They’re the kids under 18 who think Facebook is for old people, have never known a world without the internet, and though they may not be old enough to drive, do want to own a home someday.

  • Generation Z, the under-18 age cohort, will shape the way agents do business, according to real estate exec Sherry Chris.
  • Teens trust their friends more than online reviews and like to go to brick-and-mortar stores to check on product quality.
  • They have limited attention spans and use Instagram and Snapchat, but Facebook is for "older people."
  • They'll buy homes when they're ready and expect their agent to guide them.

Tired of hearing about millennials? Well, a new age cohort is nipping at their heels: Generation Z.

They’re the kids under 18 who think Facebook is for old people, have never known a world without the internet, and though they may not be old enough to drive, do want to own a home someday.

Attendees at this year’s National Association of Realtors’ annual conference got to hear from a panel of five real, live Gen Zers (ages 11 to 17) and hear about how they shop, their social media platforms of choice and what their dream homes look like.

Despite the tiny and limited sample size (the kids were children of conference attendees based in the Orlando area), these habits may be indicative of what real estate agents and brokers can expect for their businesses in the future.

Sherry Chris

Sherry Chris

“Generation Z are the teenagers of today that will shape — and are already starting to — the way we live, the way we function and the way we do business,” said Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (BHGRE), who moderated the panel.

In 2014, Wakefield Research surveyed 1,000 teenagers aged 13 to 17 on behalf of BHGRE and found that 97 percent believe they will own their own home, 89 percent considered homeownership part of achieving the American Dream, and 81 percent expect to work with a real estate agent when they buy.

Here are five takeaways for agents from the panel:

1. Online reviews are important, but friends are trusted more. When making buying decisions, panelists agreed that they look at online reviews of products, but reviews weren’t their only — or best — source of intel.

“I ask my friends to see if they’ve bought it already,” said Cayman, age 17.

When asked whether he wants his friends to have the same things he does, Cayman said, “It depends on the product.” He doesn’t want his friends to have the same clothes and shoes, but he does want them to have the same video games — and other products that provide an activity to do together.

When asked about Yelp, Elizabeth, age 11, said, “I don’t know what Yelp is.”

Brooke, age 17, said she uses Yelp for restaurants and “something I’m going to get an experience out of.” But for personal products, she’ll ask her friends.

Ethan, another panelist, agreed. Services like Yelp “can be useful,” he said, but “I’m not going to trust random people as much as I would trust my friends.”

Elizabeth and Brooke (age 17) both agreed they would go to a brick-and-mortar store to check on the quality of the product.

“When you’re trying on a pair of shoes, you’re not going to take them home if they’re not going to fit,” Brooke said, adding that she probably wouldn’t buy from a company such as Zappos, which sells shoes online.

Thomas, age 12, said his verdict on an in-person evaluation would depend on the product. “If it’s a blanket, I want to see how soft it is,” but if it were something like a plastic bowl, he didn’t think the precaution was necessary.

All five said they would never buy a home sight unseen.

Generation Z panel at NAR annual conference, November 2016

Generation Z panel at NAR annual conference, November 2016; Credit: Andrea V. Brambila

2. Facebook is for (relatively) old people. Facebook is “for people who are millennials or in their 30s or 40s,” Thomas said.

His mother does not allow him to go on Facebook “because it’s for older people” and “might lead to something bad,” he added.

So he mainly uses Instagram because his classmates do. He’s on Snapchat, but not as much as Instagram.

Brooke said she uses Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Tumblr. Her mother didn’t allow her to have a Facebook account until she was 16.

“So the others were allowed?” Chris asked.

“It started as a ‘no,’ but ended as a ‘yes,'” Brooke said. (A man in the audience murmured, “Sign her up for real estate school.”)

Elizabeth said she tried Facebook for a week but didn’t understand it. So she mainly uses Instagram and, in particular, Snapchat — because more of her friends are on it.

“So basically Facebook is for old people?” Chris asked.

The kids nodded and some said “yes.”

The kids acknowledged that they spent a lot of time on social media. “It’s kind of like a train: you can end up being on there for several hours because it just keeps going,” Brooke said.

3. Gen Zers have limited attention spans. This may be because they have a pocket device that constantly peppers them with all that is shiny and new in the world.

