Late last year, Realtor.com launched Realtor ranking site, AgentMatch, which fueled controversy and concerns that came in all shapes and sizes. It has since been scrapped. It is no more. Despite only piloting in two cities, the volume of criticism led to the program being shuttered, and while the company said at the time that AgentMatch wasn’t dead, they have since confirmed to us that it was put on the chopping block and they started from scratch.
When the reception was less than stellar, Move asked the most vocal critics (and even a few advocates they dug up) if they would be willing to join an Advisory Board dedicated to improving the idea and eventually resurrecting it. This handful of individuals had different concerns going into their commitment, ranging from how fair the data was for team members, to how consumer-friendly the information was.
Is it AgentMatch? AgentSearch? Find A Realtor 2.0?
Insiders at Move, Inc. (which operates Realtor.com, and the former AgentMatch product) tell us that AgentMatch is no more, and hotly contest other news outlets that have referred to the second coming of AgentMatch. Right now, it is being loosely referred to as “AgentSearch,” but we have also heard it called the next version of Realtor.com’s “Find a Realtor” feature.
They do not consider it a descendant of AgentMatch, because despite the same team leading the charge, not a single line of code from AgentMatch has been recycled into the future product – they say that they started over from scratch and insist that it is not a new version of an old product; it is not a successor.
What data will be offered and when will this launch?
Little is known about what the rankings will look like, what they will offer, or how the data will be remixed, and the company is tight-lipped regarding whether this will be a separate website like AgentMatch was, or if it will be baked right into Realtor.com’s “Find a Realtor.” We suspect the latter. One source noted that the new iteration will give consumers a “Google-esque experience,” but at this time, we cannot confirm that statement.
Further, Move cannot offer any release date on the new product and notes on the record that they “are collecting and consolidating feedback and ideas from our various audiences,” and it is way too soon to announce a launch date. We suspect the launch could be as early as June.
The effective feedback loop
After speaking to several Advisory Board members, the consensus is that the feedback process is extensive and efficient, with Move staff diligently incorporating the feedback into each iteration, still led by Ernie Graham.
“I can honestly say they’ve addressed every single one of my concerns,” said Advisory Board member, Rich Shearrow, VP of Realty Ohio, “and there were a lot of them.” He opined that they’ve come up with better ways to offer qualitative data to consumers that they can actually translate, rather than offer strictly quantitative, raw data.
Various Advisory Board members told us that because consumers don’t know what they don’t know, they advised that the new product properly match consumers to the appropriate agent, not based on production numbers. It seems that consumers will be able to search with more specificity, being matched on more specific criteria like pairing buyers and sellers with a Spanish speaking agent, or an agent who has expertise in horse farms or REOs, or an agent with a specific designation, and so forth.
Move’s monetization strategy for this tool is still unclear, but one Advisory Board member confirmed that as with AgentMatch, this new ratings product does not allow anyone to pay to be at the top of the results. We believe that also like AgentMatch, this tool will not cost anything to use or to appear in.
How will Move handle the rollout?
The sticking point for Advisory Board members when asked was what challenges Move will have when rolling out this new product, even though their involvement is limited to product development, not marketing the final tool. One acknowledged a lack of trust based on how the AgentMatch product was rolled out, and another asserted that the Zillow/Trulia/Realtor.com haters will hate it no matter what.
Bryan Robertson, Advisory Board member and Managing Broker at Catarra Real Estate in San Francisco, stated that through an extensive, steady stream of conversation, his concerns of how to weigh qualitative data and quantitative data properly have been addressed, and that he feels the Advisory Board members have helped guide Move into releasing a product that “solves a need and works.”
Advisory Board member Ryan Bokros, Director of Tech & Development for RE/MAX Hometown said that like listing syndication, “how do we make it better and use it to our advantage while still benefiting consumers?” He added, “as with any new technology or software that allows us to connect with consumers, as an industry, we must keep an open mind.”
The once vocally critical Shearrow emphatically noted that comparing AgentMatch to this new product is like comparing a $30k house to a $1.4M estate. When asked whether or not he believes Advisory Board members were chosen to be elevated in stature and silenced through involvement and NDAs, he laughed and noted, “if my efforts were being ignored, I would be vocal about it,” adding that he’s been “earned over” by how the Advisory Board’s concerns have been addressed by Move.
Shearrow closed by noting that when the new product launches, there will be skeptics, but for those people that spend more than 30 seconds exploring the final product, “they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
A ridiculously easy way to combat bad reviews from non-customers
Some ratings and review sites don’t verify reviewers, so what happens when a nasty comment about you is left on Yelp or other places?
