When my husband and I began looking for our first home 15 years ago, visits to local real estate agents invariably started with ‘The Book’; a large, three ring binder filled with worn, rabbit eared pages of active listings for sale.
Maybe one picture was included with the basic information about the house, the property, taxes and, of course, the offering price. Each office maintained their own Book: the sum of all wisdom for home sales in that one town.
Today, an estimated 88% of buyers begin their search on the Internet and, with a few keystrokes, have instant access to, not only all that was contained in ‘The Book’, but the home’s sales history, recent comparable sales, and other similar homes for sale ‘that may interest you’. In all towns. Everywhere.
Websites feature vibrant pictures of the façade, the yard and most interior rooms. Floor plans chart the layout. Videos flow from one room to the next set to tranquil piano music. Maps show the street location plus aerial views of the home and its surrounds that are so detailed it’s almost indecent.
And then there is our version of a fire drill: Contact the Agent. Click this button on my listings and my iPhone jumps into action within a few minutes to relay your request for more information. If, by some unusual chance, I am laying on a beach somewhere, the lead is forwarded to another agent in the office who picks up the baton and responds to the call.
We now take this level of information and access for granted but what has it really meant?
The start of the home buying process has definitely changed. Buyers look at many neighborhoods at the same time and really start to consider all their choices long before they even enter the market. Essentially, the first showing of any house now takes place privately online.
Professional pictures, videos, maps and statistics on a screen can only go so far though. Buyers still need to spend time driving around neighborhoods, walking through homes, getting the feel and seeing if they ‘fit’.
According to recent surveys, 89% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent. Because of the shift to initial ‘online showings’ though, clients often come with a list of possible homes they would like to see. Agents, consequently, work in larger geographic areas, manage real time access to new listings and focus increasingly on keeping deals together through inspections and mortgage contingencies to closing.
As much as buyers start with more knowledge, they still want local expertise and good counsel through the process. For all the wonders of Google Street View, there is still no substitute for everyone’s ‘boots on the ground’.