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Be Careful How You Answer

I have an unusual hobby, I like to lurk on Trulia Voices.  I rarely participate in the conversation mostly because I am not all that interested in chatting with people who don’t use their real names on-line and who use Trulia for a second opinion when they don’t like what their Realtor told them.

As I lurk I can see that someone needs to educate agents on some important rules.  One agent on Trulia voices steered a consumer away from a neighborhood that he was interested in by saying that another neighborhood is better.

Another agent gave a potential home buyer some advice that looked to me like legal advice.  I am not sure if it is just a local thing but I can not give legal advice or tax advice to clients or potential clients.

There are agents on Trulia voices who blatantly solicit business from consumers who are already under contract with another agent. That is against our code of ethics.

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There is more but I don’t see the point in writing about all of it. If you are an agent using Trulia voices I believe that the same rules apply on line as they do off line when it comes to fair housing laws and to the Realtor code of ethics.

To brokers and managers who have agents working with them I think it might be a good idea to educate your agents.  I am not a lawyer and can not give legal advice but it is possible that brokerages have some legal exposure too.

Written By

Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.



  1. Lani Rosales

    November 19, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I’m amazed at the behavior of some agents online and how easy some just shed the Code of Ethics to get in bed with a client. No paycheck is worth losing your career over and T, you’re right- if brokers knew what their agents were saying on Trulia Voices, there would be some rollin’ heads…

  2. Susan Milner

    November 19, 2008 at 11:43 am

    This is so true. Sometimes I answer a question on there but I see so many answers that are very scary. Some answers dead wrong, others violate fair housing or code of ethics as you mention.

  3. Laura Cannon

    November 19, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    I totally agree. And, unfortunately, some of the agents and consumers are bitter. I’ve answered questions on-line and engaged in civil conversations only to have an angry contributer add rude comments. Said commentator is, of course, anonymous and tends to disrupt conversations with vitriol that doesn’t at all relate to the topic being discussed. It’s discouraging.

    Nobody likes censorship, but Trulia probably needs to monitor it’s site a little more. I like the idea of the “open mic,” but we need some bouncers at the door.

  4. Teresa Boardman

    November 19, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Laura – why do you use Trulia voices? I guess I lurk on it because I learn and I get ideas for blog posts.

  5. Chuck G

    November 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Blatantly soliciting business on Trulia Voices simply reeks of desperation. There are a handful of agents in my area who prowl (not lurk) on the site and pounce on any question that comes up (usually within seconds of when it was posted,) whether they know the answer or not — just an excuse to plug their name.

    The clincher for me is the agent who actually has a widget on his blog that prominently displays all of the questions that he has answered on Trulia Voices.

    I guess if anyone ever needed evidence, there it is….

  6. Benn Rosales

    November 19, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    “Blatantly soliciting business on Trulia Voices simply reeks of desperation”

    Interesting concept, does that make anyone who farms desperate? I really don’t think so. I’m not sure how much longer we can fault sales people for being aggressive. If they’re closing the deals, so be it, yes they make pull marketers look badly, but I’m beginning to wonder who the losers really are. Are we in sales, are we sales people, or people who just like talking about selling.

    This is just a thought, Chuck, and nothing towards you, but you bring up something that many many of us are wrestling with…

  7. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    November 19, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Theresa writes, “I am not all that interested in chatting with people who don’t use their real names on-line and who use Trulia for a second opinion when they don’t like what their Realtor told them.”

    It is common and customary for consumers to retain a large measure of anonymity in online communities. This applies to all communities, not just the real estate space.

    There is very compelling logic behind real estate professionals engaging the consumer community at Trulia. The demographics are EXCELLENT!

    o Trulia boasts 5 million unique visitors each month
    o 72% of the buyers expect to purchase a home in the next 12 months
    0 70% of those buyers are not yet represented by a real estate pro

    Teresa writes, “someone needs to educate agents on some important rules. One agent on Trulia voices steered a consumer away from a neighborhood that he was interested in by saying that another neighborhood is better”

    We are educating consumers every day. As you may know, I recently accepted the new position of Community Manager at Trulia, and that lets me speak with some authority on this matter.

