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Trulia Voices: It Never Ceases to Amaze

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Yesterday, my cross-town friend and fellow Agent Genius contributor Jonathan Dalton posted a justified discourse on Trulia Voices gone wrong. 

Since its inception, Voices has had problems with agents jumping in and answering questions that, to be frank, they have no business answering. I’m talking about agents answering specific location based queries—for locations that lie thousands of miles outside their area of expertise.

Jonathan pointed to a question about an investor in Italy that was asking about opportunities in Tucson, Arizona.

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Responses included:

“I sell Real Estate in Orange County California”

” Why just Tucson? Have you checked out the Western North Carolina area?”

“I am not familiar with the Toucson area but I can tell you that in the Northwest panhandle of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico your dollars could purchase a small beach side home or condominimum[sp]”

This morning, I was alerted to a Trulia Voices question from a resident of Chandler, Arizona. They were inquiring about removing an existing private pool.

Responses included:

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“Even in Arizona, from a re-sale standpoint it is very rare that people are looking for a pool…” (This, which is completely wrong, from an agent located in…. Kansas.)

“Hi Rhonda: I live in Massachusetts. My home had an inground pool when we bought it….”

“You’ll recoup approx 30% of original cost” (from an agent in California).

Our friend from New England even adds, “On the other hand, having a cool pool to come home to in 90 degree + weather is wonderful.”

Yeah, add 25 degrees to that and it may be a matter of survival…

So why do agents from across the country feel compelled to answer a real estate question in a market they know absolutely nothing about?

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I dunno. I can only assume it’s to add to their answer tally to get placed in the “Top Voices” page. Note that of this writing, it would take 905 answers to crack the Top 10 “Most Answers” category. Answer only 2,348 times, and you can claim the top spot.

And the value of being a “Top Voice”?

I dunno. Bragging rights? A shiny button? Your name in lights? Potential clients flocking to your site?

Does it really matter?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent answers to real estate questions provided on Voices. But you’ve got to sift through mounds of dreck and shameless groveling for business to find them.

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I like Trulia, have said so publicly many times. Every Trulian I’ve met has been a great person.

But Voices is just being polluted. Trulia gains mega, giga or terabytes of free content, so I understand from their perspective why they do it. I don’t get, at all, why agents are so quick to jump all over questions they know nothing about.

Can Trulia fix it? Sure. Questions are in effect “geo coded”, as are the profiles of those who contribute. Why not have your whiz-bang programmers (and they are very good) make it so out-of-area real estate professionals can’t answer those questions? Let the questioner tag if the question is local or general, and add the code that only lets local agents answer. Not perfect, but it’s a start.

How about this? Loose the “Top Whatever” lists. All they do is provide agents (who all tend to be ultra-competitive) incentive to post meaningless drivel.

Please don’t come back and spout the “it’s a self-policing community” mantra. That’s apparently not working.

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Written By

Jay is the Broker / Owner of Thompson's Realty in Phoenix, Arizona. A self-professed "Man with a blogging problem" he can be found across the Interweb, including at the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog where he opines on all things real estate and tosses out random musings.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Benn Rosales

    May 9, 2008 at 10:32 am

    ug.

  2. Thomas Johnson

    May 9, 2008 at 10:47 am

    It seems that a large number of the questions that can lure an agent into fair housing violations are seeded by Trulia shills coupled with the latest “no follow” controversy, well, what’s the point?

    In a business where we only have a finite amount of time to devote to our online presence, it seems to me, that the time is better invested where one could develop more of a search long tail.

  3. Jonathan Dalton

    May 9, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I agree with you, Thomas, but most agents aren’t that far-sighted. They’re trying to establish an online presence NOW so they can close a sale NOW, even if the methods they’re using don’t have the slightest chance in hell of working.

    With the market slower than in previous years it’s even worse than it ever was as everyone’s trying to figure out where the business is without taking time to develop a comprehensive approach.

    Trulia Voices is two steps above appearing on The Bachelor … you and 24 others are vying to find true love (i.e. a purchase contract) and usually look groveling and sad in the effort. (Well, except for Noelle this season. She was kinda cute.)

  4. Melina Tomson

    May 9, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    I actually made a comment on Trulia that I wish that agents and appraisers would stick to areas that they know. They retorted back that I shouldn’t use the forum to bash people. I didn’t bash anyone, but I do agree that it does a great disservice to consumers when agents are answering out of area.

    I feel bad for the consumers that rely on that information.

    I like your idea. Agents upon registration would only be allowed to answer questions in the states in which they are licensed.