Have you ever found a business through Yelp that you wanted to like but just couldn’t make up your mind about because of the contrasting reviews of the place? Like a restaurant with the best service but had cold soup and an unresponsive hostess, or a B&B that was warm and clean but had an owner who did not provide the second B come morning time?
Some of these outlying negative reviews can be telling of the business, and I always make sure to read them in case I set my expectations too high (like I did for the eggs benedict from that diner up north).
However, while most reviews do reflect a genuine experience and are useful to would-be customers, others can be exaggerated or even outright falsified.
The anatomy of overcoming a bad review
One such encounter one of our team members had was when searching for a private firearms trainer. Her online search had taken her to a trainer she liked. However, the comments on Yelp for the trainer were horrible.
Before she ran the other way, she saw comments from the trainer that simply said, “This person is not a verified client of [Company Name].” Apparently, he made a tv news appearance advocating for a specific gun right, and people from all over the globe made negative comments.
The fact that they weren’t his clients made her totally disregard their comments, because those reviews weren’t based on his professional performance. Guess who she hired?
The unfortunate side effect of online reviews
Sites that allow anyone to review an unlimited number of businesses naturally risk exploitation. Such review sites make it possible to communicate quick, personal experiences about any business out there, and that also means an easy dig from a disgruntled customer to the place that hurts a company most.
It is up to the business to stay vigilant about what is being said out there and seek out ratings and review platforms that verify customers.
Since customers rely on sites like Yelp, businesses need to maintain their profile in the same way they would maintain their storefront. Just as they would fix the broken lighting in their lobby, they need to acknowledge any unreliable reviews a cranky customer may write about them. By having a human presence on these sites, businesses can breed a sense of integrity and accountability that others will pick up on.
If those scathing and seemingly random reviews had been acknowledged by the supposed perpetrators, I would have had an easier time overlooking the more exaggerated claims, just like my team member did.
By responding, the business provides context for the incident, but more importantly, it shows that they care.
Can service defects be measured as accurately as product defects?
Let’s remove ourselves from the real estate world for five minutes to better consider what you do from a different perspective. You are no longer at your desk. You are in a large manufacturing warehouse where “Puppy Mugs” are made. You see the assembly line and workers running to and fro. Shiny, brightly colored coffee mugs roll out on a belt to your left with the most adorable puppy pictures printed on them. As the Owner and Production Manager, it is your job to steer the ship and keep this business on track toward growth.
The last three quarters turned you just a marginal profit. The mugs are selling, but business is not where it could be. You constantly brainstorm, thinking of ways to boost production, reduce defects, and increase profit. As you ponder, your eyes sweep the floor again watching the mugs come to life through a series of procedures and steps. Your focus stops on a man standing near the belt you observed earlier. He’s not in standard warehouse uniform, but rather a soft brown leather blazer, khaki slacks, and a nice tie.
The man gazes intently through his half-moon spectacles at the little mugs popping out onto the conveyer-belt. You don’t recognize him. Bewildered, you walk towards the man. As you draw closer, you hear him naming the dog breeds as the mugs pass him by. “Bichon, Black Labrador, Newfoundland, Golden Retriever…” A warm smile spreads as he sees you approach. Hand extended, he quickly walks up and introduces himself. “Hello there – my name is Tom. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” You greet him and share some small talk; he seems like a nice guy. But you wonder, what is he doing here on my assembly line?
You learn that Tom runs a business that for the last 15 years, has helped other manufacturers of all types reduce product defects by 66% to 80%, increase their “very satisfied” customers by 50%, and produce less waste by increasing production efficiencies. Intrigued, you let Tom finish his pitch.
He looks at you and asks, “Would it be worth half an hour of your time to learn about this system and see how others utilize it? In short order, you will gain valuable insights to substantially improve your defect ratios or have independently validated statistical proof of your superior product quality that you can share with retail buyers you are trying to engage. Not only that, but it is easy to implement and surprisingly cost effective.”
You give Tom the benefit of the doubt and proceed to the second story of your building and into your office to hear what the man in the brown blazer has to say.
Back to reality
Bring yourself back to your surroundings. As an agent or broker, what are you selling? Houses? Yes. Real Estate? Sure. So is your competitor – sometimes the exact same house… so why does a client choose to buy through you and not them? That question answers what you are really selling.
It’s your primary differentiator. Service.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a “secret recipe” like the one Tom introduced to you in the story? Determining defects in a Puppy Mug production line is easy. Accurately measuring service quality and defects in service is impossible, right? Just because it is more difficult, does not mean that it cannot be done. It requires a custom tailored tool that provides a precise measure of your service based on feedback from a pool of all actual past customers. It must be objective and simple. Only then can you measure your product assembly line, providing a “map” of where to improve your product – the service you provide.
