Hanging Out With Old People – The Austin Realtor Demographic

I’ve been busy the past several weeks attending real estate education events. First was the NARPM Convention (National Association of Residential Property Managers) in Las Vegas last week. Immediately upon return, there was three days in Austin at the Texas Association of Realtors Winter Meetings at the Hyatt. Then last Monday at an all-day Realtor Technology Forum, stupidly named “xplode“. I’m all educated out. Now I need to figure out what to implement and what to ignore. The “ignore” list is huge. The “implement” list is small.

But there is one thing all these Real Estate related education conferences have in common other than real estate. They could all double as Baby Boomer Conventions. Very few young Realtors.

While in Las Vegas the first night, Sylvia and I ate in a steak restaurant in our Casino/Hotel the, Orleans. While eating, looking around at the 1960’s decor and all the old people there, I commented to Sylvia “we’re the youngest people in this place”. She responded with one of the gentle, rhetorical “wife” responses that every husband will recognize, “So, you think we look younger than everyone in here?” Translation: “Uh, we look that old too, honey”.

No way! Say it ain’t so! I’m 49 and 1/2 and these people all look so old. Like they’re at least …well, … 50. Or older.

I guess maybe my age-perception of myself and Sylvia hasn’t kept up with the actual aging we’ve experienced. We were both in our late 20’s when we started in real estate. As of Sept 2012, we’ll both be “in our 50’s”, like the average Realtor.

Question: Will us older Realtors be able to relate to and help the younger generation of buyers?

Yes, I believe so, contrary to a lot of myths fed to us Realtors at education seminars.

Myth #1: Younger buyers don’t want to talk on the phone or use email. Older Realtors need to start texting and use Skype.
Baloney. Sylvia and I have helped a lot of young buyers in their 20’s and 30’s. They all talk on the phone and use email just fine. None of them, not one, has ever asked to use “Skype”. And they don’t text at a higher rate or any differently than people in the 40+ demographic.

That’s not to say Austin Realtors should stick our heads in the sand and not pay attention to “generation gap” issues, but a lot of Realtor “Seminar” Education on this topic serves up trite and stereotyped descriptions of the “younger generation” as tech crazed, gadget dependent people who reject “old school” ways of communicating, such as phone or email. We haven’t seen that at all in our practice. You can’t do a deal properly without email or talking by phone. That’s not going to change, ever.

Myth #2 – Austin Realtors need to know and use every possible App, Gadget and Social site out there to remain relevant.
Baloney. At one of the Realtor Tech forums I attended, one of the speakers did nothing more than rattle off a list of a couple of dozen iPhone/Android “must have apps for Realtors”. What she failed to do, as pointed out by one of the attendees, was explain what specific problem each app solves. For example. Pintrest.

I know about Pintrest, and I don’t have an account or use it. According to the About page, “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web“. So what? What specific problem does this tool solve for a Realtor or a real estate client? Or, how does it help prospective buyers and sellers find you? If these questions are not asked and answered about every App presented as “must have”, it’s just useless pabulum being fed to naive Realtors trying desperately to stay relevant in the tech age.

Yes, some Realtors are making very effective use of some very good tools such as Evernote and DocuSign. One presenter also shared a list of web and device apps, but in her presentation she followed a pattern of explaining what it is, followed by, what problem it solves or what function and benefit it provides.

For example, Evernote. I picked up that tip and am just now becoming acquainted with Evernote as a productivity tool. I don’t know if I’ll adopt it, but it’s certainly worth a scheduled block of time to learn more and see if it can help me in my business.

I could rattle off some more myths, but let’s stop at those 2, which are the most egregious.

If you’re a Realtor in Austin, or anywhere, you’ve heard all these “must have” things. Be careful. Don’t think you have to adopt 100 new ideas or technologies to stay effective and “up to speed” as a real estate professional. Informed, yes. Aware, yes. Early adopter of every gadget, app and idea fed to you at a seminar? No.

Yes, we’re getting older and our clients are getting younger. But they still want good advice and someone they can trust to help navigate the transaction. Age may even be an advantage if the younger crowd recognizes the value of wisdom and experience. We should keep up with technology, but not stress out over trying to implement every new thing technology has to offer.

On March 9th I’ll start 5 days of “education” at SXSW Interactive. I last attended SXSW Interactive two years ago. This is very tech heavy education, but NOT real estate related, which is a good thing. A real good thing. There won’t be any old lady Realtors telling me I need to download and use Pintrest in my real estate business. And I’ll get to rub elbows with people who look as young as I feel.

