Wasn’t it just last year that agents were worried about being rated? Some felt threatened by it, but the common wisdom was that agents would be rated and consumers would benefit.
The kerfuffle over ratings seems to have vanished. Even though there are some sites with agent ratings, none of them seem relevant or even useful for consumers.
Occasionally I search for myself on the agent rating websites to see how I am rated. There is one site that is always in the top three when I do a Google search. I found my name on it, and I am identified as being with a brokerage that I left in 2006. If inaccurate information really is helpful to consumers, then consumers have it made, because there is plenty of inaccurate information on the Internet.
Another agent rating site shows that I have sold three houses. Pretty pathetic, considering that I’ve been selling real estate for more than a decade.
After reading the report with the low ratings, I decided I would never hire me. No matter how many homes I sell, the site never updates its information about me, and I rank almost at the bottom compared to my peers. I have tried to opt out of the site but can’t.
As an agent, I have control over which real estate search sites my listings show up on. But I don’t have any control over which agent rating sites I show up on, and am not always allowed to opt out. I should at least be able to correct inaccurate information, like the name of the brokerage.
Legal action appears to be my only option. But I’m not sure it’s worth the effort, because I don’t know that anyone is looking at the ratings or that they are hurting my business.
I suspect that ratings can be changed on most sites, if I pay for some kind of a premium service. That kind of extortion is so common in the real estate industry that it has become a popular business model.
Sometimes I see websites that list the best agents by location. But the featured agents have never sold a home in the area where they are listed as an expert.
I have never heard of the top agents who are listed for my area, and I can not find any evidence that they have ever sold a home within the city limits. Some have not sold any homes at all. How can this be good for consumers?
In recent weeks I have received a lot of "endorsements" on LinkedIn. Most are from agents in other markets who have never worked with me and, in some cases, have never met me in person.
Their endorsements say more about how Linkedin works, and how the site wants to grow and become more relevant to users, then they do about me. But I’ll continue to accept those ratings. They can’t hurt.
Some real estate brokerage companies post agent ratings on their own websites. Ratings always seem more legitimate if they come from third parties. It must confuse consumers to see a page of "five star" agents.
Also, brokerages only provide ratings for their own agents. Such a system is automatically suspect, because the consumer does not have the ability to evaluate agents who work at other brokerages.
There should be some kind of legal, truth in advertising requirements for websites that have agent ratings on them. At the very least, consumers should be able to read up on how the rating system works.
If an agent has to pay to be the number one agent in a neighborhood, for example, that information should be disclosed somewhere on the site.
A little transparency would also be nice. The website that is wrongly reporting that I have only sold three homes during my career could at least give their addresses, and maybe some dates.
Like many other real estate industry websites, agent rating sites rely on the magic combination of consumer ignorance and agent dollars to get traction and traffic.
Consumers in need of our services just want to buy or sell real estate. They don’t want to be ripped off or "sold" a home that isn’t right for them. They certainly don’t want to work with a stupid, lazy real estate agent.
If you believe half of what you read about real estate agents, you would think most of us are stupid and lazy. Worse yet, we don’t always answer our phones (see my previous column, "Why real estate agents don’t answer the phone").
Home buyers and sellers are afraid of us. There are plenty of companies out there ready to take advantage of that fear and attempt to monetize it.
Some of the agent rating sites use subtle intimidation to get agents to participate, by suggesting that good agents care about providing information for consumers and suggesting that their sites are the best source.
As long as agents and the real estate industry pay for the rating systems, they won’t be anything more than advertisements. It won’t take consumers long to figure that out, if they haven’t already. They will then have yet another reason to distrust us.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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