Continuing its groundbreaking industry research on the home-buying expectations of “Generation Z”—the current cohort of 21 million U.S. teens born from the mid-to-late 1990s through the present—Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate recently gathered a focus group of 13-18-year-olds at its Madison, N.J., Realogy headquarters, for a day-long Gen Z Advisory Board session, diving deep into discussions with the teens on their views on homeownership and how they would change the way real estate business is conducted today and into the future.
With BHGRE looking to the future of the home buying industry to help drive its business, in focus with the Gen Z Advisory Board, was what this not-so-far-off influential generation of homebuyers thinks about real estate agents and the importance of their role with consumers; real estate websites and what information they want from them; the transaction process as it currently exists; and most important, their perspective on the American Dream of homeownership and what they hope to achieve in that regard in the future. RISMedia was granted exclusive on-site coverage of the focus group discussion.
“The most important reason you’re here is we want to hear your perspective on how real estate is conducted, from the marketing of a home to the closing,” said Richard Smith, chairman, CEO and president, Realogy Holdings Corp., who joined the teens for opening remarks. “I want you to tell us what’s wrong with that and what should be improved. Tell us how it should be. You are the future of the industry and we want to know what’s important to you and what’s not.”
Why all the focus on today’s teens? At nearly 21 million strong, Gen Z teens are a group of young people whose every move has been chronicled online. They know how to buy any item with the click of a button; and they have never known a world without instant access to any piece of information. They are socially aware, both in the human and media sense, economically watchful and technologically advanced. They don’t just represent the future, they are creating it.
“Gen Z is a new paradigm: a generation whose entire world and self-views are crafted by technology, immediacy and access. To prepare for this, we shifted our discussion—and our gaze—further into the future,” said Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, following the first of its kind study on the future home-buying aspirations of U.S. teens last year. BHGRE’s study of 1,000 teens revealed that Gen Z is surprisingly traditional in their views toward homeownership; they’re keenly aware of the importance of saving and willing to give up modern luxuries for the mainstream definition of the American Dream.
Based on its study findings and eye toward future business, the company decided to continue its research by bringing in the teen Advisory Board, which took place on Tuesday, July 28 and was comprised of 11 teens, age 13-18 from New Jersey to Iowa.
Realogy and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate executives participating in the day’s events included: Richard Smith, chairman, CEO and president, Realogy Holdings Corp.; Alex Perriello, president and CEO, Realogy Franchise Group; Sherry Chris, president and CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Jennifer Marchetti, CMO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, and Amy Chorew, VP, Platform Development, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
The teen participants included Alexis Utter, Alexis Amendolaro, Renner Kwittken, Lily Horwitz, Ryan Green, Brianna Gosden, Cassandra Smith, Emily Boylan, Victoria DeTrolio, Delia Hellander and Baxter Newkirk.
The day began with short, individual video interviews with the teens with general questions about real estate and their thoughts on a future career in real estate, followed by a Q&A session to ask the teens questions about how they make buying decisions, recent purchases they’ve made, have they moved recently and opinions on key aspects of home and real estate. The day culminated with an industry brainstorm on opinions on a career in real estate and how to educate this age group on real estate at an earlier age.
Sherry Chris opened the dialog by talking about the role of a real estate agent, why it’s important that consumers select the right agent for their needs, what the teens’ own family experiences were in home buying and moving, and shared with the group BHGRE’s mission to improve how consumers connect with agents—and also how their input would be helpful to them in that effort.
Of his family’s move to a new home, Ryan Green, 16, said, “It was a challenging experience. It was very time-consuming. You have to go out of your comfort zone to find what you want. We looked at different houses. It was stressful, but when we finally decided on a house, everyone came to the consensus it was a good place to live.”
By maximizing the use of technology is how BHGRE aims to minimize that stress and time challenge that consumers have long associated with finding the best agent and ultimately their perfect home.
“It’s because of the importance of technology that we as part of the industry, look at how consumers would want to buy real estate in the future,” said Chris. “We don’t think that’s happening as well as it should be in real estate today and that the industry doesn’t use the best tech tools available to us to have the best experience possible. “Sometimes a consumer may end up with an agent who does not have access to all the listings. Sometimes the consumer misses out because the agent just didn’t know. So think about how you buy things today and how you interact and how you can have a better experience in the future.”
Marchetti led the Q&A next with a series of questions about what criteria the teens use now to make their buying decisions, both large and small, and how those very same thought processes are used by homebuyers.
Discussion continued about purchases they’ve made with little-to-no thought, like clothes and shoes, to more impactful decisions like what college to go to. Online versus in-person purchases, having too much information or not enough, good and bad customer service experiences and how they handled them and buyer’s remorse were also discussed.
When faced with too much information about a purchase, the group also talked about how “following their gut instinct” factors in, as well as who they turn to for trusted advice to help them make more important decisions. Mom or dad, older siblings and other close family members or friends were their top go-to sources for support in making the tough choices.
