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Are You Being Cuckolded by Agents on Trulia Voices?

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We talk a lot about the need for reputation management through Google Alerts and the like, with the idea being that you need to know what’s being said about you. But almost as important is the notion of relationship management. Do you know where your clients are going for information when your back is turned?

From Trulia Voices …

Seller won’t disclose Seller Property Disclosure Statement … Should this be a red flag for us? … BTW our real estate agent is great.

And another …

We put an offer on a house, seller countered. We agreed to counter and had it back to them within a couple hours. That was 4 days ago. Shouldn’t we be under contract by now? … I spoke with my agent today, and we are just gonna move ahead and start inspections. Kinda scary that we can’t open escrow yet though. (This after multiple agents had chipped in their two cents.)

And another …

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I’m looking at a home in Queen Creek just a few miles from Gilbert. … It’s been hard to find relevant comps … We are thinking 550K is a solid price, we love the property – but we want to be sure not to overpay in this volatile market. Advice?

… Yes, I am working with a Realtor and using comps off the MLS.

These are three examples, only from the Arizona RSS feed, only within the last week. And this is what happens every single day on Trulia Voices.

It’s 3 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Client Is?

Let’s put aside for a moment the fairly clear-cut violations of the NAR Code of Ethics that are taking place every single day as agents provide advice that at worst conflicts and at best interferes with the relationship established between these clients and their agents.

(I know, I know … they’re the ones asking for the advice. But even we as real estate agents ought to be able to stop panting and pouncing like starved hyenas long enough to see what we’re doing.)

Your value is in your experience, your expertise, your advice. Have you ever watched as a transaction went south because your client’s parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends from school or the local bartender gave them advice not based in reality? Have you ever found yourself explaining how things are done in your state compared to the state from which your buyers have moved?

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Take that phenomenon, multiply it by 100 or so, and you have the daily frenzy that is Trulia Voices. Here’s the basic scenario:

  1. Client doesn’t trust the agent they have hired. (Most likely because they never really interviewed an agent, instead trusting whatever name they saw on a sign.)
  2. Client goes to the web searching for someone to validate whatever position they already have taken. (Because nothing is more effective than searching for the one, best answer among those shouted from a crowd. Kinda like The Price is Right.)
  3. Agents desperate for business jump all over themselves and their peers, trying to demonstrate their expertise … regardless of the area about which the client might be asking. (But hey – there’s little difference in real estate in Arizona and North Dakota, right? Houses are houses, 50-below or 120 degrees, right?)

And step four becomes the inevitable … client becomes so frustrated about the inability to receive a coherent answer from an incoherent mob that their driving theory – that there is no value brought to the table by a real estate professional – is confirmed.

Take a Breath … and Have Some Dignity

To be valued you need not only to demonstrate your expertise, but you have to expect to be valued for that expertise.

If your clients are running to Trulia Voices looking for answers that contradict the advice you’re providing them, and if you’re confident in your answer, confront your client and explain that they are hampering their ability to meet their goals. If they don’t agree and don’t see the value you add, fire them.  Don’t waste your time on people who think nothing of what you know and what you do.

And if you’re one of the agents stomping on other agents’ agency relationships in hopes of winning an MVP award for having the most answers, take a step back. Think about what you’re going to say and what the ramifications might be.

Fooling around and not knowing the other person’s attached is one thing. Fooling around knowing full well your cuckolding some poor sap trying to put food on his table … that’s just not good form.

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Written By

Jonathan Dalton is a Realtor with RE/MAX Desert Showcase in Peoria, Arizona and is the author of the All Phoenix Real Estate blog as well as a half-dozen neighborhood sites. His partner, Tobey, is a somewhat rotund beagle who sleeps 21 hours a day.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Tom Vanderwell

    May 16, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Jonathan,

    Every time I hang out at AG, I learn something new. Thanks for the post. Very well said, and very appropriate for those of us on the lending side too…..

  2. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Dalton, this is a tough one. It’s frustrating because Trulia has set up something that is really cool- a place for the curious to draw answers from a pool of expertise but often, the “point hungry” do exactly what you’re saying.

    My feeling is that whether it is regulated or not, if people would…
    (a) stay in their own back yard
    (b) be EXTRA cognizant of the code of ethics and representation agreements
    (c) ignore becoming MVPs and answer because they are the source of the true answer

    …Trulia Voices as a self-governed body would function much better and the consumer experience would be better for agents stepping up voluntarily. Like you mentioned, it’s the PEOPLE that are answering the questions that are the problem, not the format. I have hope though, don’t you?

