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AgentMatch launches, objections appear to be anti-consumer

AgentMatch by realtor.com has launched to mixed responses, but much of the criticism is unfounded and based on misinformation.

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AgentMatch launches, world keeps spinning

(AGENT/GENIUS) – Recently, Realtor.com has put some of their acquired talent and technology to work in an extremely beta product called AgentMatch, piloting in the Las Vegas Valley and Northern Colorado. Performance data is fed directly from the MLS, bios are populated from agents’ SocialBios profiles, and the site unveils the top performing agents in any given area – a bone of contention for a small group of real estate professionals.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey, 91 percent of consumers did not directly find their agent online, a high number that has been a tremendous part of AgentMatch’s birth, the company tells AGBeat.

Ernie Graham, Director of Product Management for realtor.com said that technology has empowered consumers, especially Millennials, want to use technology to find an agent, meanwhile agents are best served by spending less time with poorly suited prospects.

AgentMatch has spent the last year in an endless loop of focus groups and use monitoring, and consumers overwhelmingly love it. Graham said, “I wouldn’t be working on this right now if I didn’t see consumers’ eyes light up.” He asserts that they are very early on in the project and are all ears to objections as well as ideas and support. In fact, they’ve already formed an Advisory Board after calling out and inviting the loudest critics to the table.

We reached out to non-realtor consumers for their feedback, and in each case, the responses were positive, even when we noted that the data may not account for teams or new home specialists. These individuals could not understand why anyone would protest it. They liked that there were not reviews, it was simply raw, unbiased data and immediate (read: real) contact information that they had been thirsting for.

Enter the objections

Upon launching, a number of Realtors took to the web to speak out against AgentMatch, and while it isn’t surprising, much of it is based on misinformation and a basic misunderstanding of how internet users use the internet today.

Any time a website launches that adds transparency to a real estate professional’s transaction history, a nuclear explosion goes off and agents lose their mind. Why? Some of them are far less busy than they feign on Twitter, while others are, in fairness, successful regardless of transaction numbers (lead gen folks, teams, and so forth). Buyers’ agents fail to study the site and instantly claim the deck is stacked against them, but in reality, it’s not just the number of homes on the market shown in an agent’s bio; the number of homes sold appears right next to it, unlike most sites featuring agents. This has been one of the more common misunderstandings we’ve seen.

agentmatch

Picking bones over wording

The “Find Realtors” feature already exists on Realtor.com, but the truth is that while the bones are good, it has a lot of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to getting consumers to engage more. So, after endless testing, they launched AgentMatch, and the very word “match” seems to have set the industry off.

The landing page of the site currently reads “Sell Your Home,” then “Compare and connect with the best performing agents in your neighborhood.” The word best has been a contentious word with agents who have falsely assumed that realtor.com is playing favorites with top producers, or ranking agents – but you’ll see no stars, no thumbs up, no ratings, and no stickers with words like “top producer” or “number one agent.” The truth is that the word simply tested better and increased engagement with consumers – kind of important when consumers are vetting agents.

Not seeking to influence MLS policies

Because agents cannot upload any listings to the site, and because the data is 100 percent from the MLS, some have protested. First of all, third party agent ratings sites that allow uploads often have no way of verifying the validity, leading to inaccurate data and a lack of transparency.

Graham asserted that this product will never seek to change policy at the MLS level, and agents that wish for their transactions to be fully recorded by the MLS should petition their local board (which AgentMatch says they’ll help with if requested). It makes sense to use one and only one data source in this case, as it is truly the only reliable source when you look at it on a national level, and because rules are so different between each MLS, it makes sense for realtor.com to keep their nose out of it – if they did seek to change the rules, imagine the outrage then!

What you may not be aware of is that this product wasn’t just birthed by faceless code jockeys at realtor.com, it has been headed up by the founder of SocialBios (acquired by realtor.com), and Graham spent years as a broker and a MLS Director, so his understanding of agents’ needs and objections are first hand – yet the product still has his endorsement and his acknowledgement that influencing MLS policy from their position isn’t wise or useful for anyone.

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No charge for agent’s email to be featured up front

Additionally, AgentMatch features agents’ phone numbers and email address front and center without forcing consumers to register to get it (thus, they don’t act as a middle man, they instantly get to their agents of choice), and they don’t charge agents to feature their information on the site – a far cry from their competitors, who agents have complained for years about their featuring competitors’ information on their listings pages. None of that, just simple contact information. This fact has been wildly overlooked, particularly by the people who railed against their information being hidden or sold by other companies.

What agents protesting this site have missed is that consumers are more sophisticated today than a decade ago, and they have diverse goals. Agents, so often wrapped up in the mentality of the industry, assume that consumers only want an agent who has the most listings in town, but the truth is that many look to the agent with a smaller number, assuming they’ll get more attention and have more time devoted to their listing. Consumers aren’t stupid and there is an inadvertent belief under agents’ breath that they are. Without being guided, the consumers we spoke with all deemed the anti-AgentMatch agents to be anti-consumer. Ouch.

