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Each year, the California Association of Realtors releases Home Buyer and Sellers Surveys, and each year the surveys are full of interesting stats. This year, the news for Realtors is about as rosy as the economic reports we have grown accustomed to hearing. Here are some key findings in this year’s CAR home buyer survey:

Buyers…

  • Who use the Internet want agents to respond faster (31% expect instant responses).
  • Want to preview more homes (12.7% in 2008 compared to 9.3% in 2007).
  • Are taking longer to make a decision (8.3 weeks in 2008 compared to 5.2 weeks in 2007).

And what does this net the agent? Significant declines in satisfaction ratings. Buyers who said their agent “surpassed expectations” was a huge drop: from 91% in 2007 to only 39% in 2008. While buyers may not be as satisfied, this hasn’t altered the amount of times they are using an agent to transact; this rate is still the same as last year: 88%.

While the satisfaction stat seems to be less about the agent and more with factors outside the agent’s control (e.g., escrows taking longer, more inventory on market to browse), buyers did provide information about what they are looking for in an agent and how agents can improve their satisfaction levels.

Buyers are motivated

The two biggest factors motivating people to buy right now are:

Knowing this, agents should think about how they can capitalize through real estate advertising and outbound messaging.

Buyers are online

Not only are buyers actually working with an agent longer, they are taking more time online to research homes before contacting an agent. Buyers averaged 8.2 weeks of researching  homes before contacting an agent in 2008, versus 7.6 weeks in 2007.

This means it is more important than ever to make sure you are demonstrating your real estate expertise online and to get in front of consumers who haven’t made a decision on an agent.

Here’s a stat worth considering:

90% of buyers who use the Internet find their agent online.

Obviously, the Internet is becoming the go-to place for finding homes and agents and social media is a great way to get yourself in front of a buyer, either by blogging and/or utilizing forums where consumers and pros gather such as Zillow Advice.

Buyers looking for right agent

Along with viewing more homes, buyers are also interviewing more agents. This is actually good news for the good agents. It means that buyers recognize that agents bring more value than ever to the table and they are taking more time to find the right agent. The survey shows 64% interviewed two or more agents in 2008, compared to 53% in 2007.

What are they looking for in an agent?

  • 44% hire the most responsive agent
  • 22% hire the most qualified agent
  • 19% hire the most aggressive agent
  • 9% hire the most knowledgeable agent
  • 5% hire the quickest or first agent

Agent satisfaction

There were two things that made the biggest impact on whether a buyer was satisfied with his agent:

  • how quick they were to respond
  • how aggressively they felt the agent negotiated on their behalf

Keep these two service levels in mind and two points to address in a sales presentation.

Kinds of info buyers want

We all know that the bulk of people are using the Internet in the real estate process, but what features/functionality do they want?

  • 87% — multiple photos and virtual tours. One again, these two top the list among Internet shoppers, listing them both as “very or extremely important”
  • 80% — maps/directions
  • 74% — agent contact options
  • 74% — neighborhood information.  Interestingly, this fell from 82% in 2007 to 74% in 2008. Could the buyer be relying more on the agent to deliver this information in person?

One thing buyers would change…

In closing, here are things buyers said they wish they could change about their online home buying experience:

  • 53% want a better understanding of where the market is heading
  • 19% want their escrow to close on time
  • 17% wanted better negotiation skills from their agent
  • 8% hoped for a better response time from the selling agent
  • 2% said less paperwork
  • 1% said a better understanding of interest rate trends

It is no surprise that buyers want more from their agents and want them to respond faster, be more knowledgeable, more accessible, and negotiate harder than ever on their behalf.  When the market turns around, I am sure buyers’ satisfaction levels will improve as well.

Please visit the California Association of Realtor Web site if you’re interested in ordering the full 2008 Survey of Home Buyers.

Soon, I will provide a rundown on the findings from the CAR sellers survey.

About the Author

Sara Bonert is the Director of Broker Services for Zillow. She works with real estate agents and professionals around the country to help them leverage online marketing opportunities and social media, while also promoting ways real estate professionals can market themselves and their business on Zillow.

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