Connect with us

Business Marketing

The Shibboleth of Real Estate



Can You Be Referred To?

Recently my wife asked for some insight into referring a current client who was looking for a specialty property. The client is considered high-end for the market segment they were looking in and was looking in several states. My wife is very protective of her clients and strives to do what’s best. In the rare occasion that we don’t have a connection in an area, she researches agents before referring. Sure her franchise has a referral program, but by the time it gets put through that system, the poor receiver of the buyer referral is looking at a 40-50% referral fee. Most good agents will not take clients with that high of a referral fee; so we’ve always referred directly.

Believe it or not, she had a hard time finding an agent who appeared to have their act together enough, on-line to refer to. It took a lot of research before deciding.

Secret Handshake

In contemplation of what to look for in an agent, we of course, went to the internet and started with Twitter friends, than Google, than the franchise pages, than RealSeekr, etc… and lastly (you’ll love this) ActiveRain. Why? Activerain would let us “hear” the voice of the practitioner, find their websites and sorted it by location. We decided that there was a secret handshake – a combination of clues to look for that weren’t foolproof, but certainly may help us sort through who might be a good agent to refer to in the future.

The Combination

There is a story in the Bible, in Judges, of a situation where after a battle a people group were trying to separate those who were friend and foe. The group used the word “Shibboleth” as a pass phrase, as it was unique to their culture. Those who said the word incorrectly, were killed as enemies. Real Estate has it’s own “Shibboleth.”

This is what we considered while pouring over lists of agents:

1. Did they have a Website and (preferably) a blog

They HAD to have a website, and we preferred to see a blog. What were we looking for? Was it relevant, was it up-to-date, was it professional…. Since we were looking at ActiveRain, the points weren’t important because those could be generated by “Great Posts”, rather we were looking for recent posts and how well written the agent was. If they had their own blog, than we looked there.

2. Presentation

We saw countless agent pictures (many company listings without photos). Do agents need to pretty? No, but they need to look professional. If we saw the typical mug-shot against a wall in the office, we moved on. If the agent can’t spend at least $30 at JC Penny’s for a professional picture, than they aren’t going to take the career seriously enough.

3. Did the web presence endue a sense of professionalism, experience etc… ?

When I look for agents to trust, I don’t care that they have 30 years experience (that generally tells me they are of the old guard and not with current trends) but rather look for someone that has shown in their online presence that they “get it” and have closed enough transactions to be sure they can close another. Seeing an agent with 5-10 years experience with an up to date webpage, that is more about the consumer than themselves and provides local information and IDX is a great clue that the agent has a sense for current trends and services.

4. Resume versus Services

The death nail in any agent advertisement, for me, is the “Million Dollar Producer” line. In most markets you only need to sell three houses to be a million dollar producer. As both a consumer and someone in the industry, I want to know what you can do for “ME” not what you’ve done for you. Knowing that you made some money last year doesn’t impress me. If you’re selling so much, do you really have time for me as a client? Do you have teams and systems in place to help you with your “high” client base? As a referring agent and/or consumer I want to know about your knowledge base and ability to serve a consumer.

5. Agency

Believe it or not, there were some agents who eluded to the fact that they preferred to care for “all clients in the transaction, equally.” Putting it into context with other things from some agents and reading their blog post on the subject’ they were supporters of Dual Agency. Yeah, right… As if I would ever refer a client to an agent who wanted to provide them less service so that the agent could make twice the money. Moral of that story – be cautious of what you blog about. (Especially if it were your first and last post for 8 months ago)

Ok, So It’s Not All About Me

I know, I know… I’m a Yuppie Elitist. I’m OK with that. Yes, I know that there are some very promising agents who haven’t embraced a good web presence or been around enough to establish themselves. However, I don’t think that what we were looking for in a referral agent was beyond reason. Referring a client properly can ensure future business from the friends and family that they left behind, but more so it’s about serving the current client here and now. Your referral for services to another agent or vendor reflects on you. Be careful…

I am sure that there are other things to look for in an agent than the five I’ve listed, but these were my hot buttons. Agents need to be more careful about their on-line presence. It could make you money – but it could also cost you money. The possible commission from this referral could be up to $75,000 – does your web presence convince me that you deserve this?

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is

Continue Reading


  1. Gia & Grant Freer

    July 2, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Shibboleth is one of those wonderful words that instinctively wants to make you open an encyclopedia or research it further in Wikipedia and other online resources. I can still recall it from Synagogue sermons and Sunday school, and more recently watching re-runs of the West Wing (Gia and I have every series on DVD and it’s always been one of my favorite episodes). The analogy to Real Estate is so well suited, especially now that the internet and social media have opened up new ways for us to engage, interact and demonstrate our expertise. It doesn’t take a lot of money to present oneself in a professional manner online. Everyone should take reference to this post by Matt and see if your online presence follows his checklist.

    p.s. we were wondering what to do tonight – ice cream and West Wing it is 🙂

  2. Dan Green

    July 2, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Terrific perspective of how one class of home buyers starts their home search.

