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In a World of Amazon and Yelp Reviews #RTB Is Very Easy

gold-star3There is a heated discussion going on right now in the regarding professionalism within and consumers’ opinions of the Real Estate Profession and how to bring the two into alignment.  While how to “fix” the problem has become a polarizing issue, the fact that there IS an issue does not seem to be in dispute.  On the less sinister side of things are the agents who are simply not yet prepared to advise consumers on real estate issues.  Has this resulted from a low barrier of entry, too little or too much government control, too little broker oversight?  One can only hypothesize, but my guess is that it is a combination of all .  On the far more evil side of things are the cheating, lying, lazy and all around bad apples (any level of education, entry, etc. will not help this crowd)…. So the question is, how do we “fix” the first, weed out the second and save our reputation and consumers all at the same time?

My suggestion? Reviews.

Consumers use reviews for everything these days, from buying a book or car to selecting lawyers and doctors.  They read the review, weigh the pros and cons and make their decision armed with a better understanding of what they are actually going to receive as a result of those insights from fellow consumers and their past experiences.

At least one review system has been tried in the past in real estate (Quality Service Certification) but if consumers aren’t aware of the service there is little value to using it or being reviewed on it.  A system would need to be implemented which has the power of Yelp, Amazon or Service Magic.  Consumers need to be able to easily find and review the comments and ratings about specific professionals.  This provides a very strong incentive to real estate professionals to do a great job from start to finish with current clients as we know if you don’t, future prospects could read about it.  Testimonials are great, but you only get them from past clients for whom you did a good job, consumer based reviews levels the playing field and highlights both the good and the bad.

A well implemented and marketed rating system for real estate professionals could help solve many of our current woes.  While it might not change the barrier of entry, it will help highlight those in need of additional oversight by their brokers or the ones who simply do a crummy job.  The bad apples would no longer be able to hide and find new victims quite as easily and will either need to change their ways or find a new profession.

It seems simple and elementary and that is the beauty of it.  Do a good job, be rewarded for it.  Do a poor job and reap what you sow.

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So, what do you think? Can a consumer rating system help raise our industry from within and the perception from without?

Written By

Janie has been in the development, construction and real estate industries for over 20 years. She began her career in commerical construction and has slowly worked into all of the related industries and added residential properties to her resume 7 years ago. She is currently the co-owner of sister companies, Papillon Real Estate and Papillon ReDevelopment (a construction and project management firm). Janie blogs for The Coral Gables Story. In her "free" time, she is a graduate student of Atlantic History with a focus on the history of business and technology. She is a lover of geo-anything. She loves the story.



  1. Craig Frooninckx

    February 24, 2010 at 11:24 am is one such agent rating site, the consumers don’t search for Real Estate Ratings so how do they find it?

    • Janie Coffey

      February 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

      that is the problem, until someone sets up a site where it is so marketed that consumers will use that like they do Yelp, Amazon, etc. it won’t work. It has to be very heavily used to be actually beneficial to both consumers and have a positive influence on our profession.

  2. Matt Stigliano

    February 24, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Janie – Somewhere I mentioned this idea before (wish I could remember where now) and in some ways I love it, some ways I hate it.

    Reasons to love it?

    The obvious is that we are reviewed by everyone of our clients, every time we interact with them. That’s what referral business is based on. We do well, we get more business. We do poorly and no one would dare attach their name to our services. Reviews give a credibility to what we claim – we work hard, we go the extra mile, we save buyers money, we get homes sold faster. What ever we promise, we had better deliver. It keeps us on our toes so to speak.

    Who doesn’t love to be told they did a great job? That pat on the back is not only self-assuring, but could result in more business if given in public (on the internet). Knowing that a negative review could result in less business will quickly make agents strive to be better than ever before.

    Reasons to hate it?

    People have a tendency to only share when they have something negative to say. Although I think sites like Yelp are working to change that, just take a look at apartment reviews for a great example of how negativity can creep into even the best places. Looking through apartment reviews, I’ve seen more negatives about places I know to be excellent, than I have positives. I’d be willing to bet that many agents have one or two disgruntled clients who’d be more than willing to go for the throat than admit that although they’d didn’t love their experience, it wasn’t as bad as their review.

    I don’t intend to pretend that all consumers are wrong when they have an issue. Many bad experiences are just that – bad experiences that are the agent’s fault. However, one “bad apple” (review) could ruin the bunch…it works both ways.

