Most real estate agents won’t expend much effort responding to inquries generated by their own Web sites when they concern another broker’s listings — if they respond to them at all — according to a "secret shopper" test of 100 IDX-powered broker Web sites by the consulting firm WAV Group.

The test was aimed at exploring whether Internet Data Exchange (IDX) reciprocity agreements are serving the needs of consumers, or if they undermine the relationship between consumers and Realtors by over-representing the depth of knowledge a site owner has about listing details.

Most real estate agents won’t expend much effort responding to inquiries generated by their own Web sites when they concern another broker’s listings — if they respond to them at all — according to a "secret shopper" test of 100 IDX-powered broker Web sites by the consulting firm WAV Group.

The test was aimed at exploring whether Internet Data Exchange (IDX) reciprocity agreements are serving the needs of consumers, or if they undermine the relationship between consumers and Realtors by overrepresenting the depth of knowledge a site owner has about listing details.

Many real estate brokers display not only their own listings on their Web sites, but those of other members of their multiple listings service (MLS) via IDX agreements governing the sharing and display of property information online. Those brokers will commonly refer inquiries that come through their Web sites to their own agents, even when the inquiries concern properties listed by another broker.

A WAV Group white paper summarizing the secret-shopper test results concludes that customer satisfaction is likely to be higher when consumers visit sites that syndicate listings such as Realtor.com, Yahoo! Real Estate, Google Base, Trulia, Zillow and Cyberhomes, because those sites refer inquiries to the listing broker or agent.

"I would not presume that brokers are going to pull down their IDX sites anytime soon, but I do believe that brokers need to take the relationship with the online consumer more seriously and deploy solutions that will improve response rates to increase consumer satisfaction and confidence," said WAV Group partner Victor Lund.

WAV Group’s secret shoppers visited 100 broker Web sites in 48 states looking for properties that were listed by another broker through reciprocity agreements.

The secret shoppers requested additional information about a home from non-listing agents by e-mail and phone. The goal was to see how completely their questions were answered, and how long it took to get a response.

Some of the questions were easy to answer — the information requested was in the listing itself — while others could only be answered if the agent had seen the property or contacted the listing agent.

One-third of e-mail inquiries were never answered. While 68 e-mails did generate some kind of response, only 25 agents answered some of the questions posed, and only five answered all of them. The average response time to e-mail inquiries was 10 hours, 16 minutes.

When attempting to obtain more information by phone, WAV Group’s secret shoppers found that they were able to obtain information the information they were after less then 20 percent of the time.

Of the 100 listings, 29 did not include a phone number at all, and seven displayed a random agent’s phone number. In dialing the 64 listings with phone numbers, the secret shoppers were only able to reach 58 agents, none of whom was able to answer questions about the listing.

Some agents "simply read back the (listing description) as it appeared on the Web site, reading the remarks the listing agent entered into the MLS," the white paper said. "Some agents actually made suppositions about the improvements made to the property based upon what they admitted that they could determine from looking at the photos displayed with the listing."

Secret shoppers "came away from these conversations with the impression that the agents simply did not know a lot about the properties they were discussing," the white paper said.

While many agents promised to call back with more information, only 17 did.

The WAV Group study raises the question of whether brokers should display only listings their agents can discuss knowledgeably, and points out the importance of consistently training and coaching agents to understand the value of responsiveness.

Technology like smart phones can help, but "it all begins with a burning desire to ‘be there’ for customers as they contact you," the white paper concluded.

Brokers should measure consumer satisfaction with online inquiries internally, and boost satisfaction by improving frontline phone support, using lead routing and management tools, and creating an in-house system for storing information about listings that goes beyond MLS data, the white paper said.

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