Royal LePage, the largest real estate company in Canada, recently surveyed their buyers and sellers to uncover what matters most in terms of the service they receive from their real estate professional. The results have important implications for both domestic and international real estate practitioners.

Phil Soper, the CEO of Royal LePage, was one of the keynotes at the Banff Western Connection 2013 Conference. After sharing an overview of the current state of the Canadian market, he turned his attention to the next generation of Canadian real estate purchasers including how they differ as well as their expectations regarding the services they receive.

According to Soper, "Everything is new and nothing has changed."

Eddie LePage actually did the first "virtual tours" with movies back in the 1920s. Today’s consumer expects not only virtual tours, they also expect a media-rich experience. Television is "too single stream" for them. Digital assistants (increasingly small devices loaded with ever-increasing functionality) will shape our real estate buying and selling experiences in ways we can’t even imagine.

Royal LePage research

The research study was limited to families who had purchased a home in the last six months. One of the most surprising findings was that there was very little difference in the results between native-born Canadians and immigrants from Asia and India. Each group relied heavily on word-of-mouth referrals. As Soper put it, "Referral, referral, referral!" This was especially true for Asians under the age of 30 and more common in Ontario.

Satisfied consumers want trust and reputation

While the demand for technology continues to grow, consumers still crave authenticity and connection with the Realtors with whom they work. This trend was substantiated in this year’s 2012 Royal LePage research. Two of the top five factors that influenced the value that these clients derived from working with an agent were trust and reputation. This mirrors the "2012 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers" that found essentially the same thing.

In terms of who used a Realtor, 85 percent of the sellers responding to the survey used a Realtor as compared to 79 percent of the buyers. The study also showed that 90 percent of the consumers surveyed were satisfied with their agent. This broke into 93 percent approval for buyers and 83 percent for sellers.

In addition to the key factors of trust and reputation, the other key elements that drove consumer satisfaction were price and brand. Ancillary services like title insurance and mortgage did not have a strong influence.

Consumer anxiety

The typical buyers from the study reported that they began their search up to 16 weeks before they actually contacted a Realtor. What was surprising was the amount of anxiety that consumers voiced about choosing the right Realtor. Their No. 1 concern was locating the right person to represent them.

Their second primary concern was identifying the right time to engage an agent. Many voiced the fear that if they jumped in too soon or waited too long, that it would have a negative influence on their ability to find the right property for them.

Initially, many of these consumers believed that they could do this job themselves. They were clear on the fact that they didn’t need a Realtor to help them locate property. They could do that on their own. In fact, 80 percent of them felt good about their level of expertise.

What caused them to shift to hiring a Realtor? First, they realized that it would take a great deal of time to become familiar with the various aspects of the sales process. For example, many found understanding the expenses, the mortgage requirements, and the tax requirements to be confusing. As a result, the ability to do things right was also a concern that prompted them to use an agent.

As Soper put it, "Consumers found the process to be much more challenging than they expected. In fact, they found it to be overwhelming."

Consumers also elected to work with an agent because they wanted better access to information. Sixty percent of those responding to the survey reported that they felt frustrated by the fact their agents limited their access to information.

Customer service

Canadian consumers, like U.S. consumers, want excellent service, a knowledgeable agent, someone who is authentic, and is capable of solving their problems. Also, just as in the U.S., the consumers want it all, but many of them don’t want to pay for it. 

Finally, they’re not hiring you for access to the multiple listing service information. Instead, consumers want to simplify the home buying or selling process by working with an agent they can trust, who provides great service, and who can solve their problems.

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