  5. Rebecca Levinson

    May 9, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I understand the frustration you are speaking of, and certainly it would be more valuable if real estate agents would stick to their areas.

    But I don’t know that this is just an “agent problem”. First off, real estate agents are entrepreneurs, so being ultra competitive would be a natural quality. Second, have you ever had a conversation with a “know it all” before. There are many out there. Some are pushy, others less so.

    Everyone has an opinion. When you put the questions out in www. land, those opinions are gonna be apparent, even if they are misplaced.

    So, I would agree that some policies and technological regulation (i.e only giving access to answering questions from a certain region) might be needed. Cause you can’t really expect to self-police human nature.

  6. Jay Thompson

    May 9, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    “Cause you can’t really expect to self-police human nature.”

    Very true Rebecca, and well said.

    I think the ultra-competitive nature of agents is a good thing (generally). I fall squarely into that category. I didn’t mean to imply that quality was a bad thing (and it sorta sounded that way).

    Trulia is actually smart to play that competition card. Active Rain did it too with their points system. But it has caused both of those sites, and they are not the only ones, to be filled with a whole lotta nonsense with some golden nuggets scattered about.

    But look at the free content they are getting by playing to the agent’s competitive streak. Even crappy answers can be keyword rich and reams of content are generally good from a search engine perspective.

    I feel bad for the consumers that come looking for advice and have to wade through countless meaningless answers to find it. And I sincerely hope no one ever acts on some of the bad advice, though more than likely some will/have.

  7. Mike Farmer

    May 9, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    The problem with these sites is there is no quality control, no effective moderation — it will only get worse. If you want the voice of the hoi polloi, that’s what you’ll get. I’d rather stick an ice pick in my eye than read through all that crap.

  8. Jay Thompson

    May 9, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Hoi polloi (Greek: ?? ??????), an expression meaning “the many” in Greek is used in English to denote “the masses” or “the people”, usually in a derogatory sense.

    I had to look it up. i thought it was Hawaiian….

    Mike, please stop sugar-coating your feelings…. 😉

  9. Hi! I'm Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 9, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Hi Jay + others!

    As always, thanks for your thoughts.

    I would just like to point out that I am not aware of any other open online forum that restricts your ability to comment based on geography as some suggest. If you know of one, please let me know, I would be curious to examine it.

    As I mentioned on JD’S blog,” just like w/ any online community forum, you will have both good and bad questions and answers. That’s the nature of a forum.”

    Having said that, I just published an updated version of the top 10 tips on how to use trulia voices –

    https://www.truliablog.com/2008/05/09/top-10-tips-on-how-to-best-use-trulia-voices/

    As our community continues to grow, valuable feedback like you have provided may help us enhance our community culture.

    Peace,

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia.com

  10. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    May 9, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Any online venue that promotes a user based on how many times they stick their nose in (via Trulia voices or AR comments), there will be an endless sea of uselessness. Take away the points and you’ve got a more sincere system that is comprised of agents answering questions for the consumers’ sake, not for their profiles’ sake.

  11. Jonathan Dalton

    May 9, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    When did you post that, Rudy? Is that from a previous one?

    I’ve said from the get go, stop counting answers and questions and that will clear up some. But even that won’t save Trulia from agents coming after unsuspecting users like starved coyotes.

  12. Jay Thompson

    May 9, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Rudy –

    What took you so long? 😉

    In reference to geographical restrictions…. Just because no one else does it or has done it, that means it’s not a viable solution? That isn’t very Trulia-like. “Well, no one has ever done it, so we can’t.”

    Hmmmm… Forget what everyone else does/did, set the standard!

    I participate in a lot of forum type environments. And yes, you’ll never get rid of all the junk. But it can be minimized.

    The thumbs up/down doesn’t work. It’s a popularity contest. And don’t dare call anyone out, even politely, because you will get “thumbed down” — simply for pointing out the truth.

    Maybe “geo-restricting” isn’t the answer. (though I happen to think it would work, at least for certain types of questions)

    As myself others have already suggested here and elsewhere, lose the “points”. Promoting shear volume of answers leads some to post shear volume of answers — much of which just might be not-so-swift.

    I’d rather see fewer answers that were genuine, sincere and on point. Quality over quantity wins almost every time.

    As Lani just said, “Take away the points and you’ve got a more sincere system that is comprised of agents answering questions for the consumers’ sake, not for their profiles’ sake.”

