College students forgo typical part-time jobs to sell real estate

News Boston Cape Cod
Thomas Lomenzo, a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, waits for home buyers at an open house in East Dennis.
Thomas Lomenzo, a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, waits for home buyers at an open house in East Dennis. Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe

For two days a week when school is in session, Thomas Lomenzo, 23, is your typical college student. Well, maybe, except for his commute.

He makes the 74-mile drive from his Cape Cod home to attend his business management classes at the University of Massachusetts Boston, working toward graduating three semesters from now. After class, he coaches football part time at his alma mater, Boston College High School, where he used to play the sport.

On the other days, Lomenzo is a realtor. He is either meeting with clients in his office or out showing them homes in Dennis, where he grew up. He became a realtor when he was 20, leaving a job as a personal trainer to join his parents at oldCape Sotheby’s International Realty. Mere weeks after he started, he sold his first home, one with a detached barn that overlooks a pond, for more than $600,000, negotiating the deal while his parents were thousands of miles away on vacation in Palm Desert, Calif.

Lomenzo isn’t alone.

Luke Miller, 22, who just received a degree in business management from Suffolk University, has been working as an agent off and on for a little more than a year. This past semester he had to find time for showings between taking seven classes, working another part-time job, and playing left wing on the school’s ice hockey team.

Luke Miller, a recent Suffolk University graduate, sold real estate and played on the hockey team while in college. —Handout

Miller said he found the real estate job while looking for internships on Handshake, a recruiting website that connects students and recent graduates with jobs and internships. He said his prior interest in real estate drew him to apply with Revolution Realty, a West End firm.

He went in to interview for an internship and left with the promise of a position as a leasing agent — if he took the required classes and test. (To become a licensed real estate agent in Massachusetts, you need to be at least 18 years old, have a valid Social Security number, take 40 hours of classroom instruction, and pass an exam. The classes cost a few hundred dollars, and the exam plus fees will set you back $85. You must work for a state-licensed broker for three years before you can take your broker’s exam.)

“At the time, I was like: That’s awesome. I can go get my license and make some good money,’’ Miller said. “Once I started doing it, I actually liked it a lot.’’

The advantages of being involved with real estate at a young age are many, according to Louis Gordon, founder and broker at Revolution Realty.

Gordon, 32, said he employs a few agents who are in college and many who have just graduated. His office suits the younger crowd; it has a pool table, a Corgi named Waffles, and a whiteboard that reads “Old ways don’t open new doors.’’

“The good thing about students is, when you are in school full time, your brain is in learning mode, and you observe more,’’ Gordon said. “Sometimes students have an easier time learning the concepts.’’

Many of the young folks who are going into the business are the adult children of broker-owners, said Paul Yorkis, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and Patriot Real Estate in Medway. And as the brokers are building their teams, it’s the kids who are helping to attract other young adults.

“Like many established industries, we need to bring in new realtors as seasoned real estate professionals age out and retire,’’ Yorkis said. “Attracting the next generation of realtors is something that the state associations, local associations, and brokerages are continually working on. We’ve done research, offered scholarships for young people to get their real estate license, and have even distributed brochures to local colleges and universities. Some local associations have created ads highlighting real estate as a career, while some brokerages even hold job fairs focused on new and younger agents.’’

Gordon said that the stereotype of the older woman real estate agent persists, but that the rental market in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville is a youthful game.

“It’s just a great job for young people who need to make some money and get some good professional experience,’’ Gordon said, “and [they] have an opportunity when they get out of school to make a good salary.’’

With potential clients asking to view properties and apartments at night and on weekends, real estate agents have to be available at all times — a requirement that becomes increasingly more difficult when people age and have more commitments.

These students don’t have a lot of work and life experience, Gordon said, but many leasing clients are more interested in someone who truly understands their housing wish list. If clients “walk into the right apartment, they aren’t going to care how young their agent is,’’ he said.

Gordon said real estate is a business that operates on referrals, and with such a large population of college students in Boston living in rentals, many agents who are in college can make a good paycheck just helping friends and classmates find places to live. The clients have the advantage of being able to property hunt with a familiar face they trust.

Lomenzo started building his base by helping family friends and past personal-training clients in Dennis. Because he’s starting out, he works mostly as a buyer’s agent, meaning he represents only those clients looking to purchase. He makes a commission when his clients buy a home, an amount the listing agents and their clients decide in advance. This amount varies but is usually between 5 and 6 percent, to be split between the selling and listing agents, according to Lomenzo.

Miller receives a fee from each leasing deal that is usually the equivalent of one month’s rent. Both men can make more money from one deal than a peer would employed a full week at minimum wage, but working on commission can have its dry spells. Miller said he went for a month and a half without closing a deal because of complications beyond his control, like credit checks.

And school always comes first. Miller said he didn’t take on new clients with he got bogged down with homework, but now that school is out, he has been trying to get into the office five days a week, doing as much as he can. “It was hard to get new clients back in school,’’ he said. “You have to build it up to make it happen. It’s something you are doing 24/7.’’

Sometimes, however, clients don’t want to work with young agents; they assume they aren’t qualified.

Lomenzo has heard this, too. “I’ve gotten ‘OK, so you’re a full-time student, [so] you must be doing this part time, and your investment in this must be part time,’ ’’ he said. “That’s why I have such immense appreciation for the people who trust me enough to say, ‘OK, he’s going to give me as much as he can.’ ’’

He tries to allay this unease by bringing clients to his office and reassuring them of his commitment to both them and the industry.

Miller said other brokers have underestimated his skills. He said he went in on multiple deals with seasoned brokers from different firms to gain experience when he first started out, but on multiple occasions, they tried to get out of giving him the percentage of the broker’s fee they had discussed. He said he’s also had trouble working with friends who think he will cut them a deal.

Although he’s faced setbacks, Miller said that working as an agent is a great hands-on experience. He’s heading back home to get his MBA at California State University, Long Beach, and may try his hand at commercial real estate.

“I haven’t really explored enough of my field [business management] yet to know what I want to do,’’ Miller said. Being an agent “teaches you a lot of skills that you could use in other jobs, for sure. We do contracts, we do leases, we do background checks. It’s a good job to have. You can get good at it, and you can make lots of money doing it.’’

Rebecca Szkutak, a senior at Emerson College, can be reached on Twitter @rebecca_szkutak or via e-mail at [email protected].