    There are FLAGS on each and every Trulia blog post and each and every question. We have full-time moderation that responds conscientiously to every flag. We remove offending posts and work within the community to educate people who post.
    I am proud that the Trulia community is engaged in responsible cyber citizenry … we respond to numerous flags each day. I’m curious Teresa. Do you flag posts that you perceive to be offending or unethical or illegal?

    In terms of educational outreach, we engage both the real estate professional and consumer segments of the community in larger numbers on Webinars and teleconferences, and we offer tutorials about how to use Web tools.

    I shared information about Fair Housing recently

    … and copyright laws

    Teresa writes, “There are agents on Trulia Voices who blatantly solicit business from consumers who are already under contract with another agent. That is against our code of ethics”

    I spend hours and hours and hours every single day on Trulia. It is not a hobby and I do not lurk. Where, pray tell, are these “blatant solicitations?” Do you flag a perceived violation when you see it? I invite you to send me a link … we respond very quickly when we see something amiss.

    Teresa writes, “To brokers and managers who have agents working with them I think it might be a good idea to educate your agents…”

    On this I will agree. It would make sense for brokers and managers to understand the value proposition at Trulia … where agents have access to a complete suite of Web 2.0 tools that are FREE. This includes listing submission, FREE blogs, and Trulia Voices. There is more information here about engagement with consumers:

    Laura: I’m one of the new “bouncers at the door” 😎 I also see some “disruptive” posters … we intervene proactively on a daily basis … if someone is offensive, feel free to send me an e-mail directly. We are having good success with our intervention measures.

  8. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    November 19, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    FYI … Right after posting my comment on Agent Genius I returned to Trulia and saw this,–

    As I say, we have full-time moderation.

  9. Chuck G

    November 19, 2008 at 5:09 pm


    The “reeks of desperation” comment actually came from a client of mine who originally brought the whole Trulia Voices concept to my attention.

    So say what you want about aggressive versus desperate, but I’m going with what the money (aka paying client) says.

  10. Benn Rosales

    November 19, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    So you’re saying that changing the geographic location of the farm, changes nothing in that scenario? Are you saying that online farming is desperation, and regular farming, post cards, door cards, open houses, neighborhood parties, cold or warm calling, is not desperation?

    I understand what your client says, and this isn’t an attack on you, you’re just touting a 2.0 mindset and I say the same thing myself as a consumer- I hate being sold, but if I waited all day for a client to close themselves on a particular house, I’d have a paralyzed business showing them the entire MLS- I have to close the deal, does that make me or our agents desperate?

    Should I expect my lenders to allow the buyers to “get around” to signing docs, or should I expect my lender to overcome objections, recognize nervous or lookie-lou buyers?

    Do we as agents in a market where buyers are a third of what they were a year ago this time get around to coming to us, or do we go after them? There is a real clash of ideas here, I’ll listen to anyone who has answers on this…

    Trulia is a farm, plain and simple. The rules of engagement will get more and more aggressive as the market remains stale – the question is, are we supposed to just sit back and remain quiet as others break the unwritten rules of pull marketing and get buyers?

  11. Teresa Boardman

    November 19, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Frances – No I have not taken the time to flag anything. I may consider doing that in the future, I’ll have to think about it. Yes I agree that there are communities where users are anonymous, that just isn’t for me. Right now I am seeing a buyer who is under contract asking for a second opinion from the agents on Trulia voices. This may be a great service for consumers but I don’t really want to provide it for them. There are plenty of agents who are happy to.

    I am happy to see the moderation and it looks like the moderator is doing a great job.