    Of course, there are the issues with who runs the site. Yelp has been accused of favoring those businesses that pay for their service and running the negative reviews at the top of those who don’t. Some have even said it amounts to extortion. In the world of real estate, I would be willing to bet my license that whoever ran with this idea would find a way to turn it back on us and make us pay. Whether to be a member, to stay at the top of the local search, or to have the ability to respond and comment on our reviews. Somehow, it would turn into just another point-grabbing, VIP-status-wanting, I’m-a-featured-member nightmare with agents trying to outdo each other for status instead of substance.

    However, I would welcome anyone who could build a system where incentives and status are not part of the mix. A true review site with the proper fact-checking could be an incredibly useful thing for agents and consumers.

    Just a few thoughts, I’m sure there’s more stuck in my head. If I shake them loose, I’ll let you know.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

      Great points Matt, both on the pro side as well as the con side. And it is true that people may only go to a site like that when they have a gripe, but if everyone began to rate the agents, then if there a few negative reviews (which we know might happen) if you have an overwhelming number of strong ones, then the net effect is still positive (very rarely does a book have all glowing reviews on Amazon for example, but if the majority tend to be high then you still view it favorably). It is getting the mass participation of consumers that would make it work or not. My general contracting company uses a site for leads which has a rating system for the project once complete. All of our leads who use us then rate us (they actually like to share with others when they find a good contractor). We have had a very high percentage who then go back to the site and fill out the ratings (they have an email generated request when the job is complete).

      Also right that it would have to have no tinge of “bought” ratings to be really useful. and most importantly, a very high level of use by consumers…

  3. Nobu Hata

    February 24, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Houston Assoc. of Realtors is field testing a Realtor rating system ( based on questionnaires post-closing; they’re one of (I think) three Associations testing these platforms with the blessing of NAR. Between those tools and yelp! for business (and when do you think LinkedIn will start a ratings platform?) I for one am welcoming these tools because that’s what the consumer demands and expects, whether or not they choose to use them. Houston is already giving it to them, skewed or not.
    Most agents won’t have much to worry about. Will it #RTB? Short term: no. But it will make those bad apples be on notice that those tools are available to the consumer. Long term: yes. Use and further refinement of these tools will leave us no choice but to follow suit within our business practices with the looming fear of increased consumer use. A win-win for everyone.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      that is exactly what I think Nobu, over the longtime it could have a big impact. If an agent knows that their poor performance will be exposed and good performance rewarded and they know that reviews do count, things will change. Not just in our industry but all service and product industries in general. The rise of consumer ratings is a good thing all the way around for consumers.

  4. Ted Mackel

    February 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Those familiar with Redfin ….. They set up partner agents in areas they do not have a Redfin brokerage and it’s limited to how many partners they will carry in any given area. The interesting feature is that the interview process to become a Redfin Partner Agent is pretty darn aggressive. You have to qualify with closed transactions, a phone interview and in person interview. They pull all your closed transaction off the MLS and go out to your past clients for a rating a review. Even while you are a partner agent they continue to survey every one of your closed transactions, even if those transactions are your own lead and keep your profile up to date. If you fall below the Redfin standard then you could lose your partnership position.

    My thoughts are that most brokerages would be in serious trouble is they had a similar service.

    For those of you that want to criticize Redfin rebates …. most agents I know pay some hefty referral fees to other agents just for a name and phone number and no pre-qualification. I don’t see much difference.

    I do a great comparison to opening a Subway Sandwich Franchise and becoming a Real Estate in my training classes. If you ever bump into me at a conference or event, just ask, it’s pretty eye opening.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 24, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      I’d love to hear the Subway to Real Estate comparison, maybe you can make a video of it?

  5. Jason Lopez

    February 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Yelp already has many agents claiming their profile and using it for customer reviews. The trend I think will be toward the actual brokerage doing it themselves like Redfin does. That will seperate the haves from the have nots as most brokerages just don’t have the guts to do it….but make no mistake…ratings and reviews are coming…and fast!

    • Janie Coffey

      February 24, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      ohhhh, so maybe it is already there. I’m off to check out Yelp and agents now! thank you for the heads up

  6. John Kalinowski

    February 24, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    The only concern I have are the consequences resulting from the consumers who post negative feedback that simply isn’t true. Seems like it could become a big “he-said, she-said” system.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 25, 2010 at 9:16 am

      There is that risk but I would think that if a high ratio of past consumers participated that negative feedback would hopefully be well balanced by many many more good reviews.

  7. Benn Rosales

    February 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I personally pay no attention to ratings about people anymore, they’re always questionable and ultimately subjective and you never get to hear both sides of what may or may not have gone wrong. I do however pay attention to ratings on the brand itself as you can really get a sense of its culture, and dedication to quality and service.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 24, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      Benn, that is a very good differentiation.

