When Jason Rupansingh passed his real estate licensing course last year, the economy was humming along, his student loan debt was manageable, and his youthful enthusiasm and people skills were attuned to Long Island’s booming real estate market.
Now he is staring at an uncertain scenario amid a pandemic that has paralyzed the local economy, unsure about when things will be back to normal.
“I’ve gone from working a full week to a few hours a week,” says Rupansingh. That hasn’t stopped him from closing a few pre-shutdown contracts, however.
Amid the severe restrictions on home showings, a mobile phone has been a business lifeline for the 37-year-old Hauppauge resident, a licensed real estate salesperson for ReMax Eastern Properties in Lake Ronkonkoma. “I had four houses closing from deals that I’d worked on before the pause, but I lost two due to the buyers getting laid off from their jobs,” Rupansingh says. “The remaining two I’m facilitating via mobile phones.”
The coronavirus shutdown presents a special challenge for younger real estate agents, who are new to the profession and must compete against experienced hands to establish themselves.
Millennials, the 73 million Americans born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, are now a generation larger than the baby boomers. They also represent the largest cohort of homebuyers at 38%, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2020 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report.
Millennial brokers make up a growing chunk of professionals in the field, using the technology they grew up with to track the latest trends and get clients into new houses using only cellphones, laptops and online tools.
“Having a really good understanding of the technology helps give millennials a leg up,” says Amar Prashad, 37, a certified buyers representative at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenvale.
Prashad, a second-generation American whose parents were born in Guyana, graduated from Half Hollow Hills East High School and earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing from St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens. He paid his $100,000 student loan debt in a decade working for a New York City construction firm before switching to part-time real estate sales four years ago for “more flexibility and control over his job.”
As a millennial broker, Prashad says he helps clients to see beyond the houses that pop up in online searches, and the virtual tours of bedrooms and kitchens. “As millennials I think that we have to take our knowledge of the industry, the neighborhood and market,” he says, “and help them to see nuances they can’t really see online.”
In March, the Long Island real estate market came to a screeching halt with home sales plummeting as the pandemic made it difficult or impossible to close deals at the end of the month.
The slide continued in April, when the number of closed sales fell by 50%, to 1,378 from 2,738 the year before, according to the Long Island Board of Realtors.
“The biggest issue facing the Long Island real estate market right now is that we can’t show houses,” says LIBOR president Matthew Arnold.
LIBOR also tracked a 71% plunge in new listings, to 1,564 from 5,354 last April.
“The demand is there, the houses are there, but a lot of people are holding back from putting them on the market because they don’t want the days on the market to build up,” Arnold says.
Despite all of these challenges, millennials have “an innate advantage in the current marketplace” because they “are naturally synced to how today's buyers and sellers think, live and ultimately shop,” says Todd Bourgard, senior executive regional manager of sales for Douglas Elliman in the Hamptons. Bourgard says that the millennial agents who make up the firm’s Atlantic Team “possess the skill set to engage and connect with their clientele whether it be digital, social media-driven or simply texting.”
James Keogh, 38, of East Hampton, a licensed real estate agent and a member of Douglas Elliman’s Atlantic team, says he’s been focusing on pre-summer season rentals, clinching deals with video walk-throughs on Snapchat or YouTube.
“The rentals have been booming out here,” Keogh says, as city people seek refuge on the East End during the pandemic.
He joined the office in his early twenties, after working as a local beach lifeguard. “One of my fellow lifeguards, who was much older and lifeguarding for exercise, showed me a check of one of his (real estate) sales and said I should get into it,” Keogh recalls. Keogh has earned enough to purchase a house in East Hampton while continuing to pay a $120-a-month student loan.
He and his Atlantic teammates Hara Kang and Justin Agnello, both 37, “bridge the gap” between helping veterans accommodate to existing technology, and learning new tech tricks from younger millennials, such as his sister, Sarah Keogh, 26, of East Hampton, who recently joined the agency.
“For me it’s been good, so I’m going to probably continue doing real estate,” Sarah says. She added, “I’m pretty young and I love to travel, and who knows if I’ll find something else I love to do.”
At the other end of the Island in Hempstead, Dante Campbell, 27, is trying to survive his first spring real estate season.
“I chose real estate because I like the idea of putting in sweat equity and maximizing the amount of work I put in,” says Campbell, of Hempstead, who entered the field in October as a buyers’ specialist for Keller Williams Elite Realty in Massapequa. Instead he’s hunkered down in his apartment, making only “warm calls” to existing clients instead of client-list building cold calls.
Campbell, a 2010 Uniondale High School graduate, has no student loan debt because he paid his way through three years at an inexpensive CUNY school. He hopes to earn enough with real estate commissions to achieve his goals of completing his bachelor’s and law degrees and buying a house. “In real estate there’s an opportunity for everyone to make money,” he says.
Rupansingh, who previously worked as a CVS pharmacy technician, had gotten his feet wet in the Long Island real estate market by buying four houses — and selling three including one he flipped for a profit — over the last decade. “I love real estate, so I figured, let me get my license and see how it is on the agent side of things,” he says.
But, like most people, he was never trained to deal with market conditions in a global epidemic.
“You just gotta get through it,” says Rupansingh, who is married, and has a daughter. He’s been coping by posting information about real estate trends on his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds so his 100 or so followers “can make informed decisions when the market comes back alive.” Hoping to tap into his own millennial know-how, Rupansingh says his long-term goal is “being in the top 50 agents in the U.S in terms of property transactions.”
“I think it’s going to be very challenging being new to real estate, and then we have the pandemic and recovering from it and not making as many sales as intended,” Rupansingh acknowledges. “But the pandemic is forcing me to become more in touch with technology,” he adds. “Once you have the knowledge of real estate there’s a lot of money to be made – the sky’s the limit.”
Millennial brokers catching up on LI
Although baby boomers still dominate the ranks of Long Island real estate agents, millennials are coming on strong and currently make up almost a third of those representing buyers and sellers locally.
Last year, about 30%, or 6,829, of the 22,808 Realtors in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens were age 40 or younger, said Michael Miller, business development manager at the Long Island Board of Realtors.
Statewide, the typical real estate agent is 55 years old, according to the New York State Association of Realtors, or NYSAR. About two-thirds of Realtors in the state are women, according to NYSAR.
Currently, 4% of Realtors throughout New York State are under age 30, and 10% of these millennial brokers had two years or less of experience in the field, according to NYSAR. Statewide statistics were not provided for millennials over age 30.
— Jim Merritt