The recipe for success
To create the map, you must find or build your own client feedback tool based on surveys specific to home buyers and sellers. Hire a research organization to ensure the survey’s scientifically designed questions target the key aspects of service and overall satisfaction. This enables you to establish and manage expectations, understand where you excel or need improvement, and why they chose you. Working with a leader in service management, like QSC (which I Co-Founded), gives you credible independent validation and options for displaying your results publicly, or keeping them private until you feel comfortable sharing your feedback.
Either way, the bottom line will benefit. Any serious research based services provider will require a paper backup to an e-mail survey process, ensuring no holes and to prevent gaming – just honest feedback that clients can trust. Avoid systems developed by “marketing” companies as they are rarely based on legitimate research principals and have a vested interest in allowing for holes and gaming.
The end result
The results Tom shared in the story are directly correlated to our company’s research from millions of surveys compared to NAR’s annual study. Agents and brokerages are able to accurately measure their service performance, reduce risk, increase lead conversion and build a complete and objective track record of service performance, especially when done through a reliable third-party service management company. A consumer will pick the agent or brokerage who demonstrates superior results consistently. How do clients discover that about you? Do something to ensure consumers can choose you based on reliable, unbiased information.
Regardless of your profession, be it producing Puppy Mugs or selling houses, product quality and good service is essential to business growth and development. Most industries already use a measuring tool to ensure the quality of their product or service. How your business ensures delivery of great service is up to you – measuring service quality in real estate is both possible and accurate, if done the right way and for the right reasons!
AgentMatch concludes pilot program, but is it really dead?
The AgentMatch product by Move has been shuttered, but is it really dead, or will it rise again?
The launch of real estate agent ranking site, AgentMatch by realtor.com stirred controversy with vocal opponents critiquing the way production data was being presented. While only piloting in two cities, the pilot program has been concluded, and with that word being used in headlines, people are assuming it is dead.
AgentMatch is not dead.
Errol Samuelson wrote a letter to the public to explain that the pilot has concluded, but our sources (and Samuelson himself) allude to the fact that they’re simply going back to the drawing board. AgentMatch has not concluded, rather the pause button has been hit so they can get it right.
In the meantime, realtor.com is openly listening to input as to what the way forward is for this product, and while some may feel that it is an empty gesture, we believe it to be genuine. Input can be sent to AgentSearch@realtor.com, and we believe they are still monitoring the hashtag #AgentMatch on Twitter.
We have focused on helping real estate agents and realtor.com to understand the implications of big data and pointing out that even when raw data is presented, it takes a human touch to determine what data points are relevant and how they are presented, thus making the data subjective. This has been a key obstacle for the AgentMatch team and is the true reason they were met with so much resistance.
We have offered our suggestions for how they can make the project work, and it looks nothing like what they’ve already launched. They’re looking for input from all agents so that they can get it right, because the truth is that there are various competitors presenting this data, and Move is in a tough position wherein they will eventually need to innovate in this field so they can remain competitive.
Full letter from realtor.com President Errol Samuelson:
Realtor.com® is the consumer website for the National Association of REALTORS®. Its primary purpose is to connect REALTORS® with consumers in the digital world. This is a mandate we take seriously.
Realtor.com® is also a self-supporting entity operated by a for-profit company that does not utilize any NAR dues. No NAR funds are contributed toward the operation of realtor.com.
Both of these factors require that we innovate, experiment and look into the future in close coordination with the industry we serve.
This past summer we launched a pilot called AgentMatch in that spirit.
As you are aware, our competitors are moving ahead with their solutions regardless of industry involvement. In an age of reviews, ratings, big expectations and small attention spans, we wanted to create a service that would place facts, and the REALTORS® behind them, front and center.
AgentMatch, which we tested in two markets, aimed to do that. During this testing phase we learned that we must resolve several important issues before moving any further ahead.
We have concluded the AgentMatch pilot and are working with Realtors across the country to evolve the program and find a better way to highlight their unique attributes. NAR has been, and will continue to be, a strong advocate for its members in this process.
We learned a few things in this experiment. We learned that using an algorithm to “match” consumers with REALTORS® is misguided. A computer cannot find the best Realtor for someone, just like a computer cannot place an accurate value on a home.
We also learned just how much lies beneath metrics like days on market or list price to sale price ratio. Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story, either.
This AgentMatch pilot has concluded, but the larger project remains: We intend to create the most accurate and complete resource for consumers looking for a Realtor online, and to continue moving the industry forward with innovative solutions.
Innovation is not easy. It means accepting risk, and the occasional stumble. But it is, in all cases, energy aimed forward.
I look forward to the next steps.
This story was originally published on AGBeat on December 12, 2013.
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