    Web sites (and blogs) are “always-on marketing”. Many agents still don’t realize that their unprofessional and outdated web presence is actually causing them to lose business for which they didn’t even realize they were competing.

    This post is the EXACT reason why I update my blog every business day.

  3. Matt Stigliano

    July 2, 2008 at 9:08 am

    I guess I better get to work on my website then! Haha.

    As a relatively new agent, I really liked this post, for several reasons. One, it helps me think of what I would look for in an agent when referring a client, but two (and maybe more importantly), its got me thinking of what I should do to make myself into an agent that someone would refer their clients to. So thanks on both ends! I also appreciate hearing from an agent that “million dollar producer” doesn’t mean much (I’ve been thinking that for years, especially since I lived in Los Angeles for 8 years) and that although experience is great, its not the be all end all of real estate. As a new agent, we sometimes feel beat down by other agents with a gazillion years under their belts, all because we are “new” and haven’t closed a bazillion transactions. I’ll get their someday, just give me some time.

    As for me, I’m actually very excited this morning. I’ve been reading agentgenius for about three months and using both the site and a feed reader to read the various articles that pop up. I’ve been warned to death that feed readers are bad for my health and finally, I’ve found something that I felt ready to comment on. I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve done it. I’m in the game now. So look out agentgenius readers, here I come. Once I start, I may not stop.

    I would like to take a moment to thank everyone here at agentgenius, as everything I have read so far has been great. My head is swimming with ideas and tips from the three months I’ve been floating about, being the ever present voyeur.

    See you all soon…


  4. Jennifer Rathbun

    July 2, 2008 at 9:17 am

    It’s amazing to see in print our thought process when picking an agent. Thanks!

  5. Marc Grossman

    July 2, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Matt, I have the same issues when searching for an agent to refer business to. I also have a referral website & when choosing agents go through a very similar process that you do. I also understand your frustration. It’s amazing what you come across.

  6. Matthew Rathbun

    July 2, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Gia / Grant – I really like RealSeekr and hope that more agents will join. That will be a great site to find agents in the future.

    Dan – Glad I could re-enforce your efforts to keep up to date

    Matt – I have been teaching Real Estate courses for many years, but the materials I have found in the have been very valuable. I have learned a great deal by not being a lurker but participant in the social media aspect of blogs such as AG. I am really fond of new agents. Typically they are more inclined to try new things and learn things that will help them and their clients. Don’t let the more experienced agents keep ya down!

    Jennifer – I’ll say nice things to you later 😉

    Marc – I am getting leary of referral sites, becuase it’s just one more group taking chunks out of an already dwindling income and there is a better way… Maintaining your own referral site and list of reputable agents is a great idea!

  7. Ken Smith

    July 2, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I always have the hardest time referring a client when I don’t already have a relationship with the person. The agent you refer reflects upon you and can either help or hurt your reputation.

  8. Jonathan Dalton

    July 2, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    > As if I would ever refer a client to an agent who wanted to provide them less service so that the agent could make twice the money.

    I’ve practiced Dual Agency when appropriate (and not collected twice the commission, incidentally). By your logic, this means I’m a bad agent?

    I’m also going to channel the BawldGuy regarding agent experience/web presence and say it’s about skinning cats. Having a slick-looking website doesn’t mean that the agent is selling any homes.

  9. Matthew Rathbun

    July 2, 2008 at 9:40 pm


    I apologize, I was not intending to offend you, but I personally do not believe in single agency dual agency. In the Virginia statutes outlining fiduciary responsibilities, there are basically eight statutory requirements. Of those eight, if taken as literal only about two of them can be done while in a Dual Agency relationship. I can’t trust most agents to do Dual Agency well. Here is what the top legal authority from Virginia has to say:

    Dual Agency is ALWAYS a conflict of interest. Virginia law merely permits you to engage in it with the informed consent of the parties provided you act accordingly. Their informed consent, once obtained, does not mean the conflict ceases to exist, merely that the clients consent to your acting as a dual agent notwithstanding the existence of the conflict. This is an important point to remember: the conflict does not go away just because you get the requisite consent. You still must act in a manner consistent with the conflicting interests of your clients.
    Lem Marshall, VAR General Counsel
    March/April 2004 issue of “Commonwealth” Magazine has articles on the issue and there are very few agents who don’t think that Dual Agency should be illegal for single agents.

