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Opinion Editorials

HomeLight agent review site and AgentMatch: what’s so different?

HomeLight, a real estate agent site offering agent transaction data and reviews, is backed by Google and Inman, offering a unique spin on agent reviews.

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HomeLight and AgentMatch offer agent transaction data to consumers

(AGENT/GENIUS) – Launched in 2012, HomeLight is a search engine for agents, or an agent resume, as founder Drew Uhler likes to describe it, offering a unique blend of real estate agent transaction data and consumer reviews, monetized by agent referral fees. Funded to the tune of $1.5 million by Google Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Innovation Endeavors, and unnamed angel investors, it is in the Inman Incubator program, and is to be showcased in the Startup Alley at Inman Connect in New York City in January 2014.

Three weeks ago, Inman News introduced AgentMatch, shaping the conversation by focusing squarely on the negative reactions from agents (AgentMatch is the new site by Realtor.com that provides listing agent transaction data for the last six months in a consumer search site with no referral fees for agents). In seven articles written by Inman News on the topic, primarily negative in nature, not once have they disclosed their affiliation with Inman Incubator company, HomeLight, a product that shows production levels, similarly to AgentMatch. It is possible that this is a repeated unintentional oversight by Inman News, assuming readers should already know the company’s financial relationships.

In the seven stories, HomeLight was first referenced by writer Paul Hagey as “Google-backed HomeLight,” a phrase later repeated in a story quote by Move Inc.’s CRO, Errol Samuelson, however no possible conflict of interest was disclosed by Hagey or fellow writer, Andrea V. Brambila in their stories.

In the seventh article, founder Brad Inman penned a piece called “Taking a stand on agent data,” failing to disclose his company’s affiliation to HomeLight, nor their long-term sponsorship agreement with Move, Inc. Negative reviews are a critical part of news coverage, but the problem here lies in the seven articles where no comparison was made to an Inman-supported competitor, and no disclosures offered, which is exactly how the news industry offers fair coverage and makes clear the possible conflicts of interest.

The reason we wrote about AgentMatch is not because Realtor.com sponsors a few of our events, but because it can’t be gamed by agents – the very reason we never covered HomeLight, yet another agent review site. The other reason we steered clear of HomeLight is because it is disconcerting for Google to have agent data, even if only transaction histories – imagine your entire transaction history as part of your Google+ profile or Google flips a switch on property data retrieval (they have the closing data, why not offer AVMs? or what if your productivity statistics have an impact on your search engine rankings?).

This is all pure speculation and educated guesses, and at this point Google is only an investor, but the point is that agents have no control over the final resting place of their data when entrusted to third parties, whereas Realtor.com’s ultimate responsibility is to real estate professionals under their operating agreement with the National Association of Realtors.

The angst is real

We believe that angst among real estate professionals is very real, but in large part, it is being guided by an Inman argument, and framed in a way to exclude comparison to a product with similar functionality, fanning the flames toward AgentMatch and away from Inman Incubator and Inman Connect Startup Alley participant, HomeLight. It remains curious that when HomeLight launched and Inman covered it extensively, there was no controversy or outrage from the real estate community, creating the perception that the introduction of AgentMatch was designed to incite controversy, potentially providing cover to and benefiting HomeLight.

Getting to know HomeLight

The landing page touts that you can find the “perfect agent based on expertise,” stating that they have two million real estate agents in their database, serving 34 markets, a far cry from AgentMatch’s two pilot MLSs which allows no reviews to influence their algorithm. Let’s take a photo tour of how HomeLight works. Click to enlarge any photo below, as we take you through how the site works. We walk through a search for an agent in Austin, where we are headquartered:

Searching for an agent – method 1

There appear to be two common methods for finding an agent on the site, and one method is by selecting a popular city in the footer of the main page. Here’s how it works:

homelight-1

Below features the “top agents,” and the top two are very well liked top producers in the city that happen to be team leaders. This type of result is one of the main objections agents have against AgentMatch, yet here we are, looking at HomeLight which was put in a positive light by industry news writers.

