Any industry changes and evolves over time. The last several years have seen a number of changes in the way the real estate business works and how agents operate. Some of these changes come from technology, as in so many other fields, and some have come from lessons learned after shifts in the economy, but generally they’re not too likely to change back.
Early home searches: Buyers take a more active role in looking for real estate listings from the beginning now, even when working with an agent. It used to be more common to just look through the paper and either go to open houses or make appointments through your agent. Otherwise, it was mostly the agent who did the searching. Buyers now can spend lots of time going through listings online, looking at maps and photos, and emailing material to their agent. Similarly, agents now do deeper research online.
Marketing: This has changed for sellers as well as independent agents. The kinds of print material that agents used to spread, all the way down to refrigerator magnets, isn’t used much anymore, and agents depend instead on advertising and word of mouth online. For sellers, submitting your listing to online services has become a more complicated process than simply sending a classified ad to the local paper.
Writing and presenting an offer: In the past, submitting an offer has been a formal process, with forms filled out in triplicate and everything signed and initialed. Offers would then be presented at a meeting. Today documentation is usually emailed back and forth, and even faxing is a bit outdated. Letters to the seller are still sometimes encouraged along with offers, though.
Research and information: Beyond listings, all kinds of property and neighborhood information are freely available online, as long as you know where to look. This means both buyers and sellers tend to do at least some of their own research rather than depending on an agent to do it for them.
Attitudes toward finance: Of course, the end of the real estate bubble over the last few years has affected credit standards as well as home prices. Not only is it more difficult for some buyers to get credit, but agents and other outside parties are more likely to be skeptical and not simply shrug at the idea that the buyer’s probably lying but it doesn’t matter. Once credit is established, though, it’s considered more trustworthy. As far as prices, sellers used to be able to simply ask for what they wanted, and now have to pay more attention to comparable prices and the condition of the house beyond cosmetics.
The use of technology to make different forms of research and paperwork easier has also made things more complicated in some ways, especially for buyers who find themselves doing more of the work they would have expected from an agent. It remains to be seen how these changes will continue to develop.