It's hard to imagine any business sector which has not unalterably been changed by the internet, and which does not continue to change as the internet evolves. Real estate is no such exception. In many western countries, the internet now accounts for the vast majority of inquiries, with print media, 'For Sale' boards, and marketing to existing databases of potential customers now representing a comparatively small number of inquiries.
It stands to reason that this shift will, and is, also changing the role which traditional real estate agents (also known as 'real estate brokers') play within this sector. Traditionally, the value of real estate agents has been perceived as agents who have expert knowledge in the value of homes, the ability to run effective marketing campaigns, and the ability to negotiate effectively with potential buyers.
With the emergence of a plethora of new 'For Sale by Owner' portals, the role of the traditional real estate agent is also changing. Many of these portals now provide as part of their service, detailed statistical reports on comparable sales within a given area, which gives the seller a solid indication of what their own home may be worth. It is however, the marketing side of things in which these portals provide the highest value to the seller. Many 'For Sale By Owner' websites do not only publish advertisements to their own website; they often always publish these listings to the same 3rd party websites which the traditional estate agent would do, and at a fraction of the cost. In terms of negotiating, the seller always has the final say in what they are willing to accept as a sale price, and in this respect, the agent's ability to negotiate on the seller's behalf is often over-rated.
Real estate agents play an important role in the community, and this role should be acknowledged. They are after all, professionals who are engaged in this sector on a full-time basis, and who are (for the most part) generally up-to-date with what is happening within a given area. Therefore, it is hard to imagine that agent will disappear completely. What is to be expected though, is that the range of services offered will change over time. Sellers now have the same access to statistical research with regards to house prices as the agents themselves, they can often achieve the same number of inquiries by using the services of For Sale by Owner websites, and they are, and always have been, perfectly capable of negotiating with the buyers by themselves. In terms of contractual legalities, it is the case that in most western countries that it is perfectly acceptable for a seller to enter into a contract of sale with the buyer themselves. They do not need to be a licensed real estate agent to do this.
What then remains for the traditional real estate agent? Plenty. Experts who are continually conducting business within the real estate sector and specifically within a certain area, will generally still be able to assist a seller in a meaningful and valuable way. However, for a selection of services (such as the marketing), they no longer provide advantages to the seller which would previously never have been available to the seller.
For Sale by Owner portals will therefore never completely replace real estate agents. What they will most certainly do however, is reduce the cost of selling a home by virtue of the fact that sellers are no longer reliant on the estate agent as a 'one-stop-shop' for managing every aspect of the sale, and selecting only those services which they feel they either do not have the time for, or are not willing to spend time on themselves (such as market research to establish the correct selling price). All this means manifests itself in greater choice for sellers, and the potential for sellers to save thousands of dollars in commissions, by taking control and playing a more active role in actual sale of their own real estate.