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And if you’re an agent, you can claim your profile

In the top corner of the agent result, the system urges agents to claim their profile, like so:
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Finding an agent – method 2

The more common method is searching immediately from the front page for a city and narrowing it down. Let’s take a tour of the second method:
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So where do they get the data?

In order to get the data, HomeLight is partnered with brokers of record to pull MLS data, but HomeLight does not operate as a brokerage. The transaction data allows the algorithm to narrow down agents for the consumer, and appears to go back as far as 2009.

Reviews improve agents’ rankings on the site

The second part of the algorithm, and apparently a substantial part of the algorithm by all accounts, is reviews that agents receive through the site, so HomeLight is urging agents (especially new agents) to solicit reviews from all clients, which HomeLight says can improve agents’ rankings on the site. HomeLight says they verify reviews, either through the agent directly or by commenters’ claimed address, which they can cross reference with transaction data.

It is not a perfect system, however, and can potentially be gamed (Joe at 123 Main St never reviewed his agent, so an agent can go in and falsify a review, say they’re Joe, claim 123 Main St, and affirm it’s legit when HomeLight asks). Agents that disagree with the accuracy of a review can appeal and HomeLight promises to investigate the matter, which is tremendously helpful, but tricky – a pothole Yelp stepped into several years ago.

Show me the money

The monetization strategy is much like other agent rating sites, wherein referral fees are paid at closing by agents who receive a lead through the site, but the company will not publicly say how much these referral fees are, as they likely vary by market.

Like other sites that match agents and consumers, there are holes, for example, agents that focus on off-market listings (pocket listings, and sometimes new home construction) aren’t given credit and can lose out to competitors, and team leaders are often given credit for the group’s closings even though a handful of agents touched the transaction (as seen above in the list of top listing agents in Austin), and team members’ numbers dwindle in comparison.

But unlike many competitors, HomeLight offers an opt out process so agents can remove themselves from their website, but not necessarily from data stored on HomeLight servers. This highlights, yet again, the uncertainty attached to a third party being given industry data.

Our only dog in this race are members, and our policy has always been, when in doubt, we default to the consumer if the benefit to membership is unclear, and when it benefits the consumer, it ultimately benefits the membership. That said, we have never supported blindly giving data to third parties when arms of the membership (like Move, Inc.) which are beholden to members, can provide the same service.

Update: on November 29th, we redacted the phrase “labeled as news rather than opinion” from this editorial.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Paceride

    November 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I have a big big problem with the agent review part. Apparently, I am supposed to track down my buyers and sellers and ask them to write reviews for multiple websites now? I’m supposed to do it for Zillow, Trulia, now these sites? They can’t just submit ONE review, they have to submit the reviews multiple times. I know some people send letters to my manager saying what a good job I did, unsolicited by me. Other people may not be inclined tobut i’m supposed to ask them to submit multiple reviews. Sorry, I think it’s b.s., and as usual, meant to separate me from my hard earned commission dollars.

    • RealtyMinded

      November 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      And these are the largest companies holding agent reviews currently, there are many other smaller sites that want agent reviews and if agents agree to play the game and eventually pay to keep profiles in all of these companies there will be many more extending their hand for a handout. Additionally they will be charging you to get your own leads for your own listings (otherwise they will sell them) as Zillow, Realtor.com and many others do currently.

  2. Morgan Brown

    November 29, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Lani, we always welcome the feedback on Inman News, however I wanted to correct a few items for the record. It would be great if you could update your post with the facts.

    1. HomeLight is an Inman Incubator company but Inman News has no financial interest in HomeLight. We do not take equity stakes in the incubator companies and the incubator companies pay no fees to Inman News.

    2. HomeLight is speaking at Real Estate Connect, but so are people on the other side of the agent data issue including Mark Willis, the CEO of Keller Williams, who has come out strongly in opposition to the idea.

