Real Estate, the generational challenge

by Alistair Helm in ,

Image courtesy of Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr

I read this short but interesting article from Inman News over the weekend titled "Appealing to millennial homebuyers often requires out of the box thinking"

It got me thinking about the way real estate is and has (or has not) adapted to the changes in the demographics and attitudes of the new generations and the cultural changes of the past 20 years.

Here are my thoughts:

Not exclusively the domain of millennials but for most of us these days buying any product or service involves at some stage an online search. Whether for price comparison, product details, customer feedback or just simply opening hours. For real estate this is a telling fact. Real estate is a business providing a service to homeowners wishing to sell property. These home sellers don't want to be prospected by real estate agents. They want to do their own prospecting to find an agent that suits their needs. As the article says (and here again I don't think this is the exclusive domain of millennials) people tend to be resistant to strong sales technique. We have been empowered through the resources and capability of the internet and more than ever shun hard selling technique. Hard as it may be to hear this, real estate agents need to change their approach to securing new business and stop prospecting using hard sell techniques - they need to nurture relationships - not sales leads.

Be part of the community really resonates with me. However I think most real estate companies and agents think this means a flash new office on the high street. I have noticed over the past 5 years the look and feel of real estate offices have changed markedly. Gone are the windows plastered with pictures of properties for sale, replaced by inviting open spaces with comfy chairs and coffee machines that look very inviting. However when was the last time you saw anyone sitting in one of these goldfish bowls?

To be a part of the community means so much more. Banks have learnt so much more about this in their local business centres - places where people can use offices and Wi-Fi to sit down between meetings or host meetings. How about real estate offices taking this idea from banks for business people and doing the same for non-business people? I am not exclusively thinking of young mothers, but imagine a place to have a sit down - the role libraries used to provide (and still do) where you could grab a coffee or a water, use Wi-Fi have a chat with a friend, hold a community meeting or whatever. A place in the community - a part of the community.

Giving back to the community. Real estate is well respected as a large donor to charitable organisations - think Ray White and Ronald McDonald House, Bayleys Guide Dogs and Barfoot & Thompson Starship. Very laudable and public spirited. However real estate is essentially a hyper local business. People engage local agents and the colour of their jacket, tie or the brand logo on their business card is largely a supportive component of the decision. 

Real estate agents do foster and hold deep relationships into the community and they do sponsor local school events and rotary clubs. However the Inman article about supporting local artists somehow struck me as more mutually beneficial than simply giving money to a cause. How could real estate agents work more with local businesses to see more mutual benefit? I don't have the solution, I just wanted to trigger some thinking - any ideas?

The fact is we are not the same people we were in the 80's or 90's - the home buyers and sellers in the next 10 years have no idea what a cassette is. To them the stock market crash happened in 2008, not 1987; they cannot imagine interest rates of 10% let alone 20% and can't conceive of a house not connected to ultra high speed broadband. However the large majority of real estate agents were in school or had started work when man took its first tentative steps on the moon and most probably know the words to or can hum along to American Pie!