  12. Mark Storolis

    November 19, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Miss Teresa – a great point. There is a lot of corrupt banter on as well. I do not participate in Trulia or Zillow any longer, simply because there are too many negative and unethical people that are looking to bash opinions.

    I do not trust anybody who is not willing to provide me with a full name and contact phone number (realtor, buyer, prospect, or otherwise).

  13. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    November 19, 2008 at 5:37 pm


    I invite you to click on the FLAG button when you see something unseemly. It’s just a single click … no forms to fill out … no need to identify yourself.

    We are in the business of offering great service to consumers … and there are wonderful real estate agents in the Trulia community who help us do just that.

    It’s fun talking to you again … I wonder just how many platforms you and I have shared with a conversation?

    My favorite Teresa Boardman platform is Flickr, BTW 😉 You rule that one!!!

  14. Debbie Summers

    November 19, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    I’ve answered a couple of questions, but also spend most of my time lurking… I’ve gotten some great blog post ideas there too!

  15. The Harriman Team

    November 19, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    We used to check out Voices once in a while to see what kind of questions and answers were being posted; we even answered a question once that was targeted to our specific zip code. W eposted our answer and almost immediately another agent posted that if we were engaging in a real estate related conversation with this person w/o first asking her if she had an agent, then we were in violation of agency laws. The consumer never indicated whether she had an agent or not, she just asked a simple question. Well, after a discussion with Rudy in which he assured us we had done nothing wrong, we still went back and amended our question to ask if she was represented, mostly because we refuse to have our ethics questioned by self-appointed watchdogs on ANY platform. She has yet to reply.

    To make a long story short, based on this incident we will not answer any further questions on Trulia. It’s not worth the trouble we went through the first time to answer a simple question, plus we don’t feel like fighting with realtors from other states that jump up to answer any question, regardless if they know the answer or if it’s relevant to their market. We have plenty of business already without dealing with the “be first at all costs” mentality that some of the agents there seem to have. But, like Teresa, we’ll continue to lurk and enjoy the show.

  16. ines

    November 19, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I used to be very active w/ Trulia Voices and I saw everything you mention here T, before they added “flagging” – it was a bit scary to see some of the answers. I don’t know if it is my market, but the questions are no longer interesting – the consumer is showing up to ask particulars about a listing and no longer general RE questions.

    The question was brought up that others would follow by example and it could be a good idea to go in there and show the hard-sellers how to do it. Personally, I wasn’t there to educate other agents, but to get business and I felt it was not my place to judge other agents’ style.

  17. Matt Thomson

    November 19, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I find it to be an interesting platform at times. I recently was alerted to a question where a buyer asked about HOA dues on a condo here in Gig Harbor, WA (about 40 miles south of Seattle).
    The first answer was from an agent in Florida! Huh?
    In terms of violating the code of ethics, I think it’s worth noting that many of the real estate agents on there are not Realtors. They may or may not have ethics, but they subscribe to no code.

  18. Vicki Moore

    November 20, 2008 at 1:26 am

    I used to be on Voices all the time but it just got ridiculous. It’s the same old complaints.

    I couldn’t believe one I read yesterday where the agent was having a conversation with himself. Just kept coming back trying to engage the consumer who wouldn’t participate.

    There should be a “stupid flag.” Don’t know how to spell – stupid flag. Don’t use proper grammar – stupid flag. Rude – stupid flag. Out of area/state – stupid flag. Answer legal/tax questions – stupid flag.

  19. Bill Lublin

    November 20, 2008 at 4:26 am

    Teresa: Great post because of the conversation it generated. But you do have a way of stirring the pot!
    On another note, the Code of Ethics (Article 12 specifically) has been modified to note that it does apply to all forms of electronic communications. Any complaint you might make to the appropriate association about a violation of the Code on Trulia Voices should be acted upon by the Grievance committee and Professional standards Committee. No one gets a pass on bad actions just because they are on line.