    As far as the “slick” webpage, I fully agree that folks can buy a great webpage and that it is not the end all be all, however using the totality of the circumstances it’s the one of many indications that I can find on my own. It’s a matter of looking at the overall presence of the agent and using the hits given at the time.

  10. Jeremy Hart

    July 3, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Matt (the other one, not the author), welcome! Matt (the author, not the other one) was right when he said that some of the best education you can receive in this business will be from the folks on these – and many, many other – pages.

  11. Paula Henry

    July 3, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    One of the greatest compliments I can receive is the referral from another agent who has checked me out online. I know this sounds like the tagline so many agents put on the back of their cards (which I don’t have) but, I’m serious.

    This week I received confirmation that I am the agent of choice for a referral from an agent in North Carolina. I’ll be selling her mother’s home….and she interviewed three agents.

    I can’t say with certainty if my website or blog are appealing, it’s a matter of preference, I’m sure.
    It helps they felt they already knew me and the quality of marketing I do online.

  12. Eric Blackwell

    July 4, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Expanding a bit on what Ken said…

    I either need to KNOW you or KNOW ABOUT you from someone I know before I will refer….that having been said a blog that has your authentic voice and where you are coming from does allow me to KNOW you.

    Great post.

  13. Jennifer in Louisville

    July 4, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    For me whenever I have a referral to send out, I don’t mess with those social networking sites (activerain, etc) when deciding whom to send it to. It has been my experience, that some of those persons are SO OBSESSED with doing hanging out chatting, that they’d rather do that than work.

    I go straight to google, and see who has the strongest web presence for a variety of main keywords appropriate for my clients in that particular area. Then, I go through and hit the rest of your 5 point checklist. 🙂

    If they don’t show up in search results for google for me, I don’t care if they are #1 on Activerain.

  14. Karen Goodman

    July 6, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I just made a referral a week ago for one of my listing clients that is moving out of state. Since my website is currently through Point 2 (soon to be moved to WordPress), I started with their system and narrowed the list to agents that were requesting referrals for the town that my clients want to purchase in. Since the town is actually a short drive from a major city, the list wasn’t all that long.

    Then I checked out the agent’s websites and hoped to find a decent blog. I wasn’t necessarily looking for the custom high priced website, but I did want to see someone that did more than slap up the standard template without even editing the text.

    But, the most crucial step was to follow up with a phone call to the agent that I thought was the best match. I want to have a conversation with anyone I’m going to refer to before I hand over a phone number to my client. I agree with Ken’s comment (#7) that my choice of referrals reflect back on me. If the agent I suggest is incompetant, why whould they ever trust me again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Business Marketing

Spruce up your product images with Glorify (just in time for Black Friday!)

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Want professional, customizable product images for your company? Consider Glorify’s hot Black Friday deal.



Glorify app lets you create beautiful designs for your products.

Glorify, the app that creates high converting, customizable product images for your business, is offering a lifetime deal for $97 this Black Friday. In just a few clicks, you can transform one of Glorify’s sleek templates into personalized, professional-looking content – and now, you don’t have to pay that monthly fee.

Whether your business is in electronics, beauty, or food & drink, Glorify offers a range of looks that will instantly bring your product images to the next level. With countless font styles and the ability to alter icon styles, shadows and other elements, you can access all the perks of having your own designer without the steep price.

In 2019, Glorify was launched – the app was soon voted #2 Product of the Day and nominated for Best Design Tool by Product Hunt. Since then, they have cultivated a 20k+ user base!

Glorify 2.0, which was launched last week, upgrades the experience. The new and improved version of the app is complete overhaul of intuitive UI improvements and extra features, such as:

  • background remover tool
  • templates based on popular product niches and themes
  • design bundles for your website/store, social media
  • annotation tool
  • upload your brand kits and organize your projects under different brands
  • 1 click brand application
  • & much more!

“But the most important aspect of Glorify 2.0, is that it comes with a UI that sets us up for future scalability for all our roadmap features”, said CEO of Glorify Omar Farook, who himself was a professional graphic designer.

Farook’s dream was to provide a low-cost design service for the smaller businesses that couldn’t otherwise afford design services. Looking through reviews of the app, it’s evident that Glorify does just that – it saves the user time and money while helping them to produce top-notch product images for their brand on their own.

Glorify is one of the many new design-based apps that make producing content a breeze for entrepreneurs, such as Canva. As someone who loves design but doesn’t have the patience for Creative Cloud, I personally love this technology. However, Glorify is unique in that it is the only product-driven design app. All you have to do is upload your photo!

Continue Reading

Business Marketing

This new Chipotle location will be fully digital

(BUSINESS NEWS) In the wake of the pandemic and popularity of online delivery, Chipotle is joining the jump to online-only locations, at least to test drive.