  13. ines

    May 9, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    It’s the vulture type answers that really get me every time – take a look at this one – some of the answers make absolutely no sense – starting with not addressing the “cash flow” question – it’s a big “UG” as Benn said.

    https://www.trulia.com/voices/Home_Buying/Hi_I_am_a_french_real_estate_investor_and_I_want_-34910–

    I don’t know about restricting agents to their geographic areas, because some questions are general – but maybe a big disclosure by Trulia before the green “answer this question” button that reads:

    “Are you answering a question outside your market area and expertise??? THINK TWICE” 😉

  14. Jay Thompson

    May 9, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Ines – my “geo suggestion” included having the person asking the question “tag” it with whether it was location specific or general. Therein lies one problem – it relies on someone to set a tag. But if it were made a forced field, with a simple note “by selecting local, only local professionals will respond” it seems to me it could work. Questions tagged “general” would be open for the free-for-all.

    I like the idea of a “THINK TWICE” reminder, though I suspect many would blow right past it — much as they do on Active Rain’s plagiarism warning…

    I couldn’t even get to the third answer in that Voices thread you posted. When someone starts a response to a consumer asking about Florida and Ohio with “Florida or Ohio makes no sense to me!” and ends it with, “I look forward to hearing from you. You won’t be disappointed!”, it’s just…… well, it’s stupid beyond belief. And it tends to make us all look stupid.

  15. Jay Thompson

    May 9, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    By the way Ines, YOUR answer on that voices thread was fabulous! Some of the others made me want to puke.

  16. Hi! I'm Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Lani – I hear ya. Noted….
    JD – I left the comment before I came over to AG. Maybe it’s in moderation. And I hear you as well. Dually noted.
    Jay – I also said, “If you know of one, please let me know, I would be curious to examine it.” That means that if you know of a forum that limits your commenting by geo, I’d love to examine how that community culture is and how vibrant it is. A real live example would be great to see. Personally, I would not be too fond of an open community if they only allowed me to communicate in my geo. But that’s just me. The points, yes the points…..I hear ya……

    Thanks for the suggestion Ines.

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

    I’m all about positivity.

    Rudy
    Agent Genius Guest Commenter 🙂

  17. Jay Thompson

    May 9, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Rudy – you know a I love ya man. I try to be positive about Voices, really I do. But man it’s tough some times.

    Maybe part of the issue is that Voices doesn’t really lend itself well to “teaching” others? AR does – you can leave comments that can guide thought and action. But Voices, not-so-much.

    Am I to hijack a users question (a user that is obviously a consumer) by interjecting a friendly, “did ya ever think about this” to someone who is posting a blatant groveling for business answer? That doesn’t seem fair to the person that posted the question.

    (And yes, I tried a couple of times to contact an agent directly through their profile with some friendly, positive suggestions. Both times I was swiftly met with a nasty “who the hell are you to tell me what to do” reply and suddenly almost every answer I had previously posted was the proud owner of an increased thumbs down count. That’s real mature, and I consider the source — and it really doesn’t bother me. Blog for three years and you develop thick skin. But even so, if you get that kind of response not once, but twice, you tend to say to yourself, “what’s the point of trying? Why waste my time?”)

    Posts like the one you wrote today will help (assuming users see it. And heed it). But the platform just doesn’t lend itself well to two-way dialog so others can give feedback and all can learn. Does that make sense?

    Your point about “newbies” in the on-line space is a good one. Maybe there isn’t a real effective way to “teach” via Voices and we just have to keep plugging along, hoping people “get it”. Many will, some never will. And that’s just life.

    I just feel bad for the Voices users that want answers and have to wade through so much gross self-promotion and completely off-base answers.

  18. Geordie Romer

    May 9, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Rudy-

    Thinking out loud here.

    What if… instead of listing the answers in chronological order, they were in “geographic” order?

    Same zip code as the questioner is first, followed by city, then county, state and then country..

    If there are local answers no one has to wade through the junk to get to the “golden nuggets” to find them, if there are no local answers then it’s an open game.

  19. Bill Lublin

    May 10, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Rudy – Trulia is allowed to have something on it to benefit it through the acquisition of tons and tons of free content. And I’m not sure that even the geo restriction that was discussed earlier in these comments is any kind an answer, because there are people who speak/write without thinking all over the world.