I’m not 100% a fan. Yet.

Although we partner with realtor.com on a select number of events, they are not past scrutiny, so let me be clear – there are holes in the product, and the creators can blame the MLS, but the holes remain. Agents that specialize in pocket listings are out of luck, and brokerages that focus on new home builders’ listings (which sometimes don’t ever touch the MLS) are not accounted for. That’s a meaningful chunk of the industry.

Another hole, and a big huge fat one, is that there is currently no way to opt out of being featured – Graham tells us they would consider it if users requested it, but for now, agents cannot opt out. That probably should have been built in from day one and made easy for agents who object.

In addition to the holes, I have to jump in to say that this is not that big of a deal. It’s one website. It’s a simple tool in a buyer or seller’s massive toolbox. The few outraged agents remind me of real estate professionals who were wildly opposed to lockboxes going digital or the MLS going online.

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What the industry must do

The industry must be more consumer-driven and quit giving the opportunities to third party sites that don’t have industry affiliations. If real estate technology innovates at the pace that some of the naysayers prefer, the MLS would still be exclusively on paper. If the few loud objections overrule the potential national launch of this tool, it will eventually be mastered by a third party company that has no industry affiliation, no ramifications for not following the rules, and no requirement to follow the Code of Ethics.

While AgentMatch is actively listening, objections should be aired, but what is presently making the rounds is riddled with misinformation, and honestly, is actually anti-consumer. People want to research agents, and realtor.com has met them where they’re looking.

My fear is that the industry is going to wail about this and miss an opportunity to provide something meaningful to consumers, letting third parties find a way to make it happen and then charge agents to be featured or get leads, and the next generation of agents will then scream at realtor.com for not doing this in the first place. #backfire

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. egraham2

    November 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Great post Lani. Thanks for shining a light on the big gaps in the public discussions. The “off-mls solds” (e.g. pocket, new homes) issue is a good one…and it varies widely by market. Like every other data accuracy/consistency/gaming concern, I believe it’s a local issue that should be solved by the local agents with their mls. This is nothing new, this is what MLS’s “do”, and I think they do it better than anyone else. A good example of this are MLS’s that import non-mls solds into their systems from public records to provide agents a more complete data set for doing CMA’s. If agents want “credit” for these transactions, why not find a way to get them in the MLS?

    • Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

      November 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      That’s a great point. If the MLSs include and regulate this off-market sold data, it will create an even larger, more accurate feed to a portal.

  2. Marc Davison

    November 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    In the grand history of the real estate industry, nothing to my knowledge has displaced the agent. Not the Web. Not Google. Not eBay. Not Microsoft. Not Zestimates. Not new models such as Redfin. Not even the great economic disaster of the last 6 years.

    As you stated Lani, hysterics occur when new things hit the market. When anything launches that attempts to move the real estate needle forward and present itself in the most progressive manner to the consumer.

    Not sure why. It just is. And probably will be for years to come. It’s the nature of this industry.

    But history has shown us that all worst fears and staunch objections never pan out and don’t stop progress. Like all those things, AgentMatch will be refined and improve and takes its rightful place as a different color thread in the overall fabric of the industry.

    Nice coverage Lani.

  3. Daniel Bates

    November 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    LOL, Your basic argument for why not to sweat it is that NAR / Realtor.com aren’t very good at driving traffic anyway, which is true, Love it! :-p It sounds like you got to speak with Mr. Graham, did you happen to ask him what their long-term plans were for the site? How long before they start charging due-paying members to be included in this service? How long before they start allowing agents with lower numbers to pay to be “featured” in the top 5? How long until agents can just send them a suitcase of money and ask for their contact info to be switched with a member of their choice? Those are my concerns as NAR has proven time and time again that they only care about bringing in more bucks for themselves.

    This tool COULD actually be a good thing if it served the roll of educating the public and helping our customers make educated and informed decisions about who they work with. Inform the general public that quantity isn’t everything in this business. Make an argument about choosing an agent that is a good match for you. How about educating them on what DOM and Sold / Ask Price actually mean (nothing in my opinion). I worked pretty damn hard this year and I too am shocked at how few homes I’ve got to show for it. I don’t mind the public seeing that at all, but it’s be nice to show more than the numbers and make an argument for each of our unique services. I am more than my SOLDS, I’ve helped people make their dreams come true.

  4. Russ Bergeron

    November 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    It doesn’t work. I contacted an agent whose average price point was $1.2 million. I figured I could get $1 million for my home. But they said it was only worth $300,000. Forget about it.

    My brother needed to sell his house quickly so he picked an agent with the lowest days on market
    numbers. It took 30 days longer than average to sell his house. These numbers just don’t help.

    Of course I am being facetious. But what any of the ratings sites never offer is a true picture of each and every transaction – because they are all different. And cold, hard numbers only show just that – there is nothing to grade the responsiveness or professionalism of the agent or the broker. Nothing to gauge the effectiveness of all the other players involved in each transaction – title, escrow, legal, lending, etc.

