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Re-thinking the Agent-Buyer Relationship: What Home Buyers Really Need in 2020 and Beyond

6 min read
Porter Farthing
Head of Operations

House hunting, and the process people go through to find their next home, has changed drastically in the last 30 years.  The availability of online search tools, home price algorithms and market statistics are so prevalent online that the knowledge level of the first time home buyer is off the charts compared to years ago.  Add in the popularity of home improvement shows and design resources, and many buyers have a similar level of understanding to real estate agents.  

There have been  companies created to take advantage of this trend --  firms like REX and OpenDoor make the assumption that home buyers know as much as realtors and strive to virtually eliminate the agent from the equation.  And while there is no question that automation and data ubiquity have closed the gap in terms of what the buyer needs and what the agent can provide, there remains a vital role for human interaction and guidance throughout the home buying process.  

So what should the ideal Agent-Client relationship look like in the 2020’s?

As I write this in April 2020,  the world is very much in the throws of COVID-19, and my inbox is chock full of opinions on how ‘virtual’ showings will replace in person showings, and suggestions that open houses may be a thing of the past.  They may have a point on open houses.  Prior to the current crisis, it seems the cat was out of the bag that open houses are more a function of agents wanting to meet new clients than a truly effective tool to sell a house. 

So open houses may go away, and tours may be done at a distance for the foreseeable future, but those components of the agent's value proposition have been disappearing for decades.  What the successful agent of the 2020’s needs to do is FILL IN THE BLANKS.  In other words, Identify what types of information or insights
aren’t available to the modern home buyer, and provide guidance on those missing pieces.  

Here’s a quick chart showing the types of information that are online, and available to anyone, compared to others that are  truly useful and can only be provided by a knowledgeable real estate agent: 


Online Publicly Available Information Agent Insight
Price Estimated sale price
Square footage Flow, usability
Professional, curated photos Reality behind the photos
Professional, staged furniture arrangements How the buyer's furnishings work within the space
Days on market Expert guidance on estimated selling time
Number of bedrooms How the bedrooms would work for the buyer's family
Kitchen condition Ideas for kitchen upgrades or reconfigurations
Design and remodel restrictions Interpretations of zoning laws and planning departments
Disclosures Introductions to home pros who can define and solve issues in disclosures
Curb appeal Privacy, community
Listing agent's opinion Alternative, non-biased perspective

I’ve always separated my job as an agent into two parts: 1) To be a source of expertise and interpretation on the information the buyer is using to make a purchase decision, and 2) To be a counselor and therapist during the emotional roller coaster of making and executing the largest transaction of one's life.  As things have changed in the real estate industry, agents working with buyers should be increasingly focused on the right hand column.  

If the left hand column has been made less important due to technology and the availability of information, the other side should be delivered in a way that creates and nurtures a relationship with clients so that the agent and client are prepared when drama or hard conversation inevitably come. 

With this in mind, agents looking to create real value for today’s buyers might approach things a little differently.  For instance: 

  • Rethink the way you evaluate a house as you are walking through it.

  • See past the staging and look for what is different from the online presentation.  

  • Describe what the backyard ‘could be’ with simple and inexpensive changes.

  • Share your favorite parts of the neighborhood and surrounding areas.  Your buyers have already checked Yelp for general opinions, share yours.  

  • Create a top-3 list of value-creating  changes that could be made to the house.  

  • In short, showcase your personality and your expertise to create a relationship based on common values for when times get uncertain or tough.

The primary functions of the agent have changed drastically, and technology will provide ever more efficient information, but today’s buyers need interaction and support more than ever.  When a buyer reaches out looking for representation, meet them where they are... about 30 years ahead of where they used to be, and a lot more informed than you may think. 

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