- Make age-appropriate plans -- work around naptime for younger kids, and bring distractions for older ones.
- Don't forget that kids will be dealing with emotions around the move. Help prepare them for what's in store.
- Leverage technology to vet and eliminate properties without setting foot inside of them.
- Try to become a "personal shopper" for your clients -- the more you know about their tastes, the fewer homes they will have to visit in person.
“Coming here to look at properties was a real challenge,” said Weinstein. “I knew generally what they wanted but had not spent a lot of time with them in properties.”
On top of that, the three-hour time difference meant Weinstein needed to be cognizant of naptimes and bedtimes when she was communicating with her clients via phone, juggling the needs of the children with the needs of the parents.
Luckily, this agent has had practice looking for workarounds for families: A few years back, when Weinstein’s son was still a baby, she would take him on broker’s tours with her in the snap-in car seat.
She’d introduce him jokingly as “my helper,” or “I’d walk in the house and put him on the floor in the foyer, and ask the listing agent to watch him while I ran through the house,” she remembered.
As anyone who’s had a kid knows, your life changes drastically when you decide to add a little one to your tribe. Those changes affect everything in your life — from how long it takes you to complete your grocery shopping to where (and how) you decide to buy a home. Helping a young millennial couple shop for their first home becomes much more complicated when that couple has a child.
So what do real estate agents need to know about helping clients with kids?
How (and why) not to bring kids to showings
“I always discourage people from bringing the kids along on the first round of showings,” said Stacie Perrault Staub, a broker at Live Urban Real Estate in Denver. “It’s just so hard for clients to really feel the house when Mom is worried about little Harper getting fingerprints all over the coffee table or when Dad’s trying to keep little Dante from eating food out of the dog’s bowl.”
That’s not always possible, though — so what do you do when you don’t have a choice?
“If the kids are along for the ride, I’ll sometimes offer to play with them outside first while the parents take a look through the house,” added Staub. “It helps them to see how awesome the yard is for the kiddos, and it definitely helps them to focus on the house rather than the kids, at least for a few minutes.”
Children will likely be primarily interested in their play areas — bedrooms, basements and yards especially — and their surrounding neighborhood, so not all of them will have the attention spans required to walk through (irrelevant, to them) room after room.
The age of the kid matters — a lot
How an agent works with his or her client changes when clients have kids — and it changes depending on the age of the children, too.
Parents with really little ones who are shopping for homes probably have it better off than most. If there’s just one child who’s young enough to still be napping regularly, then the solution is relatively simple.
“If they’re still napping and both parents are working, when you’re coordinating timing on a weekend, can you schedule it when the kid will be asleep in the car?
“Then you can tag team going through houses,” Weinstein suggested. One parent can stay in the car with the kid while the other walks through the home. Then switch.
- Babies — bring supplies for feeding and changing, and the really young ones can sleep for hours.
- Napping toddlers — if you have a choice, don’t schedule too many stops in one day if you know you’re running on limited time.
- Parents/shoppers — be cognizant of each other and therefore be efficient when going through each house. Know what you want to look at and don’t linger.
- Agents — help your clients navigate each home efficiently. If it won’t wake the sleeping child, consider using Facetime or another video call app so that the parent in the car can listen in on any discussions taking place about the home. (This will save you from repeating yourself if the second parent raises the same concerns or asks the same questions as the first.)
Of course, shopping becomes more complicated as the kids get older. (Doesn’t it always?)
“With older kids, it’s really important to have a strategy because their patience is short,” noted Weinstein. “They don’t have the attention span that adults have, and they’re not on the same mission.”
It depends on the child (or children), of course, but bringing distractions for kids this age is never a bad plan. Overestimate and plan distractions for more time than you think you’ll need.
Parents will want to consider tried-and-true winners (puzzles, games, toys) and pack some cheap, fun — and brand-new — surprises for when things get especially volatile.
However, if the parents were too frazzled (or their toys are striking out), it’s not a bad idea to carry some backup items on your own. Staub recommends “five awesome things that Realtors should have in their ‘Magic Showing Bag'” — here they are:
- Kid-friendly snacks
- An iPad with age-appropriate games already loaded
- Simple toys like yo-yos or Etch-A-Sketches
- Age-appropriate books about moving to a new house
- Swag like tattoos, buttons, notebooks or other items from the office grab bag that will keep a kid busy for a few minutes (and create a branding opportunity)
“Once I get to know a client a little, I will bring along my teenage daughter to supervise the kids so that I can focus on my clients, and they can focus on the properties,” added Staub. If you don’t have a teenage daughter, maybe one of your colleagues’ older children would be interested in playing supervisor for some extra pocket money?
