The landscape of the real estate industry is constantly changing, and real estate professionals need to be equipped with the tools and knowledge to better understand what it is that today’s consumer wants. What is important to them, how they communicate, and how they process information are all relevant to how Generation Y consumers make their housing decisions.
With the average first-time homebuyer rounding 31 years of age and the average REALTOR® being 54 years of age1, there becomes an obvious age gap between the two. In order to better serve this fast-growing demographic, we must recognize the Generation Y consumer group’s habits and their communication styles and needs. In this article, I will explain how I believe the Gen Y consumer habits and communication styles operate to better provide our readers with the ability to best serve the real estate needs of this growing demographic of homebuyer.
Who is the Gen Y Consumer?
Generation Y, also known as “Gen Y” or the “Millennial Generation,” are individuals born from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. This age group is not particularly a brand loyal group of consumers as most of them grew up in the bulk-purchase era. When superstores offer thousands of products at varying discounted costs, the average consumer no longer cares which brand they bring home with them, just as long as it was the cheapest product on the shelf. Going in this direction in every aspect of their consumerism, The Gen Y homebuyer has no particular loyalty to certain brands when it comes to searching for their new home.
Furthermore, this group was there for the birth of social media, and the value placed on peer acceptance and reviews is incredibly high. They are constantly looking for reviews, blogs and status updates that rate the products they are interested in. The influence of their social media sphere is critical, and they trust this group’s values as their own.
Most importantly, this is a generation group made up of information gatherers. Through technology, information has been incredibly accessible for most of their lives, and they will most likely accumulate as much information as possible before making any major decisions. If they do not have easy access to information on the product, they will simply move on until they do. Mobile information is incredibly important – the time we live in today is always on the go. Most often, these information gatherers will do their research while standing in line at Starbucks or waiting at a stop light. And the Gen Y consumer is efficient in using all corners of the day to learn new information and communicate with others through a variety of mobile devices.
Needs of the Gen Y Consumer
The Gen Y consumers are relatively simple to market to because their needs transpire to only two things: (1) they want easy access to information on their product, and (2) they want detailed information on the product they’re researching. In real estate, this means providing detailed information on all listings including multiple photos or videos. Basically, the more information available, the better. If this level of detail and information is not provided up front, the Gen Y consumer most likely won’t bother to search deeper for it.
Marketing to the Gen Y Consumer
So now that we’re starting to understand the makeup of the typical Gen Y consumer, how do we best market to them? It is imperative that the product you are marketing must be easily found where they spend the majority of their time: the Internet.
In the real estate industry, this means exposure of your listings to the websites consumers are looking through. Not only company and agent websites, but third-party real estate search sites are also critical. More importantly, these third-party sites are trusted by the Gen Y consumer. They are seen as the simplest way to get maximum information in a single site, similar to third-party travel sites such as Orbitz or Kayak.
Also, a strong Google presence is a must-have for REALTORS®. If you can’t “Google it,” it’s irrelevant. High Google placement for your company’s listings and services is huge in the online marketing competition today. Many companies and agents spend a hefty amount in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to have their websites go to the top of the list on Google. Websites dedicated to individual listings are also becoming more popular. An individual website for each listing advances the company’s Google placement as well as serves as a great marketing platform for that particular listing. Another option to enhance the Google placement is with a strong social media presence, such as popular professional blogs or a YouTube channel with high ratings and views.
YouTube is undeniably growing in popularity. The do-it-yourself video blogging site gives anyone the ability to express their message through a highly trafficked website. YouTube is no longer necessarily just a website to find a silly video of a sneezing panda; it has transformed into an unlimited video resource center to learn anything you can imagine. From how to install a garbage disposal to how to stage a home for an open house, there is nothing you cannot find on YouTube. The more creative real estate marketers are seeing this as an opportunity to provide value to the general public on their area of expertise. YouTube is a peer review site, and your videos can be shared and viewed easily to gain the much-needed credibility and grab the attention needed for optimal marketing.