    3. Inman News has many customers (advertisers, sponsors, exhibitors, members and attendees of our conferences) on both sides of the agent data issue. Our coverage has been careful to balance all points of views. See below for a list of news stories over the last couple of weeks that discuss the issue in depth.

    4. Neither Brad Inman or Inman News is an investor in any of the incubator companies (such as HomeLight) or any other real estate related company.

    5. Brad Inman did not endorse any of the companies that offer agent data programs his article https://www.inman.com/2013/11/27/taking-a-stand-on-agent-data/. He did endorse the idea of exposing agent performance data and his article was clearly described as an opinion piece by the publisher.

    6. Inman News takes seriously the separation of church and state (editorial and advertising). Our independent editorial team headed up by Matt Carter is always very diligent about giving no preference in coverage to companies who may advertise or do business with Inman News.

    Lani, we’re friends on Facebook, and conversed just recently about Inman’s Connect conference. You could’ve reached out to me or anyone on the team for clarification ahead the story to ensure it was factual. I would’ve been happy to answer any questions you had at that time. For future stories, feel free to reach out to us at any time when there are questions about how we operate.

    Morgan
    Inman News

    A selection of articles on Agent Match over the last two weeks:

    https://www.inman.com/wire/agent-launches-change-org-petition-to-stop-realtor-coms-agentmatch/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/22/franchisor-keller-williams-realty-strongly-urges-agents-to-oppose-realtor-coms-agentmatch-tool/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/19/realtor-com-seeks-more-agent-feedback-on-controversial-agentmatch-ranking-platform/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/15/can-realtor-coms-bold-experiment-with-agentmatch-survive-agent-backlash/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/13/neighborcity-hits-move-with-cease-and-desist-letter-over-agentmatch-tool/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/11/errol-samuelson-realtor-com-experimenting-with-agent-matching-tool-powered-by-mls-data/

    • Lani Rosales

      November 29, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Morgan, thank you for taking the time to craft a thoughtful response. After further consideration, I have removed the phrase “labeled as news rather than opinion,” as I consider that a fair update as it has no bearing on this editorial whatsoever.

      I never said Inman News or Brad Inman takes an equity stake, but Inman News’ Incubator is invested in HomeLight’s success to the tune of “$100,000 in-kind promotional support from Inman News” and a bevy of other valuable assets according to the Incubator website, none of which was ever mentioned in any of the seven articles related to AgentMatch, including Brad’s editorial.

      We’ve never said Inman wasn’t fair, but in seven articles, true fairness would have been disclosing that Inman News was involved with an AgentMatch competitor that has a distinctly similar offering.

  3. franklyrealty

    December 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    “it can’t be gamed by agents” Oh my oh My. Boy can it be gamed. Might have inspired a blog post. HOW TO GAME AGENT MATCH!

    • Lani Rosales

      December 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      Well, the truth is, as you and I have spoken about (and I agree with you) that technically, the MLS can be manipulated by agents, so the MLS can be manipulated, but as of publication of this editorial, AgentMatch can’t directly be gamed.

      We’ve talked about it over the years that agents CAN manipulate days on market, and game the MLS; do you think there’s a way to stop it aside from continuing to fight against it in public? I hear you might have something in the works to address it in your market, but that’s just one market – what should the rest of the nation do?

      I love this topic, it’s so fascinating (and I know you and I have and can talk about it endlessly)!

      • Tennessee Real Estate

        December 4, 2013 at 12:50 am

        Lani if Agent Match gets it data from the MLS and the MLS data can be gamed it logically follows that Agent Match data can therefore be gamed. The more I think about the more I like the Houston solution. It is based on customer reviews agents can opt out but if they are in they are “all in” meaning all reviews are posted.
        As Jerry Mcquire said “Follow the money” this is not about helping the consumer or agent this is about getting hits and selling ad space back to agents.

