Homebuyers more likely to use real estate agents, even as Internet usage hits an all-time high

Nov. 4, 2013
Inman News

Agent and clients image via Shutterstock.

Use of the Internet among consumers in the homebuying process continues to grow, but those buyers are more, not less, likely to use a real estate agent, according to an annual survey from the National Association of Realtors.

NAR’s 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers includes survey responses from 8,767 people who purchased a home between July 2012 and June 2013. The seller information in the report is from those buyers who also sold a home.

For those who purchased a home during that time period, the highest share ever – 92 percent — used the Internet to search for a home, up from 90 percent in last year’s survey and 71 percent in 2003.


Source: National Association of Realtors.

Just over 4 in 10 buyers (42 percent) started the homebuying process by looking for properties online (up from 35 percent in 2011) followed distantly by those whose first step was to contact a real estate agent (17 percent). Online websites and agents tied as the most common information sources homebuyers used in their search with 89 percent using each. Yard signs followed at 51 percent.

Seventy-six percent of respondents considered online websites “very important” as information sources in their home search, compared with 68 percent who said real estate agents were “very important.” Nearly equal shares, 81 percent and 78 percent, respectively, said online websites and real estate agents were “very important” in terms of usefulness.


Source: National Association of Realtors.

Last year’s survey found that homebuyers were more likely to use multiple listing service websites when searching for homes than any other source of online information, including third-party listing sites and mobile apps.

That finding, along with a claim that buyers used realtor.com more often than unspecified “other websites with real estate listings,” was met with some skepticism.

On last year’s survey, consumers could check boxes indicating that they used realtor.com or homes.com, among other sources, when answering the question, “Did you use any of the following real estate websites in your home search?”

While consumers on last year’s survey could check “Other websites with real estate listings (e.g., Google and Yahoo),” the survey did not offer Zillow and Trulia — the most visited real estate search portals, according to third-party monitoring data — as choices. At least one Inman News reader commented that the wording of the question, and the choice of answers provided, was likely to skew the results.

This year’s profile does not break down the types of online websites used by homebuyers in the home search process.

“[I]t’s fairly normal to drop some questions from the survey when new ones are added to track market developments. With growth to nearly 1 million real estate sites online, including individual agent sites operated by two-thirds of NAR members, consumers typically go to multiple sites,” NAR spokesman Walt Molony told Inman News.

“There are better resources for ranking websites, which isn’t the intent of the survey. For such data, you could use resources such as [comScore’s] Media Metrix.”

Regardless of the specific source, an ever-increasing share of buyers found the home they purchased online: 43 percent this year, compared with 8 percent in 2001. The share of buyers that found their home through an agent has been dropping since 2010 when it stood at 38 percent, and clocked in at 33 percent this year. In 2001, 48 percent of buyers found their home through an agent.

Among those who used mobile search (45 percent), 22 percent found their home with a mobile app. Only 4 percent found their agent with a mobile app.

Among those who searched for homes online, three-quarters later drove by or viewed a home and 63 percent walked through a home they saw online. Thirty percent of buyers found the agent they used to search for or buy a home online and one-quarter requested more information online.

The typical buyer who used the Internet in their home search is 41 years old and had a median 2012 household income of $84,500 compared with 61 years old and a median income of $66,000 for the typical buyer who did not use the Internet to search for a home. The typical buyer who used the Internet to search had triple the search time length than the typical non-Internet searcher, perhaps suggesting non-Internet users know the home they would like to buy or have a specific area in which they target their search, the report said.

Among buyer respondents overall, 88 percent purchased their home through a real estate agent, but among those who used the Internet to search for homes that share goes up to 90 percent. Only 69 percent of those who did not use the Internet to search bought through an agent.

“While the vast majority of buyers use the Internet during the homebuying process, the Internet does not replace the real estate agent in the transaction. In fact, buyers who used the Internet were more likely than those who did not use the Internet to purchase their home through an agent,” the report said.

“Buyers who did not use the Internet to search were more likely to purchase through a builder or builder’s agent and through a previous owner of the home.”

Among both buyers and, the most common way they found their real estate agent was through a referral from a friend, neighbor or family member: 42 percent and 39 percent, respectively. Among sellers, a quarter used an agent they had used previously to buy or sell a home.