The California Association of Realtors recently released their annual Survey of California Home Buyers for 2008 which is once again, full of interesting and useful information.
First off kudos to CAR for changing the name from Survey of Traditional vs. Internet Homebuyers to Survey of CA Home Buyers. Is there really a difference anymore as searching online for real estate has become pretty ‘traditional'. Maybe some, but this gap will continue to close quickly.
According to the report, turns out buyers are taking longer to find their dream home, demanding more, and are less satisfied than ever before. Tough crowd. To anyone selling real estate over the last couple of years, this shouldn't be a huge shocker, but it is nice to now have data to substantiate the trends, and more importantly use the data to improve where applicable.
Taking longer- When the internet was heavily used during the buying process, the buyer spent an average of 8.3 weeks searching for a home with their Agent, and looked at an average of 12.7 homes. In 2007 this number was an average of 5.2 weeks.
Satisfaction is down- Overall buyer satisfaction with their Agent averaged 3.3 in the 2008 survey, it was 4.1 in the 2007 survey. When asked what concerns they has about the buying process, the two answers most commonly cited were ‘market conditions' and ‘agent responsiveness'. Those that participated in the survey, specifically asked for better negotiating and faster response times from their agents. In fact, 80% of those that weren't satisfied with their agent stated the agent "did not negotiate aggressively on their behalf".
When houses were flying off the market, negotiation skills weren't as crucial and there were a lot less reasons a deal could fall apart (even though many of these reasons today are beyond the control of an agent), so it makes sense that this is more of a concern of the home buyer today than in the past. But it is also good for agents to know that this is now a trait affecting satisfaction, as it can affect long term referral business. Also good to know when marketing the reasons one should do business with you.
As a group, Agents need to get better about response time. We have seen this in numerous other reports, but customer expectations are very high when it comes to getting a response from their Agent. In fact, 84% of the participants said response time was either "very important" or "extremely important" in their decision making process. Again, if you excel at responsiveness, this is something you need to be marketing about yourself. Just to let professionals know what they are up against, 31% said they expected an instant response (this was 22% in 2007- ironic how they are taking longer to buy, but expect faster answers) and 96% expected a response in 4 hours or less (this was 94% in 2007).
Now let's talk marketing.
The sites the public found most useful were: 33%, an individual Agent's site; 23%, Realtor.com; 22%, an "internet listing of a home that I was interested in"; 11%, Zillow, 8%, a real estate company website, and 4% Yahoo Real Estate.
What do they want to see on websites? 61% wanted multiple pictures and a slide show; followed by maps and directions; agent contact information, virtual tours and neighborhood profiles.
So while it may be harder to please a home buyer in today's real estate climate, at least we as professionals know what we are up against. According to this report, two big areas of focus need to be superior negotiation skills and lightening fast response times when it comes to satisfying your customer.
The sample of buyers in the survey included 1,249 home buyers. The full report can be purchased in electronic format here for $29.95. In my opinion, it is one of the best reports that comes out all year.