Even though the under-35 crowd is aging right along with the rest of us, they were born and raised during a digital time and witnessed a dark era for real estate and lending. So communicating and working with this market force requires a higher level of attention, innovation and precision. Today's typical real estate agents may be beyond the years of the millennial market segment, but lenders can absolutely help them share their wisdom with these young consumers who are online and all-around connected.
What is somewhat surprising is that the number of real estate agents in their age group licensed to serve them has only increased two percent in four years. The National Association of Realtors' current member profile shows that "the typical Realtor" is a 53-year-old female with some college education. Not only is there a 20-year average age difference between Realtors and the largest group of U.S. homebuyers, but today's 35-and-under crowd is the most educated group of Americans in U.S. history, according to Pew Research.
Knowing that the average real estate agent is far outside the peer group of a huge, important market segment, helping them bridge the gap will help close deals. Technology is a great way to go about doing this because millennials are the first generation of Americans (and homebuyers) who grew up with the internet, diverse mobile capability and social media — whereas their older counterparts had to learn to adapt to it. While more than half of Realtors say they've had a website for five or more years, and 70% say they use social media for business, connecting with millennials and converting them to clients requires more than just "hanging out where they do." Finding a consultant who can educate agents about this and help them execute a strategy can be a lender's differentiator. However, approaching agents and saying, "Hello! You're old and completely out of touch with a critical market segment! Work with me and I'll help you look like you know what you're doing," is definitely a bad idea. But pointing out the disconnect and offering assistance adds real value.
Discover Financial Services polled millennial homebuyers and uncovered an interesting blend of preferences. It found that 71% submitted documents to their real estate agent or lender via email, apps or a website and said that it definitely saved them time. In addition, 67% used apps and internet to explore buying a home but still preferred to work with a professional.
The first response isn't surprising because this generation is digital natives and conducting transactions this way comes naturally to them. The second one is a great reminder that the expertise, guidance and attention of professional real estate agents and loan officers are necessary and appreciated. Use that knowledge as motivation for the next step.
Real estate agents should forge alliances to reach out together to serve this market segment. Millennials are smart — and educated — enough to comprehend the benefits of homeownership, but the severe market crash that left the U.S. littered with foreclosed and underwater properties isn't that far in the rearview mirror. They haven't witnessed or necessarily internalized the decades of real estate appreciation that were a widely accepted centerpiece of most everyone's personal financial plan. LOs and real estate agents need to educate and motivate them with current messaging that speaks to their concerns and ignites possibilities.
Mortgage companies and loan officers should pitch to real estate agents that they work not in conjunction, but in reality. The lender should do most of the work using automation and content in a Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act-compliant way. The loan officer can get buy-in from real estate agents on messages, timelines and different target groups and then track, manage and nurture the leads. Agents will appreciate having this type of work done for them and the lender looks like a hero when delivering a solid prospect or client. This builds loyalty and establishes originators as partners rather than vendors.
The conversation, analysis, chatter, arguments, discussion and confusion about millennials is not going to end any time soon. There's no shortage of head-scratching about how to deal with millennials but there's an opportunity for mortgage companies and loan officers when it comes to those with whom millennials choose to deal. Today's typical real estate agent might be older, but they're definitely wiser than the millennials when it comes to real estate, getting a mortgage, the benefits of homeownership, the intricacies of negotiating purchase agreements and all the crazy obstacles than can arise in transactions.
Sue Woodard is president and CEO of automation and CRM technology provider Vantage Production, based in Red Bank, N.J.