    And what happens when an agent changes offices – their past performance has been wiped out and they have to start over.

  5. Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

    November 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Many of us are open to more transparency, but glossing over the MLS issue doesn’t change it. Yes, it’s a problem. No, you can’t produce a downstream product based on that data and say “Well, the MLS was inaccurate, so we’re displaying an inaccurate product to the consumer but it’s still good.” Accountability and truth are not created by displaying inaccurate data to the consumer. That may be frustrating, but it’s the truth.

    • agbenn

      November 27, 2013 at 10:57 am

      You’re right Sam, which is why I said, if you’ve got MLS inaccuracies then you have the responsibility of addressing it directly with your board. If the mls is not accurate, again, your region has an even larger problem, it’s the only tool that separates you a R from just an A – It has to be right 24/7.

      • Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

        November 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm

        Two problems with that. First, the MLS doesn’t separate an R from an A. Many MLSs allow both, and some, like mine, MLS aren’t even Realtor-owned.

        Second, an MLS board has no responsibility to change its data for a 3rd party who’d like to create a product for it. The data is accurate in its current intended form: tracked MLS sales for agents’ and brokers’ use. Now, a portal wants to change that data’s use as a consumer education project, and to do so correctly it will need the MLS to add off-MLS sales to its database.

        The MLS can absolutely do that if it sees value, but to insinuate that they have a responsibility to a portal’s new product is just incorrect. It’s backwards, in fact.

  6. Bill Fowler

    December 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I don’t completely grasp the counter point here. MLS data will create arbitrary rankings? A seller simply wants to know who has experience and a track record of success in a given area. What other means besides the numbers that express actual performance (MLS data) could provide a good snapshot of who is good and who isn’t? OK, so there are holes. Well, let’s fill them with data from other sources if necessary.

    Reviews are a part of the consumer’s research process – for any purchase. It’ a fact of life. Transparency will ultimately win here just like it has in other industries. I’d think that more real estate people would be willing to engage realtor.com on this point and help shape what they feel is broken with AgentMatch instead of an outright boycott.

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Opinion Editorials

Freelance is the Future? I call bull malarky

(EDITORIAL) Some have predicted that due to company needs and employees’ desire for flexibility, and even COVID, freelance is the future of work. But I have reservations.

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Long gone are the days of punching a clock in Corporate America to be in your seat at your desk for an exact period of 8 hours on a day x 5 = 40 hours per week. If you work in an office setting now, usually you are expected to manage your time and finish your projects but companies have adjusted their strict butt in seat polices so that you can come in late after a doctor appointment or even leave a little early for Susie’s soccer tournament.

The truth is, with the advancement of technology and connected devices, many of us can work from anywhere (as long as there’s Wi-Fi or we have our hotspot). So, as long as your work gets done, there’s a little bit of room for “flexibility”.

When a company pitches this as flexibility, it’s really just a way of re-wording that you will work a lot so they will cut you some slack here and there considering most of us work well over our 40 hours a week. We can check email first thing in the morning, forward documents from the plane and even be on conference calls while in a line or in an Uber. You may work late on a Tuesday due to Wednesday deliverables which allows you to take off on Friday at 3pm when usually your projects are in a good place. There are also times where you will work on the weekend.

The opportunity to work anywhere has led to some considering that freelance is the future? I just don’t buy it. And this might be an unpopular opinion. I think that’s like turning the Titanic around. People rely on companies to offer a feeling of stability (or so we think) so that you know there’s a paycheck coming in every other week and you definitely have your fair share of projects (oh yeah, plus healthcare benefits).

If we all moved in to freelancing, we’d have a wide variety of clients, customers, teammates and paychecks that could be difficult to keep up with. We’d be forced to be the CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, CMOs, CFOs, oh, forget it, the entire C-suite of our own careers. It’s really difficult to generate new clients in the future while you’re working on a current project.

However, it’s equally difficult to have a lull so you have to be constantly engaged and pitching business (at the same time you have your current work). You have to be on your A-game at all times and out pitching yourself and your brand. You have to be creating content on all the social channels and be invited to participate in fancy conferences and meetings. This unfortunately is the life of freelance.

Does it seem like more people will do freelance? Yes. There’s lots of opportunity now thanks to the world wide web. But I predict they will do this in addition to their regular jobs. Is it possible that we may move to a gig economy? We are already there. You’ve heard of Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Fiverr and Upwork…It seems like that most people that have 2-3 gigs to make them whole are typically looking for full-time opportunities or would love to find something that can replace the others with more consistent work and not all the hustle. Are Small Businesses on the rise? Absolutely.

It seems that it depends on your desire for either slightly more predictable work and paychecks or if you’re a throw caution to the wind person and live that freelancer life. Also, if your skill sets are the ones employers are looking for on an ad hoc basis. No doubt many people live a freelancer life and love it. But I just don’t see it being the masses – I think it takes a special kind of dedication to rely on freelance and/or starting your own business. Plus, you’re off your parents’ healthcare at age 26. That’s when real the “real job” starts to sound really appealing.

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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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