In today’s complicated market, there is no time to be picky. Taking the time to sharpen your skills and learn to relate to clients of all generations may open up a whole new world of possibilities, and it’s a great way to land more sales.
By Darhiana Mateo
Success in real estate often boils down to one thing: Making that critical connection with potential clients. In today’s challenging market, connecting with buyers and sellers across all generations has never been more important. Gone are the days when a Realtor can be content selling to a static client base. As the market evolves, Realtors — rookies and seasoned pros alike — have to be prepared to venture outside of their comfort zone and reach out to clients of all
ages. For Peter Basile Jr., 38, a Realtor with Chicago Home Estates, it’s not just a matter of success but survival.
“A lot of times, [Realtors] get set in their ways. Our field is in an evolving state. We are changing,” says Basile. “If you’re only doing single-family homes in Lincoln Park or the Gold Coast with a certain age group because that’s what you’re comfortable with — when that well dries up, you’re just not going to exist in this business. You have to get out there.”
Stephanie Derderian, 56, a sales agent with Keller Williams Gold Coast’s luxury division, says she takes an “across the board” approach when it comes to her diverse clientele base. From the first-time homeowners in their 20s to the couple in their 70s downsizing to a smaller place and everything in between, Derderian is comfortable doing it all. She finds success by having the ability to relate to people from all different walks of life: “Because I’m older, I can connect with more people. I’ve walked in their shoes or met people in their shoes,” Derderian says.
Looking young can present a hurdle for Realtors, who are entrusted with perhaps one of the most significant investments of their clients’ lives.
Although Chicago native Basile has over 12 years of experience working as a Realtor, his youthful appearance still gives potential clients pause. “I don’t look my age at all. When I started in this field I was 26 and looked 12,” he says. “The truth of the matter is, when you are doing home sales — maybe on the higher end — yes, sometimes your age does matter.” From the start, Basile made sure he did his homework and was as informed as possible about the market, trends and listings, and also listened carefully to the needs of his clients. In the end, it worked to his advantage. “It forced me to be a better agent,” he says.
With only three years in the field, 27-year-old Iva J. Prsa, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential — Hall Group, also has to work hard to help some weary clients get past her youth. “At first glance, there are several people that would question my level of experience in this industry,” Prsa admits. “I think age is always going to be an immediate first reaction, but it’s how you deal with the judgment that will help you rise above the stereotype. Dress professionally, [exude] a professional attitude and get to really learn [about] your clients and their needs to help them ease any age reservations they may have.”
Working With Younger Clients
Judy Sklare, an agent with Prudential Highland Park, “cut her teeth” in the real estate field back in 1979, when the market was tough, contracts were complex and multiple steps were required to get from A to Z and close a deal. Like today’s young Realtors, Sklare also had to prove herself. “When you have a limited amount of experience, you have to be really diligent,” she says. Fast forward 30 years, and Sklare is by all accounts a veteran well versed in the intricacies of the market. But it’s the simple things, like positive word of mouth, that has kept her client base thriving over time. “I’ve never had a tunnel-vision market. Whoever is out there buying or selling, that’s who I’m talking to,” Sklare says.
Her willingness to work with any client and give them each her all is constantly paying off. Case in point, Sklare tells the story of a 23-year-old man who walked into her office years ago, looking to buy a place that was below the office’s typical price range. “The man came in … he was lovely and sweet and I said, ‘don’t worry about it; I’ll get it done.’” Not only did she keep her promise, but she gained four more clients as a result in his two older brothers and his mother and father, who ended up selling their expensive home in the North Shore and purchasing another pricey property. “I didn’t restrict myself because he wasn’t what I was used to,” she says. “Never ever short change anybody. It’s your name out there and that’s the only thing you really have.”
When dealing with younger clients, Sklare follows the same guiding principal of listening to their specific needs. But the mother of three admits to becoming “very maternal” at times: “I want to make sure they don’t overextend themselves … I guide them in a way that you would with your own family. I make sure that they’re protected and that their investment is secure. It especially holds true in today’s market, you have to be extremely realistic.”
Age is not a factor with her young clients, who Sklare says appreciate her forthrightness and knowledge. “They know my energy level. They know what I put into something. They know they can trust me.” And it doesn’t hurt that in her mid-60s, the athletic Realtor, who used to run six miles a day and still works out, transfers her relentless stamina to getting the job done.
