Real Estate

What the kids want

Younger buyers might text and email -- but do they necessarily prefer a younger broker?

It's not new news: The younger crowd generally prefers to communicate online or via phones whether it's with friends, family, co-workers -- or their real-estate agent.

As more relationships of all kinds move into the digital world, the one between broker and client has not been immune to the shift, many Palo Alto real estate agents say.

"It's very much less face-to-face and it's less live conversation," said Matt Skrabo, a 33-year-old third-generation real-estate agent, now at Keller Williams in Palo Alto. "It's more digital communication."

This also means emailing photos and information about potential houses instead of going to see them with Skrabo, he said.

"And that's not a good thing. You're losing that human connection. You're losing the emotions. It's really hard to judge what the client really wants when you're going back and forth on text and email."

Younger clients also communicate rapidly -- and expect their agents to return the same speed.

"I would say (younger buyers) are more universally prone to speed and text conversations," said Michael Dreyfus, who's been a real-estate agent for 24 years and who founded boutique brokerage Dreyfus Properties, with offices in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, in 2000.

"And they're a little bit quicker on the draw in terms of just ... the conversations are more fast and furious. I'm not discounting my older clients, and I am an older person in that regard, but they're more universally that way."

Dreyfus said that regardless of a client's age, he will have an initial conversation off the bat asking how he or she likes to communicate.

"We go to great pains actually to discuss this with our clients because people are so across the board," he said. "It's very important. Some people like phone calls; younger ones don't as much."

Dreyfus also noted that, as the Internet has done with almost every traditional establishment, it's turned the real-estate market's information system on its head. Instead of meeting a Realtor at open houses and getting information there, clients first engage with houses online.

"It's changed the way I sell houses -- the importance of the web, the importance of pictures," Dreyfus said. He said this has pushed him to have ever higher-quality photos available on his website.

"If that's going to be their first impression and everyone makes up their mind in six seconds whether they like or not, that's a big moment in time," he said.

Skrabo said an increasing lack of in-person engagement with younger clients makes it difficult for him to discern what they really want in a home, and both parties end up frustrated when the desired results aren't produced. It doesn't necessarily help that he's a younger agent who, in theory, could better relate to younger buyers and be more comfortable with their preferred modes of communication.

Skrabo said he's decided to cut his losses and focus on a fewer pool of clients -- those he knows are the "right" people to work with.

"If you're working with the wrong clients, the deal will never happen," he said. "That seems obvious, but you can get lost in the minutiae of all of it. How are they communicating with you? Are they really understanding of where they want to buy and what they want to buy?"

Older agents said they feel they might actually have a competitive edge with younger buyers who, in today's challenging housing market, want someone they can trust, who's well established with solid experience.

"Young buyers in this overheated, extremely scarce inventory, highly competitive market -- I think that they know they need someone experienced like us," said Steve TenBroeck of Alain Pinel Realtors. TenBroeck is 67 years old, has been a real-estate agent for more than 25 years, and not only grew up in the area, but he raised a family here.

"I find with my younger buyers, I enjoy and I think they get a lot of benefit out of me being able to paint their future a little bit for them," Dreyfus said. "I had kids in the schools. ... I was in a house where my kids grew up, and I got to watch how our house changed and what we did. I think it brings some more information to them that a younger buyer won't have."

Others, however, say it's not necessarily all about age.

"It's so much a personal connection," Lucy Berman, an agent with Dreyfus Sotheby's International Realty who has been a Palo Alto resident since 1984, said about the client-buyer relationship. "I think it's less about age and more about whether you click. If you're going into this process, you have to be comfortable. If there's an age differential, I think that's less relevant than that everybody feels they understand each other and that it's a positive relationship."

Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


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