Brokers Adapt to Life With Gen X

A new generation of real estate practitioners is changing the way real estate companies do business.

November 1, 2004

The historically strong real estate market has drawn in a new generation of young practitioners, forcing brokers established in their ways to adapt to new ways of doing business. That often means putting a greater emphasis on technology, revamping recruitment and coaching strategies, and taking a new look at how sales meetings are structured.

“They don’t like the sharing of old war stories,” Natalie Carpenter, managing broker of the Chatham office of Coldwell Banker Residential in Chicago, says of the younger practitioners in her office. “They want bite-sized pieces of information and meetings that are short and concise.”

Carpenter changed the focus of sales meetings to appeal to the younger set. Years ago, when her salespeople were a bit older and more uniform in age, motivational speakers were fitting for sales meetings, but now she invites guests to deliver presentations on how to accomplish tasks more efficiently and incorporate technology into their businesses—skills the new workers see as more central to their success.

Brokers and real estate executives, almost without exception, say the influx of new talent is a positive trend for their offices and the industry overall. But they also acknowledge challenges of adjusting to the different skill sets, ambitions, and interests of the new generation.

Generation Xers, the post-baby boomers born roughly between the early 1960s and mid- to late-1970s—varying slightly depending on which source you consult—make up the bulk of newcomers. But some of the younger rookies can even be classified as Generation Y, born in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Their reasons for entering the business vary. Some are fresh out of school and see big opportunities in the booming real estate industry, while others who choose real estate after trying out a different career path or losing a corporate job to downsizing.

Short on Experience, Long on Drive

When young practitioners lack sales experience, they compensate with quick learning and a drive to succeed, real estate executives say. Career-switchers, in particular, are well-suited to the real estate business, says Avram Goldman, president and chief operating officer for Coldwell Banker Northern California in San Ramon, Calif.

“They’re used to being focused, passionate, and entrepreneurial, and they come to this industry possessing the skills and attitude needed to be top producers,” says Goldman, whose company has seen many former dot-com workers transform into successful practitioners.

And most Gen X practitioners come well-equipped with technology skills they can use from the start to grow business and market themselves.

“In the old days, it took a person about 10 years to really build a solid career,” says Harley E. Rouda Jr., CEO of Real Living in Columbus, Ohio. “Today, through Web marketing, new technologies, and a willingness to embrace the business quickly, they can generate income and be successful much faster.”

A New Coaching Approach

Because so many new practitioners have no prior work experience in real estate, brokers are putting extra thought into training programs that channel the skills from employees’ previous work experiences into productive careers selling properties.

Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate Inc. in Coral Gables, Fla., which employs more than a dozen Gen Xers, developed a plan in which managers do one-on-one mentoring to help rookies set goals, identify a strong niche, create promotions, and develop a budget and business plan. Managers also closely supervise new practitioners through their first three transactions.

Scott Bloom, sales director for the office, likens the young employees to new lawyers. “They’ve passed the bar, but it doesn’t mean they know how to practice law yet,” he says. “It’s difficult for new practitioners to know everything needed to represent people. The biggest obstacles are learning everything they can and learning it right as quickly as possible.”

Bloom’s company also holds group training sessions to teach new practitioners how to write purchase contracts, discuss marketing strategies, and learn negotiation tactics. Well-rounded training increases employee retention, lowers recruiting and training costs, and reduces broker liability, he says.

“Through our mentoring and training, we can better educate and prepare them to succeed,” Bloom says. “If we invest in them initially, we know they’ll bring money to our business in the long run.”

Capturing New Business

Younger practitioners—for the most part—also have the inherent ability of relating to customers in their age group. That helps capture new business, particularly among first-time homebuyers, whose average age is 32, according to NAR’s 2003 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

“I’m thankful for the younger salespeople,” Carpenter says. “People are buying homes at a younger age and they’re able to work well with people of their own generation. Gen X salespeople are bringing in clients we might not have had.”

Young buyers typically start their home search online and expect their real estate salesperson to respond to them quickly through e-mails and other technologies.

“Those buyers like younger practitioners because they talk the talk,” says Mancuso. “That matters when trying to capture Gen X clients. Young sellers are impressed with practitioners’ use of technology. The sooner you get back to them, the more credibility you have.”

Technology skills are mentioned over and over as one of the biggest assets of the new generation. It changes not only how new business is captured, but how real estate offices are run.

Gen X Brings New Tech Focus

Some brokers say less time is needed to train young recruits on how to work computer programs because they already have skills from school and previous jobs. And tech-savvy workers raise the bar for what kinds of tools and computer programs real estate companies provide to salespeople.

Carpenter says she’s had to increase her technology know-how and incorporate new computers and software programs into her business, while Real Living’s Rouda says it’s an “ever-expanding commitment” to stay current on new technologies and offer the most up-to-date programs.

The challenge starts before Gen Xers even set foot in the office. That’s because most aspiring practitioners head to the Web to do company research and decide where they would like to build their careers. Sites with interactive tools, rich information, and easy navigation will grab their attention. “The Web site has to show that your business is technology friendly and that you provide the tools necessary for salespeople to succeed,” Goldman says.

Real Living uses an online tool called the Real Estate Simulator to recruit new salespeople. The Simulator quizzes prospective employees to help them get a sense of the business and find out if real estate is right for them. Results are sent to a manager who follows up with the prospective salesperson.

Erik Sjowall, sales manager for Edina Realty in Maplewood, Minn.—where nearly a third of the salespeople are between the ages of 20 and 35—says he’s had success advertising on Web sites like Monster.com and using outdoor signage that promoted real estate as “exciting” and “fast-paced.”

When recruiting, brokers say it’s also smart to ask for help from the office’s younger talent. Dan Mancuso, executive vice president of Murphy Realty Preferred Homes in Rumson, N.J., took that route and says it worked. When he asked new hires why they chose his office instead of the competition, they said they felt they’d be more understood by managers and that the company was “hipper” than others.

“The Future of the Business”

It may be hard to visualize, but today’s young recruits someday will be industry veterans, heading up real estate companies and training yet another generation of practitioners that will bring their own skill sets and ways of doing business.

For now, they’ll continue to shape the industry with a new emphasis on technology and insight into what younger consumers want from their real estate salesperson.

“They’re the future of the business and they’re going to change the face of real estate,” Mancuso says of the Gen Xers. “We’ll lose some of our stodgy image, and they’ll help us stay current.”

Gen Xers also will help preserve the role of practitioners in real estate transactions, he says.

“Buyers and sellers still don’t like to negotiate for themselves on such an emotional issue as selling and buying their homes,” Mancuso says. “I think the younger crowd will help keep real estate salespeople in the equation.”

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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