Publication Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Two young real estate agents buck the trend
by Susan Golovin
Is real estate a good profession for young people? If you ask 24-year-old
Wendy Willbanks of Cashin Realty in Menlo Park, you'll get a resounding
affirmative. However, the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors
estimates that the age of most Realtors in this area is between
35 and 55.
Even zipRealty, known to attract younger agents due to its innovative
use of the Internet as well as its development group, which feeds
clients to its agents, and its guaranteed salary, reports that its
average age hovers at 40. According to Sri Ram, Bay Area district
manager, there are few, if any, agents straight out of school.
Willbanks will be the first to admit that most clients in this
expensive market do look for an experienced Realtor. Further, the
idea of working on commission only, with no salary is daunting.
However, she feels that she has several things going for her.
"I grew up in Woodside, so I know the area really well, and
my family has been very active in the community," she said.
The family does not lack for local roots. Her mother grew up in
Atherton, one of 12 children.
Willbanks attended Santa Barbara City College and University of
Santa Barbara, and spent a year in France studying at the Sorbonne
before graduating from San Francisco State University with a bachelor's
degree in communications - a major that she feels couldn't be more
perfect for her current career.
Her interest in real estate began when she had to find an apartment
in San Francisco. "I got very good at competing, at how to
position myself for the best places," she said. "I also
love the idea of 'home,' " she said. "I'm a real nester."
When she began thinking of real estate as a career, Willbanks sought
the advice of various local Realtors. A logical route for someone
just starting out is an assistantship. However, Willbanks said,
"I'm the type of person, who, if I hold your hand, I might
never let go."
So, with license in hand, she had to decide which firm to affiliate
with. "I called Mr. Cashin himself," she said. "It's
all about being outgoing and fearless." Willbanks ended up
with several options, but chose Cashin because of its reputation
and smaller size.
So how is she doing? After little over a month, she had four clients,
one of whom put in their first offer in January.
Willbanks feels that her age is a plus. "There's something
to be said for zest and drive," she said. She also admits that
she puts in lots of extra hours, being sure to take extra floor
time. She engaged one of her clients because she was at her desk
long after hours, when the client happened to come into the office
looking for information. She also relies on cold calls to prospective
clients and takes her share of open houses.
When she first started, she sent out fliers to her parent's Christmas
card list. She also hopes to be the agent of choice for her older
siblings' friends, who are just now getting married. She says that
her logical client is a young person or couple looking for their
"Of course, I have to be very professional," she said,
adding that several of the people she now rubs shoulders with remember
her as a teenager raiding their refrigerator after school.
Bob Gerlach, currently the vice president and manager of Alain
Pinel in Palo Alto, who has been in the business for 23 years, also
entered the profession directly out of college. In his case, he
was following in his mother's footsteps.
"A lot of people didn't have confidence in me," he said.
"I offset that by becoming extremely knowledgeable and working
twice as hard."
Gerlach adds that youth can be an advantage. "You have no
baggage. You're not used to sitting at a desk at a job where someone
tells you what to do. In this profession, you have to be self-motivated.
"What you need is real staying power and the ability to take
rejection. It often takes two to three years to establish yourself,
and that can be tough if there is no joint income," said Gerlach.
To compound the financial problem, Willbanks estimates that the
start-up costs are in the range of $1,500 - for insurance, sign
and professional memberships.
Jennifer Aarts, 28, is an agent with Coldwell Banker in Palo Alto.
Raised in Palo Alto, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics
from UCLA, became a CPA and worked for Deloitte and Touche in San
Francisco for several years. "I found the work grueling. There
was no balance in my life," she said.
Real estate was a natural choice for her since her father, Jan,
had been in the business for 26 years. "Dad tried to discourage
me because you can't count on the income and the difficulty of getting
established," she said. However, one year ago they decided
At first, she literally followed her dad around, learning the trade
as an apprentice. Now, Aarts describes the partnership as "50-50."
"It's worked out beautifully. My dad has the option to take
some time off, and I have a terrific career. I relate well to the
younger clients, and work very hard to help maintain and add to
his client base."
Aarts feels that community involvement is crucial. She serves as
a volunteer for various professional organizations as well as the
"It's just as important to have a good reputation with other
agents as it is with the public," said Aarts. Accordingly,
she has started a group for new agents to network and problem solve.
Both Aarts and Willbanks agree that real estate is "24/7."
Recently both women have relocated to the area from San Francisco
to waste less time commuting.
Willbanks has no regrets about her career. In responding to the
"average age" issue, she said, "By the time I'm 35,
I'll be on fire!"