Real estate agents are getting old.
Well, older, anyway, and that’s a source of some concern to many in the brokerage world, who have raised the question repeatedly at industry events in the past few years: As the baby boom generation begins to retire in massive numbers, who’s going to be out there selling houses?
The National Association of Realtors says the median age of its members has inched up to 57, its highest level in 15 years. Agents 40 and younger were just 11 percent of its membership in 2013, down from 20 percent in 2003.
With this in mind, Warren Buffett’s real estate franchise unit, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, recently formed a task force called the REthink Council to explore the topic. Ten agents who are 35 and younger from its offices around the country will gather this month to brainstorm and come up with ways to make the profession more attractive to a younger demographic.
One of them is Player Murray, 35, who is a managing broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolinas Realty in Cary, N.C. In an interview, he spoke about the task of attracting a younger agent into the ranks. This is an edited transcript:
Q: What keeps younger adults from going into real estate?
A: I graduated from college and immediately went into banking at 22. I spent six years in banking before I realized there was going to be a ceiling on my career. I was almost 28 when I decided I wanted to be in a business where I could control my income and my schedule.
At the time, though, it seemed pretty obvious to me why there weren’t more people my age who were doing this: It takes a lot to get started in real estate (before income starts to flow). There’s a lot of fear and apprehension — what if I don’t make it, what if it takes a while to make money, how am I going to pay my bills?
It was obvious to me then and it’s obvious to me now that there’s a major lack of businesspeople jumping in to real estate. We’re going to have one generation getting out and the next generation is not filling the hole that’s going to be there.
Q: It seems that many agents come to real estate as a second or third career. Is there any flow of college graduates right into the business?
A: Right now, it’s hard to recruit right out of college, but it’s not impossible. I think the hardest part is showing them that real estate is a career possibility for them. No one talks about a career in real estate in college. The traditional avenues teach you that you graduate and get a job that pays you on a weekly basis. They don’t know real estate is an option.
We’re surrounded by three major universities here in our market, and our brokerage reaches out to career fairs and does job postings there, but it’s hard. It’s something we’re constantly trying to improve.
Q: Do you get an impression that there’s a disconnect between the current older agent and the younger, first-time homebuyer these days?
A: The two generations don’t necessarily communicate the same way. I can tell you from experience that one generation wants to pick up the phone and talk and the other generation wants to pick up the phone and text. Yes, there is a disconnect.
Some younger buyers do work with the older agents because they’ve been referred by their parents and those agents are perceived to be experienced and trustworthy. But to be honest, I have heard from some of those homebuyers, “I don’t think the agent was listening to what I want. The agent had an attitude of, I think I know better than you, so just trust me — I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Every good broker out there feels like they can connect with the buyer and can adapt quickly to work with everybody. But there’s just no way that everyone can connect with everyone. It’s just impossible.
This industry needs younger agents to fill in those gaps.
Q: What’s the objective of the REthink Council?
A: We need to figure out how to connect with a younger generation of buyers, and how do we get older agents to connect with them? Our major focus is to figure out how to fill the gap that’s going to grow as the older generation gets out of this business.
We have to figure out how to attract younger people into this business as well as making younger agents be more successful.
This post was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on Jan. 4, 2014.
Real estate agents are getting old.