16 thoughts on “Hanging Out With Old People – The Austin Realtor Demographic”

  1. Amen, brother. I think that the education/event pool is filled with people that feel the need to catch up, while younger minds (not just bodies) are ingrained in the newest tech/culture and are still creative about tools rather than relying on what a talking head at a conference insinuates they’ll perish if they do not use.

    Jeff Brown (bawldguy.com) and I discuss this age gap frequently, and we disagree much of the time, but we do agree that any professional worth their salt can set expectations with clients (like “I don’t text, I will call you”) and command respect, regardless of whether or not they’re pinning pretty pictures on Pinterest (and I cover Pinterest frequently, and say that with full understanding that most people don’t need to be there).

    See you at sxsw! 🙂

  2. Hi Lani,

    Thanks for your comments. I attended the workshop you and Ben held at sxsw interactive 2010. I’m not sure if it was the intended topic, but the discussion veered off into a heavy debate about whether people should be allowed to post “Reviews” of listings and/or Realtors on the sites at which the listings are hosted.

    I guess that debate faded as I haven’t heard much about it lately, but there is always a topic de jour in this business. Are you guys doing anything there this year?


  3. The debate faded because most people simply accepted it as an inevitability (which I’m not sure is the case) – but Redfin gave it a shot (for four days) and dozens of companies have launched to review agents, so most just see it as another “thing” they have to tend to online. I think they can be beneficial if done well, like ReachFactor since it’s opt-in, but the sector has a long way to go.

    We’ll be at the conference but we’re not speaking this year – we’ll see you around, I’m sure 🙂

  4. I think that one mistake real estate agents make in trying to connect with a “younger demographic” is to immerse themselves into all the latest RE technology. Whatever happened to plain old human connection? Techs and apps are useful to some extent, but unfortunately there’s no app for how to be a great agent.

  5. Jillian, I definitely think that is not the “one” mistake agents make, but that’s my own opinion. 😉 Sounds like we’re all on the same page, however, as to the value (or lack thereof) of technology versus good ol’ belly to belly work.

  6. Biggest problem from the buyers’ side that I have is that I feel like I ought to be able to narrow down to a small series of properties myself (that I KNOW I’m interested in) and only then get a realtor to help me go look at the property, ask questions, whatever; if I’m not interested in being driven around and being shown things I already know I don’t want. Then, of course, negotiate when the transaction is underway.

    Instead I get a lot of attempts to personally connect with me and figure out what I want – or try to tell me I want something different than what I know I want – always unsuccessfully – and I have to put up with it because there’s some properties that aren’t on realtor or zillow in the areas I want. So I waste 90% of our combined time because of the 10% that’s essential that I can’t (yet) find any substitute for.

    This isn’t exactly the travel agent business, but buyers’ agents aren’t irreplaceable either. I don’t know what the right answer is here, but insisting that people deal with direct personal contact for 100% of these transactions is just not going to work in the long-run.

  7. Hi M1EK,

    Did you mean to post this on the other Blog article, about where listings appear online?

    Agree, for some buyers – locals who already know what neighboroods you want, etc – a buyer agent is less needed. But know matter how much you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. We’ve had plenty of buyers who, without us advocating and advising for them, would not have achieved their desired outcome. In some cases, that desired outcome is “run, don’t walk away from this property. It’s NOT a good buy”.

    But I don’t disagree with your general point.


  8. Kind of replying to both – it’s a cross-cutting concern. I LIKE being able to go look at properties at my desk without having to take a day off from work – and I DON’T like people who insist on handling all communications in an interrupting fashion (i.e. phone calls or face to face). The two are linked. The comments above defending agents asserting their right to not utilize modern technology seem to assume they are irreplaceable and won’t have to change – which just really rubs me the wrong way.

    Allowing for low-intensity issues to be handled by email (or, shudder, text) is a way of respecting both parties’ time. Insisting that nothing can replace face-to-face contact (or phone-to-phone contact) is a quick trip to travel agent land with me. I suspect young people are even more wedded to this worldview than am I, and, yes, I have met younger people who rarely if ever actually use their phone for actual live calls.

  9. M1EK, Oh, ok, so I think you may be referring to my comment above “You can’t do a deal properly without email or talking by phone. That’s not going to change, ever.”

    I’ll stand by that for certain stages of of the transaction. For example, a buyer likes a home, we think the price is probably close, but before an offer is written, Sylvia and/or I will run a CMA, email it (directly from the MLS system) to the client, then go over it by phone. Certain types of issues and decision points simply require a richer back and forth than text or even email provides.