    If these agents percieve a benefit to themselves for answering a question (whether they really have the answers or not) they will answer, and without moderation or discretionary publishing on Trulia’s part (which is a commercial and philosophical position that is not up to anyone but Trulia) I don’t think this is a problem which will go away. In fact, as agents seek more and more ways to garner recognition from consumers through electronic recognition, I think the problem will grow,

    @ Ines I want something like the Staple’s “EASY” Button that is (strong> everywhere in the real world that says “Are you answering a question outside your market area and expertise??? THINK TWICE” Think of all of the people in every trade and profession that might have to restrict their conversations. 😉

    I guess the bottom line is that people seeking aggrandizement look for any forum to achieve it, and competitve people like rankings. I think that’s its a personal issue, however, I need to find 2348 questions to write answers to so that I can kick Deborah Madey’s butt and become Number 1 !
    😉

  20. Bill Lublin

    May 10, 2008 at 7:15 am

    Speaking about writing without thinking – please note my use of the Non-XTHML phrase (strong> 🙁
    Mea Culpa

  21. Chris Shouse

    May 10, 2008 at 9:49 am

    There are many zip codes in Las Vegas that are very close together and someone living in a different part of the valley is usually up to date on the whole valley not just one zip code but they could be listed by city as a factor on listing the order. I do not answer any questions except Las Vegas:) Am I a good girl or what LOL

  22. Hi! I'm Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 12, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Jay! – Yeah, education is the key. And that goes both ways you know. Newbies will go through a learning curve as to what works and what does not work when having a conversation online – that goes for blogs and forums alike. Likewise, the platform providers must continue to listen to what the community users/members like and don’t like. Together, a better experience can be established.

    Hi Geordie! – Although interesting, it might hinder the flow/ hierarchy of the conversation.

    Hi Bill! – That’s the challenge. Restricting conversations is not what we want to do. The goal is to encourage more fulfilling conversations. By the way, having met Deborah Madey in person, I can attest that she is one sharp Realtor® and a fantastic lady to boot.

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia.com

  23. Ronnie Bredahl

    May 20, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Trulia acts like they are our (Realtors) best friend. They are simply a traffic aggregator using our MLS information to drive traffic to their site. Rudy (the social guru) and Trulia Roger are both very nice guys. You will see them post wherever Realtors make negative statements about the tech company. Take what they say with a grain of salt. Trulia CEO Pete Flint signs their checks.

    If we continue to use 3rd party traffic aggregators, we are slowly, but surely, selling our souls to the devil (in sheep’s clothing). Do you want to pay Trulia for your MLS information in the future? I can see it now….for only $199, You can be the featured agent for Your Listing!! Or how about – Enhance your listings for only $99/month! NAR already screwed us with Realtor.com, why let a 3rd party come in and lick the wounds? I refuse to screw myself and I hope we can get the other million+ Realtors on board. If so, goodbye Trulia! Without the MLS that we so willingly HAND them on a silver platter, Trulia would be a ghost town with a bunch of echoing “Voices.”

    https://activerain.com/blogsview/514880/Trulia-s-New-Logo

  24. Hi! I'm Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 20, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Ronnie!

    I always value everyones opinion. However, your tone here as well as on your blog post and on Voices is really over the top I think. I appreciate a good dialog and have addressed many of the misrepresentations you write about over and over.

    Trulia is a friend and partner to agents and brokers. We support each other. Adding your listings on Trulia is FREE. Participating on Trulia Voices, our real estate community, is FREE. Creating a profile is FREE. Have you actually tried to take advantage about the FREE services we offer? If not, I challenge you and everyone else to take some time to do that. Them come back to me with your thoughts. Because if you haven’t tried it, I really don’t think you have a solid footing to knock it. Makes sense?

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Triulia

    Commenting LIVE from Bloodhound Unchained – Mr. Glenn Kelman of Redfin is speaking now.

  25. Ronnie Bredahl

    May 20, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Rudy,
    Over the top? And I have been quit proud of myself for biting my tongue. Go write another blog post. I’m getting bored reading the same ol’ Trulia ROI post you keep throwing up all over the place. You have every right the promote Trulia just as I have every right to inform Realtors to your deceptions.

    Misrepresentation? Go read your Trulia ROI post again. It is deceiving at best.

    I HAVE tried your free services. Trulia Voices is nothing more than throwing a brisket into a pig pen. I do not understand why Realtors use Trulia to promote their listings over developing their own site. Trulia has some fantastic technology, but in the end, they only take traffic/leads away from the Realtor. If you ask me, Realtor.com, Homegain, and Trulia are all in the same boat. They specialize in forming partnerships with MLS’s and Realtor boards to access listing data only to turn around and sale it back to us at whatever price make their shareholders happy. No thank you! Trulia is an unnecessary middleman offering no value. Their business model is simply to take data from a source, distribute content, and sale back to the original source. Trulia the Real Estate Pirate!

    How does Trulia expect to make a profit? When is your financial model going to change? Is Trulia always going to be free? I smell something and it stinks worse than the infamous NAR/Move.com contract. However this time NAR is not even in the picture. If Trulia takes over, all Realtors can do is look in the mirror. It’s your fault for being so near-sighted!

