U.S. News & World Report has launched a consumer portal in partnership with agent matching site Agent Ace to help buyers and sellers pinpoint the best real estate agent suited to their needs, Agent Ace announced today.
“We already provide tools to help consumers find the right doctors and financial advisers using unbiased information,” said Chad Smolinski, senior vice president of U.S. News, in a statement. “What we find exciting about working with Agent Ace is that, for the first time, we can help consumers find the right real estate agent based on actual data — in this case the agent’s performance track record.”
So far, no services that steer buyers and sellers to agents based on sales data, including Agent Ace, have become major online destinations, limiting exposure of the concept to consumers.
But by putting Agent Ace’s service a few clicks away from U.S. News’ 25 million monthly visitors — an Agent Ace widget appears in U.S. News’ real estate section — the partnership could help raise public awareness of the concept of choosing an agent based on performance statistics.
Word of the partnership comes shortly after Agent Ace disclosed that it had clinched $6 million in funding — cash the company could use to boost an expansion effort that has already launched it out of Los Angeles and into about 70 U.S. markets.
The partnership with U.S. News & World Report will help Agent Ace further build on that momentum by, in the words of Agent Ace CEO Mazen Fawaz, “instantly expanding our reach nationwide.”
Launched in May 2013, Agent Ace uses patented technology to analyze a user’s location, home type and price range based on home sales data to recommend the “single best agent for your needs — based on facts,” according to its website.
After a consumer asks to work with a recommended agent, Agent Ace offers the consumer’s business to the agent — usually by proposing to co-list or co-represent with the agent, but also sometimes through a referral agreement — in exchange for a slice of the agent’s commission if the match results in a sale.
The service doesn’t reveal the identity of an agent to a consumer until an agent has given express written permission for it to do so, Fawaz told Inman News.
The startup uses its status as a broker to acquire listings data and agent performance statistics from multiple listing services. It is licensed as a real estate brokerage in 43 states, has done several hundred transactions in the last few months, and has joined 140 MLSs, with that number “increasing every week,” Fawaz said.
Other agent matching services, like HomeLight, have come under fire for obtaining agent data through MLS memberships, with critics arguing that they shouldn’t qualify as MLS participants.
A 2008 settlement between NAR and the U.S. Department of Justice defined a qualified MLS participant as “actively endeavoring” to “list real property of the type listed on the MLS and/or to accept offers of cooperation and compensation made by listing brokers or agents in the MLS.”
Observers have debated whether referral services are “actively endeavoring” simply by feeding leads to agents.
But Agent Ace is not a referral service, and has “gone to great lengths and to great extent and time to make sure that our access to data is compliant,” according to Fawaz.
Screenshot showing U.S. News & World Report’s Agent Ace widget.
Referral services typically just sign referral agreements with agents and hand off leads, Fawaz said.
“With a referral, often, it’s, ‘Here’s a customer, call us if it closes,’ ” he said.
Unlike referral services, Agent Ace mostly co-lists or co-represents with agents (though in some cases it also uses referral agreements), usually offering Agent Ace more “intimacy” in deals, Fawaz said.
That’s not to say the company provides any traditional, hands-on real estate services to clients. It lets its partner agents handle that.
But Fawaz said co-listing and co-representing does allow Agent Ace to hold its partner agents to a certain set of standards. Agent Ace monitors whether the agent is providing the “very basic fundamentals,” such as returning phone calls on time and presenting all the available information, and can even “mildly influence” a transaction, he said.
Perhaps taking a page out of Agent Ace’s book, competitor HomeLight has also begun to co-list and co-represent with some agents.
Agent Ace isn’t only concerned with carefully adhering to MLS rules. The company also strives to remain respectful towards real estate agents, according to Fawaz.
“The lack of insult that we bring to the agent community” is one aspect of Agent Ace that sets it apart from competing services, Fawaz said.
The site does not publicly rank agents, a practice that has landed other agent matching services in hot water, Fawaz said. And it displays an agent’s transaction data anonymously, only revealing an agent’s identity after the agent has given Agent Ace permission to do so, he said.
When Agent Ace is in the process of generating a match it says, “scoring relevant agents,” “ranking scores” and then “we found the best agent for you.”
“We’re connecting one willing customer who has signed up and agreed to be connected to one willing agent,” he said. “We’re not publishing a big list of agents and publishing all their historical sales or saying something like, ‘Our math says you’re a 28.”
He added: “Whenever we reach out to an agent with a potential client, they never say “no” — and these are the busiest agents with the best track records for these kinds of transactions.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that Agent Ace does not reveal the identity of an agent matched with a consumer until the agent has given permission for the site to do so, and to state that Agent Ace’s partnership with U.S. News puts its online readers a few clicks away from Agent Ace’s service, not “one click away.”