        • Lani Rosales

          December 4, 2013 at 9:47 am

          Technically, yes, even real estate data can be gamed, but you cannot log into AgentMatch directly (as of publication) and change data or upload your own. Therefore, yes, you can game the MLS, but you can’t directly game AgentMatch. Directly.

          • franklyrealty

            December 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

            I can locally fix the issue on my IDX by calling out those that relist or drop the price a minute before going under contract (so they can be 100%). One thing Agent Match can do is focus on % of Original list and not the list price after price drops. That will cure part of the issue.

  4. Lawrence Schrenk

    May 26, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    I’m afraid that homelite.com appears to be a scam. I went through the process and was matched with 10 agents. Not one of them sold houses in my area!

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Opinion Editorials

The strong case for Texas being technology’s next frontier

(EDITORIAL) Everyone loves Tacos and tech in Austin, but Texas has far more to offer – here’s how the various cities will create the next mecca for the tech world.

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Despite what the movies have told you, Texas is not the place you think it is. Sure, we’ve got cowboys, brisket, and a lot of BBQ, but the Lone Star State is much, much more than clichés. Over the last few decades, Texas has been gaining steam as one of the premier places to live in the country.

While yes, people love a good chicken fried steak or are always looking for an excuse to sneak over to their favorite grocery store, HEB, Texans aren’t sitting idly by when it comes to tech – they’re grabbing the industry by the horns.

Thanks to the state’s business-friendly tax breaks, a year-round predominantly warm weather climate, and a strong state culture, the popularity of Texas makes a lot of sense: Houston, which was once considered a third tier city is about to overthrow Chicago as the third largest in the nation, while also being lauded as our most diverse city.

Let’s repeat it, for all the people in the back: Houston, Texas is more diverse than Los Angeles, or New York.

Affordable neighborhoods are popping up across Houston, which are attracting immigrants from every culture looking for their slice of the American Dream. Houston is seeing explosive growth and a cultural shift away from being a town built on strictly fossil fuels, but now, startups, tech, and umbrella industries are finding their niche in the state’s biggest urban area. Only New York is home to more public companies.

Houston’s medical sector ranks with some of the top care in the world. And with those elite doctors, come the innovative pharmaceutical and medical companies, and the tech that supports them.

When you look at the top twenty metro areas to live right now in the country, four of those cities are in Texas. While some of those reasons are affordability and the signature Texas heat, the state is seeing new residents thanks also to a healthy job market. Since 2010, Texas has added 12.6% more residents, double lapping California’s growth of 6.1%.

Texas’ workforce is bigger than 46 states in the union total population and has doubled in job growth, productivity, and new deals are being struck daily. Texas’ impact on the tech sector is indisputable: Texas has exported more technology than California, again.

Deep in the heart

Startup culture is alive and well in Austin, but while some of our startups are finally beginning to draw VC attention away from Silicon Valley, we know how to slug it out in the land of the bootstrapped beginnings. If your company can thrive in Austin, with so many talented people, and a lot of great ideas, you can make it anywhere (sorry New York, for stealing your platitude).

Austin is still a developing story. As enterprises are opening offices in the capital city, this is helping VCs along the coasts see Austin’s potential as a hub of ideas. The city is still behind the bay area for risk-taking ventures, but given the current climate of investors, there’s a sea change happening.

Giants like Apple, Atlassian, Oracle, Dell, Amazon, Samsung, Facebook, and Google are all occupying space in buildings across the Austin skyline. Enterprise companies are investing heavily into the Austin market, and there are zero signs of a slow down. If you need further proof, just look at the traffic on any of the city’s major highways during rush hour.

Dallas is making a hard play at attracting the top-tiered companies as well. When Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos announced put out a call for bids for Amazon’s HQ2, many cities made a play for the site, but now that the final cities have been chosen, both Austin and Dallas both stand to score the shopping monolith.

Oculus, TopGolf, and startups like Veryable, Dead Soxy, and Artist Uprising are attracting some of the brightest minds to the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area.

