BAM Key Details: 

  • Between April and July 2023, Zillow Group Population Science conducted a survey to gather insights from over 11,800 prospective buyers. 
  • Results published in Zillow’s 2023 Consumer Housing Trends Report highlight specific opportunities for real estate agents to add value to the home buying experience. 

If only we could find out exactly what today’s prospective homebuyer thinks of the homebuying process—and what specifically they hope a real estate agent can help them with.” 

That may as well have been the thought process behind the Zillow Consumer Housing Trends survey fielded to more than 11,800 prospective buyers from April to July 2023. 

The results published in Zillow’s Consumer Housing Trends Report highlight four opportunities for real estate agents to add value. 

With housing affordability at its worst, many buyers and sellers have backed off from the housing market. Those who remain have plenty of real estate agents to choose from. 

So, in an age where most buyers are doing at least some of their home shopping online and on their own initiative, what do today’s prospective buyers really want from an agent? 

Here are a few wrong answers:

  • Someone to open doors for them—or find listings they can easily find themselves
  • Someone to tell them, “It’s always a good time to buy.”
  • Someone to send them listings that are way outside their budget 

Read on for the biggest takeaways from the report. 

Prospective homebuyer demographics—a quick overview

Here’s a quick overview of prospective homebuyer demographics:

  • Age—The median age is 39 years old, while the average is 40. Roughly three in five (62%) were born before 1980, and about one in five (22%) are in their 20s or younger. Ten percent are in their 60s or older. 
  • Race & ethnic identity—61% of prospective buyers are non-Hispanic white or Caucasian (61%), compared to 69% of successful buyers. Black and Latinx prospective buyers are about as likely as White adults to report intent to purchase a home but are about half as likely to succeed in doing so. 
  • Regions—The largest share of prospective buyers (34%) live in the South, followed by the West (29%), Midwest (19%), and Northeast (18%).  
  • Gender identity and sexual orientation—As with other minorities, prospective buyers are slightly more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ (12%) than successful buyers (9%). Incomes across both groups are similar for successful buyers, but the gap widens for prospective buyers, with LGBTQ+ prospective buyers more likely to report earning less than $50K (21% vs. 15% for cisgender heterosexual prospective buyers) and less likely to report earning $100K or more (50% vs. 57%). 
  • Income—The median income for prospective buyers sits between $100,000 and $124,999—higher than the median income for the U.S. population overall. 
  • Household composition—Prospective buyers are more likely to have at least one pet (78%) than a child (40%). Dogs are the most common pet (with 68% having at least one), followed by cats (47%). 
  • Climate risk—Most prospective buyers (83%) referenced at least one climate risk (flood, hurricane, wildfire, intense heat, etc.) that impacted where they shop for a home. About two in five (41%) pointed to floods as the most impactful climate risk (41%), followed by wildfires and extreme temperatures (both 37%). 
  • Climate risk vs. income—First-time buyers, who tend to have lower incomes than repeat buyers, are less likely to see climate risks as a dealbreaker in their home shopping. Their expectations are more aligned with their purchasing power. 
  • Home office—Having an extra room to use as a home office was very or extremely important to about two-thirds (64%) of prospective buyers. About half (51%) want a separate structure on the property to use as a home office. 
  • Intent to hire a real estate agent—A little more than one in five (21%) prospective buyers said they intend to hire an agent to help them with the home buying process;  10% say they won’t. 

Filling the gaps as a real estate agent 

The gaps we’re talking about here relate to the typical homebuyer’s knowledge of the housing market and the home buying process. If the buyer knows the housing market better than you do, you can’t help them understand it any better than they already do. 

If you know next to nothing about mortgage financing, buyers who might otherwise rely on you for financing advice will look elsewhere for guidance. 

And if your knowledge and experience of the home buying process is no more enlightening than what the buyer has already experienced or learned from others, they’ll probably walk away from their conversation with you, thinking, “I may as well just do this myself.” 

No one should have to go through that process alone, and there’s plenty you can do to make the home buying experience something your clients will remember fondly (for the most part). 

Here are four ways to address the biggest knowledge gaps and be the agent your client needs.

#1 – Help buyers understand their best options in this market

Over half (58%) of prospective buyers surveyed said they’d been home shopping for at least the past six months. Nearly one in five say they’d shopped for between one and two years. And about one in seven (14%) had been shopping for three years or more. 

Compared to prospective first-time buyers (51%), repeat buyers were more likely (62%) to report shopping for a home for at least six months. 