When working with younger clients, who are oftentimes novices when it comes to the real estate market, education is key. But it must be offered in the right way, says Derderian. “It’s an education process. They have the money to buy, but not the experience. Sometimes they don’t want to ask mom or dad,” she says. By treating them as the professionals they are, walking them through the process step by step as she would do with any client, regardless of age, and answering their questions as clearly and patiently as possible, Derderian manages to prepare her clients for a major purchase without making them feel naïve or uninformed.
After all, “there’s nothing to talk down to,” she says. “I admire them for asking the questions and having been successful enough to be able to buy something already. I think they sense that.” And Derderian adds with a laugh, “I don’t try to be like them. I don’t try to be hip.”
Listen, Listen, Listen
Whether you are a seasoned agent working with younger clients buying their first condo or a rookie helping empty-nesters sell their multimillion-dollar family home, one rule never changes: Listen closely to your clients’ particular needs, both what they are telling you and what they’re not. “You have to be pragmatic and be able to look at the whole picture,” Sklare says. “A young couple versus a couple downsizing, they have different needs.”
As any good Realtor knows, you have to ask questions: How much do they want to spend? Do they need to be near transportation? Close to family? “It’s all factored in,” Sklare adds. “Knowing your market is the only way you can have a clear picture of this. If you listen well you will hear, you will see what they are trying to tell you — you become tuned in.”
Derderian also makes sure that she has these initial conversations with clients. “I really keep age out of it, and I talk about lifestyle.”
It’s critical that she approach each client with an open mind. After all, not all 25-year-olds want to live in a trendy condominium complex steps from the coolest bars and boutiques. “These kind of decisions aren’t [necessarily] age related,” Derderian points out. “Get rid of stereotypes you might have, and let them guide you where they want to live based on the lifestyle they prefer,” advises Derderian.
Basile agrees that it is vital that Realtors understand that the decision ultimately boils down to their clients. “I let clients lead the way,” says Basile. “Never try to tip the scale to push your clients in any direction. That’s the first step to buyers’ remorse.”
However, it sometimes falls on Realtors’ shoulders to broaden clients’ horizons to all the possibilities. For example, a certain complex may be a perfect fit for a client, if only they would look past the fact that it’s not located in Wrigleyville or Lincoln Park. “You should expose them to everything, but ultimately, the decision will be theirs,” Sklare says.
The High-Tech Way
Without a doubt, technology has drastically changed the playing field. These days, Realtors are communicating more often with clients via e-mail or text messages than over the phone or in person. New technologies such as video tours of properties and Realtor blogs are taking client education to new heights.
For young Realtors intimately familiar with these new modes of communication, it’s sometimes a challenge to introduce clients set in their ways to a different way of doing business.
Prsa says she usually brings her laptop with her to listing appointments to better show clients how their listing will appear on the Internet, and how people can see their photos and tours. She also shows them Internet statistics reports that display graphs on how many people viewed their property, she says. But while it’s important to try to ease clients into the more efficient, technology-driven practices of today’s real estate market, it’s equally important to be flexible and cater to the specific needs and likes of your clients. “If they don’t have e-mail access, then I will print off the reports and drop it off to them on a regular basis,” Prsa says. As Derderian points out, Realtors have to be ready to “communicate with clients in their preferred manner.”
Basile says about 70 percent of his client contact is now done through e-mail. Every now and then, however, he comes across “that older couple that doesn’t have e-mail access.” In these circumstances, Basile is happy to oblige: “You have to change it up, there’s always going to be that generation not used to the hip stuff.”
More mature Realtors such as Sklare and Derderian may not have grown up on today’s technology, but that doesn’t mean they are falling behind. “I’ll be very honest: I’m learning,” says Sklare. “I’m constantly on the computer, constantly trying to educate myself, taking classes — and I’m not afraid to ask for help.”
It’s All Connected
Given today’s economic climate, Realtors don’t have the luxury of restricting themselves to narrow clientele bases. By casting a wider net and tailoring their approach so that it resonates with the unique needs of each client, regardless of age, resourceful Realtors can stand strong in a shifting playing field.
Forging relationships with diverse clients and letting your work speak for itself can help open up a shrinking market. As Judy Sklare knows, it’s a small world after all: “My whole business is referral. I have three children who are professionals. I [worked] with their friends, and their friends’ families and their grandparents … You have to build relationships. It’s all connected.” C.A.
Peter Basile Jr.
Realtor – Chicago Home Estates
Sales Agent – Keller Williams Gold Coast
Iva J. Prsa
Realtor – Coldwell Banker Residential — Hall Group
Agent – Prudential Preferred Properties