- The popularity of real estate agents remains historically high.
- Inventory shortages could be bolstering demand for agents.
- The abundance of real estate data and complexity of the transaction process could also be driving consumers into agents' arms.
Real estate agents remain as popular as ever among consumers — offering the latest hint that, contrary to some predictions, the Internet has actually bolstered demand for their services, according to a recent survey released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
The share of sellers who used real estate agents hit a historic high in 2015, rising to 89 percent from 88 percent the year before, according to NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
And while the percentage of buyers who used real estate agents slipped to 87 percent in 2015, that was only 1 percentage point down from 2014’s level, and 2 percentage points off the all-time high of 89 percent (recorded in 2012).
What are the forces that have bolstered demand for agents throughout the Internet era? Here are four theories posited by NAR and various real estate agents. Let us know what we missed in the comments section.
1. Inventory shortages
Housing supply remains at anemic levels in many markets. That may be spurring consumers to turn to agents for the inside scoop on properties coming to market, and to help them get into listings and write offers as quickly as possible.
“With limited supply in many markets, buyers are turning to agents to assist them in the fast-moving process,” said Adam DeSanctis, a spokesman for NAR.
2. Mounds and mounds of (sometimes-faulty) data
The prevalence of listings and neighborhood information online means consumers often have to grapple with an overwhelming amount of data. And plenty of this data can be outdated and inaccurate. Agents can help consumers make sense of everything and provide access to the most accurate information.
“Data, which is ubiquitous, does not equate to knowledge, which involves some integration and synthesis, and is certainly not the equivalent of wisdom, which is a combination of knowledge and experience,” commented Bill Lublin, CEO of Philadelphia-based Century 21 Advantage Gold, in the Facebook group Lab Coat Agents.
“… available free data is not real time nor accurate,” adds Terry Reed, a West Palm Beach, Florida-based agent, in the Facebook group Inman Coast to Coast.
NAR’s report lends credence to the theory that the avalanche of data burying many of today’s buyers and sellers could be pushing them into the arms of agents.
Homebuyers who use the Internet to search for homes are significantly more likely to purchase a home with a real estate agent than buyers who do not use the Internet.
Eighty-eight percent of buyers who searched listings online purchased a home through an agent, compared to only 71 percent of buyers who did not use the Internet during their search.
3. Buying and selling is more complicated than ever
“The homeselling and loan process has become more complicated. The paperwork and pages of the contract has increased,” commented Gloria Commiso, a Torrance, California-based agent. “Consumers are realizing that the job has become more complicated and agents are better equipped w/ systems and tools to get the job done.”
4. Real estate websites and online ads
Consumers who search for properties or real estate information online are bound to quickly encounter invitations to “learn more” from agents. They also can easily learn about real agents by consulting online reviews.
In addition, online ads for agents are scattered across social media platforms and myriad websites, while increasingly effective lead-capture tools funnel consumers to agents, often just as they begin to think about buying or selling a home.
“Now with the use of the Internet and accessibility of ads for small brokerages and individual agents more buyers are getting connected with an agent further up the conversion funnel so they are more likely to be converted at the point of sale,” said Justin Rollo, a Boston agent. “Essentially buyers are connecting with agents earlier in the process now which is helping increase overall use of agents.”
Indeed, it’s possible that the very listing portals that irk some agents may actually be at least partly responsible for sustaining their popularity.
“The portals are good at one thing — using that data to keep consumers searching,” said Houston agent Sarah Schnell Jones. “When people are ready to move from searching to actually finding a home, they need an agent to provide insight: Insight into the market, neighborhoods, and the overall process,”