The agent ratings ship has sailed

Broker Notebook

I used to say that agent rating and reviews were inevitable and should be embraced.

“Bring it on,” I said. “Rate me.”

Ship has sailed image via Shutterstock.
Ship has sailed image via Shutterstock.

Now I am saying, “Forget it.”

The ratings ship has already sailed. Ratings have lost credibility as businesses game the system, and companies that publish ratings and reviews extort businesses.

Public agent reviews and rating sites seemed like a necessary step for consumers. But they are probably better off choosing a real estate agent the old-fashioned way — by interviewing the agent, asking for references and asking for recommendations from friends and family.

There are companies that charge agents to have bad ratings removed from rating sites. Other companies use agent ratings as a way to get agents to send traffic to their websites, so they can build traffic and charge more to agents who want to advertise on the site.

I know there is one site where I can pay to be the expert by buying a ZIP code. The agent who pays the premium fee gets to be the expert. They even get little gold stars on their profile. It’s easy to buy client testimonials, too.

The best recommendations for a real estate agent comes from friends, family and neighbors. That is our rating system.

On one site, I rate very low as an agent. I have never been able to figure out why, but it shows that I have sold only three houses. The number never changes and ratings on the site give me a low score in working with buyers, too.

I tried to opt out of the site but was unable to. The site doesn’t get enough traffic to impact my business. Perhaps we need a website where we can look up rating and review Web sites. Each site could be given an accuracy rating.

The National Association of Realtors has started a pilot program for agent ratings. My local association is involved in the pilot and looking for agents to volunteer to join. I decided not to participate.

NAR says agent ratings could help raise standards. Really? I thought we were held to the highest standard by our code of ethics.

I don’t think people are going to believe or trust ratings from Realtor associations. I would love to know what standards need to be raised.

Is this about agents answering the phone? Wouldn’t it be easier just to give members a list of specific deficiencies and have us all work on improving them?

Real estate and real estate licensing is regulated at the state level. Legislation is easiest and fastest way to raise industry standards.

NAR claims that there will not be any way to game their rating system. There is always a way to game the system. If a bad review is going to hurt my ability to make a living, I will game the system.

Are Realtor associations really going to allow bad reviews of dues-paying members to be displayed on a website, when our code of ethics prevents us from saying anything negative about one another?

We need to somehow get back to the idea that real estate agents represent buyers and sellers.

Sure it’s possible for an agent to do a lousy job, but it is also possible for buyers or sellers to do a lousy job. Unfortunately, when that happens, it’s the agent that gets the bad review — not the buyers or sellers.

Our associations should be more like a trade association, and stop trying to play the role of regulatory agency or consumer advocate. Realtor associations are not there to support consumers — they exist for agents, and we fund them.

Problems with reviews and ratings are not limited to the real estate industry. I have talked with restaurant owners and small business people who are not at all happy with various websites that have reviews. On one site, the good reviews are suppressed unless the business advertises on the site. Then the best ratings are allowed to come to the top.

It’s one thing to rely on online reviews and the words of total strangers when buying a burger, and quite another to rely on reviews when hiring an agent or contractor.

The best recommendations for a real estate agent comes from friends, family and neighbors. That is our rating system. We don’t get repeat business or referrals unless we do a good job.

Are their bad agents out there working with clients? Sure there are. And there are bad school teachers, corrupt police officers, crooked politicians and negligent doctors and nurses too. There are school bus drivers who drink or do drugs, and hair stylists who cut hair too short.

Any time a job is done by a human being there is a chance that it will be done wrong. The good news is that people have the chance to interview real estate agents before signing any kind of a contract with them. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to interview my clients before I sign anything.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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