Luring the young

Realtors: To meet the changing needs of clients, the real estate business is in dire need of younger agents who are Internet-savvy and committed to hard work.

April 30, 2000|By Bob Graham | Bob Graham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As graduating college seniors come into their final days of campus life, their focus is turning toward the job market. Dot-com and high-tech jobs are wooing potential employees with the promise of stock options. School boards, in some instances, are luring teachers with signing bonuses and higher salaries. And nurses always seem to be in demand.

Now take the residential real estate industry. It has been as hot as any sector for the past two years nationwide as well as in the Baltimore-metropolitan area. Area real estate agents have been busy wheeling and dealing like never before, and it seems natural that the action would attract its fair share of graduates.

But it's not happening.

It seems that few college seniors or twentysomethings are considering a career in real estate sales, mainly because it demands from the outset keen entrepreneurial and networking skills and immediate success to get a paycheck. Even if a new agent sells a home his first day on the job, he won't likely see a paycheck until 30, 60 or perhaps 90 days later, when the property settles.

Faced with the fact that the median age of real estate agents has jumped a startling seven years, to 49, in the past 22 years, veterans are updating their techniques for recruiting young agents.

"It's critical for us to try and attract new people for our industry," said Alice Burch, vice president and Baltimore regional manager for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. A 24-year veteran of the business, Burch said she thinks successful agents are staying in the field longer, which would partly explain the median age increase. "There really isn't any incentive for them to retire," Burch said.

To meet the needs of its diverse customer base, Burch and other veteran agents say, the industry needs a constant influx of people in their 20s or early 30s. But that is easier said than done.

Debbi Rivero's route to becoming a Realtor is a path favored by most veteran agents, but not one that many young adults can or want to take advantage of.

A 1992 University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate, Rivero wanted a more rewarding career than her math and electrical engineering studies offered. An established Realtor approached her and asked her to work as an assistant in the Ellicott City office of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc., where she would handle contracts and other paperwork.

Two years later, Rivero decided she had learned enough from her boss to try it herself.

"I was determined to make it work, but it was still a lot of trial and error and lots of cold calls that first year," Rivero, 33, said. Despite a slow start, Rivero sold enough houses in Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties to hire her husband, Richard, 34, to work full-time with her in 1997.

That same year, she won the first of her three consecutive Coldwell Banker Grempler Customer Service Awards in recognition of her constant attention to her customers' needs. Rivero said the award recognizes "my willingness to do whatever it takes" to find properties meeting her clients' needs, including dropping off stacks of newly listed homes at people's offices and homes at all hours of the day.

She works six days a week, often using Tuesday, her day off, to complete paperwork and perform other business tasks that she can't accomplish on the other days. She hasn't had a weekend off in years, since weekends are when open houses and showings fit best into her clients' schedules.

The level of commitment and the constant need to produce, since agents are only paid when a sale settles, can be nerve-racking to younger people, many agents say.

But what Rivero and other younger agents bring to the field is something it needs -- a better understanding of the role of technology that's changing the industry.

"Our buyers today grew up on AOL and our Realtors are scrambling to catch up," said Patrick Kane, vice president and general manager of Coldwell Banker Grempler and president of the 2,300-member Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "The average buyer is getting younger and younger so we have to be aware of who we are selling to more."

With their clients' growing reliance on the instant and wide-ranging role of the Internet in finding homes for sale, agents have to be able to respond to e-mail inquiries and post information on the Internet, skills many agents were slow to adopt.

An inability to understand the importance and immediacy of the World Wide Web inhibits some agents, said John G. Evans, president of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA. "The younger people are looking for us to be more astute in their ways of business today, so if we can't use the technology available, we're behind," Evans said.

Median age rises

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