South Texas joins the party

San Antonio is quietly building a case for a burgeoning tech scene, too. It’s not quite there yet on the enterprise or startup level, but the city is widely known for one thing – cybersecurity. Outside of Washington D.C., San Antonio is known as “Cyber Security City USA” to folks in the black hat scene.

San Antonio logged the most substantial growth of all of the Texas cities, adding over 250,000 new residents in 2017 alone. Thanks to a robust military presence, San Antonio is quietly attracting more and more security-minded firms, a feat that’s unique in comparison to what the rest of the state is offering. Military-friendly banking institution USAA is headquartered in San Antonio, as is grocery chain HEB, and Whataburger, with all three companies investing heavily into user experience and mobile applications (aka technology).

If Amazon decides on HQ2 in either Dallas or Austin, that will signal a 200,000+ person addition to the state’s population and economy. That’s a lifetime investment into either city, wherever Bezos, and his board chooses. Coupling that possibility with the already strong presence of Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, and just about every major gas corporation, it’s easy to see why these moves are a huge deal. For the latter, it’s also important to note that every sector is bolstering their websites, their social media footprint, everything that can be done on a laptop is happening – one new job at a time.

As the tech scene develops and changes from a strong west coast-driven model, Texas is benefiting from the change. Many Californians are moving to Texas, which is an article to itself, but one thing remains: the Texas economy has never been stronger, and it’s only improving. The story of tech in Texas is a continual work in progress.

We’re not going to overtake California next year, but we’re making a stand, and people are noticing. If the current economic growth is an indicator, the famous Dairy Queen saying is potent with it’s accuracy: “That’s What I Like About Texas.”

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Opinion Editorials

How one podcast is giving a voice to veterans everywhere

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Veteran and former Paralympic skier begins volunteer podcast as a way to give voice to fellow veterans.

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“Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” is the mantra that Joel Hunt lives his life by. As an Army veteran, who was injured during his third deployment, Hunt has seen his fair share of tough times.

After suffering a traumatic brain injury and partial paralyzation in his left leg, Hunt left the army and was in the care of his parents. They encouraged him to try Paralympic skiing as part of his rehabilitation.

While he was initially against the idea, he eventually warmed to it and wound up skiing in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. This accomplishment helped lead him to the path he’s on now, which is dedicated to helping fellow veterans.

Hunt is now the host of The H-Train Show, a podcast he produces in his Denver, Colorado home. His work on the podcast is done strictly through volunteering, and is dedicated to giving veterans a place to communicate.

“It’s something that helps keep me busy and makes me feel good,” says Hunt. “[It helps] to erase the past.” The podcast airs on Military Brotherhood Radio and has had a variety of guests – all dedicated to the significance of veterans.

In addition to the podcast, Hunt also assists veterans through organizations such as Project Sanctuary.

Hunt recently co-hosted an event with former Denver Broncos wide receiver, Brandon Stokley, that brought ten injured veterans to the Broncos training camp for a meet and greet. Accompanying Hunt at this event was his service dog, Barrett, who Hunt has taught to fold and do laundry.

Hunt explains that all of his efforts are dedicated to helping fellow veterans recover from the tragedies of war. While he says that, due to his brain injury, he does not recall deployment, he still carries the tragedies of losing fellow Army members.

Now, being retired both from combat and skiing, Hunt states, “My heart is to help other veterans avoid the fights for life I did. Not everyone can enjoy all the success I achieved, but at least I can help make the journey less of a struggle.”

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Opinion Editorials

DNA ancestry tests are cool, but are they worth giving up your rights?

(EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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By now you’ve heard – the Golden State Killer’s 40+ year reign of terror is potentially over as the FBI agents used an ancestry website DNA sample to arrest their suspect, James DeAngelo, Jr.

Over the last few years, DNA testing has gone mainstream for novelty reasons. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, and even reconnect family members, through simple genetic tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPAA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

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