Agent reviews and ratings are inevitable. Releasing our data is not.

Broker Notebook

Editor’s note: With realtor.com’s experimental agent rankings platform, AgentMatch, stirring up the debate about agent rankings, ratings and reviews, Inman News is inviting industry leaders to share their perspectives on the topic with readers. Want to participate in the discussion? Send your guest perspective to Inman News Managing Editor Matt Carter <matt@inman.com>.

Up until now I have resisted the urge to write about AgentMatch. I think that Realtor data is important, and how we use it matters. The data that will fuel AgentMatch is personal — it has more to do with people than with property.

Portraits image via Shutterstock.
Portraits image via Shutterstock.

As a Realtor myself, I don’t believe AgentMatch will affect my business — assuming it survives and makes it all the way here to the frozen northland.

I think what irritates a lot of agents, myself included, is the way third parties monetize our data. They tell us they are doing it for consumers, and they find ways to get us to pay for the service.

I listened in on the first meeting of the AgentMatch advisory board, and clearly it was about selling AgentMatch to a small but outspoken group of real estate agents.

Agents who do not like the way the data is used are called dinosaurs who have not kept up with modern technology or with the times. The opposite is true. We understand data and how it can be used by others, and how it can affect our businesses.

Agent production data is our business data. Our desire to control how it is used is an example of business acumen, rather than an effort to deceive consumers and channel our inner Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I think it's OK if agents take this personally. We are not public utilities.

AgentMatch isn’t about agents or consumers. It’s about realtor.com winning back market share. The data being used isn’t about homes for sale, but about the people who sell them.

I think it’s OK if agents take this personally. We are not public utilities. I am a private business selling private property, often for individuals. There isn’t any law requiring that I even belong to the multiple listing serve, or use it to sell houses.

If we are going to release our data, why not scrap the MLS system and invent something new and local? With the help of technology companies and lawyers who are experts in intellectual property and copyright law, we can adapt to changing times while keeping the data vampires at bay.

It is true that agent reviews and ratings are inevitable. But releasing our business data is not inevitable.

There is really only one reason for publishing Realtor production data: to drive traffic to the realtor.com website. The site with the most consumer traffic wins. Agent dollars are needed to keep the sites going. That is why they are nice to us, and why they have advisory boards.

There are too many websites with real estate listings on them. As a result, none of them are the go-to destination for consumers. But the larger sites have not given up the dream.

Even though real estate is local, they want to keep it national with their impersonal sites and generic information. In order to win the competition, third-party sites have to have agent ratings. Since several sites have ratings, the thinking behind AgentMatch seems to be: Why not go one step further and publish data from MLSs that no one else has?

To the agents who hate the idea of AgentMatch, I want to say don’t worry about it. But if you really don’t like the way the site is run, stop spending money with realtor.com. If your brokerage pays for premium listings, ask it to stop or change brokerages. How we spend our money can change the world.

Real estate agents support the major third-party sites. They cannot survive without agent dollars and the traffic agents send. I speak from experience when I say that an agent can run a profitable business without ever buying premium products from third-party sites. Real estate is local, and relationship-based.

Please let your MLS know that you don’t want your data published, if that is how you feel about it.

Do not count on help from the National Association of Realtors. They no longer control realtor.com. They are not a democracy and its leaders are rarely swayed by member opinion.

Your local board and MLS are your best bet if you want to have a voice in how your data and your name are distributed and used.

Some consumers see public agent reviews and ratings as nothing more than advertising. They know that top agents or area experts are the agents who pay for premium placement.

Agent reviews and other rating sites have been gamed and manipulated, and there is inaccurate and false information being published on the Internet about individual real estate agents, too. I find it about myself on a regular basis and sometimes I cannot opt out of the site.

Agent data is not about consumers or agents. It is about competition among websites. Agents and consumers just get caught in the crossfire.

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


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