How Buyers Find Homes – Essential Reading for Sellers

With millions of existing homes sold every year, the National Association of Realtors has a significant pool of data to work with. One of the various surveys they conduct relates to how buyers find homes they ultimately purchase. Another way to look at this information is which efforts home sellers (and their agents) use are most likely to find a buyer. The NAR identified seven ways buyers find homes. Knowing which are the most important, and where efforts are best focused might surprise you (and your agent)!

how buyers find homes

How Buyers Find Homes *

Internet: 51%
Given the prevalence of apps and real estate portals such as Zillow, Redfin,, Trulia, etc. you might expect this percentage to be higher. While over 90% of buyers start their real estate search online, it ultimately is not how everyone finds their future home. However, at over 50%, this stat underscores the importance of online marketing efforts for sellers. When listing with most full service brokerages (and many discount brokers as well), entering a seller’s home into MLS results in the home being syndicated to some of the major real estate portals mentioned above.

With Sotheby’s International Realty, agents not only enter the home into MLS, they also enter the property details into a proprietary system often referred to as a global MLS. Aside from exposure to the traditional portals, Sotheby’s International Realty agents put their clients’ listings in front of a much broader audience that includes Sotheby’s International Realty’s online media partners in the US and abroad. Some of those online partners currently include the Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, The New York Times, etc. Making sure whatever agent and brokerage you choose to list with has a strong presence online and is highly competent in Internet marketing is one of the best paths to a successful home sale.

Real Estate Agent: 34%
Despite occasional predictions agents will no longer play a role in home searches, they occupy a very solid second position in how buyers find homes. Proactive agents often are aware of properties that are off-MLS (sometimes referred to as “pocket listings” held by the agents with access to the seller), and properties that are coming soon but have not hit the market yet. I setup all the buyers I work with on a property search that rapidly and accurately notifies them of properties when they come on the market. Although surfing for properties online works for many, more than a third of buyers find their homes through their agent.

Yard Sign / Open House Sign: 8%
This is one of the most under-recognized techniques for how buyers find homes. Despite all the internet searches, serendipity in the real world can and often does play a role in real estate. Some sellers elect not to have a for sale sign outside their property, which in my opinion is a mistake that can cost them an ideal buyer. Open houses are similarly important, with the added benefit of numerous signs throughout a neighborhood rather than a single for sale sign. Many years ago my wife and I stumbled into an open house and two days later we were making an offer on a property when we didn’t even know we were looking for a home! I wish NAR had separated open houses into a stand-alone statistic in this survey, but differentiating those buyers from those that found a property on the Internet could be challenging given that many open houses are also found online. Regardless, a yard sign and open houses should likely be a part of your sales strategy.

Friend, Relative or Neighbor: 4%
Networking still matters. Friends, relatives and neighbors can be great advocates for buyers in their home search and for sellers seeking those buyers. If you are selling a home, spread the word and you might get put in touch with a ready, willing and able buyer. Proactive agents can leverage this method of finding buyers by reaching out to neighbors directly to see if they might have friends or family in the market. I will often door-knock immediate neighbors of new listings I have to provide them with property and open house details. Personal connections should not be discounted in terms of how buyers find homes.

Home Builder or Their Agent: 2%
Home builders or their agents often do marketing specifically for a property they have developed, however this represents a scant 2% of how buyers find their homes.

Directly From Sellers / Knew The Sellers: 1%
This is often a scenario both buyers and sellers dream of, but it occurs very infrequently. In low inventory markets like San Diego currently (and much of the rest of the US right now), buyers tiring of competing for every home often hope for a direct sale scenario. Likewise sellers sometimes look at this kind of scenario as an opportunity to find a buyer and save save some money on real estate commissions. If you’re selling to a close friend or family member and are less concerned with getting top dollar for your property, this can be an appealing option. However, all other things being equal, I believe you are far more likely to maximize your sales price and what you net from the sale by fully exposing your property to the open market, even when factoring in full sales commissions.

Print Newspaper Advertisement: 1%
Even those of us who have followed the decline of print media might be surprised by how low this stat is. What used to be in the top two methods of how buyers find homes, now accounts for a mere 1%. That doesn’t mean print advertising should be neglected altogether, however it’s not likely to be a very fruitful marketing strategy for your home.

How Buyers Find Homes – Takeaways for Sellers

Despite a strong seller’s market right now, 88% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker. . . that’s a figure that according to NAR has steadily increased from 69% in 2001. Given that the Internet and Agents accounted for 85% of how buyers find homes, it’s vital sellers not only utilize a skilled agent, but that the agent they choose is highly skilled online. Utilizing an agent and leveraging the Internet are not independent – a good agent can maximize the exposure your property gets online, particularly with high quality, engaging photos / video and extensive online advertising. Assuming you’ve followed solid strategies like decluttering or even staging your property to maximize its appeal, hiring a great internet-savvy agent and making sure you have good signage and open houses means you are off to a great start in getting your home sold!

If you are considering buying or selling a property in San Diego, or if you would like to be referred to a skilled agent anywhere in the US or abroad, please contact me by phone, text or email via the form below.

*Source: 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

marc lyman

About Marc Lyman

Marc Lyman gets results and his proven track record and client reviews leave little doubt. Marc grew up in Silicon Valley and graduated from UC San Diego in 1995 with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. Marc is known for his exemplary marketing, uncompromising ethics, and professionalism. His proactive approach helps ensure smooth transactions, with your interests always first and foremost. Marc's tenacious attitude, strong background in deal-making, and seasoned negotiation skills are tempered with a strategic, personable, and diplomatic approach. Contact Marc to facilitate your real estate success!