    @Frances; I don;t think the issue here is the question which was removed from Trulia because it wasn;t about housing – and Trulia is a business like any other – interested in its own survival and growth. However Teresa’s point is well made. Too many of the “answers” are not effective answers, but are just self serving solicitations providing more of an insight to the agent’s need than a solution to the consuler’s question. That is not to say that there are not also some good answers there or to diminish the purpose of the “voices” both for Trulia and the consumer.

    @Benn; I agree with your point – we need to remember that we use our online presence to obtain business, and I think it silly to think otherwise, but we want to do it in ways that are not offenisve or ineffective (because they seem desperate) and I agree with you that what applies on-line applies off-line (though I think that actions impact differently in each arena)

    @Vicki I love the Stupid flag idea – Can I use it off line too? I would be willing to carry a little flag and stick it in the ear of anyone I see doing dumb stuff…

  20. Mack

    November 20, 2008 at 6:20 am

    @ Vicki – Here’s Your Sign!!!
    @ Frances – When intelligent questions are asked I will respond to them. Recently there seems to be too many of the “Has this house sold yet” questions.

  21. Teresa Boardman

    November 20, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Ines – you hit on something. In online communities we are expected to be good citizens and flag others. I to have a problem with judging other agents. Maybe I do judge them but the problem is that I don’t care enough about what others do to actually comment or flag. The point of my post is that more people who are in the position to educate agents should take an interest in this. It isn’t my job and maybe not Trulia’s job either.

  22. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    November 20, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Teresa, This is where you have me a little confused. You say you “don’t care enough about what others do to actually comment or flag.”

    But you DO care enough to write a 258-word blog post about the problem and engage in a continued dicussion thread.

    Methinks you really DO care … I see evidence of that in every inch of your blog … you care about content on all levels and you care about quality.

    It takes one tiny little click to flag. That gives us a chance to respond and educate.

    We are working with the collective wisdom of the masses. We cherish that. We want to get it right. Please just click the little flag when you see something that does not look right. I promise you … the keyboard will not bite 😉

  23. Ryan Hukill

    November 20, 2008 at 7:20 am

    I too steer clear of Trulia Voices for the very reason you mentioned…. I think it’s a breeding ground for ethics violations and Fair Housing violations. I’m amazed at the number of agents who will answer very specific questions about a question asked from far outside their geographical area of expertise. When I see a CA agent answering a specific question in OK, there’s a serious problem. Thanks but no thanks!

  24. Teresa Boardman

    November 20, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Frances – that is the problem, I do care and take great care when writing to consumers. My point with the post is to get some interest started among brokers and real estate companies. I know that Trulia is interested and that you do care about the site and that you educate agents. Others need to get interested in this so that we can as a group, or an industry promote quality content for consumers.

    My keyboard does bite. Most of the letters are worn out. They don’t make keyboards like they used to. I’ll send you an email in a bit.

  25. Benn Rosales

    November 20, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Hi Frances,

    I’m wondering if you could address the issues that the post raises:

    One agent on Trulia voices steered a consumer away from a neighborhood that he was interested in by saying that another neighborhood is better.

    Another agent gave a potential home buyer some advice that looked to me like legal advice. I am not sure if it is just a local thing but I can not give legal advice or tax advice to clients or potential clients.

    There are agents on Trulia voices who blatantly solicit business from consumers who are already under contract with another agent. That is against our code of ethics.

    As an agent yourself, what do you think of this type of activity? You say you moderate, but I was wondering what your measure is… clue us in to what you think…

  26. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    November 20, 2008 at 11:07 am

    We endorse good real estate cyber citizenry that is aligned with proper legal behaviour. Our measure is found in our Community Guidelines.

    We are not enforcers of the REALTOR Code of Ethics. That said, we offer advice to agents privately on a regular basis when something seems amiss. Adherence to the COE is a matter between agents and brokers and their REALTOR associations.

