by JOHN STARK, NEXT AVENUE
I didn’t become a real estate agent in my mid-60s because it was something I had always dreamed of being. I’ve never been very good at Monopoly.
For more than 40 years, I had been a writer and editor at national publications.
I’d still be doing that, had it not been for the internet, which decimated the print media (but also led me to work at Next Avenue for a while). My original career, essentially, had been sent back to “Go.”
There aren’t a lot of careers that boomers can transition into without prior experience.
A few years ago, I reached out to an old friend, a photographer who I used to hire for magazine assignments. When he was in his mid-50s, he reinvented himself by becoming a real estate agent. He’s done very well, and by now could retire comfortably. He encouraged me to follow in his footsteps.
What did I have to lose?
So I got my real estate license and applied for work at Unlimited Sotheby’s in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.
The broker who hired me didn’t seem put off by my age. He encouraged me to come aboard. Huh, I thought, this is crazy. I’m not young. I’m not pushy. I hate math.
Learning to sell my strengths
I came to realize over time, though, that real estate is not just a young person’s game. I have something that even the most ambitious, eager young agent doesn’t possess, at least not yet: I have life skills, which have proved to be my best tools.
The other day, an agent commented on the way I talk to clients. “You’re so even-keeled with them, you don’t get riled,” he said. I nearly fell over, remembering how when I was young I was always challenging opinions.
But I understand that buying a home may well be the most important purchase a person or couple makes. It’s my job to make that process go smoothly for them. Age has mellowed me.
I have to glean information quickly when meeting potential clients and even if my hearing isn’t as sharp as it once was, I’m a better listener. What are their likes? Dislikes?
Being a journalist has helped in that area, too. I spent much of my career interviewing celebrities, whose time is precious. Buyers are often working, parenting, running from one thing to the next and short on time when looking for a new home. Everyone’s time is precious. You’ll lose buyers if you show them properties that don’t match their tastes or needs.
A lifetime of experience has paid off, too.
Unlike younger agents, I have bought and sold several houses of my own. While I may not be able to calculate mortgage payments in my head, I can give a buyer first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be indebted to a bank for 30 years. I can talk about how I’ve benefited from my equity and tax deductions. I currently live in a three-unit Boston condominium and have given more than one nervous buyer advice on how to peacefully co-exist with other members of a small condo association.
They don’t teach you those skills in real estate school.