Realtor.com’s first AgentMatch advisory board meeting no panacea

Agents question whether their voices will be heard

Frustration image via Shutterstock.Frustration image via Shutterstock.

Realtor.com says its experimental agent-ranking platform, AgentMatch, is a work in progress, but a 16-member advisory board that it formed to guide future development of the consumer tool is off to a shaky start, some who participated in its first meeting say.

Currently being tested in the Las Vegas and Boulder, Colo., markets, AgentMatch allows consumers to rank agents by the number of client recommendations they have in a given area (city, ZIP code or neighborhood).

More controversially, AgentMatch allows consumers to rank agents by slicing and dicing statistics from multiple listing services, such as the number of active listings they represent in the selected area, the number of homes they’ve sold in the last six months, average days on market for homes sold in the area, and the average percentage of sold price to list price.

Some agents have expressed concerns about the usefulness of such rankings, saying raw statistics may not adequately portray an agent’s ability to provide services to consumers. Team leaders may benefit from inflated sales stats, for example, and off-MLS listings and sales won’t be factored in, critics say.

During the advisory board’s first meeting Monday, AgentMatch product development leader Ernie Graham suggested that consumers should be able to recognize when an agent is a team leader, and adjust their evaluations accordingly. Realtor.com is also considering labeling team leaders if it can do so accurately and consistently, he said.

As for AgentMatch not recognizing off-MLS listings and sales, Graham said it’s important for agents to figure out how to get those properties into the MLS, so they can be recognized.

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While some rival listing sites publish consumer ratings and reviews of agents, Graham said realtor.com is prohibited from doing so under the terms of a 1996 agreement with the National Association of Realtors that governs operation of the site.

The goal of the advisory board is to create an open forum for industry feedback on this beta product with the end goal of developing a final product that satisfies both the industry and consumers." --Alison Schwartz

The agreement, however, doesn’t prevent AgentMatch publishing postitive recommendations from past clients that are approved by agents, or from using statistics to rank both Realtors and non-Realtors on the site, Graham said.

Realtors who show up in AgentMatch search results have the Realtor logo prominently displayed on the lower left of their profile photo, and realtor.com is experimenting with the logo’s size and placement to see if it affects consumer behavior on the site at all.

The minimum requirement for agents to be ranked in an area is that they have sold at least one home, and have a picture on their realtor.com profile.

Users can sort through ranked agents on AgentMatch by five categories.

Users can sort through ranked agents on AgentMatch by five categories.

Some agents have worried that realtor.com will try to monetize AgentMatch by letting agents pay to show up higher in search results.

Graham said AgentMatch is not yet a product realtor.com can sell, but “there are ways to monetize this that are responsible for the consumer and the agent.”

If realtor.com decides to take that route, he said, agents will not be allowed to pay to show up in the system’s organic search results. The organic search results would remain controlled by the AgentMatch algorithm, in much the same way that Google’s organic search results are not affected by advertising, he said.

There’s also indirect value to realtor.com if it never chooses to monetize AgentMatch, he said, in that the tool could help attract consumers to the site.

Graham stressed the experimental nature of the AgentMatch product. “Nothing’s (written) in stone on this,” he said.

When agents turn up in search results, for example, they are now labeled as “active selling agents,” instead of “best performing agents.”

Advisory board’s shaky start

Access to the advisory board’s meeting was provided through the online meeting platform GoToMeeting, and attended by 14 of the 16 advisory board members and more than 200 members of the public.

Graham introduced AgentMatch and addressed some questions from board members and the public. But there was little information presented that was new to those who had been following the discussion, advisory board members Andrea Geller and Leslie Ebersole said.

Geller and Ebersole said they had expected more of an open forum. Instead, they said, they had to type their questions into a chat box. The questions were culled by a spokeswoman for realtor.com operator Move Inc., and fed to moderator Lani Rosales, who then voiced the questions to Graham.

Geller, Ebersole and another advisory board member, Ryan Bokros, said they were surprised at the choice of Rosales as moderator. Rosales, chief operating officer of the blog platform AGBeat, wrote a Nov. 22 column that was largely supportive of AgentMatch, characterizing opposition as “anti-consumer.”

“The goal of the advisory board is to create an open forum for industry feedback on this beta product with the end goal of developing a final product that satisfies both the industry and consumers,” realtor.com spokeswoman Alison Schwartz said.

Board member Jack Attridge, an agent with William Raveis in Marblehead, Mass., tendered his resignation today, in part, he said, because of the way the first meeting went.

“The manner in which the webinar was conducted — in which almost no answers were given to the obvious questions so many have posed about AgentMatch — led me to believe that the people running AgentMatch are not as interested in the involvement and input of the advisory board as I had originally hoped,” Attridge said in explaining his decision.

After the first meeting, at least four other advisory board members were also questioning whether their voices will be heard in the process.

“This is the biggest debacle of a committee (or) work group I have ever sat on, and I have sat on a lot over the years,” Geller, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago, said of the meeting.

Ebersole, Bokros and advisory board member Kendyl Young expressed similar reactions to the board’s first meeting and its organization to Inman News.

“I know there were some questions answered, but it wasn’t much of an advisory board discussion, and that has a few on the board a little upset,” Bokros said.

Geller said whether she continues to serve on the board depends on the feedback she gets from realtor.com and from her fellow board members in a private Facebook group they communicate in.

Ebersole, a broker with Baird & Warner in the Chicago area, says she’s staying onboard, and has some questions she’d like answered.

Some of Ebersole’s questions: What’s the next and second-to-next step for the beta test of AgentMatch? How will feedback from the advisory board be incorporated into the product? How will consumer focus group input shape the tool? Is there a structure around the plans to roll AgentMatch out other than being labeled as an experiment? Is realtor.com planning a roadshow to try to sell AgentMatch in different markets?

“We held today’s meeting as open meeting to ensure that the group participating in the conversation is aware of all the goals and features associated with this beta product,” Schwartz said. “The next meeting will be a closed-door meeting for advisory board members only, and we will also be holding one-on-ones with each member.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with details on the resignation of AgentMatch advisory board member Jack Attridge.

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