In contrast, for less-significant purchases, the teens say they quickly turn to the technology they’ve been born and raised on to expedite the buying process. Delia Hellander, 17, said she might quickly send a picture of a shirt she’s about to buy to a friend on Snapchat to get some instant feedback.
This pattern of using technology for research, purchases of non-emotional items and quick text exchanges about less significant decisions—and conversely, relying on word of mouth from trusted sources and wanting to experience more emotional or expensive purchases in person, would reveal itself often in the discussion.
The teens are smart shoppers too. “The more expensive the purchase the more confident you want to be about buying it and the more information you want about it,” said Baxter Newkirk, 18.
“That is how homebuyers think,” said Marchetti. “They are paying for what they value, weighing prices, location, schools. You’re honing your real estate skills as we speak with these thought processes. You are very clearly thinking like homebuyers.”
Contrary to the thinking that today’s teens are detached, when asked what home means to them, all responded with a very connected and heart-warming answer.
“A place to spend time and where I’m comfortable.” “A place where I always want to go to settle in at night and spend time with family.” “Some place cozy, your own space to feel safe and comfortable.” “A relaxing place with family where I’m comfortable.”
First Steps toward Home Buying
Marchetti asked the teen panel how they would begin the process of buying a house. Answers included researching an agent online, looking for an agent who would help them find a home where they felt safe and “where there was a lot going on.”
When do they want to buy a house? Many responses included the desire to rent in a city first after college, then buying a home, “when you get a steady job, when you get married and have kids and can financially afford it.”
When asked, ‘What does affording a house mean?’ the teens talked about having to get approved for a loan and saving, but also balancing that against paying back student loans, paying for groceries and other bills. They were asked if they see themselves saving for a home at a younger age. “Probably not exclusively for a house,” said Cassandra Smith, 17. “After I get a good job I’ll mainly be saving for a house.”
How Teens View Agents
Working with an agent would be easier they agreed, although most pointed out they’d do most of the research online themselves and once their choices were narrowed down, they’d contact an agent to assist them.
The teens said they would only work with an agent that was recommended to them by someone they knew and trusted. In a hypothetical real estate purchase, just like their every-day purchases discussed earlier, the Gen Zers trust personal recommendations over online reviews.
Arguably the most surprising revelation of the day was learning the teens prefer face-to-face communication with an agent over texting or even calling when it comes to discussing the important decisions about their home purchase. “You don’t get the same points expressed over the cell phone,” said Green. “The human connection means more. If a text is written in a complex way it’s not good.”
Marchetti asked, “Is it acceptable not to have immediate feedback for you? If you texted your agent at midnight, would you expect to hear back immediately?” “It would be awesome, but I don’t expect it to just be there,” Green said.
Real Estate Websites: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Next the teens were shown several popular real estate brand websites and were asked to give their feedback of what they liked and didn’t like about them.
First and foremost, Gen Zers can’t get enough pictures; the more the better, they all agreed. They love multiple pictures of the same room from many different angles. A thorough description of the home’s features is important to them and Information about “what’s around” – the town, the schools and the social scene near the home is important to them too.
They liked sites with maps to be able to see what’s in the area; drive-time information was noted as a positive – a feature on one site where visitors may enter an address, their place of work for example, to see how far their commute would be from that property.
They also liked websites that displayed information about the house in an infographic-style layout for ease of understanding, having the ability to keep track of favorite properties in a smartphone app, and sites that included agent profiles with information about what homes they’ve sold in the past. Video and virtual tours are important to them too.
All the teens wanted to see more information about the technology features and capabilities of the homes, as well as the high-speed Internet availability.
The Next Generation of Real Estate Professionals?
In a brief afternoon segment, BHGRE’s Vice President, Platform Development, Amy Chorew asked the group about their future career aspirations and talked a little about what real estate agents do in their daily business.
Chorew asked about what qualities they think real estate professionals should have. These included confidence in what they’re selling, people skills, compassion, caring but professional, appeal to the buyer, and making a connection between the buyer and what’s appealing about the house. Knowing their business, knowing what if any problems there might be with a house and really listening to what the client wants were key to the group.
Marchetti asked, “What would attract you to the real estate business?”
As it turns out, a lot. Gen Zers like the flexibility, the entrepreneurial nature of the real estate profession and the ability, with hard work, to earn an unlimited income.
Recapping the Day’s Discoveries
“I had no idea what the results would be today and they have been fantastic,” said Sherry Chris. “You told us face-to-face is good, and that personal referrals are important, not just online reviews. You told us agents should be caring but professional with good listening skills. It felt to us like we were in a room with adults.”
“These are the types of comments you’d expect their parents to make, or their grandparents even,” said Alex Perriello. “That face-to-face interaction is important to them, that they want to see the house and that texting or calling are ok for quick conversations, but that in-person meetings are preferred for important discussions. This is what you might expect the Baby Boomer generation to say.”
Stay tuned to RISMedia for continuing coverage of BHGRE’s in-depth research on Gen Z and how this future generation of homeowners will be shaping the industry.