Hear about the new Web site that lets real estate agents post bios and upload their listings — and helps consumers find them by city, language spoken, or even religious beliefs or sexual orientation?
Well, you might want to check out Agentopolis, because chances are that if you’re a real estate agent or broker, you’re already listed on the site.
The brainchild of mortgage broker Ken Horst, Agentopolis formally launched in January with a database of 1.4 million real estate professionals.
Horst purchased the list from Principe Programming, which collects the information from “numerous sources including state and county public records, Realtor associations, and agent Web sites.”
Horst says that so far, only three people have asked to be removed from his database, while 12,500 agents have visited the site to verify their information.
Many have also taken advantage of the opportunity to augment the bare-bones contact info in the database with a photo, profile and listings.
Those are services Agentopolis provides for free at the moment, although Horst says he plans to start charging new users $20 a year for the same level of service beginning in July.
Agentopolis generates revenue by charging agents a flat fee to show up at the top of the results when consumers search for agents by city. The site will also feature banner advertising and take a cut when it helps other companies sell services like IDX broker reciprocity to its users, Horst said.
Horst said many agents are turned off by sites that take a cut of their commission for referrals, and find Agentopolis’ flat fee “refreshing.”
Agentopolis charges $9.99 a month to put agents in the top 25 results when consumers search for a real estate professional in a particular city, or $29.99 per month to show up in the top 25 in five cities.
Compared to the top real estate Web sites on the Internet, Agentopolis’ traffic is unspectacular. Horst said the site attracted 48,000 visitors in the first quarter of 2007. That compares with more than 5 million visitors a month to a site like Realtor.com, the official site of the National Association of Realtors.
Realtor.com allows members to post their bios and contact information in a searchable database for consumers to find. But sites like Realtor.com don’t give consumers much to go on when selecting from hundreds of agents, Horst said.
Search for an agent in Phoenix, Ariz., on Realtor.com, for example, and the site returns 500 Realtors, listed alphabetically. The results fill 50 Web pages, with the consumer sent to one at random to avoid alphabetical bias.
Horst said Agentopolis is designed to help consumers narrow down their choices by allowing the public to rate agents.
But because agents can veto any reviews they don’t like — not to mention buy their way into the top 25 results — Horst concedes that some may question the site’s utility to consumers.
“Clearly, (Agentopolis is) not exactly Web 2.0 from a consumer point of view,” Horst said. The value of user-generated comments had to be balanced against worries that users could post offensive or libelous statements, and the site “has to be self-moderated — I can’t afford to do it myself.”
So agents were recently given the power to police their own review, with the result that “We have recommendations, and they are only the good ones,” Horst said.
Because Agentopolis allows anonymous comments — only a valid e-mail is required to submit a review — there’s also the potential for agents to write their own, laudatory reviews.
“With prices literally plummeting all around me, (agent’s name) managed to (sell) my home in under 14 days AND set the new high comp in our neighborhood,” read one five-star review of an agent in California. “I was the envy of the neighborhood. (Name) is the consummate professional.”
While Agentopolis may have its shortcomings, several agents who use the site told Inman News it seems to have potential.
Liz Sherlock, a Scottsdale, Ariz., agent who’s paid Agentopolis to place her in the top 25 results in five Arizona cities, says she’s landed her last two listings through the site.
“I did an elaborate listing on Kudzu.com, (the Cox Search Inc. site), and I was paying a lot more money for that and got very little for it,” Sherlock said. Agentopolis is one of several sites Sherlock uploads her listings to, which is a selling point for potential clients when making listings presentations, she said.
Sherlock, who has five glowing reviews from clients on the site, said she only recently learned of the site’s new policy giving agents power to police their own reviews.
One positive review she received took a while to show up on the site because she did not realize she had to approve it before it would be posted.
Sherlock said she’d be willing to participate in a site that didn’t give her full control over clients’ recommendations, as long as there was a process for disputing inaccurate or malicious reviews.
“It’s beyond being an honor system,” said another Agentopolis user, Bill Watson, of Southern Shores Realty in Long Beach, Calif. “I don’t like underhanded, deceitful ways … but it does occur to me: What’s to prevent an agent from going to another computer, and saying ‘John Jones had a wonderful experience with agent Jimmy Smith?’ “
Watson said that although he’s not aware of his company landing any business through Agentopolis yet, he sees it as a promising tool and will continue to be a user.
If Agentopolis isn’t a serious tool for consumers, it can be a fun one. Horst lets agents who choose to do so let clients know about the languages they speak, their religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
“We thought let’s make it fun — any wild way people want to search, let’s give people what they want,” Horst said.
The ability to search the site in many ways may help account for the relatively high number of page views per visitor — 10.94, Horst said.
If you are so inclined, you can search for a gay or lesbian, Russian-speaking, Buddhist buyer’s agent in Fargo, N.D. — although you won’t find one in the database yet.
You will, however, find 10 agents in California who identify as gay- or lesbian-friendly, including Jim Hildreth, broker-owner of RE/MAX Park Place Realtors in Sonora.
Hildreth — the town’s former mayor — said Horst’s decision to give agents the opportunity to identify as gay- or lesbian-friendly “was a real cool, bold move. In the Motherload (region of California) where I am, we’ve represented many gay couples who have come in. I think that’s a niche market.”
Although Hildreth said Agentopolis hasn’t generated any business for him yet, he’s talked to Horst and found him “very personable, hard working and diligent.”
“Being a broker, I’m going to use as many services as possible to propagate the properties” he markets in California and Louisiana, Hildreth said.
In his 31 years in real estate, Hildreth said he’s gone from “being this guy who at one point in his career said, ‘What good a fax machine?’ ” to an “Internet-savvy” broker.
One problem with relying on customer testimonials, he said, is that while all your clients may think you do a great job, it’s not easy to get them to post feedback.
“Most of my testimonials are on Yahoo! local,” Hildreth said. “When people say, ‘Great job!’ I say go ahead and post (a review on Yahoo!), but you have to bird-dog them. I have a woman, a Stanford grad who loved the work I did, and she’s still promising she’s going to post something.”
Horst said Agentopolis remains a work in progress, with major changes in store. He said he’s working on partnerships with other companies to provide other services to agents, such as broker reciprocity. The plan is to give agents who buy those services through Agentopolis premium services on the site at no additional charge.
There’s also a plan for an agent alliance that would allow agents to display other agent’s listings on Agentopolis, in a “broker reciprocity type of approach,” Horst said.
Horst, who owns and operates a number of other real estate Web sites including www.mlsmaps.com — a national directory of MLS listings provided by local real estate agents — sees Agentopolis as a ripe opportunity for investors.
Horst acknowledges there’s a low barrier to entry to building such a site. Anyone can buy a database of real estate agents and invite consumers to rate them — other examples include IncredibleAgents and MyAgentReview.
But Horst said his overhead is “quite low, and we know what we’re doing. If investors would look at us, they would see all of our money could go into driving traffic to the site, and building the banner ad program. We’re growing our traffic little by little, and we’re getting to the point where we say, ‘Let’s step it up a little.’ ”