A new report by the National Association of Realtors on the home buying and selling preferences of Massachusetts consumers revealed that use of a real estate professional during the home search and sale processes has risen across the Bay State in the past year, and that the public’s satisfaction with the performance of real estate agents has improved as well.

The 2004 Massachusetts Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers also found that the number of first-time and minority buyers purchasing homes has climbed since 2003, despite steadily rising home prices in Massachusetts.

Among homeowners surveyed, the NAR study found that the use of a real estate professional to help sell the home increased 5 percent over the previous year, from 86 percent of sellers who used a real estate agent in the spring of 2003 to 91 percent of Massachusetts homeowners who used an agent to help sell their home between August 2003 and July 2004. At the same time, the number of homeowners who sold their own home has dropped 39 percent in the last year, from 9.7 percent of home sellers in the spring of 2003 to 5.9 percent of sellers in the 12 months from August 2003 to July 2004.  

Among the most difficult tasks cited by homeowners in attempting to sell their home was preparing, fixing-up and staging the home for sale, which nearly one in three (27 percent) sellers identified as the most challenging aspect to perform, while 18 percent of sellers said determining the proper selling price and attracting buyers was the hardest part of selling the home.

“The decline in for-sale-by-owner activity and corresponding increase in the number of homeowners seeking the assistance of a real estate professional is significant since it has occurred during a strong seller’s market, and validates the important role Realtors play in the highly complex property transaction process,” observed Massachusetts Association of Realtors President Maggie Tomkiewicz, of m. macdonald real estate in South Dartmouth.

Buyers also are increasingly seeking out the services of a real estate agent, according to the Massachusetts Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers. This past year, 93 percent of home buyers surveyed used a real estate agent during the home-search process, which is up from 90 percent of buyers in 2003. In addition, 8 out of 10 buyers in the Bay State bought their home with the assistance of a real estate agent during the August 2003-July 2004 period, the same as in the spring of 2003.

Notably, the wider use of real estate practitioners among home buyers has occurred even as the Internet has become an increasingly popular source of information for consumers during the home-search process. In the past year, nearly two-thirds of Bay State home buyers (65 percent) frequently used the Internet in their home search, compared to 44 percent in 2003.

Furthermore, the study found that buyers who used the Internet as part of the home search are more likely to use a real estate agent to assist them with their home purchase than non-Internet users, by a margin of 84 percent to 52 percent.

One unexpected finding in the report is that consumers’ use of a buyer representative in the home-search process fell slightly from 53 percent a year ago to 47 percent in 2004. This is likely a temporary decline, however, as legislation passed last summer and due to take effect in July 2005 is intended to promote the practice of buyer agency by clarifying relationships between consumers and real estate agents during the property transaction process, Tomkiewicz said.

As for the actual home-purchase process, data shows that the typical Bay State home buyer searched for 10 weeks and walked through 10 homes last year before completing their purchase, and they bought eight miles from their previous home or apartment. Meanwhile, the top five factors influencing buyers’ decisions as to where they bought were: quality of the neighborhood (73 percent), proximity to family/friends (46 percent), proximity to job/school (41 percent), and school district (26 percent).

Based on the NAR study, the average home buyer in Massachusetts is a married couple, at the age of 37 with a median household income of $81,900, who has previously owned two homes. The second largest household composition was that of single females who made up 18 percent of home buyers in 2004, followed by unmarried couples who comprised 11 percent of buyers, and single males who represented 4 percent of buyers. While 57 percent of Bay State home buyers were repeat buyers last year, 43 percent were first-time buyers, a modest increase of 1 percent from the spring of 2003.

Minority buyers showed even larger gains in the past year, rising from 7 percent of all Bay State home buyers in the spring of 2003 to 12 percent of all buyers between August 2003 and July 2004. Additionally, among first-time buyers, those who identified themselves as African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander, increased from 7.5 percent one year ago to 19 percent in 2004.

With 2004 expected to be a record-breaking year for home sales in Massachusetts, it’s no surprise that the home buying and selling public expressed strong satisfaction with the results of the property transaction process and gave their agents high favorability ratings in the NAR survey. Among sellers, 82 percent of respondents said they would use the same agent used to sell their current home again and would recommend that agent to a friend, a substantial gain from one year ago when only 6 of 10 sellers indicated they would use the same agent in the future. Similarly, 81 percent of buyers indicated they would use the same agent again, and 94 percent said that the home they purchased was a good investment.

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