Agents beware: your clients are watching you, and now they can rate you publicly.
A new Web site, Homethinking.com, allows homeowners to view lists of real estate agents in a given area, along with information on properties currently listed by those agents and consumer reviews of those agents.
The site, which just launched in beta, or test form, last week, was started by Niki Scevak, formerly an analyst at research firm Jupitermedia. Because it’s just a week old, the site only has listings for California so far, but will broaden its offerings over the next few months. It is currently tracking 33,984 Realtors across 49,212 home sales transactions.
“With real estate prices going up as much as they have, more real estate agents have entered the market,” said Scevak. “In terms of choosing an agent, it’s a noisy landscape. It seemed to me that the Internet might enable consumers to look at this massive amount of data in an organized and clean form, and in an open way as well to share opinions of what other consumers said about agents.”
Homethinking joins RealtyRators.com, Realty Baron and AngiesList, three other sites that offer ratings from consumers. Homethinking.com actively connects consumers with agents, acting as a lead-generation system.
The actual site, in subdued tones of green and gray, resembles that of Google in some ways: it’s relatively uncluttered, and the home page centers on a search box that prompts, “Enter your zip code or your city and state.”
Scevak says, “It’s akin to Google or Yahoo. When someone searches for “Palo Alto, California” on Homethinking, results – lists of agents – will appear. Agents can bid to appear in a special area where paid results show up, as they do on Google.”
Instead of paying per click as agents do with Google advertising, agents will pay by phone call. VoiceStar technology makes it possible for phone calls to be routed to agents, rather than sending consumers to agents’ Web sites.
“It’s a lead generation for seller’s agents over the phone,” Scevak said. Agents will bid on the price of keywords that will be cities and geographies. “The price of a lead in, say, San Francisco might be higher than in another city,” the CEO said. “The Realtors will determine what the value of a keyword is.”
Just as Google crawls Web sites to find its information, Homethinking crawls public Web sites – mostly agent and brokerage sites – that display listings, Scevak said. “We’ll pick up the fact that you are an agent selling House X. Then it will turn up in the county records that House X sold for such-and-such amount, we know the closing date and what the advertised price is.”
Scevak said, “We are respectful of those entities that don’t want us to crawl their sites.” The company will only use listings from those brokerages and individual agent sites that welcome being included, he said.
As ever, with sites featuring consumer opinions, there’s a chicken-and-egg issue. How will Homethinking get home sellers to give up the love – or hate – and rate their agents on the site? So far, the site only has a few reviews.
Scevak believes that consumers will visit the site even before it is populated with reviews because other information is available. From there, reviews will build up, he believes.
“We have the objective metrics on what the agent is doing from Day One,” Scevak said, referring to the statistics on which agents are selling properties where and how much the properties sell for. Hence, sellers can use the site to find agents in their neighborhoods and learn what kind of prices they are getting.
One of the reviews currently up on the site reads: “Joe was knowledgeable with the Kirkland market and was very consistent in his commitments. Joe was not pushy, and he did not attempt to persuade us to make a quick sale just so he could make a commission.”
Gabe Essoe, a Pittsburg, Calif., Realtor who is listed on the site, said he thought it was “a good idea” but pointed out some glitches.
“I’m in Pittsburg, Calif., but the site says I’m in Portola, Calif.,” Essoe said. “I have 19 listings currently, but it says I have 14 listings. One of the houses I’m listed as currently selling is sold.”
Scevak said in response, “We have only been up a week and some creases need to be ironed out. These sort of things will certainly be ironed out, and that is what we are concentrating on at the moment.”
Two things make Homethinking stand out from the crowd, according to an analyst: the fact that it has user reviews of local real estate agents, and that it is directed at sellers.
“It’s really about helping would-be home sellers to find local agents to sell their homes. It’s different from other sites directed exclusively at buyers,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group.
“In that regard, it’s interesting,” said Sterling.
The analyst said the real estate area is quickly becoming a crowded vertical. “Trulia, Homepages.com and Oodle, for example, just launched within the last couple of months,” Sterling said. “All the popular maps sites helped this to happen. Classifieds generally and real estate in particular (are) becoming very competitive.”
Sterling acknowledged that the challenge for new sites like Homethinking is to get enough people contributing reviews to make it valuable to consumers. “But it really all depends on your time horizon. If you can afford to take a long view, then you can rely on organic growth and word of mouth,” the analyst said.
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