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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.

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, 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

What Swedish Death Cleaning your office looks like

(PRODUCTIVITY) If you need any motivation to clear the clutter check out dostadning, aka Swedish Death Cleaning. It won’t kill you but it’ll make you feel super metal while you clean.

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You’ve probably heard of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” as one of many titles focused on keeping your life organized and stress free. However, I bet you’ve never heard of dostadning, or, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

Alarmed yet? Don’t be; while it’s exactly as morbid as it sounds, it’s not as morose as you would think.

Dostadning, sometimes called “death cleaning” is a Swedish term referring to a process of permanent cleaning conducted throughout your Golden Girl years, usually starting around age 50. The goal of the process is to alleviate the burden of tidying up from your surviving family once you pass away.

It is currently having a day in the sun thanks to Margareta Magnusson, who is publishing a book on this topic.

The process is rooted in common de-cluttering mantras; only hold onto things that you actually use and actually bring you joy. Nothing you can’t find in your other “simplify your life” bestsellers. However, the spectre of the end of life does hang over the process, and that results in a few unique elements.

First of all, talk of death cleaning is highly encouraged amongst family and friends. Not only does this create accountability, but it also reduces the stigma around the process of passing on.

There’s also the idea of giving things you don’t want away as gifts to friends. It’s a way of creating happy memories for others, little pieces of yourself that can stick around.

In addition to creating these new memories, dostadning encourages personal reflections on your old memories. Clearing out clutter means making more space in your life for things that truly matter; anything negative or neutral gets the metaphorical boot.

That simplicity and self-reflection is a form of self-care, bolstered by the fact that, post-cleaning, you are supposed to treat yourself to something you like.

Because of the focus on long-term organization, dostadning stands out as a more long-term solution, as opposed to the temporary fix of “tidying up.” No matter where you are in life, it’s important to remember to make time to address the cause of clutter, rather than addressing clutter as a symptom that needs a band-aid.

Perhaps you could dostadn your desk? You’ve probably got a few receipts from lunch last month you don’t need anymore or maybe you’re a water bottle collector — you know the ones that get a water bottle and don’t finish it but then get a new one anyways and then somehow wind up with a collection of bottles on and around your desk? Maybe you’ve kept every single stapler you’ve ever been given but let’s be real, do you need 5 staplers?

Maybe your clutter isn’t on your desk, but it’s in your drawers. Or maybe, just maybe it’s in the break room. Wherever your clutter lie beginning to simplify and purge things will make you (and your co-workers) happy.

By focusing on changing the way you organize things as a whole, you may find your efforts to reap longer-lasting returns.

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Opinion Editorials

Disrupting the idea that tech is the disrupter of modern business

(OPINION EDITORIAL) In a world of streaming, apps and have-it-now, it is easy to think of technology as a disrupter. But is that the issue or the symptom of a bigger issue?

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Customers matter

Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, they did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry, they did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums. AirBNB did not kill the hotel industry, they did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.

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Being non-customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. Not my words, they’re rad. That’s Davis Masten, making an elegant and effective argument for the disruption business model. Let’s get less concise.

User experience

Mr. Masten absolutely isn’t wrong. Every success story he lists got its customers based on a smooth, convenient user experience, and I’ll wager everybody reading this has a hilarious horror story about at least one of the failures.

He does undersell tech a bit. The music industry didn’t force people to buy full albums. You could buy all the singles you wanted. They were just a pain in the posterior to sort and store. Then, iTunes. If AirBNB is killing hotels it’s doing it darn slowly (which I guess might be worse?) and Netflix coexisted with Blockbuster until the former went streaming.

But that’s a quibble. Even in cases where the new model didn’t disrupt the old one until certain tech was in place, that tech was invariably in the service of a convenient, cost-effective user experience. That’s Mr. Masten’s point. Whoever wins at that, wins. Truth.

The question I really want to address: what then?

What then?

That’s a question the disruption business model has a bad habit of not answering. Well, I mean, there’s the Uber answer, the Uber answer being “behave contemptibly for years on end until your own shareholders kick you out despite you making them money.” Never give the Uber answer.

It is not a good answer.

For folks looking to be Travis Kalanick in 2013 without being Travis Kalanick in 2017, a level of responsibility is called for. As Mr. Masten points out, “disruption” usually means a smoother, simpler user experience beating the tar out of an older, clunkier one. That’s great!

It also comes with collateral damage.

