A young couple looks at information with a real estate agent as they tour a home.

Why buyers are waiting to act — and how to help them move forward 

The latest installment of Zillow's annual trends report offers insights into prospective buyers' needs and motivations, and how agents can add value.

September 24, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • A third of buyers haven't yet hired an agent, and many need help with the basics, especially around financing.
  • Most would-be buyers are waiting for market conditions will improve; agents can help them understand the pros and cons of that strategy.
  • The pandemic may be fading, but the desire for a home offices remains strong.

Understanding the motivations and needs of buyers can help you land a client — or close a deal — no matter which side of the transaction you represent.

A new Zillow report offers a revealing glimpse inside the minds of today's prospective home buyers. Based on surveys of people who say they plan to purchase a home within the next 12 months, the 2023 Consumer Housing Trends Report provides insight into what those would-be buyers are looking for and how real estate agents can leverage their expertise to help them move forward.

Education is a top agent value-add, even if some buyers don't know it yet

One in ten prospective buyers say they don't intend to hire an agent at all. Another 21% say they haven't gotten around to it, but intend to hire an agent in the future.

While some buyers boast a go-it-alone attitude, many do need help — and not just with finding a home. In fact, almost one-quarter of those who have hired an agent say they plan to find a home themselves and only want the agent's help with finalizing the purchase.

But many prospective buyers don't understand some of the basics of homebuying, and one-third haven't yet hired a real estate agent to help them.

While most intend to finance their purchase with a mortgage, for example, more than half don't understand what pre-approval means.

About one in five think a pre-approved buyer is simply one who has enough saved for a down payment, and 18% believe that pre-approval and pre-qualification are the same. Another 15% admitted they don't know what it means at all.

Agents can be invaluable in helping buyers navigate the mortgage process — and, in fact, buyers with financing questions look to their real estate agents more than anyone else.

Prospective buyers need a sense of urgency

Over half of prospective buyers (58%) say they've been shopping for at least the past six months, while almost 20% said they've been shopping for one to two years.

With all the turmoil in the market, many buyers are scared to jump in — nearly half say they are waiting for market conditions to improve. Those sidelined buyers may need some hand-holding and help understanding why waiting out interest rates could be a costly mistake.

It also helps to know what they want: Economic considerations top the list of motivations for most prospective buyers.

Just over half of would-be buyers — 53% — say they want to move to a more affordable home, while 23% want to move for a new job. Perhaps surprisingly, the least common motivation for today's buyers is moving closer to family. Just 18% cited a desire to be closer to parents, and 14% said they want to be closer to their kids or grandkids.

Want to attract a buyer's attention? Play up that home office

The report provides some hints about what features to highlight in listings. Turns out buyers still crave an open floor plan, for example. But calling out a home's potential office space could lure in more potential buyers.

Even as many companies are asking employees to come back to the office, a home workspace tops the list of features prospective buyers want. 

An extra room to use as a home office was listed as very or extremely important to 64% of prospective buyers. Just over half said the same about a separate structure on the property to use as a home office.

"It only takes one day of remote work per week to drive high importance of home office space," according to the report. "Only half of prospective buyers that always work at their employer's location consider an extra room for a home office as very or extremely important (48%). However, those that work remotely for just 1 day per week are significantly more likely to report high importance (71%)."

Online shopping is universal, but don't toss your signs just yet

While almost every buyer (96%) uses the internet to search for a new home, 64% of prospective buyers and 59% of successful buyers reported using for-sale or open house signs to help in their search.

Floor plans, high-res photos and virtual tours top the list of online listing features buyers call most important, with only 16% citing the written listing description.

Get the latest real estate news delivered to your inbox.