  8. Mike

    February 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Angies list already does this. Consumers have to pay to make use of it though. Redfin loses a lot of credibility with me when they have a disclaimer saying that they do not put offers in on short sales. Their excuse is, that it most likely will not close. My market is 30% SS last I checked. I say, educate the clients, and let them decide if they want to make an offer on a SS. To exclude SS, just reeks of laziness. Sorry to veer off topic.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 25, 2010 at 9:18 am

      Angie’s list is a perfect example and I know consumers who will only hire based on Angie’s List to hire their professionals

  9. Ted Mackel

    February 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm


    As Far as I understand Redfin does not preclude partner agents from engaging buyers in a short sale purchase. I think that is just for their in-house agents.

  10. Hal Benz

    February 24, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I welcome the idea of an agent rating system, and I don’t think agents should really worry about it. I don’t ever remember buying a book from Amazon where there wasn’t at least a few bad reviews. Overall, the good outweighs the bad, and people make their decisions accordingly.

    But sadly, I’m not sure if consumers trust our industry enough to let brokerages or even Association run the review sites themselves. I’m very interested in the pilot program in Houston, and am eager to see how it’s recieved by the public.

    In the meantime, I really like the idea of claiming your Yelp! profile and encourageing cloients to review you there.

    • Janie Coffey

      February 25, 2010 at 9:21 am

      I totally agree to be the most effective and of value it should be put together by a third party, not a local or national Realtor association. It could be adopted into systems already in place like yelp as mentioned above.

  11. Nashville Grant

    February 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I like the idea of an agent review site, but don’t trust some of my peers to not ‘game the system’. We are in such a competitive industry that every effort to rate an agent has been skewed or artificially adjust. That’s what happened at and why no one seems to be using them anymore. It seems to me that the best medicine is still word of mouth.

  12. Jim Olenbush

    February 24, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    A central place for reviews sounds great in theory, but in reality I think it would just make our profession look even worse. Imagine a website filled with one nightmare story after another.

    The happy, satisfied customers often forget to post a review, but the mad (and sometimes crazy) customers will post and post until they feel better.

  13. Elaine Reese

    February 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    In my former career as a brand manager of consumer products, the company guaranteed satisfaction with the products. On a regular basis, we would check the rate of satisfaction on a given brand by the money that was refunded. Routinely, the lower the price of the product, the higher the satisfaction rate. It wasn’t that the low price product performed better – it didn’t – it was that when people pay less then they expect less, and thus were more satisfied. The higher priced, better performing products actually had more refunds issued because people who spent more money weren’t forgiving and expected 100% performance.

    Translate that “Level of Expectation” phenomenon to the agent who discounts their commission vs a higher priced, higher performing agent. The client may feel that the cheaper agent didn’t do much but they are OK with that because they also didn’t pay that much for the service. The high-priced agent will be expected to perform to much higher standard and thus, will be judged more harshly if there is any discrepancy (real or perceived) to their performance.

    That is the risk of having an online rating system. The lower-performing, but cheaper agents could actually have far more positive reviews. That would seem to be the opposite effect that is hoped a rating system will achieve.

  14. Jonathan Benya

    February 25, 2010 at 2:19 am

    I’d love to see something like this actually happen, but how do you gain mass consumer appreciation and approval? has been doing it for years, but how many of your clients have ever even seen the site? Something like this should go hand in hand with NAR or local governing bodies, but to get it out to the consumer I would suspect that big bucks will be needed, constantly, in order to actually get buyers/sellers to use the system. I say bring it on, the more ways to cut the wheat from the chaff, the better!

  15. Dunes

    February 25, 2010 at 2:41 am

    I find this topic interesting and would applaud any movement made by Agents to improve the industry or peoples understanding/perception of it.

    The industry IMO is losing credibility mainly because the public now has a window and can view you as never before. The buyers who use that window many times are in that age group that know how to maximize the use of being able to view you. They know more about Social Media and using it than you do plus let’s face it the Industry is often represented in Forums ect. used heavily by consumers by Agents I’m sure you often wished would put the keyboard into retirement, spammers, experts with no expertise ect.

    I say the above to illustrate the point that there is a multifaceted problem in establishing credibility. In other words if you lose credibility in the Forums you will not gain it back with a site full of My Agent did a good job because no one will believe it and why should they.
    Hal touched on an excellent point IMO. Why would you think if Associations or Agents/Brokers were connected or involved in the system Consumers would give it credibility?