    Same with inspections and deciding how to proceed after conducting the inspection. Some inspections, especially on older central Austin homes, contain a myriad of issues and problems. I’d have to type up a three page essay to convey what could be covered in a phone conversation with a buyer, as we weed out the deal breaker issues from the “standard” stuff for a home that age.

    Finally, on a short sale listing I have, we can’t even get started on an offer until I have a conversation with the buyer’s agent and personally make sure they know what the process is, the timeline, etc., and that they can explain all of that to their buyer. That can’t be handled by text or email. And even though I attach a 2-page document title “Short Sale Guidelines for Agents” to the listing, for agents to review and buyers to sign, it still requires more explanation and conversation to make sure we’re all on the same page.

    Are there searches for which agent/buyer required little communication until homes are narrowed down? Yes. But the transaction itself, unless smooth and easy (as few are), requires a great deal of communication along the way.


    • Agreed that some stages require conversation. Many don’t; and the comments (not just yours!) made it sound like the bad old days when I was trying to book a flight home from college and my only choice was to schlep down to the travel agent to do it.

  10. I’m in my 30s and while I often work with buyers and sellers close to my age, right now I’m working with a couple that is well into their 70s to sell one property and downsize into another. They prefer the phone to email, we have yet to text, and if I need a signature on a document I go get it in person.

    It’s been interesting – in a good way – and a reminder about the human moments that happen in a different way when the transaction is mostly “offline” vs “online.”

    I’m not saying I prefer one or the other, or that one is better – each way of doing things has its advantages. That said, having dealt with a number of “online only” I’ll find it myself and you just write it up, I think the human interaction goes along way in helping convey my value as something more than a form filler…

  11. I ‘almost’ started my real estate career in Austin – but moved to Seattle, not just because I love the pacific northwest, but because I saw greater opportunity for me when it came to my technical abilities. It’s pretty glaring how awkward most industry folks are here when it comes to technology. In fact, many do not know how to use the MLS system to it’s full potential – much less, have a website or deal with electronic signatures. (Our office mostly faxes.) This is a surprise, considering all the technology related companies are headquartered here.

    I just don’t see how older (and some not so ‘old’) agents will keep up. Granted, at the moment, I tend to get a few glares as I walk around with my iPad – but it’s just a matter of time before many others will catch-up.

    As for how I engage with clients – I leave it entirely up to them. But I’m not sure I’d be entirely comfortable with writing-up an offer on something I had little involvement in assisting with. Like Matt Fuller says above, I too prefer to have others recognize my value beyond just filling in forms. Someone said to me the other day “you have been a great agent – and we’ve worked with many.” That just made my day – I wish all clients were so loyal and appreciative of our true efforts.

  12. Hi Matt,

    > if I need a signature on a document I go get it in person.

    I love those “old school” type of clients! There use to be something special about showing up at a seller’s house after they get off work and sitting down to “go over the offer”. Now we almost always do it by phone and email and electronic signature. More convenient, but we lose the human connection.


    > As for how I engage with clients – I leave it entirely up to them

    Totally agree. We work with clients in whatever “space” is easiest and most convenient for them.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Thanks for your comments.

  13. Hi Steve,

    I know I’m getting to this conversation a bit late, but I had to chime in. I’ve recently left the wedding photography industry, and turned to RE. I’m 40, so that must make me one of the younger ones…

    I saw the exact same trend in weddings – must-have-latest-and-greatest-apps-and-technology. There is a cottage industry in every industry selling things to make better whatevers. Use this app to sell more houses. Use this website for more clients. Blah, Blah, Blah.

    You have integrated a blog very nicely into your identity. I think this is the most positive thing you can do. Perhaps the next step would be to get more social media integration, but if your system isn’t broke, there’s nothing to change.

    Keep on keeping on.


  14. I don’t think it’s age is the issue, it’s being in between a technology gap. It feels like we went straight from Newspapers to iPads so quickly that it is going to take a huge amount of people to start to educate themselves to be more tech savvy. My younger sister is in her 20s and couldn’t use my iPhone if her life depended on it. She is a preschool teacher so in her world she doesn’t have to be online or using apps like other people do in everyday work/life.

  15. Enjoyed reading your comments – my sentiments exactly!

    It is hard to navigate through all the aps and gadgets and find what will make a difference. Most only help marginally. I’m not often at a coffee shop with an urgent need to handle paperwork. When Inman Next interviewed me on what technology I use, I said the most important was Outlook. My kids still laugh about that. Oh, well, moving along.


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