I don't know about you but when I want to get the inside scoop on a restaurant, a plumber, or an auto mechanic I check out their online ratings. And when I am particularly pleased or displeased I make sure I contribute to those sites. So why wouldn't you do the same thing when you are shopping for a real estate agent? The idea is slowing catching on but my sense is that consumers are still clinging to the old and unreliable methods:
- A family friend or relative
- Someone with high visibility in the area
- Someone perceived to "know the building/ area"
- Someone who does a lot of business in the area
- Someone claiming to have good statistics - e.g. short market times, high close/ list ratios, etc...
- A top producer
- Anyone from a large real estate brokerage
Or people rely upon the referral, which is actually not a bad way but it usually comes from just one person. But suppose you could tap into the entire knowledge of the universe about a particular real estate agent. After all wouldn't you want to know that several people believe that that top producer you were about to work with is really "a horrible, bitter, old lady." That's a direct quote, BTW.
And that's where the various online review sites come in really handy. Some of these are general sites for reviewing a variety of service providers and others are dedicated to real estate agents:
- Angie's List
- Better Business Bureau
- Rate-My-Agent.com (not very big in Chicago)
The problem is that with so many sites to choose from the reviews get scattered around. The top 4 on that list above seem to have a good number of reviews but I like the concept behind Yelp and Angie's List which already have critical mass in the review space. And with these sites at least you can see if a reviewer has provided reviews on other service providers, which would indicate that they didn't just create a fake ID to post this one review.
The Problem With Yelp
The big advantage of Yelp is it's free, as opposed to Angie's List that has a subscription cost. So it's more democratic and potentially taps a much larger audience. But being free has it's problems too. Yelp has to worry about fake reviews so they created this mysterious algorithm that randomly filters reviews. Well, at least it seems random to me since it filtered 8 out of our 10 legitimate reviews. In addition, in looking at other realtors' reviews I can tell you that many of their legitimate reviews also got hidden. And my wife and I can usually spot the fake restaurant reviews which got through their supposedly sophisticated logic.
To make matters worse as they tweak their algorithm reviews pop in and out of filtered status. That's what happened to us. One day all our reviews showed up and the next day 80% of them were filtered. Of course, Yelp thinks this is a strength of their system. Not.
The fact of the matter is that when something is written in prose it's damn near impossible for a machine to tell if it's legitimate or not. I think they would be just better off showing all of them and letting the users flag ones that seem fake. But in the absence of this solution I recommend that the Yelp user make the extra effort to read the filtered reviews. Unfortunately, Yelp doesn't make this easy. First you have to find the filtered reviews link at the bottom of the unfiltered reviews. Then you have to prove that you are human by entering a code. But once you do this you can see all the information out there on a given realtor so it's worth it.
The Quality Service Certification Program
The Chicago Tribune ran an article on Friday about the National Association of Realtors' initiative to evaluate real estate agents using a program from Quality Service Certification. The article focuses on the ratings and review aspect of the program but there is actually more to it than that. They actually have a true certification program also but I never put much faith in these types of program. Sitting in a classroom doesn't teach you to be responsive and proactive with your clients.
As for the ratings aspect of the program discussed in the article...if you want to check it out the results are displayed on the RatedAgent.com site that I mentioned above. However, you are going to find the pickings very slim as very few agents are currently participating and I can assure you that the ones that have the most to lose are not going to participate.
Note: Reviews are just part of the process that one should follow in selecting a real estate agent so I've written numerous other posts on this topic. Here is just one example where it got really personal: How A Realtor Chooses A Realtor To Sell His Parents' Home.
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