- First-time buyers need a patient, savvy agent who can help them navigate the realities of purchasing their first home.
- Dump the expert advisor role and become an “interpreter” instead.
- Provide them with down payment details, and make sure they are qualified to purchase the home they want, including lifestyle and utility costs.
- Give them details about potential pitfalls of shopping online or attending open houses.
The term “snowflake” has become a pejorative description for young people who cannot handle confrontation or opinions that differ from their own.
How interesting that “snowflake” also accurately describes how truly vulnerable first-time buyers of any age can be when it comes to buying their first home. (You can’t search Google for what you don’t know that you don’t know!)
I recently interviewed Terri Murphy of MurphyOnRealEstate.com about her experience with her 20-something niece, who was ready to buy her first home.
Murphy regularly speaks about “zapping the communication gap” between generations, and she highlighted some important statistics about millennials.
Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994, but sometimes as late as 2004) are now the largest age cohort in the U.S.
Nevertheless, only a relatively small fraction of this group has reached the median age of 32 for first-time buyers.
What this means is that we should see a substantial uptick in the number of first-timers as the majority of millennials approach their early 30s.
Agents want ‘right now’ business
Those who do work with buyers normally focus on right-now business — clients who will transact in the next 30 to 60 days. This is partially because most agents lack adequate systems for nurturing leads for extended periods of time.
Based upon Murphy’s experience with her niece and many other millennial first-time purchasers, the right-now business model simply isn’t a good fit.
Instead, they need a patient, savvy agent who can help them navigate the realities of purchasing their first home, a process that can take up to a year or more.
First-time buyers are willing but often unable
Murphy’s niece fell into this category.
She wanted to buy a distressed property she found online without even seeing it. She had no context for judging the property’s value, its condition or the overall cost of ownership, including mortgage, taxes, insurance, homeowner association (HOA) dues and special assessments.
Nor had she spoken with a lender about whether she could qualify or if she would need a co-signer due to her age and short work history.
She also didn’t understand why she would need a physical inspection, what an HOA is, or how CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions) could prevent her from having a pet or place other limitations on her use of the property.
Furthermore, she didn’t realize closing this sale could take six months or more.
Interpret and protect
Based upon her experience with her niece, Murphy makes the following suggestions that can help you do a better job of serving first-time buyers.
First-time buyers want to be actively involved in the process
To work more effectively with first-time buyers, dump the expert advisor role and become what Murphy calls an “interpreter” instead.
Provide your buyers with links to websites and other resources that explain the purchase process in detail.
When you first begin working with them, give them sample copies of all transaction documents, including a sample set of loan documents. This will help them to be better prepared to handle the documentation, especially if you are using a digital signature or transaction tracking platform.
Most importantly, encourage their questions and be patient.
Providing them with resources for down payment assistance
Many first-time buyers believe that they need a full 20-percent down to buy a home.
DownPaymentResource.com aggregates sources of federal, state and local down payment assistance programs that will allow your buyer to purchase with a much lower down payment.
Make sure that you explain that closing costs are not included in the down payment and that closing costs can vary based upon the type of the loan — such as VA, FHA or conventional.
Establish their purchase power
It’s especially important to establish whether your first-time buyer is qualified to purchase now, must clean up their credit first or needs more time on the job to qualify.
They may also need a co-signer. If this is the case, make sure the co-signer understands that the buyer’s loan will now become part of the co-signer’s debt load and could limit the co-signer’s ability to obtain a loan for their own account in the future.
They believe they can find the perfect house online
It’s important to educate your clients that finding the right house requires more than just looking at pictures online. Instead, the buyers must consider both the payments plus the other costs associated with homeownership.
Murphy’s niece had no idea about HOA dues, private mortgage insurance, utilities — or that she would be responsible for repairing or replacing any appliances that failed.
Tools like TLCEngine.com can estimate the overall cost of homeownership — including affordability, lifestyle and commute times and expenses — and can be extremely useful in educating your buyers about these costs.
Make sure they know the risks of looking without you
Your buyers will be unaware that seeing an open house without you could force them into being represented by the seller’s agent, who has a fiduciary duty to get the seller the highest price possible.
Explain this situation and make sure they always register for any open house with your name and contact information. If they will take your cards with them, that’s even better.
It’s not your “forever home”
First-time buyers can become frustrated when what is available doesn’t meet their expectations.
Murphy recommends that you encourage them to find a home that is a good fit for them right now, but that it is not their forever home.
Keep in mind that when any of your clients become angry, act out or behave poorly, fear is the underlying issue.
Consequently, dial down your energy, ask what you can do to “fix” any issues that may be of concern, and speak to them using the tone you would use to calm a frightened child — quiet, slow and understanding.
First-time buyers can be a source of repeat business for years to come if you are willing to educate them about the realities of purchasing and owning a home and then to gently guide them through the process.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Learn about her training programs at www.RealEstateCoach.com/