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Consumers will soon have better ways to vet real estate agents

(Housing News) Consumers have endless market data, but finding information about Realtors is complicated – Realtor.com thinks they’ve untangled the mess and made it easier for you to find relevant info before hiring representation.

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New Realtor.com profiles to launch

Consumers already know what neighborhood they want to live in, they’ve obsessed over the school ratings, where the nearest gym or yoga studio is, and they’ve already combed through every real estate market report in the area and dug through real estate sites for data gems for weeks, months, sometimes even years.

When looking for representation, the challenge is that many sites surface agent recommendations based on who paid to be at the top of the results, or agents with large teams, and one person gets credit for 25 agents’ work, so they pop up at the top of the list of “best” agents because they technically have the most closings.

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Realtor.com thinks they’ve solved that with new Realtor profiles that will be launching soon which will be available at https://www.realtor.com/realestateagents/.

Here’s a screenshot of how they’re pitching it to agents:

realtor-profiles

Better consumer connections with agents

Home buyers or sellers typically ask their Facebook friends for Realtor recommendations (and they all tag a bunch of strangers), but with these profiles, anyone can comb through and do their own web stalking of the agents (come on, we all do it). The profile shows a stream of the agent’s activities in the area which gives an idea of what they’re really about – see a bunch of photos of foreclosed properties, but you’re looking to buy a $3M home, you might be in the wrong spot, and conversely, if you see a bunch of images of ultra luxury properties, but you’re looking for a tiny vacation bungalow, this might not be your bungalow expert.

What is most attention-grabbing about the new profiles is the check-in feature that shows you whether or not an agent is legitimately active in the community where they profess to be an expert. If they’ve showed clients 12 houses, checked in to the coffee shop and Pho restaurant, previewed 8 homes for sale, and gone on 3 client appointments in a specific subdivision in the last week, they’re probably more of an expert than the “neighborhood expert” who hasn’t set foot in the area in two years, but they once closed a home there and they run reports on the zip code, so they can say they’re an expert.

Additionally, Realtor.com doesn’t allow any agent to check in to a location unless their GPS says they’re physically on site, and it emails the listing agent that they visited, so it’s self policing and pretty hard to game – much better than reading an agent’s site that promises to be an expert, but with no proof.

The profile shows all of the agent’s designations, which are the fancy letters behind their name that outline what extra education they’ve had beyond licensing and in-house classes their broker offers. Someone who is obsessing over getting an ultra efficient home may want to seek out an agent who is Green Certified and spends time in their desired neighborhood. The company emphasizes that through extensive research, they want to surface relevant information that consumers want to connect with.

The bottom line is that consumers already have data at their fingertips about homes and neighborhoods, but soon, they’ll have some relevant data at their fingertips to better hire representation. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than throwing spaghetti to a wall and seeing what sticks.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. valeriekeener

    May 16, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I’m in favor of a better system that doesn’t allow agents to pay more to get higher rankings. This seems like a step in the right direction.

  2. karenrice

    May 22, 2014 at 7:30 am

    This looks interesting. I hope the “Check in” is better than the one Trulia offers – more than half the listings I try to Check in via the trulia ap wont’ show up.

  3. Hank Miller

    May 28, 2014 at 9:04 am

    It all boils down to the public demanding that the performance bar be raised. The industry will never truly tackle the issue of incompetent agents; there’s far too much money being made from the national all the way to the broker level. Until clients vet agents by what they know and what they do instead of who they play tennis with, this industry will remain at the bottom of the public perception pile.

  4. Matt Mortensen

    September 16, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    I love this! It’s just an extension of the online social media movement. Everyone wants to know everything about everyone they do business with immediately. It just makes real estate agents accountable. Reviews are a huge part of picking your real estate agent and finding them online is becoming extremely simple. Thanks for sharing! Great info!

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Business News

Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns

(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.

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Package delivery people holding deliveries. Refund instead of returns are common now.

The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.

When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”

Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.

For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.

Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.

But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.

While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.

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Google workers have formed company’s first labor union

(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.

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Google complex with human sized chessboard, where a labor union has been formed.

On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.

The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.

AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.

In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.

So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.

Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.

“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.

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Business News

Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.

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Person open on hacking computer screen, typing on keyboard.

Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.

Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.

“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.

In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.

“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”

The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”

To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”

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