I recently had a conversation with Chris Smith, the chief evangelist for Inman News, about generational differences. Smith made an astute observation about Generation Y vs. baby boomers when it comes to technology: "Boomers are immigrants; Gen Y are natives."
If you have ever watched a 2- or 3-year-old walk up to a television set and start touching the screen to change it, it’s readily apparent that today’s young people and their approach to technology is one of "natives" — they grow up with it, it’s everywhere around them, and they are eager to interact with it as soon as they are able.
As a boomer, I’m certainly not a native to technology, even though I have written programs in Fortran, have always purchased the latest technology, and have been using statistical software since my college days.
Nevertheless, I remember watching my 5-year-old niece in 1991 pick up a mouse and navigate perfectly with her little Apple computer. It was an "aha!" moment when the difference between what we each grew up with became painfully obvious.
On the other side of the coin, Gen X and Gen Y are immigrants to real estate. As one expert once put it, "Real estate as we know it was created by boomers for boomers."
For all the talk of the Web and disintermediation (i.e., that the Web would eliminate the need to have agents in the transaction), real estate today is still a face-to-face business. Furthermore, real estate continues to be a business based upon trust and relationships. It also can be a highly confrontational business.
Gen X and Gen Y rely on their technology to communicate, and not their face-to-face skills, which are often virtually nonexistent. In fact, many parents complain that their Gen Y children have no idea how to carry on a conversation on the phone.
As one Gen Y put it when her mom suggested she call her aunt for some information needed for a high school project, the young woman’s response was, "Call? That’s way too confrontational!"
As a result, many young people who enter the real estate market find communicating face to face or by phone to be foreign to them. They may struggle with the confrontational parts of the business and often ignore conflicts in the hope that the problem will go away.
They have yet to learn the "language" that allows them to successfully navigate through difficult situations.
Is real estate still a relationship-based business?
Based upon generational differences, Smith raised the question as to whether real estate will continue to be a relationship-based business in the future. For anyone who has been in the business for any length of time, you already know that relationships are paramount.
While our younger clients may not want a "relationship" with their agent, like it or not the agent becomes part of their family upon listing their home for sale.
The agent has access to every part of the client’s home, to many of the most intimate parts of the client’s living situation, as well as being entrusted to handle representing the seller in what is typically the most expensive transaction of one’s life.
Furthermore, even if there is little "relationship" between the agent and his or her clients, the agent still depends upon having good relationships with the other agents and professionals who are involved in the purchase process. If you are difficult to work with or have a poor reputation among the brokerage community, agents will show someone else’s listings whenever possible, rather than your listings.
As my former manager said, "If you yell at the escrow or the title officer, you know what happens to your file? It goes to the bottom of the stack. When you need extra help from that person to help you out of a difficult situation, it’s not going to happen."
I took that advice to heart and specifically worked to keep my relationships strong with the people I did business with. Lunches and flowers go a long way when you need to hit a deadline to keep you clients from being out on the street if their new home doesn’t close on time.
A unique moment in history
What’s fascinating about this particular time period in our industry is that both groups are going to have to meld their "native" and "immigrant" skills. For older agents who are comfortable with being face to face, building relationships and coping with confrontation, coming to grips with cloud computing, social networking and a host of Web-based marketing tools is no longer an option, but a necessity required to survive.
For younger agents, face-to-face skills are a necessity. While texting may not completely give way to tools such as Skype, there is no denying that the YouTube generation that comes after Generation Y will expect to do business using video tools, not just texting and social media tools.
In some respects, this is good news for older agents, provided they acquire the training to use video tools effectively in their businesses. Face-to-face skills, either in person or on video, will again be required.
The bottom line is that older agents are going to have to become more fluent in technology while younger agents are going to have to master negotiation and the other "immigrant skills" required to do business face to face, either in person or online.