    I believe there are many Excellent Agents but that they are the ones the consumer seldom sees or hears plus they often spend their time talking to each other and not the Consumer, they run from the Forums because they cannot handle the comments made by other Agents, the one’s helping/creating the negative image. What difference does it make if you are saying all the things Consumers want to hear but you are saying it to each other and not the Consumer?

    YOU …Agents like you need to claim the window, it is your industry and the Consumer should/needs to see YOU. TAKE CONTROL OF THE FORUMS.

    Let the Consumer see you stop the Spammers, give the ANSWERS to questions asked not lead-generating responses, don’t prospect FSBO’s , don’t toss out NAR talking points, fight to get those answers out there and be heard. Fight do not run!

    BE CREDIBLE in that window so they can have the passing thought….Maybe you might be credible in doing business with.

    There is so much IMO to be done to repair the Credibility (Not all your fault, a large part is the times) So I thank-you for having these types of discussions and your time but would just like to reinforce a thought….What sites do Consumers most talk about using concerning Real Estate? I’d say Zillow and Trulia at this time, it might change but at this time it’s those 2. If you (the excellent Agents IMHO) do not control them you control nothing in terms of turning public perception around and if you continue to allow the call me buy buy buy I’se a expert cause I gots a license Agents control those sites then millions watch them and WHO SEES YOU?

    Please consider the the old saying ” You get what you see” because I think what a large segment of the consumer base is seeing is the Agents on Zillow /Trulia and they are thinking “I don’t want what I see”

    • Matt Stigliano

      February 25, 2010 at 6:06 am

      Dunes – Having spoken to you several times before, I wonder what your opinion/line of thinking is on this…

      Let’s take Trulia for exampe. Consumer A asks question, and Agents B, C, and D jump in with answers. The answers are thinly disguised “pick me” posts with little substance and no real help to Consumer A (as we all have seen many times over). Agent X walks in and is of the type that you call “Excellent Agents.” How does Agent X fight the negative perception already created in the room? Obviously, their first goal should be to answer the question and be helpful, but what then? Is there a next step? Is there a way to help show that it “doesn’t have to be like this” and that there is a better way of conducting ourselves online?

      Don’t get me wrong, agents are free to conduct themselves however they want online (within the guidelines of the law and their broker), but if there is definitely a “better way” should we not be able to find a way to push the industry in that direction starting at an agent by agent level?

      Just thinking out loud.

  16. Houstonblogger

    February 25, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I did the HAR profile comment rating system for awhile, but found that it was annoying. My clients would send me testimonials claiming 5-star service, then rate the actual “transaction” as a 4 because they seller didn’t agree to something, or the a/c broke (even though it was written up on inspection and they didn’t care nor want it fixed) the next day and I should have “caught” that. I don’t want to have to go back and dispute stupidity. So, I just stopped having it available. Granted, I 99% of my feedback was positive, but even 1 bad comment that had nothing to do with you can make you look like a bit of a nimrod and plant the seed in a consumers mind that you have no clue what you are doing. JMO.

  17. Dunes

    February 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm


    “Is there a way to help show that it “doesn’t have to be like this” and that there is a better way of conducting ourselves online?”
    Yes, you go somewhere where you can show it and show it to those that matter (the public).
    I use Trulia as an example only because it’s the most known to me.

    As Agents often accuse the public of being too general in their view of Agents (they don’t separate us from the bad ones they lump us together) it is my opinion Agents do the same often with the public. As you look at the Forum Agents often see the worse of the public (Agents are crooks, Agents are evil) just as the public who passes by sees (Buy buy buy, call me, blah blah) The two observers never meet and talk because neither wants to dirty themselves, both just shake their heads, go their separate ways with incorrect assessments of each other. (Man those Agents are car-sale blah blah vs Man the public won’t listen, we need to educate them, they know nothing) The truth is the majority of both sides have much in common and need to talk but never meet……………

    Trulia for example (I do not know zillow that well) has Community guidelines about Spam behavior blah blah but they are mostly unenforced plus you have 1 moderator who working a 9-5 M-F so 5 to 9 and weekends are an unmonitored free for all spam away ect.

    Agents should fix that, you are the ones who want to be heard so create an environment where you can be. Let the public see you are taking responsibility for doing something that simple. Make it known that you want Trulia to enforce it’s guidelines and monitor the Forum. It’s a priority for “good agents” to do that in every window.

    I answered a 1000 questions before anyone gave me enough credibility to listen so why would you expect to pop in and out, answer one question here/there and have credibility?

