By: Brandi Smith
Lazy. Entitled. Narcissistic. Spoiled. Social media addicts. Know-it-alls.
Ask someone what defines the millennial generation and it’s more than likely they’ll use at least one of those phrases to describe those who came of age around the turn of the century. But when it comes to millennials in Texas’s commercial real estate industry, many are the antithesis of the stereotype.
“I’ve had some conversations with friends about millennials,” says Jewels Watson, project manager for the Drenner Group of Austin. “I didn’t realize I fell into that category.”
Clear definitions of generations are difficult to ascertain. Most are vaguely related to time periods, i.e. “baby boomers” born after the end of World War II. Generations X and Y have loose timeframes, overlapping by a decade, depending on the parameters. However, researchers, Neil Howe and William Strauss, concluded that millennials are “those born in 1982 and approximately 20 years thereafter.”
“Millennials get the bad rap of feeling entitled and of not wanting to work hard. They want things to come easy to them,” the 28-year-old Watson says. “But I don’t believe that.”
Neither do some of the biggest names in real estate, including Warren Buffett. The billionaire made waves in late 2013 when he announced he was assembling a team of millennials to advise other Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices employees. Their goal: teach other real estate professionals how to effectively reach and serve their millennial peers.
Even as the generation’s value is heralded by high-profile influencers such as Buffett, Texas’s millennials in commercial real estate say they’ve run into obstacles when it comes to their age.
“People are going to look at you and assume your experience level,” says Riley Baldus, a 29-year-old project manager for PSW Real Estate in Austin. “That’s always a challenge.”
Paul Byars, a 25-year-old agent at Austin’s Sayers & Associates, Inc., says a lot of that criticism is industry-specific. “I think there’s always a credibility issue for young folks in a field that has low barriers of entry,” he says, referring to the minimal requirements needed to acquire a real estate license.
Byars and his peers, including Drew Smith, understand the hesitation clients and other real estate professionals might feel when starting to do business with millennials. But, they say, allaying those fears is as easy as a frank conversation.
“You have to prove yourself a little bit more on the front end and educate clients that you do know the market and you do know what you’re doing,” says Smith, a 28-year-old broker at Valcore Commercial Real Estate in San Antonio. Baldus agrees, adding: “I think it’s really sitting down with people and helping them understand that you understand the merits of a situation.”
26-year-old Adam Beck, a senior analyst with Dinerstein Companies in Houston, points out you can only do that once you have a couple years or a few projects under your belt. When he was just getting started, he says his key to success was asking questions – a lot of them.
“I can say I’m still learning today; I ask questions of my superiors all the time,” says Beck. “Try to learn as much as you can.“
“I have a personal desire to research and turn over stones and understand the ultimate outcome,” Baldus says, explaining the elaborate process he went through to decide on his finance major in college. “I analyzed my options of a major: What’s the outcome? Who would I work for? What would my job be? Then I researched those companies that I was interested in working for to truly understand what their day-to-day job was.”
Along with asking questions, Smith says someone with a strong work ethic will go far in the commercial real estate industry. “I think you just have to be willing to work any deal that comes in the door in your first few years,” he says.
That hard work factors into Byars’ success, which he says hinges on goal setting. “At my company, we really stress setting and honoring our goals,” he says. “In doing so, that requires hard work, consistency and time.”
Once they’ve cultivated a solid reputation, successful millennials in Texas commercial real estate attribute networking to helping them progress forward. “I think that reaching out to the people you already know and educating people about what you’re doing is really important as well, so they have you in mind when they need space,” Smith says.
“The market won’t always be good and that’s when you’re going to rely on those relationships you built to keep you in it,” says Watson. “Really put yourself out there, get to meet new people and build strong relationships.”
Smith points out that a vital part of networking is finding a mentor, someone who will help you grow and answer any questions you may have about the industry. “Having someone who will teach you, who’s willing to include you on work that they’re doing so you get the experience so you can launch and bring your own deals in as quickly as possible, is more important than anything else,” he says.
While millennials do face the obstacles of youth and inexperience, they’re finding success with Texas companies who focus on their assets: their tech knowledge and their taste. Clint Sayers, president of Sayers & Associates, Inc., says he’s made hiring “young, motivated individuals” a priority for several years. Far from the stereotype of their generation, Sayers calls the millennials he’s hired “community-minded” and “innovative.”
“[They] use technology for efficiency and resolving issues,” says Sayers.
“Real estate will always be done on a person-to-person relationship basis, but if you can gather information and present information in a more simplistic manner, it makes the process much more efficient,” says Beck. “I think that’s where millennials are having an impact: speeding up the process with information and being able to present it in a more logical manner.”
Smith, a millennial himself, points to his company’s marketing director as an example of the generation’s savvy.
“She brings a knowledge of technology and design that’s a lot more up-to-date than you’ll see in groups that have been doing it the same way for a long time,” Smith explains. “We have virtual tours of all of our properties so people can go and view it really quickly. That helps educate potential tenants about spaces before they’ve even gotten inside of them.”
Millennials’ stereotyped online addiction could also shift how real estate deals develop, predicts Beck.
“The younger generation who networks through social media more than face-to-face will change that a little bit,” he says. “I think it will break down some of those barriers because everything’s becoming so much more interconnected. People in our age group don’t have a fear of reaching out and using social media to become more informed and make a better decision.”
While company presidents such as Sayers value this new generation’s tech fluency, they’re also exceptionally interested in how millennials see development in the future.
“They have brought renewed strategic thinking to a company that was founded 38 years ago,” he says.
“Far from feeling unwelcome or dismissed, I think the millennials in commercial real estate are looked to as a bellwether for where the next generation will want to live, work and play,” says Byars.
“[They are] completely changing the commercial real estate market, whether they work in it or not,” Beck says. “The biggest challenge we have is figuring out what the preferences of the millennials are going to be over the next three to five years, what they’re going to want and what they’re not going to want.”
“There’s so much in the news today about businesses working in innovative spaces,” comments Watson. “I feel like the millennial generation is going to be more open to that sort of environment. That in its own way is going to affect commercial real estate in so many other ways.”
Sayers agrees, attributing hiring millennials to building a direct connection with a new generation of decision-makers.
“Generally they are the strong advocates of high density, urban development. They seem to place emphasis on walkability and other alternative modes of transportation,” Sayers explains. “These desires will continue to shape neighborhoods and increase investment in central city cores and more development of urban nodes such as The Domain and Mueller in Austin.”
“We’re the ones they’re selling to,” points out Baldus. “We’re the ones they need to listen to in terms of what we want.”
Breaking away from the stereotypes that seem to define their generation, many millennials are racking up successes. From project managers, to analysts, to brokers, to agents, these men and women strive to recharacterize how their generation is viewed by those who preceded them. Instead of the lazy, spoiled, narcissistic know-it-alls they’ve been labeled as, this crop of professionals is hard-working, inquisitive and driven — qualities that can only help strengthen the Texas commercial real estate industry.