Reasons for those long time spans varied, but nearly half (49%) said they were waiting for the housing market to become more favorable to buyers. 

This creates an opportunity for agents who can articulate the advantages of buying a home now—rather than waiting for better buyer conditions, which will also increase buyer competition. 

#2—Help motivated buyers remove financial obstacles

Many buyers in this market—especially first-time buyers—need agents who can educate them about creative financing options like seller financing and mortgage rate buydowns. This is where it pays to not only have a trustworthy lending partner but also to have regular conversations with lenders about the options buyers have. 

The traditional way of putting down 20% and financing the rest through a conventional mortgage is one way. But it’s not open to everyone. FHA loans and VA loans typically require lower down payment percentages. Borrowers who qualify for a VA loan can even forego the down payment completely—but few Veterans and service members even know about their hard-earned VA loan benefits.

Saving up for a down payment is the #1 delay for about half of the prospective buyers in the survey. More than half (56%) intend to put down less than 20%. Be the agent who knows about down payment assistance programs, VA loans, and other options that can help your buyers become homeowners sooner. 

Some buyers are in a better position to buy in this market than others, and some need to buy sooner due to life events that demand a change in their living space or location. Other buyers, depending on their circumstances, may be better served renting for the time being. 

Get clear on what your buyer needs and what will help them most in the long-term, so you can become the guide and advocate they need in this market and for decades to come. 

#3—Help buyers expand their (affordable) options

The next most common reason (43%) for delayed homebuying was the short supply of homes in the buyer’s price range. This is another area where agents can show their value. 

Most prospective buyer (96%) have browsed property listings online But even if they used minimal filtering to allow for the greatest possible number of homes in their price range—with their minimum preferred number of bedrooms and bathrooms—it’s unlikely they’ve seen all the homes in their area that would meet their minimum requirements. 

So, if you have access to “coming soon” listings or properties that aren’t listed publicly or even homes that are just outside the area your clients are looking, you can give them more options to choose from, improving their odds of finding a home they love that fits their budget. 

Knowing a trustworthy lender who can help your clients with creative financing options can also increase the number of homes they can realistically afford.  

After all, more than half (53%) of the prospective buyers in Zillow’s survey are shopping for a home because they want a more affordable place to live. 

#4 — Pre-qualified vs. pre-approved: Help buyers understand the difference

The majority of buyers (69%) intend to finance their home purchase with a mortgage loan. And about a quarter (23%) of the buyers in Zillow’s survey said they were pre-approved for a loan. 

But when asked what it means to be a “pre-qualified buyer,” about one in five (21%) respondents would use that term to describe someone who has saved enough for a down payment.  

A little under one in five think pre-approval and pre-qualification are the same thing. Another 15% admitted they had no idea what it means to be pre-approved. 

Since about one-third of the prospective buyers in the survey are first-time buyers, the knowledge gap surrounding these terms is understandable; it’s also an opportunity for you. 

There’s a reason 55% of buyers turn to real estate agents for financing advice. The more you can educate them on the terminology and help them make sense of the home buying process, the more smoothly their home buying experience will go and the more grateful they’ll be that they decided to work with you rather than going it alone. 

So, how are today’s buyers shopping for homes—and what do they want?

According to Zillow’s survey two-thirds of prospective buyers have already hired an agent to help them find a home and get them through the home buying process. And while most are doing some home shopping online to check out their local options, some prospective buyers in the survey reported more use of low-tech search tools like print ads and direct mail. 

When it comes to the listing features valued most by prospective buyers, floor plans and high-resolution photos topped the list. Both give buyers a sense of what it will be like to walk into the house as well as important details like kitchen and bathroom design, flooring, and dimensions for each of the rooms. 

Buyers with pets will likely take an interest in properties with pet-friendly features, just as buyers with children will want a home and a neighborhood that will be safe for them. 

Remote workers will be more likely to want that extra room (or structure) to use as a home office. But buyers being called back to the office, who are now in a hurry to find a home within a reasonable commuting distance, probably won’t have a home office on their list of must-haves.

Takeaways for real estate agents

The overall lesson here is to get to know your clients well enough to know what they need and what they want. Ask more questions, and let them do most of the talking. 

Chances are each client has at least an idea of what they expect from a real estate agent. Your job is to exceed those expectations and become a trusted ally. Give them a reason to tell their friends, family, and colleagues they wouldn’t be where they are without you.