Chipotle exterior, possibly moving to a fully digital restaurant space soon.

A lot of industries have switched to an online-only model in the wake of the pandemic. Most of them have made sense; between abundant delivery options and increased restrictions on workers, moving away from the traditional storefront paradigm isn’t exactly a radical choice. Chipotle making that same decision, however, is a plot twist of a different kind—yet that’s exactly what they’re doing with their first online store.

To be clear, the chain isn’t doing away with their existing locations; they’re just test-driving a “digital” location for the time being. That said, the move to an online platform raises interesting questions about the future of the restaurant industry—if not just Chipotle itself.

The move to an online platform actually makes a lot of sense for businesses like Chipotle. Since the classic Chipotle experience is much less centered on the “dining” aspect than it is on the customizability of food options, putting those same options online and giving folks some room to deliver both decreases Chipotle’s physical footprint and, ostensibly, opens up their services to more people.

It’s also a timely move given the sheer number of people who are sheltering in place. A hands-on burrito assembly line is not the optimal place to be in a pandemic, but there’s no denying the utilitarian appeal of Chipotle’s products. To that end, having another restaurant wherein you have the option to order a hearty meal with everything you like—which is also tailored to your dietary needs—is a crucial step for consumers.

Chipotle’s CTO, Curt Garner, says he is hoping this online alternative will offer a “frictionless” experience for diners.

As a part of that frictionless experience, consumers will be able to order in several different mediums. Chipotle’s website and their mobile app are the preferred choices, while services like GrubHub will also be available should you choose to order through a third-party. The idea is simple: To bring Chipotle to you with as little fuss as possible.

For now, Chipotle is committing to the single digital location to see how consumer demand pans out. Should the model prove successful, they plan to move forward with implementing additional digital locations nationwide.

Continue Reading

Business Marketing

Your business’ Yelp listing may be costing you more than you think

(BUSINESS MARKETING) The pay per click system Yelp uses sounds good in theory, but it may be hurting small businesses more than helping.



Man browsing Yelp for his business listing in open office environment.

We all know Yelp – we’ve probably all used Yelp’s comment section to decide whether or not that business is worth giving our money to. What you might not know is how they are extorting the small businesses they partner with.

For starters, it’s helpful to understand that Yelp generates revenue through a pay per click (PPC) search model. This means whenever a user clicks on your advertisement, you pay Yelp a small fee. You never pay Yelp a cent if no one clicks on your ad.

In theory, this sounds great – if someone is seeking out your product or service and clicks on your ad, chances are you’re going to see some of that return. This is what makes paying $15, $50, or even $100 a click worth it.

In practice, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. When setting up your Yelp account, you are able to plug in keywords that correspond with your business. For example, owner of San Francisco-based Headshots Inc. Dan St. Louis – former Yelp advertiser turned anti-Yelp advocate – plugged in keywords for his business, such as “corporate photographer” and “professional headshots”. When someone in the Bay Area searches one of those terms, they are likely to see Headshots Inc.’s Yelp ad.

You are also able to plug in keyword searches in which your ad will not appear. That sounds great too – no need to pay for ad clicks that will ultimately not bring in revenue for your business. In the case of Headshots Inc., Dan plugged in terms such as “affordable baby photography” and “affordable studio photography”, as his studio is quite high-end and would very likely turn off a user who is using the word “affordable” in their search.

How Yelp really cheats its small business partners is that it finds loopholes in your keyword input to place your ad in as many non-relevant searches as possible. This ensures that your ad is clicked more and, as a result, you have to pay them more without reaping any of the monetary benefits for your business.

If you plugged in “cheap photography” to your list of searches in which your ad will not appear, Yelp might still feature your ad for the “cheap photos” search. As if a small business owner has the time to enter in every single possible keyword someone might search!

In the case of Headshots Inc., Dan ended up paying $10k in total ad spend to Yelp with very little return. Needless to say, he is pissed.

So what does this mean for you if you use Yelp for your business? If you don’t want to completely opt out of Yelp’s shenanigans, try these 3 tips from Dan:

  1. Try searching some potential irrelevant keywords – are your ads showing up in these searches?
  2. Do your best to block the irrelevant keywords. It’s impossible to get them all, but the more you do the more money you will ultimately save.
  3. Keep an eye on the conversation rate on your profile – does more clicks mean more client inquiries? Make sure Yelp isn’t sending low-quality traffic to your profile.

Ultimately, it’s about protecting your small business. Yelp is the latest in big tech to be outted for manipulating individuals and small businesses to up their margins – a truly despicable act, if you ask me. If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars for ad spend, then either boycott Yelp or try these tips – your company may depend on it.

Continue Reading

Our Great Partners

American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list for news sent straight to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!