For young brokers, the real estate trade has migrated to social media, and it goes beyond selfies a
nd funny memes.
VJ Jose, a broker from Mountainside Realty, is currently grappling with “personal branding” issues, something that he believes can only be remedied by a strong presence on social media platforms.
“I definitely want to stand out amongst the millennials. I think the best way to do that is social media, utilizing Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat. To stand out with millennials, you need to do stuff like that,” he said.
All of those tools are designed to lure in fellow millennials on the buying and renting side of real estate transactions.
According to the National Association of Realtors’ data for 2015, this is a tricky proposition.
Millennnials, who are defined as people who were born after 1980, make up 32 percent of homebuyers, higher than Baby boomers at 31 percent and Generation X buyers at 27 percent.
While they constitute the largest portion of the market, getting their business is difficult compared to other groups.
Aside from the fact that millennials take their time settling down, they are also notoriously fickle and hard to please. In fact, most are not even convinced that they need an agent at the start of the home buying process.
According to the NAR study, only 10 percent contacted a real estate agent early on, which is lower than the 15 percent average for all buyers.
The properties they bought also needed to conform to the right specifications. About 58 percent of millennial buyers identified “finding the right property” as the most difficult step in the home buying process. Again, this is higher than the 53 percent average for all buyers.
However, if a broker plays the cards right, closing a deal may be as simple as posting on Instagram.
“If you look at some of the people on Million Dollar Listing, you go on their Instagram pages and they have hundreds of thousands of followers. And you’ll see comments from people saying, ‘Hey, I want to list with you. Hey, I’d like to buy with you.’ Just because they have that image. It definitely works,” Jose said.
While veteran brokers don’t question the effectiveness of social media marketing, they still consider traditional means of relating to clients as the best way to close deals.
“Setting yourself apart, I think, is something really important. Social media is great. The Internet is great. But doing things outside of that, I think, can really draw attention to you as well,” said Level Group COO Mike Barbolla, referring to small gestures such as hand-written notes and follow-up calls.
“We’re in a society that is connected by the Internet, where a Google search can easily find somebody. But once you’re found, you have to have some kind of a message that is meaningful and connected to who you are,” added Larry Link, Level Group’s president and principal broker.
Jennefer Witter, the head of public relations firm Boreland Group, echoed Link’s advice. Authenticity is a common component of effective brands, she said, and it’s something that requires a gestation period.
“First and foremost, a personal brand must be authentic in order for anybody to truly believe that you are who you say you are,” she said.
“Test it out on a couple of people. If you need make little tweaks, that’s okay. Make sure that whatever you do, you are comfortable with it, so that you’re not shoe-horning yourself into something that doesn’t really reflect who you are.”
Witter said that once the pursuit of a personal brand starts, it requires an initial stage that then stretches to eternity.
“The initial part of developing a brand, it probably takes a few weeks to do it. It’s not something that you can do in two or three days. Maybe four to six weeks, that’s what it takes, and then forever onwards to keep it fresh,” she said.
Witter points to Barbara Corcoran as the gold standard for continuously evolving one’s hallmark. She applauded how the executive successfully pivoted her branding from real estate mogul to reality TV star.
However, the personal brand is just a calling card, a way to get your foot on the door, so to speak. After that, the real work starts.
According to Link, this is a lesson that’s lost on young brokers. “I think one of the big mistakes that younger brokers make is that they don’t realize the connection between marketing themselves and what they do as a marketer of property or representing people,” he said.
Link added that the best way to benefit from a strong brand is to have the operations to back it up. He said that the best way to do so is to form a “tag team” with the client.
“You can no longer use the proprietary holding of information as something that distinguishes you. You have to work with the information that is free flowing out there,” he said.
“So your customer is much more likely to have the same information that you have. And some of the time, they’re really more motivated to get certain bits of information.ˮ
Link explained, “When a customer’s looking for a home, for example, and they’re looking for a good deal, they have every alert set up, they have every website bookmarked, they are on there ten to 15 times a day searching to see which new listings came up.
“You have to work in a tag team way with the customer using the same kind of information but adding to it, being the knowledgeable guide about how that information can best serve them.”
A personal brand may be the life raft that floats young brokers into improbable longevity. The odds for any newcomer can be daunting. There are 13,532 real estate brokers working in the city, according to data from the Department of State last June. This represents the highest number of agents in the past 15 years.