The National Association of Realtors is not a fountain of youth — the median age of the trade group’s members is 54.
The housing downturn has weeded out some of the less-experienced folks, but even during the boom — when the group was flooded with newly minted real estate licensees — the median age only dropped to 51.
At Realtor associations across the country, however, the young have been making themselves known — and their elders are taking notice.
The Young Professionals Network launched in 2006 as the brainchild of NAR’s Realtor Magazine. The idea for the network sprang from the magazine’s annual "30 Under 30" feature that honors the association’s youngest rising stars.
"We realized when we attended the national conferences that there really weren’t many young people attending or in leadership at the national or local level," said Shannon King, one of 2005’s "30 Under 30" honorees and a current member of YPN’s national advisory board. She was asked to participate in YPN at its inception.
"The last five years’ (NAR) presidents got together and noticed there was a lack of generational diversity and a lack of future leaders for their association," she said.
After the 2006 launch, it took awhile for YPN to get off the ground. For the first couple of years, YPN centered around Realtor conferences, setting up highly attended networking and educational sessions and contributing content to the network’s new blog and Web page.
Local and regional chapters of YPN started springing up in February 2009 and spread like wildfire. In the past year and a half, YPN has established 102 chapters in 35 states.
While the official number of total members is 6,500, King estimates that actual membership is between 15,000 and 20,000, based on the speed at which new chapters have formed.
At the Houston Association of Realtors alone, 4,000 of its 27,000 members have joined YPN, she said.
This year, about 15 percent of NAR members are under 40, down from 18 percent in 1999. Nevertheless, there are more of these young Realtors now — 166,900, up from 137,000 in 1999 — because total NAR membership has grown since then.
Only 6 percent of current Realtors started out their working lives in real estate, however, which partially explains members’ above-50 median age.
"Real estate in general is typically a second and third career. Most of the time people graduate from college and … real estate is typically not one of those classes that they take," King said.
Though King, 33, is a younger Realtor, she previously worked as a fourth-grade teacher for a year and a half. She left that career, after buying her first house, to become a real estate agent in 2000.
She founded TriBella Realty in Austin, Texas, in 2003 and co-founded Schoolhouse Realty in San Diego in 2008. The latter contributes part of its proceeds to schools chosen by homebuyers.
King is a member of the local YPN chapter of the San Diego Association of Realtors and a YPN vice-chair for the California Association of Realtors.
Part of the impetus for YPN was to recognize that younger Realtors had different concerns than their older colleagues. According to a 2008 survey, more than half of YPNers have been NAR members for five years or less, and the vast majority, 76 percent, hold sales agent licenses.
"People who have been there 30 years have been there and done that. Brand new Realtors in general are more concerned with the nuts and bolts of doing real estate. Most (agents) aren’t buying houses until they’re in their 30s in California. So those agents have to think of how to get clients and think outside the box more," King said.
Some older Realtors have been doing deals together for years and have built up relationships, said Tamara Suminski, founder and current chair of the YPN chapter for the South Bay Association of Realtors in Los Angeles County.
"Younger members ask, ‘Why do I have to network with other Realtors when I should be networking with other people to get more business?’ But working together is an essential part of our business," Suminski said.
In order to form a chapter, at least one local or state association has to endorse the chapter — to ensure the chapter will be incorporated into the broader association — and at least 15 Realtors have to sign up to join.
Although chapters are concentrated around the under-40 set, there is no official age restriction. Associations usually assign a staff liaison to communicate between the chapter and association leadership.
YPN chapters are required to have an advisory board leading the chapter, but beyond that, NAR imposes few rules to become an officially recognized chapter. Chapter chairs hold quarterly conference calls and individual chapter boards generally meet monthly. Chapters tend to host events monthly.
Events focus heavily on networking and education, but not necessarily courses required to keep a real estate license — "more like cutting-edge speakers who are doing some really cool and out-of-the-box-type things," King said.
Examples of events include technology presentations, happy hour mixers, BarCamp-like roundtable discussions with peers, webinars, charity fundraisers, and Habitat for Humanity building projects.
Events are generally meant to benefit an entire association, though "YPNers" do have their own ideas of fun.
"Fun typically involves socializing, learning from each other and also planning activities that allow them to contribute in their community. A real sense of community is important to this segment of our membership," said Anne Gardner, staff liaison to her Northern Virginia Association of Realtors YPN chapter.
Chapters can get as creative as they like with their get-togethers. Some hold karaoke fundraising events for charitable organizations or their local Realtor political action committee, for instance.
In such an event, a person can pay a price, say $50, to hear someone sing a song and that chosen person then either sings it or pays $50 not to and then $25 for someone else to sing it.
"People get thousands doing that," King said.
Chapters have hosted such events as river cruises, pool and poker tournaments, a "battle of the brokers" bowling competition, a so-called "Miss California Association of Realtors" pageant in which contestants dressed up in drag, and an iPad speaker session and raffle.
NAR doesn’t charge members to be part of YPN. At the local level, funds vary — individual associations may choose to assign chapters a budget or chapters may have to find sponsors (or charge) for their events.
Board members often, but are not required to, take on different committee roles: membership outreach, event planning and sponsorships, community service, and social media and technology, for example. Involvement in the local YPN chapter is a platform for younger members to get involved with the association at large.
"For most young people, it’s their first exposure to how associations are run, the first time they sit at a (YPN) committee meeting. They see key players, so it’s not as intimidating to walk into the next (association) meeting.
"You know the president, let’s say, on a personal basis because (he or she) attends your (events), and (the president) gets to know your personality and invites you to join other committees as well," King said.
"You don’t get paid for it; you do it because you feel like you’re affecting change in the association. You see a benefit for other members."
Some members think of their associations as "good-old-boy clubs," she added, because their leaders may have been around for a long time. NAR does offer YPN members annual leadership training once reserved for presidents and other association executives, King said.
And every event attracts new chapter members, YPN organizers say, and more opportunities for the younger set to offer association leaders a fresh perspective.
"I find younger Realtors to be very sharing and participatory. As volunteers, they place a high value on team-based contributions and they solicit input from peers, mostly using technology to bounce ideas around and gain consensus quickly. They work in teams and they also work fast!" Gardner said.
Although NVAR’s YPN is in its infancy, its members have contributed "a new focus on increasing the number of face-to-face networking events for members, and we are planning a conference for agents specializing in working as Green Realtors," Gardner said.
At the South Bay association, the YPN chapter reviews all technology products that are under consideration as member benefits, Suminski said.
If nothing else, the network has helped give younger Realtors a voice in their associations, she added.
"We just have a bigger stake and we have a seat at the table now. It’s about how we can represent the next generation of Realtors at the table," she said.
Her YPN position helped get her appointed to SBAOR’s 2011 board of directors. She is also co-chair of her association’s PAC and a member of the state Realtor association’s board of directors.
"I can vote on issues. I have a say," she said.
About 75 YPNers attended the California Association of Realtors’ most recent annual legislative day in June, in which Realtors from all over the state descended on Sacramento to meet with legislators.
It was the first time any YPNers had attended the event, which also coincided with the week the state association holds its annual business meetings.
"We made an effort to reach out to people who weren’t otherwise on committees. It was a chance to go to things they wouldn’t have gone to before," King said. "It’s easier to attract people peer-to-peer and say, ‘you should come.’ "