increase in the value of their home, a median equity gain of $20,000 in that time. Those who owned their homes longer — 11 to 15 years — saw median gains of $54,000, 31 percent above their purchase price.

A quarter of all buyers were single, down seven percentage points from two years ago. Sixty-five percent of all buyers were married couples, the highest percentage since 2001. These discrepancies indicate to NAR that tight lending conditions favor married homebuyers.

"We’ve known for some time that stringent mortgage credit standards have been holding back home sales, but these findings show single buyers have been hurt the most over the past two years," said Paul Bishop, NAR’s vice president of research, in a statement.

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