While nearly half of recent buyers started their home searches by perusing online listings, the vast majority of them still ended up purchasing their home through a real estate agent or broker.

A total of 87 percent of buyers and 90 percent of sellers worked with an agent in home purchases from mid-2020 through mid-2021, according to the National Association of Realtors’ annual survey of homebuyers and sellers.

The survey also provided a picture of their reasons for moving.

“During the pandemic, buyers and sellers have been driven by the desire to be close to family and friends, as well as the need for a larger home,” Jessica Lautz, NAR vice president of demographics and behavioral insights, said in a statement.

These findings were based on a random sample of recent homebuyers. NAR received 5,800 responses, and the results are statistically representative with a margin of error of 1.3 percent.

Of the homebuyers who didn’t go with an agent, the vast majority worked instead with a builder or builder’s agent, the survey said.

A similar number of sellers opted to sell their homes themselves. Few of them — roughly 1 percent of all sellers — sold to an iBuyer, a company that makes instant cash offers for homes. 

Throughout the pandemic, agents continued to find clients largely through referrals and repeat business.

Roughly 6 in 10 buyers said they either used an agent they had worked with before, or one that had been recommended by someone they knew. Three out of four buyers went with the first agent they interviewed.

“We saw so many buyers recommend and refer their Realtors to family and friends, and witnessed sellers lean on Realtors and firms that have helped them in the past,” NAR President Charlie Oppler said in the report.

On the seller side, two-thirds said they had used the agent before or were referred to them.

The share of homebuyers who were married continued to decline, a continuation of a long-term trend, NAR said. In 1985, roughly 81 percent of buyers were married. Last year, 60 percent were, according to the trade group’s surveys.

The main drivers of that trend in recent years have been single women, whose share has grown from 15 percent to 19 percent since 2014. The shares of single men and unmarried buyers remained unchanged in that same span.

The down payment is often a pain point for a first-time buyer, but that’s especially true in a market where prices are rising and other buyers are flush with cash, Lautz said. 

“As home prices increase, generally first-time buyers are hit hardest because they have no previous home on which to draw equity,” explained Lautz. 

More than a quarter of buyers reported receiving cash toward their down payment from friends and family. The typical down payment for first-timers was 7 percent — well under half of what more experienced buyers were able to put down. 

Email Daniel Houston

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