  3. Kevin Boer

    May 16, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    …not to mention the craziness of asking for advice in a public forum on a negotiating strategy! People! A client of mine told me a story …they were buying a home a while back, and like most savvy home buyers, they googled the sellers. Turned out the sellers had a blog and they were … you guessed it … blogging about their home selling process. e.g. “We put it on the market for $X, but we’re willing to settle for $Y.” Hello!

  4. Jonathan Dalton

    May 16, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Kevin – that’s priceless. I love it.

    Lani – yes and no. Will the consumer enjoy the experience if the answer they get is “sorry, but you need to talk to your agent for that advice.” Not that such an answer ever will be unanimous because people are still hoping to win the business that someone else already has.

  5. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    May 16, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    JD, I disagree. Well, partially. If it swings to the most polar opposite of today’s behavior, Trulia users will (as you stated) provide no value if the answers become canned, thus defeating the purpose of Trulia Voices. HOWEVER, an agent can answer without violating COE by saying “in my experience X, Y, Z but each situation is unique and it’s always best to consult your Realtor who knows all the details first hand.”

    It’s not just Trulia voices though, it’s everywhere where online Q&A exist- the current consumer trend is to vet everything. Even if you’ve been told one thing, despite that adviser’s expertise, many just HAVE to consult every source possible before making a final decision. It’s what Benn has referred to as the “bread crumbs” left online for consumers to try to piece together themselves… the excellent professional is always where the expertise is at, regardless of online behavior of some professionals, right, JD?

  6. Barry Cunningham

    May 16, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    I call it the Active Rain syndrome. For some reason people go crazy over flippin points! Thos systems that are designed to award responses..any responses..allow so much inaccurate information to be offered up…but by gosh they got their points didn’t they?

  7. Ryan Hukill

    May 16, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Steve, this may be the most intelligent assessment I’ve seen all day:

    “client becomes so frustrated about the inability to receive a coherent answer from an incoherent mob that their driving theory – that there is no value brought to the table by a real estate professional – is confirmed.”

    Unfortunately, this situation presents itself daily, in many different forms and forums, and the momentum of stupidity is amazing!

  8. Faina Sechzer

    May 16, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Jonathan, My concern is not so much about “monitoring” what my clients do on the Internet. It is more about the quality of the advice that is provided. It amazes me how many RE agents give advice related to transactions in other states. Saying “XYZ is my experience, but in your state you may need ABC”, how useful is it? Even when it’s in the same state, it is like a patient calling up several doctors and asking how his surgery should be done. What could the doctors answer? “In general I do this surgery in an XYZ way, but you may need it in the ABC way. I can’t tell without examining you and seeing the X-ray”.

    I had someone on my blog ask very specific questions about the value of the home they were considering buying. I would imagine they were using and agent. Why would they consult an anonymous Internet agent instead of their own? If they don’t trust their agent’s advice why are they using him/her?

  9. Rich Jacobson

    May 16, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Jonathan: You won’t get any argument from me. I wrote something along a similar line the other day entitled, “Open Mouth, Insert Fine” or “Real Estate Roulette” that was based on a Trulia Voices encounter. Bottom-line is that way too many agents are far more concerned with littering their contact info than they are giving viable, professional expert advice. Oh, and of course, it never hurts to actually be licensed in the State you’re dispensing said advice….

  10. Dan Connolly

    May 17, 2008 at 12:08 am

    I have always wondered about the basic idea that it is unethical for one agent to comment on the business practices of another. I understand the reasoning behind NAR and the Code of Ethics, (and I don’t do it) but think about it from the consumer’s point of view! What if doctors did what NAR requires? No more second opinions?

    I see the most absurd answers from agents on Trulia, and I want to flame them back to the cabbage truck they fell off of, but I don’t do it. It would make the industry look bad if we bickered amongst ourselves on public forums. But what about the consumers?

    What do you do when you see someone spouting crap? Do you comment on the quality of their advice? When we suffer in silence I think the general public thinks we agree!

  11. Jonathan Dalton

    May 17, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Rich – an excellent point, actually … at what point do the answers delve into unlicensed activity? Had not thought of it but I think that’s a legitimate concern.

    Faina – first question for those folks would have been if they’re using an agent. If not, I’d be happy to help if they contacted me through my own blog. Agents giving away free comps on Trulia Voices? Makes much less sense.

    Ryan – Steve’s my dad, but I take the compliment anyway.

