SAN FRANCISCO — If consumers want to know who the most active real estate agents in a given market are, somebody will eventually deliver that information to them — but for now, at least, it’s looking like it won’t be the agents’ multiple listing services.
That’s the perspective of Bob Hale, CEO for the Houston Association of Realtors, after HAR was forced to pull the plug on a map-based tool for consumers that allowed them to see which agents had the most transactions and listings in a particular ZIP code or neighborhood.
Just days after launching its "Realtor Match" tool in April, a deluge of angry calls from Realtors forced HAR to reverse course and take down some of the tool’s capabilities, Hale told fellow MLS executives and others attending the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco this week.
Consumers can still see "Agent Ratings" of one to five stars bestowed by past clients, and agents can also choose to make MLS data showing their past transactions available on their profile page.
But consumers are no longer directed from the HAR.com site to view Realtor Match’s "market activity" search tool, which allowed them to see a list of Realtors and the number of transactions or listings represented by each agent in a given area.
"We hadn’t sold (the benefits of the platform)" to the association’s 23,000 members, Hale said of the complaints that flooded in after Realtor Match launched. "This is going to happen, but we’re not going to be the ones to do it."
Some HAR members who spoke to Inman News when Realtor Match launched said they were worried that it might make it more difficult for them to win business in a neighborhood "owned" by a few agents. New agents worried that a lack of transaction history or listings would put them at a disadvantage.
HAR attempted to address such concerns by having Realtor Match rank "market activity" search results by the most recent transaction or listing, rather than the greatest number of transactions or listings. But a quick glance at the search results would still reveal which agents were the most active in a particular area.
Other Realtor associations may still be able implement the Realtor Match tool, because the project was funded by a "Game Changers" grant from the National Association of Realtors.
When HAR launched Realtor Match, NAR CEO Dale Stinton said the association’s "experience in publishing this data will be measured and evaluated. If the program is a success, all other associations will have the groundwork laid out for them to do something similar."
Russ Bergeron, CEO of Chicago-based MLS, Midwest Real Estate Data LLC, said MLSs "are going to have trouble pulling something like this off." Realtor associations, which typically own MLSs, need members — even those who haven’t done a transaction in months and would rather not have that fact known to the world.
Justin LaJoie, the chief executive officer of Diverse Solutions, a company that is ready to analyze MLS listings data to help consumers compare agents, said he continues to struggle with fears about transparency.
In a competition for software developers at last year’s Connect Conference, LaJoie’s company created an automated system for rating real estate professionals based on MLS data on past transactions.
"We’re going into this knowing this will probably never see the light of day," LaJoie said at the time.
Speaking on a panel with Hale at this year’s conference titled "Naked Crunch: Radical Transparency and MLS Data," LaJoie said the initial reaction to the company’s prototype application, Agent Scouting Report, "was very exciting — MLSs loved it."
But a month or two later, he said, "they were scared, because they were nervous what agents were going to think. There was no way we could do it without MLS participation."
Diverse Solutions was named as one of two winners of last year’s "Connect Create" developers challenge. HAR’s Realtor Match tool won an Innovator Award at this year’s Connect conference.
LaJoie said agents may not realize that if consumers are provided access to a rich set of statistics, they will evaluate it in many different ways that depend on their personal criteria.
Consumers’ evaluations of statistics "can go either way depending on who’s looking at them and what they’re looking for," LaJoie said.
One seller may be looking for agents who have a history of selling properties with the fewest days on market, while another may be more concerned with getting the highest possible price.
As for client reviews, good agents have nothing to fear, and agents who receive negative reviews can use them to identify areas where they might improve, LaJoie said.
"The agent rating has gone over really well at HAR — we haven’t gotten any push-back on that at all," Hale said. "Agent productively is the one everybody got a little nervous about."
Among the 49 percent of consumers who have responded to e-mails inviting them to rate agents after a transaction, the average rating has been 4.92 out of five stars, he said. Agents must either opt in or opt out of the agent-rating program — they can’t pick and choose the ratings they want the public to see.
"It took about three days to create the software to do agent ratings," Hale said. "it took about a year of meetings with brokers, managers and agents to develop the business rules."
Hale still thinks consumers will get access to transactional history, and that "it will happen outside of the industry, and everybody will be mad."
He noted that one site, NeighborCity.com, already offers past and current listing data "for every agent in Houston … and I guarantee not a single agent knows they are up there."
The NeighborCity website is operated by a brokerage that obtains MLS data in markets in California, Georgia, Texas, Utah, Colorado and New York to rank agents based on their transaction history and number of active listings. NeighborCity matches the property type and price range of homes agents typically work with to users’ search criteria.
Realtor.com, which is currently receiving data on sold listings from MLSs in about 50 markets, is beta-testing new capabilities that allow consumers to see the selling price of properties and view who represented both the buyer and seller.
Unless agents instruct Realtor.com to suppress such information, agents’ profile pages show the number of active listings they have and the average listing price.