Spring Real Estate 2002

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2002
New listings
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 first home.

"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 to partner.

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 Junior League.

"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!"