Pushing Through the Hurdles

Why devote the extra time to working with first-time buyers? For some, the niche generates good feelings akin to first love.

July 16, 2014

Andi Grant’s passion for her sales niche is pretty well summed up in her website’s URL, FirstTimeHomeBuyer RealEstate.com, which is bursting with tips to help buyers in South Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., turn their dreams of home ownership into a reality.

Grant, a sales agent with Prudential 24 Hour Real Estate Co., in Downey, Calif., got into the real estate business in 2006 when, as luck would have it, real estate prices began to plummet. But she leaned in during the downturn and, for the past three years, Grant has focused her marketing efforts on the particularly challenging first-time buyer segment, which now comprises 70 percent of her business.

So what’s the appeal of a niche that typically requires extra hand-holding, particularly when it comes to obtaining a loan? “I love helping them to achieve the American dream,” she says.

At first, Grant didn’t pursue first-time home buyers. They came to her—at open houses. “I had to equip myself with information specifically geared to answering their many questions on the spot,” she says. Creating a branding campaign aimed at them was the next step.

Her success derives from anticipating how first-timers may have been led astray at the start of their search. Even though her buyers, typically in their early 30s, have unprecedented access to information, she has to correct much of what they have learned online, such as “Top Ten Things First-Time Home Buyers Should Never/Always Do” lists from dubious news sources and advice from family and friends whose purchasing experiences don’t reflect current conditions.

“Buyers are telling me I need to make an offer $20K lower than the price so we can work our way up,” even in multiple-offer scenarios, says Grant. “I tell them, ‘The last thing we want is for them to use your offer as scratch paper to calculate the pros and cons of other offers.’ ”

First-time buyers defy stereotyping. Many are far more circumspect about the decision to own than buyers of a decade ago, particularly if they’ve seen loved ones face a foreclosure or short sale, she says. “It’s all about being comfortable,” Grant says. “They’re not going to buy just for the sake of buying.”

Swati Saxena, BPOR, SFR, sales associate with Baird & Warner in Oak Park, Ill., says her prior career as an engineer prepared her surprisingly well for working with first-timers. She has created a 32-page handbook, including a flowchart that explains the progression, time frames, and potential logjams.

Making sure first-timers are prepared for the responsibility is Saxena’s priority. When they aren’t, ”I keep in touch to see if their decision factors have changed or if they need more help.” Nothing beats the feeling, however, when the pieces come together. “Everyone remembers their first love, and everyone remembers their first home purchase,” she says. “How can I resist being part of this?”

As rewarding as those closings can be, experienced agents caution against making first-timers your exclusive focus. In five to seven years, they’ll be back in the market, says David Kent, ABR, CRS, broker-owner of The Real Buyers Agent HBC in Charleston, S.C., and you want that business coming back to you.

Lynn Olson is a Chicago-based writer and editor.