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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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11 Comments

11 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!

  5. Rex fletcher

    February 2, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Homelights deliberately misleading and erroneous adverts will hurt the industry…they only feature agents who pay them…so how do they speak for all agents….from their ads it seems that the top 3 agents are only the agents who they refer to people….and to insist that there is a review part to their deliberating rather than just their performance(total transactions) part is rediculous…..so to appease to lower performing agents they ask for review entry..its rediculous….they are misleading the public into believing that they have all the good agents….without telling the public that they are getting referral kickbacks…and Brokers are involved…well that stops us agents from making the decisions..its being done for us….not right

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Business Finance

How to survive a recession in the modern economy

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Advice about surviving a recession is common these days, but its intended audience can leave a large gap in application.

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There’s no question of whether or not we’re in a recession right now, and while some may debate the severity of this recession in comparison to the last major one, there are undoubtedly some parallels–something Next Avenue’s Elizabeth White highlights in her advice on planning for the next few months (or years).

Among White’s musings are actionable strategies that involve forecasting for future layoffs, anticipating age discrimination, and swallowing one’s ego in regards to labor worth and government benefits like unemployment.

White isn’t wrong. It’s exceptionally important to plan for the future as much as possible–even when that plan undergoes major paradigm shifts a few times a week, at best–and if you can reduce your spending at all, that’s a pretty major part of your planning that doesn’t necessarily have to be subjected to those weekly changes.

However, White also approaches the issue of a recession from an angle that assumes a few things about the audience–that they’re middle-aged, relatively established in their occupation, and about to be unemployed for years at a time. These are, of course, completely reasonable assumptions to make…but they don’t apply to a pretty large subset of the current workforce.

We’d like to look at a different angle, one from which everything is a gig, unemployment benefits aren’t guaranteed, and long-term savings are a laughable concept at best.

White’s advice vis-a-vis spending is spot-on–cancelling literally everything you can to avoid recurring charges, pausing all non-essential memberships (yes, that includes Netflix), and downgrading your phone plan–it’s something that transcends generational boundaries.

In fact, it’s even more important for this generation than White’s because of how frail our savings accounts really are. This means that some of White’s advice–i.e., plan for being unemployed for years–isn’t really feasible for a lot of us.

It means that taking literally any job, benefit, handout, or circumstantial support that we can find is mandatory, regardless of setbacks. It means that White’s point of “getting off the throne” isn’t extreme enough–the throne needs to be abolished entirely, and survival mode needs to be implemented immediately.

We’re not a generation that’s flying all over the place for work, investing in real estate because it’s there, and taking an appropriate amount of paid time off because we can; we’re a generation of scrappy, gig economy-based, paycheck-to-paycheck-living, student debt-encumbered individuals who were, are, and will continue to be woefully unprepared for the parameters of a post-COVID world.

If you’re preparing to be unemployed, you’re recently unemployed, or you even think you might undergo unemployment at some point in your life, start scrapping your expenses and adopt as many healthy habits as possible. Anything goes.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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