    We moderate the posts and take appropriate actions when posts violate our Community Guidelines … sometimes we remove posts without warning … sometimes we work with the poster to reframe a blog post …

    A comment like “advice that looked to me like legal advice” and similar blanket statements issued without corresponding links do not merit a judgment in my estimation. “Show me the beef,” as they say 😎

    I work with Trulia content, Trulia Voices, and Trulia blogs for many hours each day, seven days a week. I am inclined to be a discerning judge of content. I am increasingly impressed by content overall … there is a new crop of bloggers coming up and Trulia that is going to have an impact on the market. Lots of them are brand new to blogging. I am awed by them.

    Time to get back to the Trulia Community … for the remainder of the day you will find me there if you need me. 8-)))

  27. Teresa Boardman

    November 20, 2008 at 11:30 am

    “Adherence to the COE is a matter between agents and brokers and their REALTOR associations.” Frances that is why I wrote the post, and why I need to write more on this topic. The brokers and associations are out of the loop on this, it is agent driven.
    I like Benn’s question: “As an agent yourself, what do you think of this type of activity? You say you moderate, but I was wondering what your measure is… clue us in to what you think…” and would love to see your answer.

  28. Vicki Moore

    November 20, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I’m not my brother’s keeper. If someone wants to make a complete ass of themselves on Trulia it’s fine with me. I’m not the boss of them. I’m not the moral compass and I don’t determine the guidelines for what’s acceptable, ethical or reasonable for Trulia. Sorry – not my job or responsibility.

  29. Missy Caulk

    November 22, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I use Trulia Voices but only for Michigan and specifically for Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor.

    When it was first introduced, I used it for all over, it was that competitive thing. LOL

    Now I try to answer thoughtfully for folks inquiring on questions or houses in Ann Arbor.

    I have got several responses from it, one pre-list appointment, which their home has lost to much value to sell. But, so far it is good. Once there was a question that I felt they wanted legal advice and I told them so and gave them my attorney’s name.

    After that everyone else said, “Missy gave good advice” get an attorney.

    I will use everything and anything to bring in more business. I just signed up for Trulia Pro and so far so good. 🙂

  30. Linsey

    November 22, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    I have answered questions on Trulia and I currently have some wonderful people that I am working with as a result of those interactions.

    I will say that I often am shocked at some of the responses. At the end of the day, Trulia Q & A, I really believe, is an online illustration of our industry. There are truly wonderful, professionals assisting consumers with a real sense of service. There are others that are clearly irresponsible, uneducated,and unethical.

    Are we really surprised? Or are we just surprised that people are willing to commit these acts openly and online for the ‘world’ to see?

  31. Paula Henry

    November 23, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Trulia could be a valuable tool for agents on a local level. One thing all agents should remember when answering questions online is maintaining their inline reputation. It only takes a few bad answers to eradicate any semblance of professionalism.

  32. Paula Henry

    November 23, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Okay – I need an edit button tonight. Inline would be good for roller hockey – I meant online:)

  33. Laura Cannon

    November 24, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Teresa, –you had asked why I use Trulia Voices. That’s a good question. I was initially pretty excited about the forum. I had hoped to gain exposure in my community, lead people to my blog, and have interesting conversations. (I can be a little naive at times. . .)

    Unfortunately, the conversations turned ugly or inane very quickly. To be honest, some of the contributors were not well-informed; others were uncivil. So, after about 6 or 7 exchanges I gave up.

    I have had better luck maintaining a kind of mini-blog on Trulia that gives a little information and invites people to visit my main blog for more detailed explanations. Nobody has commented on the mini-blog, but I do get leads to barringtonlocal from it.

  34. Jimbo Thompson

    July 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    i agree with the post, you should never use Trulia to steer business away from other agents…that kind of stuff is just not cool in ANY industry…and I agree with Fran….you are (or should be) on Trulia to educate the public, not pad your pocket in unethical ways..

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