Cole Slate is an anomaly in the real estate profession.
Not because he’s a high-producing entrepreneur who pays it forward by mentoring new agents.
And not because he advocates for the industry and is steeped in community service.
But because he’s all of that — and 29 years old.
“It’s an exciting, fulfilling way to make a living, that’s for sure,” said Slate, of Exit Real Estate Gallery in Jacksonville.
Slate and many other young guns of real estate — the industry’s successful 20- and 30-somethings — typically are products of advanced training programs and mentorships, Northeast Florida agents and brokers say.
Real estate’s up-and-comers also tend to have technological savvy, a desire to be in a team setting and a laser-focus on making a good living.
“(Today’s agents) are commission-oriented and they want a lot of help when they get started, instead of figuring it out as they go like we did in the old days,” said Anita Hiles, managing broker of Realty Executives Oceanside in Jacksonville.
They also are hot commodities, particularly because of the huge age gap between sales agents and the largest chunk of today’s homebuyer — millennials.
The National Association of Realtors says in 2015, 41 percent of Realtors were 60 and older, while 2 percent were under 30.
After holding steady for many years, the median Realtors’ age fell from 57 in 2014 to 54 in 2015, the NAR said.
“We are making our (agencies) more appealing to millennials. We have to. They are today’s and tomorrow’s homebuyers,” Hiles said.
‘A new day’
No matter their age, today’s successful Realtors connect with customers through mobile apps, take photographs with their cellphones and otherwise rely heavily on technology on the job.
Many agents enter information on their iPads rather than having sign-in sheets at open house events and clients often sign contracts electronically rather than literally on a dotted line.
Paperless offices are steadily becoming the rule rather than exception.
“It’s a new day — and young professionals who grew up with all this technology definitely have a huge advantage,” said Audrey Lackie, owner-broker of Legends of Real Estate East Coast in Jacksonville Beach.
Trey deMoville, Watson Realty Corp.’s training and professional development director, says age matters to real estate brokerages only to the point of making sure customers are well-served.
But for many clients, that means being represented by someone similar in age.
Still, while Realtors with a robust internet aptitude have a leg up on their peers — and their next career opportunity — technological know-how doesn’t replace the interpersonal skills necessary for success in the business, deMoville said.
“Technology is there to make the experience better, but at its core, real estate is a people business,” he said.
Ryan Ford, a 32-year-old Watson vice president and managing broker, agrees.
That’s despite being a full-fledged techie who usually opts for a keypad rather than putting pen to paper.
“Technology is an important tool in the tool box, but nothing beats old-fashioned customer service, in my opinion,” he said.
‘Speak their language’
Slate and other Jacksonville real estate professionals of varying ages agree that youth is more of an asset than a liability.
Indeed, if you’re in your 20s or 30s, “you should own it,” says Gonzalo Mejia, a Watson vice president and managing broker.
“Take advantage of whatever sets you apart from others,” he said.
That’s something Slate’s done since Day 1.
He was the Northeast Florida Builders Association’s 2014 rookie of the year and is the Florida Home Builders Association’s Sales and Marketing Council 2016 associate sales agent of the year.
“He’s not just up-and-coming, he’s already here,” said Keller Williams Jacksonville Realty team leader Christina Welch, who was Slate’s first boss in real estate and remains his mentor.
But, he’s clearly the exception; few Realtors hit it big from the outset.
“It’s easy to go broke real fast and get kicked out of the game,” said 35-year-old Keller Williams Jacksonville team leader Josh Rogers.
Slate, who was elected this year to NEFBA’s executive board, credits carefully selecting brokerages as a key to his career success.
What should new agents expect from their brokerages?
“Good direction, first and foremost,” Slate said.
Like Slate, Rogers says said he was drawn to real estate through his entrepreneurial spirit.
“The low cost of entry with a ridiculous upside,” he said.
Through Keller Williams, Rogers says he gets continual advice from his broker, real estate coach and partner with issues such as motivation, discipline, accountability and learning to master his schedule
Sonny Downey concurs. He was 28 when he opened an Exit Real Estate Gallery brokerage two years after cutting his teeth in the business.
Now 38, he oversees six offices and about 400 agents.
Downey says he spends much of his time –– about 4,500 hours since 2007, he says –– advancing his brokerage’s success by coaching his associates.
“Investing in people is always a good investment,” he said.
Sally Suslak, managing broker of Traditions Realty in Jacksonville, says she thinks her firm has a leg up on recruiting millennials and others by serving renters as enthusiastically as it does buyers and sellers.
Also, Traditions’ Five Points-area presence has a collaborative feel and is a magnet for trendsetters, she said.
“Most of our agents have approached us as opposed to us approaching them,” Suslak said. “So far, our strategy is working for us.”
Similarly, Downey says it’s no accident that Exit’s Southside office has a Starbucks feel to it.
Instead of offering a traditional office environment, Downey has created a comfortable, open-air workspace conducive to collaboration.
“Millennials grew up in an era of sharing ideas and that’s the atmosphere we’re striving for,” he said.
Hiles says brokerages that foster collaboration have the best chance of retaining their young guns.
“We are all involved in making each other successful,” she said.
Likewise, newcomers to the business tend to want to have a voice in their office settings, Lackie said.
“You’ve got to be in tune with what their passions are and make sure they know their opinions are valued,” she said.
Mejia puts it another way.
“Make a special effort to understand (their) goals and speak their language,” he said.
Brokerages aren’t on their own in developing new talent.
The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors requires new members to attend a two-day orientation covering topics ranging from ethics to safety, along with offering ongoing training opportunities.
NEFAR officials say that particularly because many agents become Realtors after having worked in other fields, age isn’t a factor for new members joining NEFAR.
Meanwhile, the 1.2 million-member NAR is building upon the industry’s dynamic generational shift through its Young Professionals Networks.
YPN participation increases business savvy through training, networking events and ongoing dialogue between members. The result is a better-served consumer and an increased likelihood of professional success, says Rob Reuter, the Chicago-based NAR communications networks director.
NAR encourages everyone involved in real estate transactions — from agents to lenders to home inspectors — to participate in YPN.
“We say it’s for the young, young at heart and young in the business,” said Reuter, a second-generation Realtor.
NEFAR Executive Director Glenn East says the local YPN, which started in 2012, effectively took a hiatus in 2016 because no activities were scheduled.
NEFAR expects to revitalize the group, which some Realtors say has been a game-changer in their careers, in the coming year.
The local YPN’s activities in recent years have ranged from a kickball tournament to dynamic training and brainstorming sessions.
Slate says he has volunteered to help Northeast Florida’s YPN in 2017.
“It’s so much easier to do transactions with somebody you know and are buddies with,” added Slate, who chairs NEFBA’s Young Professionals Group.
While Watson’s Mejia says new agents developing peer-to-peer relationships provides much-needed moral support, Rogers has discovered another benefit of YPN participation.
It helps keep him sane.
“It’s important to know you’re not the only one dealing with crazy customers,” he said.