You won’t find stars, half-stars or any other ratings or consumer reviews about specific real estate agents at AgentsCompared.com.
Instead, the newly launched site, which is focused on the Chicagoland area in Illinois, allows agents to compete with each other on the basis of the service packages they offer, the rates they charge for those services and other details such as experience, specialties, track record and other credentials.
AgentsCompared allows searches for listing agents and buyer’s agents. The site also features searches based on two broad types of real estate services offered, which the site defines as "full service" and "basic service."
Basic service for a listing agent can mean that the agent lists the property in a multiple listing service database but performs few other services for the seller, for example, while a full-service listing package could include a much broader range of services.
Michael Erdman, president and founder of AgentsCompared.com and a practicing lawyer, said that he has examined several agent-rating sites since he began working on AgentsCompared.com in 2007, and found them to be lacking.
In some cases it appears that the creators of some agent-ranking sites simply "purchased a list of every Realtor in the state and slapped them on the Web site." In many cases, he said, "The agents don’t even know they need to claim their profile," and may not even be aware of the existence of the sites.
"Some of the sites are built more with the agent in mind than the consumer," he added. Consumers do not need to register and the site is free for consumers to use.
The site requires that agents pay a fee to participate at the site — $12 per month to enter basic information at the site and $149 for six months or $220 per year for a premium plan that provides for a more detailed profile at the site and access special features — like viewing average commission rates and rebate amounts for a given area based on user-entered data.
"Part of the reason there is a modest monthly fee: I at least have some assurances that we’re not going to see too many people signing up as Santa Claus. It gives me some assurance that they are who they say they are," Erdman said.
"I’m counting on agents and their legal responsibilities, as members of multiple listing services and Realtor groups" to flag questionable content that members enter at the site, he also noted.
There is a list of about a dozen fields that participating agents can choose to populate with information, and agents can enter as much or as little information about their services and costs as they choose.
Agents can disclose their upfront fees, refunds, closing fees and proposed co-operating commission offered to a buyer’s agent, for example, and consumers can rank the list of matching agents based on the rates that they advertise on the site. …CONTINUED
"It’s a neutral platform. It’s entirely up to agents whether and how to distinguish themselves as they see fit," Erdman said.
Participating agents also have the ability to specify referral fees that they would offer for clients sent to them by other agents.
The option to specify cost of services is "not an attempt to commoditize agents or cause uniformity in prices," Erdman said.
No stranger to antitrust law — Erdman has handled antitrust cases in federal court and works on business litigation of all types — he said the idea for the site sprang out of his interest in price transparency in the real estate industry. He also created the Real Estate, Real Competition & The Law blog and the Online Liability Blog.
It’s not easy to shop for real estate services based on price because many real estate professionals do not publicize the rate they charge for services, he said. "Why is it I can’t go out and compare and contrast (agents) on price? You just really can’t do that with Realtors."
But could agents use the site to standardize the cost of real estate services for a given area?
Erdman said he believes the site is more likely to be used by agents who seek to differentiate their rates and services.
By focusing specifically on the Chicago area, Erdman said he’s hoping to get traction among agents and consumers more quickly than if he launched a national site.
"Hopefully we will get some critical mass and it becomes relevant," he said. For now, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg battle to attract both consumers and agents in these early stages, he noted.
The idea of price comparisons for real estate brokerage services is not entirely unique — Realty Baron offers an auction-based platform that allows real estate agents to compete for business based on the price of their services and the rebates that they offer to consumers, as an example.
On the AgentsCompared.com blog, Erdman criticizes some of the other ‘find-an-agent’ business models that populate the Internet. AgentsCompared.com does not charge a fee for referrals, leads or per territory, Erdman notes in the blog item, and "We’re not opposed to agents paying for referrals or leads, but don’t both agents and consumers benefit when those costs are kept to a minimum?"
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