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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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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