The last and certainly most important major online resource that Gen Y consumers are using is social media. Most Gen Y consumers rely heavily on their social networks for peer review and acceptance. Some of the more popular sites actively used today are Facebook for social interaction and LinkedIn for business connections and networking. Both are extremely relevant in the real estate industry. On Facebook, members can post requests to their social network asking for advice on professional services, such as, “does anyone know of a good accountant?” The Gen Y consumer trusts the members of their social network to give them personal reviews to help their decision-making process. This is sometimes referred to as the “hive mind.” Like a hive of bees all working together to accomplish a single goal, so is the decision-making process of consumers in a social media setting. If multiple friends on Facebook respond saying they had an extraordinary experience with a certain business, it is going to be the most obvious choice in that consumer’s mind. Having a presence on social media sites like Facebook is extremely crucial to the hive-mind thinking process and marketing to the Gen Y consumer in general.
The other large social media resource effectively used in the real estate industry is LinkedIn. This site has been primarily seen as a professional networking site, used as a way to connect with past and current colleagues or to search and connect with others for employment opportunities. However, many real estate professionals are now using this online network as a way to connect with specific interest groups, such as investors, to promote their services and inventory. This new online prospecting method can be very effective, if used correctly, to connect with Gen Y and technologically savvy buyers of today.
Creating the Ideal Customer Service Experience
Once a Gen Y consumer completes their due diligence, they will need to get to the next level of gathering information about the property or product by communicating with someone. Connecting personally is an important aspect of the homebuying process. In order to create a quality customer service experience, a quick response time is critical. The quicker the response time, the better chances you will have to attach to the consumer; conversely, the slower the response time, the greater likelihood you will lose the prospective customer. Many times this initial communication will be in the form of e-mail or text message. Being able to speak the same language of the consumer will help incubate the relationship and eventually turn it into a face-to-face meeting.
Being able to provide close to instant response time, communicate in their preferred method, and provide quality information will accelerate earning the trust of the consumer and creating a quality customer service relationship. Once a strong relationship is established, they will most likely remain a long-term client and turn into an advocate with a strong referral network. The Gen Y consumer will use their peer review process through social media to tell their extended sphere of influence what a great homebuying experience they had with you.
The most important piece of information for real estate professionals working with this generation is to be constantly accessible and relevant. Consumers want their information to be fast, easy and completely thorough, and being able to continuously and dependably fulfill their needs will ensure success with the Generation Y demographic of today.
What method of communication do Gen Y members prefer with a REALTOR®?
Justin Hubbard, Janesville
"Phone and e-mail are best for me. It’s also important for REALTORS® to keep their websites up-to-date, so when they’re busy and can’t talk, I can at least see the new home my REALTOR® just listed, for example."
Leslie Hill, Waukesha
"I would prefer that our REALTOR® contact me by calling my cellphone number or e-mailing me, which I can also get on my phone."
Alyssa Klopatek, Shorewood
"I’m old enough to value an old-fashioned phone call and young enough to love the immediacy of texting, but when it comes to my REALTOR®, I prefer e-mail. As a first-time homebuyer, I have many questions, and e-mail allows longer responses than texting. Plus, I can send an e-mail any time of the day or night and know that I’m not interrupting my REALTOR® while in a meeting, with another client, or enjoying downtime."
Kasey and Ben Hock, Green Bay
"We wanted a REALTOR® who could adapt to all communication styles – especially e-mail and cellphone. I think it’s important for REALTORS® to have their e-mail account accessible via phone so they can receive messages and respond in a timely manner. So much of realty is about timing, and if a REALTOR® cannot respond quickly to a situation, they are going to be left with unsatisfied clients."
Vanessa and Brad Day, Milwaukee
"With so many available avenues of communication, especially when it comes to Gen Y individuals, it is important for a REALTOR® to make themselves available through a number of different outlets."
1. Age and demographic data taken from NAR at www.realtor.org.
Dan Kruse is currently broker-owner and acting president for Century 21 Affiliated with 35 offices and 550 active agents throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. Dan has a bachelor’s degree in real estate and business management from the University of Minnesota, is a past president and REALTOR® of the year of the Rock Green REALTORS® Association, and currently sits on the board of directors for the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association. Dan is also an active member of the Wisconsin YPO chapter and sits on the President’s Advisory Council for Century 21 International.