Realtor.com concludes AgentMatch testing, says ‘larger project remains’

Backlash from agents has contributed to the demise of similar attempts to surface agent performance data

Realtor.com is shutting down testing of its experimental agent-ranking tool AgentMatch, which allowed consumers to search for agents using statistics gleaned from multiple listing services and client recommendations, saying that “using an algorithm to ‘match’ consumers with Realtors is misguided.”

Although the AgentMatch pilot tests in two markets have concluded, “the larger project remains: We intend to create the most accurate and complete resource for consumers looking for a Realtor online, and to continue moving the industry forward with innovative solutions,” Realtor.com President Errol Samuelson said in a statement today.

AgentMatch allowed consumers to search for agents by city, ZIP code and neighborhood, and filter results according to MLS statistics like the number of listings represented, homes recently sold, average days on market for homes sold, and list-to-sale-price ratio.

Portraits image via Shutterstock.
Portraits image via Shutterstock.

The pilot project, launched in July, relied on data from two MLSs: Loveland, Colo.-based Information and Real Estate Services LLC (IRES), the MLS for five Realtor associations in Boulder, Fort Collins, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland; and the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors MLS, which provided agent performance data in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City.

As has been the case with past attempts to surface agent performance data, some real estate professionals had strong objections to the project when Move publicly unveiled AgentMatch in November at the National Association of Realtors’ annual convention.

Critics questioned whether agent performance data fairly represents the quality of services they provide to buyers and sellers. Team leaders may get credit for work done by other agents, for example. “Pocket listings” and other sales handled outside of a multiple listing service won’t be factored in. Days on market and list-to-sale-price ratios can be affected by factors that are beyond agents’ control.

A ranking system that depends on agent data could also make it difficult for new agents to enter the business, critics said. While AgentMatch also lets consumers sort agents by the number of positive recommendations they’ve received, agents just starting out in the business would be excluded from the rankings, no matter how dedicated and talented they might be.

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Similar backlash from agents contributed to the demise of attempts by tech-focused brokerage Redfin and the Houston Association of Realtors to rank agents using MLS stats.

"We learned that using an algorithm to 'match' consumers with Realtors is misguided." -- Errol Samuelson

Based on the pilot tests of AgentMatch, Samuelson said realtor.com has come to believe that a “computer cannot find the best Realtor for someone, just like a computer cannot place an accurate value on a home.”

“We also learned (from the pilot) that metrics like days on market or list-price-to-sale-price ratio, while useful within a real estate brokerage, could be confusing or even misleading to consumers,” Samuelson said. “Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story, either.”

The goal to be the go-to source for agent information remains. Samuelson said the firm will continue to innovate around agent profiles.

“We intend to create the most accurate and complete resource for consumers looking for a Realtor online, and to continue moving the industry forward with innovative solutions,” Samuelson said.

Some agents and industry observers saw AgentMatch as an effort by realtor.com — which has been losing online market share to competitors Zillow and Trulia — to capture more consumer traffic by offering consumers a unique approach to finding an agent.

While many websites display agent ratings and reviews, rankings based on agent performance data are not widespread — in part because the MLSs that collect and maintain much of the useful data are controlled by real estate brokers and Realtor associations that place strict limits on its use.

Although Move would have needed MLS approval to expand the AgentMatch pilot program into other markets, some brokers and agents expressed frustration that the National Association of Realtors — which licenses the realtor.com domain and Realtor trademark to site operator Move Inc. — allowed the AgentMatch experiment in the first place.

Part of the visceral reaction to AgentMatch seemed to stem from a belief among many agents that, in trying to help realtor.com stay competitive with innovative rivals like Zillow and Trulia, NAR has ceded too much control to Move over how the site is operated.

As realtor.com has introduced other innovations such as lead forms for buyer’s agents that appear next to listings, some agents say it’s become more like Zillow and Trulia, and less like the listing sites operated by brokers and MLSs on their behalf.

But others have characterized the opposition to AgentMatch as “anti-consumer,” because buyers and sellers would presumably benefit from having better insights into agent performance. While many part-time agents are experienced, dedicated professionals, others may lack the knowledge and motivation to provide top-notch services to their clients, the thinking goes.

As it stands today, consumers typically have access to an abundance of data on listings, market conditions and neighborhood demographics, but no hard numbers about agent performance. So, to many, arming consumers with statistics on agent performance seems like a logical step.

Samuelson is among those who have argued that agent performance statistics will inevitably find their way into the hands of buyers and sellers, and that Realtors should be the ones to decide how to provide it.

But the fact remains that a small percentage of real estate agents handle the vast majority of transactions. By definition, the majority of agents are not “top producers” who stand to benefit the most from performance-based ranking systems.

Many brokerages and real estate franchisors depend on agents who only dabble in real estate to bring in additional clients and round out their sales.

Agents who work part time, or who depend mostly on family members, friends and acquaintances for business, will not show up at the top of performance-based rankings.

The debate over the pros and cons of publishing agent performance data will continue at a special town hall gathering next month at Real Estate Connect New York City.

“Let it Rip: Open Forum on Publishing Agent Data” will be an open-microphone session, with participation by industry leaders including ZipRealty CEO Lanny Baker and St. Paul, Minn.-based broker and Inman News columnist Teresa Boardman.

Errol Samuelson’s full statement below:

Innovation, AgentMatch and the Future

By Errol Samuelson, President, realtor.com

Realtor.com is a business with an industry mandate to position Realtors for success in a rapidly changing digital environment.

While we are a for-profit enterprise (no Realtor dues dollars are used to support realtor.com), we have an ironclad commitment to the interests of real estate professionals.

This requires us to innovate, experiment and take measured risks. 

Innovation is in some ways like exercise: We accept a short-term discomfort for long-term gain. We strain, sweat, push — and occasionally stumble.

But we are almost always better for having made the effort.

This was the spirit behind AgentMatch, a pilot program, an experiment we’ve been conducting in two markets since July. AgentMatch came to be because we were (and remain) certain that the number of consumers that go online to research and find Realtors will continue to increase. 

Yes, referrals will always be the lifeblood of many Realtors, and there are many marketing strategies that will always produce results.

But in an age of reviews, ratings, big expectations and small attention spans, we wanted to create a service that would place facts, and Realtors, front and center.

So, while we will continue to embrace that spirit, it is clear that we must resolve some important issues before moving any further ahead. We heard your feedback and intend to act on it. AgentMatch, in its current form, is being taken offline as we formulate, with your input, a better approach.

Let me share some of the things we have learned in this process. We learned that using an algorithm to “match” consumers with Realtors is misguided. Our next generation of software will eliminate the idea of “matching” or ranking agents. A computer cannot find the best Realtor for someone, just like a computer cannot place an accurate value on a home. 

We also learned that metrics like days on market or list-price-to-sale-price ratio, while useful within a real estate brokerage, could be confusing or even misleading to consumers. Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story, either. 

And yes, metrics matter, but we need to expand the ways that Realtors can highlight their other dimensions, many of which cannot be neatly captured by a number.

This AgentMatch pilot has concluded, but the larger project remains: We intend to create the most accurate and complete resource for consumers looking for a Realtor online, and to continue moving the industry forward with innovative solutions.

Realtor.com exists to connect consumers with Realtors. We do this in many ways. Some — like our SocialBios product, or our new Five Street lead application — will be embraced immediately. Others will be questioned, challenged and ultimately improved upon. We have a talented group of developers and remain committed to this process.

If you would like to help us shape the next phase of our effort, please email me and the realtor.com product team at AgentSearch@realtor.com.

Errol Samuelson

President

realtor.com

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