“I check my phone every five minutes. In fact, right now I’m having trouble not looking at my phone,” Ethan said.

“Me, too!” Chris confessed, illustrating that the screen-time itch is not just a problem for teens.

“We’re called Generation Z, but we should be called Generation Distraction,” Ethan said.

When an audience member asked what the kids thought of sponsored content, the panelists were split.

“We have the attention spans of goldfish, so we’re always looking for something new and exciting,” Ethan said.

On Snapchat, for instance, he’s sending so many “snaps” (photo or video snippets) per day that he’ll use every filter available. “If there’s a Red Bull filter, even if I don’t drink Red Bull, I’ll use it because it’s new and exciting.”

Brooke agreed. “I’m easily distracted by random things” so if something looks interesting, she’ll click on it, she said.

But Cayman, Thomas and Elizabeth emphasized that content had to be relevant to them.

“I follow a bunch of soccer games and stuff. I would expect advertising about cleats,” Cayman said. “I look at [advertising] half the time, but I don’t really click on it.”

Elizabeth added, “I’ll see the sponsored [content], and I just scroll right through it because most of the time it doesn’t interest me. Or it’s annoying.”

4. They dream big, but they’re realistic, too. When asked about their dream future home, Thomas said, “My first question is: What’s my budget?” (The crowd laughed.)

The kids varied between preferring a rural or suburban area, and most seemed to want a large home.

“I watch a lot of HGTV, so I know exactly what I want,” Brooke said.

She named hardwood floors, granite countertops, updated appliances and “a lot of square footage” among her desired characteristics, and other panelists echoed those desires.

Ethan was a bit more circumspect. “Personally, I think there’s a happy medium between price and square footage. If you buy in the city, it’s going to be more expensive than if you buy in a rural area.”

When asked whether they would be energy conscious when buying a home, most panelists said conservation would not be their primary concern. Ethan, for instance, said he’d want to get the house first and then upgrade it with features such as solar panels.

When asked how old they thought they’d be when they purchased a home, all tied the decision to milestones in their lives.

Cayman thought he’d be in the 26 to 30 age range. “I probably will end up renting a home after I go to college and then figure out where I want to work and live,” he said.

Thomas agreed and said he would probably rent after college depending on “politics” and his student loan situation.

Brooke said she and her sister planned to rent when they both go to community college next year, adding that “you have to take your time” to be ready to buy a home.

For Elizabeth, it would depend on when she needed the home, found a place to work and wanted to start a family.

Ethan agreed. “It’s not based on a specific age, but what specific stage of your life you’re at. You need to be ready to buy a home,” he said.

5. They plan to use an agent when they buy — but be ready to impress. It’s perhaps not surprising that the children of real estate professionals plan to hire an agent for their home search, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have high standards.

Ethan, for instance, plans to rely somewhat on the internet — including Zillow — for information, and given that he has so much at his fingertips, he wants an agent who understands his specific interests as a homebuyer.

Elizabeth added, “I would like a Realtor to keep me on track of what I’m looking for because otherwise I’d go everywhere.”

Cayman agreed that he would use a Realtor as a guide to where he should be looking given his budget and also to help him by previewing homes.

Thomas said he would want an agent to help him dissect the MLS.

“From my understanding, not everyone has access to it. They only have access to and Zillow and whatnot,” he said. “And from my understanding, they’re not always accurate.” (This prompted laughter and clapping from the audience.)

Cayman described a bad real estate agent as “someone who doesn’t really care about who they’re working for that much.”

He noted that buying a house is a big decision and an agent should make sure that a client’s home is the best fit.

Thomas added, “A bad real estate agent wouldn’t spend the whole day on the MLS looking for homes [and] they don’t try working with the other party whom they may or may not be representing to make the deal go through.”

Elizabeth acknowledged there are some “snarky clients,” but “even if they’re being hard to deal with, you should try to work with them to make sure they’re happy in the end as much as you can.”

When asked what makes a good agent, Ethan said, “Being nice. Putting themselves in your shoes.”

Thomas had four requirements:

“1. They have to care a lot about your deal. Most people pour a lot of money into their home; 2. They have to actually try to make the deal go through; 3. They have to put their whole body into it; and 4. They have to be like my mom.”

(Cue the “awwws” from the audience.)

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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