Generation Gap: X Marks the Spot

Understanding generational differences can help Boomer salespeople work with younger homebuyers.

January 1, 2003

As the Baby Boomers move into their final move-up homes, the market is ready to shift toward the Generation X homebuyer. If you are trying to market to these younger buyers, especially first-time buyers, examining the selling trends that most affect the real estate industry today in relationship to buyers' age, culture, and mindset is a good place to begin. This will help you better understand their needs as buyers, and will enable you to tailor your services to meet their needs. Here are a few cultural and economic trends that affect the Generation X homebuyer.

Characteristics - Skeptical, Aloof, Elitist, Pragmatic

Just as the Baby Boomer generation has its characteristics, so does the "Generation X" first-time and move-up homebuyers. The Gen Xers are children of wealth, privilege, and instant gratification. Very few have been to war. Nevertheless, they are also the products of the highest divorce rate in history, and the first generation to attend school with metal detectors on the doors.

For a number of reasons, the Gen Xer says, "Prove it or move it. "Question everything" is their cultural motto, and if they don't like the answers, they do business elsewhere. Like all generations, they are egocentric within their own culture. If you can't speak their language, or do business in the medium that they are comfortable with--namely the Internet--they will dismiss you as a dinosaur.

Solution: Forget "vanity" advertising campaigns. These buyers don't care about you, they care about what you can do for them. That means work the way they want to work--via e-mail. They want to do their own homework. Let them, but point them to sources you trust. Hire someone on your staff as an assistant who can bring youth to your team, and communicate the Generation X perspective in your marketing plans.

Buyer's Advocacy

This is the generation that is driving open information consumerism. That means buyer's representation. If you try to show this buyer a home that doesn't fit his/her profile simply because it is your newest listing, you will lose. This customer wants an advocate. They aren't fooled by the old saw that the seller pays the practitioner. They are smart enough to know that the buyer pays the practitioner out of the transaction proceeds, so they want their money's worth.

The solution: Don't play the shell game with this generation. Don't hide information. Don't serve two masters--either you are representing the buyer or you aren't. You must clearly show what value you can bring them in the transaction. If you can't truly represent them, why should they use your services?

The Impact of the Information Age

First-time buyers were weaned on the Internet, and most are computer literate. With the deluge of information that can be found via the World Wide Web, buyers are obtaining information for themselves about the home buying process, leaving practitioners out in the cold. On the flip side, they are also being given a lot of misinformation. The result is confusion and buyers who are reluctant to act.

The solution: Be as familiar with the Internet as they are. Head disaster off at the pass by consolidating the best sites for your buyer and e-mailing them the URLs before they get bogged down on the 'Net. Your helpful, but hands-off approach, will be appreciated. Let them shop for a loan, look at homes, or learn about the process on their own time in their own way. Be there as a safety net. Deliver information and services as directly as possible. Know what they know.

Ask a lot of questions which will help your buyer sort out what they want and don't want. Don't add to the confusion by showing them loans, homes or information they don't need. Remember, this buyer is very wary of hidden agendas.

This buyer will also not only test your patience, but will require you to be up-to-the-minute in your Internet/technology skills. Be prepared to communicate primarily via e-mail, and be able to send photos and listings via e-mail. Tell it like it is. Be direct. Don't waste their time.

Fear

Along with the excitement of owning a home for the first time, come many fears. Buyers fear such things as choosing the wrong home, getting into the wrong school district, not being able to resell if necessary, overpaying for a home, discovering the need for expensive repairs, and not being able to make their payments.

Buyers think the largest purchase of their lives is their home. It isn't. The loan is.

The solution: Putting the home loan in perspective will go a long way toward building your credibility with the buyer. Helping your buyer get pre-qualified is not just a convenience for you so you start showing them homes. It can also be an opportunity to build confidence.

Ask your buyer what their concerns are. Be ready with school reports, crime statistics, neighborhood profiles, or whatever it takes to ease their fears. Offer the option of a home warranty if the seller hasn't provided one.

With the first time buyer, handholding is part of the job of the practitioner, even if the customer thinks they don't need it. When dealing with Generation X buyers, you will often have to find a way to guide them without them even noticing.

(c) Copyright 2003 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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