Terms of employment

The ride-sharing model – and this is everybody, I’m not just picking on Uber – depends on drivers being legally self-employed. AirBNB depends on hosts not having to meet hotel regulations, and guests not expecting them. Put differently, if Uber and Lyft had to pay a living wage and offer benefits, or AirBNB hosts had to meet hotel cleanliness standards out of pocket, those services would keel over and die in a week.

That cash-in-hand approach absolutely makes things simpler for the company and the customer.

To be especially callous, it may also encourage a better user experience because workers are broke and terrified of losing their jobs, unlike, for instance, unionized cab drivers.

It’s also precarious in the extreme, and not just for employees. The Uber/Netflix model is a confluence of easy user experience and the technology that empowers it. That being the case, there will be a new “disruption” every time the tech gets measurably better. Conservatively, we’re ten years out from self-driving cars. Executives at Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Grubhub and every other “disrupter” that uses vehicles – so, all of them – would probably like that to be five years. Their drivers probably feel otherwise.

That’s the Uber error (I have now resumed picking on Uber).

They missed that “customer-centric” means more than “convenient.”

It also means “up to the customer’s standards of good business.” They couldn’t manage that even when it came to their own internal culture, and they paid for it with a public scandal, a non-negligible market segment who refuse to use their brand on principle, and “Uber, but for…” becoming a punchline.

Sustainability of disruption

The disruption model, which was synonymous with fast profits from streamlined processes, is rapidly becoming synonymous with fast failure, toxic corporate culture and horror stories of low pay and poor treatment of customers and employees alike. For those of us ancient enough to remember it recalls the change in public perception of the term “dot-com,” and seriously, short of literal Internet access, anything affiliating your business with the dot-com bubble is not your friend.

That’s still reversible, and Mr. Masten provides a superb starting point.

“Disruptive” companies generally do their disrupting by streamlining user interaction, and whether you’re writing an app or running a bank, user interaction is the most important thing.

Customer-centric

But user interaction isn’t limited to purchasing your service, and Econ 101 notwithstanding, customers buy based on more than who offers most for cheapest. In the frighteningly transparent 21st century, being customer-centric means addressing human values along with economic ones, guaranteeing that when you profit, so do your customers and employees. If your standards don’t stand up to the people who buy what you’re selling, you will not be selling it long.

That’s what “customer-centric” means. You can’t disrupt forever. Eventually, you have to build.

#Disrupters

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Opinion Editorials

How to impress people by being stupid (and when not to)

(EDITORIAL) Did you know that admitting you don’t know something can be a respectable business move? But in other situations, you better avoid it.

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You want to impress people, right?

My first job was at my aunt and uncle’s children’s bookstore, long before it was legal for me to work. My aunt drilled into me the best customer service tips I’ve received in my life. By age 13, I could answer the phone like a pro, help an aimless mother compile a bevy of meaningful gifts based on her child’s age, I could operate a register, and knew when to be patient, when to rush, when to jump, and when to sit still.

If I didn’t know the answer to any of her questions or the questions of a customer, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable response. “I don’t know, but I will find out for you right now” sufficed, but “I don’t know” was deemed ignorant, rude, and in some cases, disrespectful.

42Floors.com Founder, Jason Freedman has waxed poetic about the power of the phrase “I don’t know,” noting that when you use the phrase, even if you think you look stupid, it validates everything else you’ve said as honest rather than salesy bullshit, and rather than your just nodding your head in agreement with everything, even when you’re lost. Go read it so the rest of this editorial makes sense…

Contrasting my experience with the phrase with Freedman’s has had my mind in some knots today as I’ve sorted out why I agree with both my aunt and Freedman.

I realized that there is context in which using the phrase is actually appropriate, and advantageous, because looking stupid can actually lend credence to your words, but at some times, it is a lazy response to a request.

So which is better?

So, which is it? Use the phrase liberally, add “but I’ll find out,” or strike it from your vocabulary?

When speaking to a boss or someone that is requesting something from you, take my aunt’s advice and admit that you don’t know but that you will immediately learn the answer. If you are pitching to investors or talking to potential hires or partners, use it liberally to strengthen your other answers. You get the picture.

Freedman is right – there is value in using the phrase, but in some situations, there is value in adding the followup that you’ll find out immediately what the answer is. Both scenarios may make you feel stupid, but they both have a tremendous amount of value and are instant trust builders.

This editorial was originally published in 2014.

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