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Even though more consumers are using the Internet as a tool during their home search, buyers are increasingly utilizing the knowledge and expertise of a real estate agent,  according to the National Association of Realtors Real Estate in a Digital Age report.

"Consumers have the ability to do more home buying research online and be more connected during the home search process than ever before, but research proves they are still seeing the value a Realtor brings to the transaction, from the initial search to well after the closing," said NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Arkansas. "Realtors bring great value to buyers from every generation, demographic and location as well as in every financial and familial situation. So while consumers have more technological tools available at their fingertips, Realtors® are now more than ever a part of the home buying and selling equation."

The report found that finding the right property was ranked as the most difficult step in the home buying process. Since the Internet is now the first place many people go for information, it's not surprising that 4 in 10 buyers looked for properties online as a first step in the home buying process (up from 36 percent in 2010). However, 88 percent of buyers in 2014 purchased their home with assistance from a real estate agent, up from 83 percent in 2010.

While 94 percent of millennials and 84 percent of baby boomers used online websites in their home search, only 65 percent of the Silent Generation - those ages 69 to 89 years - did the same. Older boomers, those aged 60 to 68 years, used a mobile device to search for properties at less than half the rate of millennials (30 percent versus 66 percent).

When it comes to website listing features, photos and online property information were more important to millennials, while virtual tours and direct contact with a real estate agent were more important to baby boomers. Despite visual content growing in popularity and importance, older homebuyers found virtual tours more useful than younger buyers (45 percent among the Silent Generation and baby boomers compared to 36 percent among millennials).

As for the length of time it takes for consumers to find a home, millennials typically looked for about 11 weeks, while baby boomers and members of the Silent Generation searched for 8 weeks. Internet use also impacted the length of a home search; those who used the Internet to search homes visited more homes and searched for longer, looking at 10 homes over a 10-week period (versus four homes in four weeks for those not looking on the web). 

While not all consumers use the Internet in their home search, a growing number are first finding their future home online. Forty-three percent of buyers first found the home they ended up purchasing on the web; that number was just 8 percent in 2001. In 2001, nearly half (48 percent) of buyers found the home they purchased from a real estate agent; today that number is 33 percent.                         

The Real Estate in a Digital Age report also found greater technology use by Realtors® and real estate firms to better meet the needs of clients. Realtors® prefer to communicate with their clients via email (at 93 percent) as well as text messages (85 percent) and instant messaging (31 percent).  

Social media is also popular with Realtors, though 70 percent of female Realtors® are active on social media compared to only 58 percent of male Realtors. Some social media platforms are more popular than others among Realtors®: Facebook and LinkedIn are most utilized by Realtors® (at 80 percent and 71 percent). Realtors® that are active on social media do so for visibility/exposure/marketing (81 percent), building relationships and networking (66 percent), advertising (59 percent) and promoting listings (51 percent).

Realtors and firms know that they must adapt to technology to better work with and understand their clients; however, it is not always an easy feat. In fact, 46 percent of all real estate firms cite keeping up with technology as one of the biggest challenges they face over the next two years. That number is even higher for commercial real estate firms, at 53 percent.

"Realtors constantly strive to find ways to make the home buying and selling process easier for and more accessible to their clients," Polychron said. "There is nothing more important than helping people find and land their dream home, and since technology helps Realtors® do that, it will continue to be a priority."

The National Association of Realtors, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.