    I’m blah blahing and that’s not my intention so I apologize but this cannot be explained in one comment so perhaps you would all consider this challenge….

    Pick a day M-F between 9-5 round up as many “good agents” as you can and go to Trulia, answer questions, if you see spam flag it and say something, if an Agent is talking nonsense then say so, don’t back down, work the Forum for a day in numbers, represent yourselves/your industry the way you think it should be for just one day..just one!

    Come back here or anywhere and discuss that day…What did you see? A lot of what behavior, questions, types of agents, contributors…discuss how many members of the public see it every day 24/7…Analyze it, look at the Forum, read thu review how the day you were there in numbers appears to you from the position of viewer compare with any random day you wish that you were not there.

    If you can’t or do not see the difference in what the Public sees regarding Agents between the day you are there in numbers vs the normal day of “bad agents” controlling the Forum then I have no point and will not push it any longer.

    My main point/thought opinion is this….You can discuss Trust, restoring it, ranking systems ect. all you want but IMO in the minds of a majority of the public you have no credibility so no matter what you do you will never have the public interest or attention long enough to GAIN Trust. YOU MUST ESTABLISH SOME CREDIBILITY FIRST so you have an opportunity to earn the Trust.

    “Is there a next step?”
    Only if you get past the first one otherwise what difference does it make.

  18. Bob

    February 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    “I find this topic interesting and would applaud any movement made by Agents to improve the industry or peoples understanding/perception of it.

    The industry IMO is losing credibility mainly because the public now has a window and can view you as never before.”

    Reviews wont change that.

  19. Dunes

    February 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm


    Last word comment I promise…Go look at the question you answered yesterday on benefits of using an Agent…You tell me if that one comment made a difference in that thread vs the other thread you are familiar with about what does an Agent do, what is there value? (I call it the I work hard for my money thread lol)

  20. Ben Harris

    February 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Coming at this from a UK perspective, firstly I’m surprised to hear that you have a poor image with the public because it’s always been our understanding that you are one of the most respected professions in the US.

    Putting that aside, it is certainly an issue in the UK and we are beginning to see an increase in customer awareness of certain review sites. There are a few sites that are beginning to host specific reviews on Estate Agents and I am getting lots of agents asking me how they should approach them and where they should direct clients with positive reviews.

    I started off by telling them to do a Google search of their company name with the word ‘review’ and see where they are already commented on. If there is a site already high up the results with comments on their business then jump in and make sure you are getting good feedback.

    However, nowadays my advice to them is to ignore specific review sites such as some of the ones mentioned above ( etc) because there is no guarantee they will be around for the long term. Google however are here to stay and if you are in the Google business directory (I’d expect all good REA’s are) then you have the opportunity to be reviewed there. Direct happy clients to post reviews here and it will not only help the public perception of your business but also increases the likelihood of you appearing on the first page for local business searches (forgive me if Google work differently over there).

    In terms of working to build a more positive view of the indusrty, I’d expect this can only come through a collective effort probably through a large organisation such as NAR (don’t know the politics of that). We have no barrier to entry in our industry whatsoever (not even basic exams) and have similar issues with rogue performers and I’m of the opinion that the public when actually being involved in the moving process wil ake their own opinion based on the people they deal with – that’s where individuals make a difference.

  21. Ken Brand

    February 25, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    No doubt, a reliable way to peruse performance ratings would be a welcome service to prospective buyers and sellers.

    The challenge and ultimate barrier to such a tool is that it takes the cooperation and participation (on some level) of the majority. The majority who most likely won’t shine, but show up dull. Therefore, not likely if it requires promotion by the very people (brokers and agents) it will hurt.

    The answer, eventually, will be the ability to search (google style, or something else) a specifically created search: “Realtor – by name” service. This service would return summary recap performance rating based on what was gleaned from on-line comments, status update, positive and negative references/reviews/remarks, marketing footprints/fingerprints, etc. A service developed using a specially developed Realtor/real estate agent algorithm.

    In the future, as more and more people use social medias to comment and converser about their real estate transactions, experience, etc., and for fun throw in a query to the private date pool from futuristic, know everything about every property, RPR, just such a service might be available. Imagine a paying a $25 fee to a service that would serve up that kind of information, sorta like a Car Fax or a Credit Report, or full blown Realtor Dossier?

  22. Fred Glick

    February 28, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    How about we make such a section here on AG? Consumers can get to rate agents and there can be safeguards set up to make sure they are real. tries, but they have no way of verifying the transaction and the person placing the reviews.

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