    Barry – stop agreeing with me. You’re freaking me out, baby. 🙂

    Lani – just because it’s the trend doesn’t mean it’s necessarily effective. Bell bottoms, flowery design, plaid leisure suits and white shoes were the trend in the 1970s. Doesn’t mean it was the smart way to go, with the benefit of hindsight.

  12. Russell Shaw

    May 17, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Jonathan, I agree with everything you’ve said here *except* your last comment. Bell bottoms, flowery design, plaid leisure suits and white shoes *was* the smart way to go. Okay, maybe not the flowery design or the plaid leisure suits – but white shoes and bell bottoms sure were! 🙂

  13. Jim Duncan

    May 17, 2008 at 7:19 am

    I see a couple of problems with the “advice” being given on Trulia Voices, et. al, and Rudy said it in a comment last week:

    Overall, many of you have been in the online real estate space much longer than others. You know how to participate and how not to. I remember when I first started commenting and contributing many, many years ago – I too had to learn the ropes…..But I did. Some people are at that earlier learning stage now. Rather than shooting them down, I think it’s much better to lead by example – as many of you do. Remember AR when it first started? Many didn’t know what they were doing, but everyone learned from each other. And today, they are doing great and teaching others.

    I’d argue that the space has become so diluted with agents trying to gain presence on the train that *everyone* else has jumped on or is jumping on that there are fewer great ones to learn from.

    The competition now to get points, rankings, etc. has become more important than actually giving good advice.

    Also, Lani’s right – today’s consumers/buyers/people need to vet everything – it’s why I google things my doctor tells me, what the mechanic says is wrong with my car, how much tires cost, etc. I expect my clients (especially first time homebuyers/sellers) to ask friends and family and google for advice or verification.

    The agents offering “advice” and whether that crosses ethical boundaries … that’s an entirely discussion altogether.

    /shoulda made this a post

  14. Jonathan Dalton

    May 17, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Russell – if you were a king here like you and Ladmo, dining at Durant’s every night, maybe … 🙂

    Jim – I think Rudy’s timeline is backward … Active Rain was more effective then than now. There are too many people writing schlock for points for the experts to be heard above the shouting.

    Trulia Voices is the same way … consumers need to pick through the “I don’t know how it is in Phoenix, but here in Milwaukee …” and the other “call me (please? please? please? please?” answers to get to the real nuggets.

    Not that some questions don’t deserve the latter answers, like the recent spate of “would someone help me sell my house?” queries that have popped up. You almost can see Realtors waking to an alarm and sprinting to the keyboard when that happens.

  15. Thomas Johnson

    May 17, 2008 at 10:22 am

    After the great google juice fiasco at Trulia, my inclination is to just post such point winners such as:

    “Consult your Realtor
    https://www.ERAHouston.com

    1. Gives me points
    2. Keeps me a a top poster in the area with my happy mug/avatar
    3. No COE violation
    4. Civil disobedience makes me feel better about being bagged by their no follow policy on my listings until Realogy renogotiates the deal.

  16. Eric Blackwell

    May 17, 2008 at 11:18 am

    @Thomas — too funny. and yet an effective strategy…(grin)

    @Kevin Boer–that was a great point. Do I really want a customer who is constantly going and check my advice through as many other folks as they can find on a public forum?? In my SEO consulting practice, you get a couple of those “Well whaddabout what so and so said?” questions. On number three, I ask you if you trust me. If not, go pay them.

    If you’re a jackass, that could happen on time #2. (grin)

  17. Patrick Mahony

    May 17, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Dude, you`re raining on my first MVP since fourth grade football…..Com`n you`re mess`n with my self esteem,

    Dan Connolly

    “I see the most absurd answers from agents on Trulia, and I want to flame them back to the cabbage truck they fell off of,” [ Hey! don`t be blaming the IRISH! for this ] “but I don’t do it. It would make the industry look bad if we bickered amongst ourselves on public forums. But what about the consumers?”

    “What do you do when you see someone spouting crap? Do you comment on the quality of their advice? When we suffer in silence I think the general public thinks we agree!”

    When you correct another Realtor in a public forum, it is not bickering. It is giving the consumer the correct information, you may actually be helping a Realtor who is unconsciously incompetent.

    Myself I compete for clients with about 5 or 7 of Arizona`s finer Agents, my answers have to be above par or don`t bother answering at all, and if I am wrong, or I happen to “bend” a rule. They will let me know.

    My advice, don`t suffer in silence. It does hurt the industry. Correct away.

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