Ages 6 and older
For older kids, parents will want to start thinking about how to prepare them for the move — not just occupy them while shopping for homes.
Jenna Weinerman, marketing director at Updater, a technology company that streamlines the moving process for clients, notes that kids need to be mentally prepared about the move, too.
“Think about how far in advance you start thinking about the move,” Weinerman said. “Your child will need time to mentally prepare, too.”
Depending on the reasons for the move, this can be scary or exciting.
“Oftentimes, people don’t realize how emotional it is,” Weinerman added. “Agents are doing it day in and day out. For many people, it’s a life change.”
This can be especially tricky if the child perceives that they are losing something in the move — if parents are divorcing or downsizing due to a lost job, then the kids will need more gentle handling than normal. “Kids feel the status,” noted Weinerman. “They are very attuned, more than you think, to status symbols. If you’re downsizing, kids can have a harder time with that.
“Most moves are really exciting — you’re having another baby or you got married. Maybe someone lost a job, and they can’t afford the home they were once living in,” Weinerman pointed out.
There are ways that parents can make this less traumatic for children, and agents should be ready to ask how kids are handling the move and offer some suggestions for parents who want to be supportive but aren’t sure how.
Help kids visualize their new life in a new home
“Grab a pen and paper or a notebook and make a list of the things that both of you want in the house,” Weinerman suggested. “Their own room, a treehouse, maybe a huge basement where you can do winter activities — or if you’re moving into a rental, a pool or child pool.”
Once you’ve decided on a neighborhood, it’s important to help prepare kids for that, too.
“There are little things outside of the home that are also important to the child,” noted Weinerman. Tour the neighborhood by yourself first so you can identify all the sweet spots your kids will love, then give them a sneak peek of what’s in store for them.
“Take them on a Saturday to the soccer field, to get ice cream,” Weinerman suggested. “It’s important to show them, at least in my opinion, that they’ll still be able to do their favorite activity in the new home.”
And when you know which property will be the winner, help kids see themselves there by asking them where they’ll put their bed and bookshelf, or what they can see from the new bedroom window.
Technology can be a big, big, BIG help
Clearly, it’s tough enough to finagle the home search process with kids — and those pain points become even more acute when your clients are shopping for a home outside of their current city or state.
One solution: For her out-of-staters with kids, Weinstein used an “extensive property tracking method” — embodied in a spreadsheet — where her clients would add homes and notes, and she would add homes and notes, and they would collaborate together to figure out which was the best fit.
Because she was on one coast and her clients the other, Weinstein used Facetime heavily. “I would go to the house and Facetime them in the space,” she explained, “walk around the whole outside of the house with them, open cupboards. It’s different from what you could get in a video, and that was really helpful.”
Weinstein noted that this tactic works best for eliminating places that definitely won’t work — not necessarily for finding “the one.”
“It is still different from being in a space,” she said. “There’s no substitute for actually seeing how you feel when you’re standing in the space.”
Avoid open houses and adopt the ‘personal shopper’ mentality
When clients find a home that they’re especially excited about, it’s an indication to the real estate agent that this family is going to need some extra time to look around and think it over.
“If we know we’re going to spend more time in a listing, it’s not during an open house when there are lots of people,” notes Weinstein. That makes it difficult for clients to see everything they want to check out, and they might feel pressured to hurry through.
And before the clients even get to the house, the agent should have a good feeling that it’s a fit.
“I’m happy to be a personal shopper for clients,” Weinstein said. “It takes a little while to get to know what people are going to respond favorably to. If we’ve already looked at a bunch of homes together, I can veto some confidently and highlight ones that might be successful.”
How involved should the kids be?
As real estate agents, this isn’t your call — but be prepared for a gamut of potential possibilities.
“I have seen families shop for houses together where the child or children — I wouldn’t say they have an equal vote, but their opinion is really essential,” said Weinstein. “If they feel good about the house and the yard and whatever their connection to the space is, that’s something the parents are really factoring in.
“I’ve also seen it work where it’s really counterproductive and distracting for the parents,” she added.
It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice — parents can also give kids a limited vote. For example, parents might decide to only ask their children for feedback on homes that have made it to the final round instead of seeking input from the beginning.
And after the home is chosen, parents can always help kids feel like a bigger part of things by equipping them with markers and stickers to decorate boxes — and giving them boxes to pack up their toys by themselves, noted Weinerman; she added that Updater plans to build child-facing features into its platform “within the next year.”
After you’ve successfully ushered clients with children through a major move, there’s a good chance both your digital and real life community will take note. Building a reputation of empathy and finesse in challenging situations can position you as the type of person any family would be lucky to work with.