What's a broker to do?

So..., times are tough, business is slow; but wow, what an opportunity to court a new business model.

During the 1987-1993 downturn I remember the shift that took place as some early bricks and clicks prototypes were being developed. As one of RealPlus' first clients, Manhattan Homes Inc. had already transitioned to a full computer based listing system and was able to temporarily downsize and setup each agent with his/her own home office, computer, and full dial-up database access. (Today, RealPlus, LLC with Eric Gordon at the helm has become THE hub feeding all listing data to the Real Estate Board of New York Listing System as well as to numerous other NYC residential brokerage firms). That setup helped us survive during those lean times and allowed us to bounce back at the end of the recession. Still, digital development was in its infancy, and our clientele steeped in 20th century convention, so once revenues returned, we regressed to the real estate traditions of the past.

Since then, efforts have been made by most firms to move with the times, but not, we feel, to their true potential. Today, I see younger agents advancing methods that their managers and company heads do not yet fully understand. As the customer base widens to include more Millennials and Generation Xers with their particular worldviews, and as Boomers too, evolve into cyber devotees (even my 95 year old father is computer literate and uses the internet daily), many of the old guard is recognizing that listening instead of talking might be prudent.

Looking at the present selling environment this adaptation is even more crucial. In last month's entry I projected that the low-end market would be the first to re-activate. This is proving to be the case, in sales and in rentals. The demographic trend of it's participants is toward the first wave of Millennials--people in their mid to late twenties--and these buyers are a very different breed, indeed. They are the first digitally native generation and how they approach life and life decisions is new and unique. How we as brokers communicate with this new clientele needs to be different, and the business model we choose should be influenced accordingly.

It's time for us to establish a true digital core, not as a department, but as our main design template. We are representatives and service providers with no personal inventory and this conversion offers us efficiency, lower overhead, and very few drawbacks. Our marketing funnel should account for the ways in which awareness has changed. Note: these new buyers are smart, technically oriented, and thirsty for knowledge. Studies show they process onscreen information five times faster than previous generations. How this information is presented should take certain traits into account. These buyers are socially dependent networkers with 60% using word of mouth for decision making. They are fun loving gamers, expressive and prone to customizing. They are respectful of previous generations but impatient, too. They are avid multitaskers who tend to integrate content their own way. We in turn need to become cohorts and join the fun. Make ourselves part of their conversation while letting them be themselves. We should share, but also seek their opinions; they expect both. Be straight, give them what they want and in the way they want it. And do all these things posthaste!

Finally, when the high-end luxury market returns, more Boomers and prior Gens will re-enter the fray and ratios will change, but I suspect many will have evolved and, like my Dad, be receptive to this new business model. Determine it case by case, and if it seems best to "go analog" with any of these over 45ers, you longtimers know what to do...just don't feel you need to use carbon paper.

--Leigh Zaph. (any comments can be emailed to us at webitorials@manhattanhomesinc.com, thanks).