A real estate agent shows a home to a young Black home shopper.

Buyers will drop agents who aren't showing their value 

A survey of buyers found that trustworthiness and the ability to provide high-value services were key to landing — and keeping — them as a client.

August 31, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Zillow's annual Consumer Housing Trends Report revealed how buyers choose their agents and what qualities they value.
  • Almost half of buyers hire the first agent they contact.
  • But more than a quarter fired their agent at some point during the homebuying process, most often because they didn't think the agent was doing enough work.

Competition for clients is fierce, especially as high mortgage rates have pushed many buyers out of the market. Which means it's more important than ever for agents to not only make a good first impression, but to be the first agent a buyer turns to.

That's one of the insights coming out of Zillow's annual Consumer Housing Trends Report released on Aug. 23. The findings are based on a survey of more than 6,500 homebuyers conducted between April and July.

Among buyers who contacted an agent, almost half — 47% — hired the first agent they reached out to. First-time buyers were a little choosier, with 60% contacting two or more agents before making a decision.

But even with nearly half of buyers contacting just one agent, Joe Oz thinks that's an improvement compared to earlier in his career. Oz, an eXp agent who leads the Oz Group in New Jersey, estimates that only 10% of buyers were talking to more than one agent when he started back in 2008.

"The consumer just wasn't used to interviewing agents," said Oz. 

But now, with "so many resources to find Realtors," Oz said "consumers are doing their own research and interviewing agents to get the information they need."

Agents need to demonstrate their value, trustworthiness

Whether you're the first agent being interviewed or the fourth, showing your value is crucial, said Oz, who likens it to a job interview.

When talking with a potential buyer client, Oz said it's important to make it clear that you're not trying to sell something — you're there to help the client through the process and give them information and resources to make the right decision. 

Consumers are more savvy these days and "ultimately will want to align with someone who's going to put their goals first," said Oz.

That advice is consistent with Zillow's findings in the survey. Buyers ranked trustworthiness as the most important characteristic in an agent, followed by responsiveness, local market knowledge and strong negotiation skills.

Creating a strong offer is a high-value service 

But what, specifically, do buyers want agents to do for them? 

Helping them determine the details of their offer was ranked as the most valuable service by both first-time and repeat buyers. Organizing and submitting paperwork came in second, and was especially valued by repeat buyers, perhaps because they've been through the process and know how complicated it can be. 

Identifying homes to consider, taking them on tours and leading contract negotiations tied for third place among the most valuable services buyers sought from their agents.

Even with the prevalence of online home search sites like Zillow, Realtor.com and Redfin, buyers are still looking to agents to help with their search.   

Along the Jersey Shore, Oz said inventory is so tight that finding homes rises to the top of the list for many buyers, and running an MLS search for the client isn't going to cut it.

"We're not just waiting around for houses to hit the market," Oz said, noting that his team is always on the lookout for off-market properties, coming soon listings and for-sale-by-owner properties.

Don't take your client for granted

Once an agent lands a client, the work has just begun. Buyers in the Zillow survey are willing to fire their agent if they aren't getting what they need, with more than a quarter (26%) indicating that they stopped working with one agent and moved to another at some point in the homebuying process.

Among the buyers who fired their agent, the most common reason, reported by nearly half the respondents, was that the agent wasn't doing very much work. Another 40% said their agent was difficult to communicate with, while 25% said the agent didn't follow their instructions.

The lesson for agents? Again, continue to demonstrate your value, not just to land a client but to keep them.

And that message is not lost on Oz, who said the number of agents in his market has grown from around 5,000 when he started to about 20,000, and buyers are aware of this increased competition.

"That's why the consumer is interviewing agents," Oz said — they know plenty of other options are available.

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