It is difficult to overstate how much technology has changed the business of real estate. When I became licensed about 13 years ago, detailed information about real estate rested solely with brokerages and agents. Only real estate professionals had access to MLS listings, and customers had little choice but to consult with a Realtor to find what best suited them. Consumer resources for finding available properties were generally limited to “for sale” signs, word-of-mouth, and classified newspaper ads.
Obviously, this dynamic placed the power in the hands of the pros, but the Internet has changed all that.
By going online, home buyers and investors have immediate access to an extraordinary wealth of real estate information, shifting the balance of power dramatically. They can search on specific websites, download apps to their smartphones, and save searches that will alert them when new properties meeting their criteria are listed, or a price is changed. They can research their own “comps,” crime statistics, school zones, taxes and other important details. Sellers, too, can measure the pulse of the market, take account of recent sales, and decide if the time is opportune to list their property for sale. Since this information is updated almost instantly in “real time,” consumers often know and understand their marketplace long before they contact an agent.
The facts that illustrate this point are dramatic. According to 2014 research from the National Association of Realtors:
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▪ 92 percent of buyers use the Internet in some way in their home search process, and 50 percent of buyers use a mobile website or application in their home search.
▪ Among all generations of home buyers, the first step in the home buying process is looking online for properties for sale.
▪ More than half of Gen Y and Gen X buyers used a mobile device during their home search. Among those who did, 26 percent of Gen Y and 22 percent of Gen X found the home they ultimately purchased via a mobile device.
So much has changed. What has stayed the same?
What has been (and I believe will remain) constant across time is that real estate is about people and their dreams. Many are looking for the best possible home for their family; some wish to build wealth over time by acquiring property as investment. All of them can benefit from experienced agents who understand their markets.
Yes, consumers now have access to more information, but we all know that too much information can also be a bad thing. Is this website reliable? Does that app update in real time? A good agent, with skill and experience, should make sense of it for the consumer. They will, as always, guide, educate, negotiate, protect, and advance the interests of the buyer and/or seller throughout the process.
Again, NAR research demonstrates that home buyers are comfortable using both online resources AND real estate agents in their searches. When comparing frequency of use among home search sources, consumers use websites “frequently” 74 percent of the time, and chose agents “frequently” 63 percent of the time. (The next closet option was mobile/tablet website or app, which is used “frequently” only 34 percent of the time.)
The process of buying and selling real estate is complex. There is always potential for issues to arise, which the Realtor can and should mitigate, since the terrain is familiar to them. Make sure the agent you choose is comfortable with this ever-evolving world of technology, and uses it to enhance the service and value they provide.
Holly Lynn Schlakman is a residential and commercial real estate agent with RE/MAX Advance Realty.