    Trulia is currently jockeying for position to become an 800lb gorilla than none of us little people (w/o VC funds) will be able to touch. When that happens, I’ll be the guy telling all you Realtors “I told you so. Look what you turned them into.”

    Through informing Realtors of the dangers of Trulia now, hopefully it will never come to that and Trulia’s stock options will be nothing more than glorified toilet paper. I would still opt for the two-ply if I were you 😉

    You’re a nice guy, Rudy. That is why Trulia sent you on a mission to give the entire Realtor community a false sense of friendship. It’s a genius social move for a group of analytical programmers! Wicked smart!

    The truth is, sir, you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing and I’m calling your bluff. You’re simply playing a role. The cool thing is…you now have dozens of Realtors playing the PR game with you (or against you).

    The Question is: Will the Silicon Valley backed Trulia succeed in “flying under the radar” or will the individual Realtor community unite and stop the machine? It will be interesting to see how things turn out. Either way, Rudy, no hard feelings. I know it is only Realtor commissions that Trulia is after, or a fraction thereof.

  26. Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 21, 2008 at 1:10 am

    Hi Ronnie!

    “Their business model is simply to take data from a source, distribute content, and sale back to the original source”

    We don’t take, we receive. Our partners understand the value they are receiving. They add their clients listings to Trulia for FREE and we send them the consumer traffic for FREE. This will remain the same.

    We are a successful business. We make our money via banner advertising and optional enhancements.

    I have never been a believer in scare tactics. So I”m saddened when I see comments like yours. When I was actively selling real estate I put my clients listings where the most buyers were. If I were active today, I would most certainly add my clients listings not only on Trulia but a host of other free or cost effective major online real estate destinations as well. To me, I just think it’s in the sellers best interest to do so. I want to help solve their real estate problem. Besides pricing it right, exposure is one of the best ways to do that.

    Personally, I have hundreds of real estate agent friends. I care about them. I care about helping agents as does everyone at Trulia. That’s one of the major reasons I joined Trulia. No hard feelings to you either Ronnie, but there is no bluff to call.

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia

  27. Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 21, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Forgot to mention:

    “I know it is only Realtor commissions that Trulia is after, or a fraction thereof.”

    This is the farthest thing from the truth. You must have us mistaken with some other company.

    Rudy

  28. Ronnie Bredahl

    May 21, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Banner advertising is so 1998 and the “optional enhancements” will be further “enhanced” with additional “features.” Sound familar? It all starts with a trickle.

    Trulia wasn’t around at the time, but Realtors remember the day Realtor.com took away all the agent contact information on all MLS listings only to sell it back as an “enhanced listing” for a mere $199/yr. (valued at *INCLUDEDWITHYOURDUES*). Stupid NAR!

    Screw me once shame on me………..

    Pardon me, but I’m going to go surf Trulia to see who’s buying banner advertising in 2008. I have a Nigerian Bank account with $20 million. All I need is a SSN, account#, and a fast getaway car. Suckers!

  29. Rudy from Trulia.com

    May 21, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Hi Ronnie!

    I have to admit, you are really passionate about what you believe 🙂 However, please do take a look at who we have buying banner advertising on the site……

    “Trulia wasn’t around at the time, but Realtors remember the day Realtor.com took away all the agent contact information on all MLS listings only to sell it back as an “enhanced listing” for a mere $199/yr.”

    Ah, but Ronnie, many of us at Trulia have been in the business for a good amount of time and in reference to what you are saying in the above quote, not gonna happen my friend.

    Stay tuned….I think you’ll have a change of heart…..

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia 🙂

  30. Eric Bramlett

    May 21, 2008 at 7:37 am

    “Trulia wasn’t around at the time, but Realtors remember the day Realtor.com took away all the agent contact information on all MLS listings only to sell it back as an “enhanced listing” for a mere $199/yr.”

    Ah, but Ronnie, many of us at Trulia have been in the business for a good amount of time and in reference to what you are saying in the above quote, not gonna happen my friend.

    https://www.trulia.com/agents/feature

    Doesn’t seem far off, no? What happens when Trulia investors need some of that $17.5m seed money back? Are the banner ads going to get it for them?

  31. ssn search

    March 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Any online venue that promotes a user based on how many times they stick their nose in (via Trulia voices or AR comments), there will be an endless sea of uselessness. Take away the points and you’ve got a more sincere system that is comprised of agents answering questions for the consumers’ sake, not for their profiles’ sake

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