Why Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia Can’t Replace Real Estate Agents

The verdict is in — real estate agents have survived the chaos thrown at them by the internet. Websites like Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia provide a base for over 61 million visitors to real estate websites each month, but they haven’t pushed real estate agents out of the picture. Despite the appeal that a buyer can substantially cut costs and bypass broker fees using these websites, most potential home owners still opt to hire a traditional broker. In fact, in 2012 only 9% of homes were sold directly by owners, down from 13% in 2008 according to the National Association of Realtors.

So why hasn’t the internet replaced agents? Unlike other middleman industries such as stock trading and air travel, selling a house requires two agents – one enlisted by the seller, and one by the buyer. This allows full-service agents to punish discount agents and to steer their clients away from homes represented by discount brokers.
Additionally, real estate agents provide specialized knowledge of the market to interested buyers. For instance, brokers assist with finding the right home to purchase, price negotiations, negotiating the terms of sale, finding and arranging finances, and helping with paperwork. Even if a buyer sees a home they like online, more often than not they will find a real-estate agent to hold their hand through the process. For this reason, over the years Zillow and Trulia have embraced the customary ways of doing business in real estate instead of trying to change it. They provide listings, but leave the rest up to agents.

Real estate agents continue to be the voice of comfort that steps in to say, “I’ve got it handled,” when a website cannot, and therefore their position in the industry will never be replaced by robots.

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