ORIGINAL: Nike John thinks she knows what millennials need

BOSTON — Maggie Lovetere will soon be living on her own for the first time.

“I’m moving out in October,” said the 25-year-old, who currently lives with her parents in Canton, Massachusetts.

Lovetere acknowledged the prospect of leaving home was daunting. “This whole moving situation — sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing,” she said.

Enter Nike John, also 25, who started her career in real estate in 2012 working as a real estate agent part-time in college.  In 2015, fresh out of school, she saw an opening in the Boston housing market for a millennial-focused business and decided to start her own company: Vibe Residential, a real estate firm by millennials for millennials.    

“A lot of times, agents drop them,” John said of younger clients. Not her; the average age of her client is 28, and most are renters who are students or young professionals.  

There is a sizable millennial market in Boston: Between 2000 and 2010, the city experienced a 25 percent increase in its number of 20-24-year-olds, and 20-34 year olds made up 75 percent of the its net population growth, according to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2014-2015.

But working with younger clients, who often have less cash and income than their older peers, comes with its own challenges. Some of John’s clients have never had a credit card in their name, and others may not be familiar with the buying or renting process. This often means spending more time with each person, which John said she’s glad to do. 

If a client is hoping to buy a home but is not quite financially ready, John sits down with them for a talk about next steps. For those who do not have a credit history, she tells them they might want to apply for their first card.  For those who have weak credit, she recommends resources like the free app Credit Karma, which allows people to check credit scores every month.

“A lot of people don’t understand how it all works,” John said. “A lot of people don’t understand their options.”

She thinks what sets Vibe apart from other firms is its focus on customer service, no matter the person’s age, price point, or past real estate experience. Her clients can ask her anything, she said, and she calls herself their “mom.”

Constantine Valhouli, co-founder of real estate research firm NeighborhoodX, said increasing numbers of young people are becoming brokers. And according to him, their age confers an advantage: “They’re speaking to their peers in a way that is fundamentally different than those in other generations.”                                                                                                  

For John, much of that comes down to being a millennial herself. “I figure I can relate to the struggle,” she said. Many of her millennial clients have expectations of how they want to live, but they have limited budgets. She understands the difficulty of striking that balance in a place like Boston.

David Shektman, 23, found his Brighton apartment through John. He had worked with other realtors in the past, he said, but “it was way more comfortable” to deal with John, who is just two years older than him.

Lovetere echoed this. “It was good to be able to talk to someone who was my age,” she said. With John’s help, she eventually found a two-bedroom apartment in South Boston with a dishwasher, laundry facilities in the basement, and, according to her, “a great view.”

Taking on younger clients is part of a long-term business strategy, John said. About 80 percent of her clients are renters now, but she knows they will not stay recent graduates and young professionals. Their incomes will grow and one day they will look to buy, and she hopes they will return to her.

“If I can get them now as a renter and keep them for life, there’s a lot of value there for me as a business owner,” John said. “And there’s a lot of value for them as a client.”

“Everybody wins,” she said.