A real estate search site covering western Washington is turning the concept of online lead generation and referrals on its head, giving consumers more control and anonymity in the agent selection process.

ShackPrices.com today rebranded and relaunched as Estately.com and also launched a new consumer-agent matching service. Consumers visiting the site can search available properties from the multiple listing service that serves Seattle and surrounding western Washington, and fill out a form to be connected with a real estate agent.

While many real estate lead-generation services require consumers to fill out a form either to view detailed listings or to get a home valuation, Estately allows consumers to make the choice when they’re ready.

“Folks have been searching on our site for awhile now and have been asking for agent recommendations,” said Galen Ward, co-founder of Estately. He said the founders saw an opportunity to offer consumers a way to connect with prescreened agents, rather than connecting with the first agent who responds to their lead form as with other matching services or simply signing with the agent they met at an open house.

Sixty-seven percent of Internet consumers end up working with the first agent to respond to their inquiries, according to a California Association of Realtors survey. There aren’t a lot of services out there that emphasize consumer choice when it comes to picking an agent, said Ward, adding that his company’s service puts a premium on agent quality and level of service, rather than speed of response or exclusive rights to a neighborhood or ZIP code.

When ready to talk to an agent, consumers at Estately.com fill out a questionnaire with answers about where they are looking to buy and what types of homes they are seeking. An algorithm is used to match consumers with appropriate agents based on their answers.

The company sends the consumer information on three agents within 24 hours and recommends they interview at least one or two before making a decision.

Consumers remain anonymous throughout the process, Ward said, and have control over which agents they decide to contact.

The anonymity could prove to be a draw since many agent-matching sites require consumers to leave an e-mail address or phone number, which can lead to years of marketing e-mail from agents.

Any real estate agent can sign up to get consumer referrals from Estately, Ward said, but the company interviews them to make sure they have a record of good service and tracks consumer feedback after they’ve been matched up. Estately had “a few dozen” agents signed up from throughout western Washington at the time of launch, he said.

Agents pay Estately a referral fee of 12 percent of the commission only if they close a transaction with a consumer they connected with through the site. After a transaction closes, Ward said Estately representatives will aggressively pursue feedback from the consumer so the company can include that feedback in the agent’s profile for future inquiries.

“We’ve been asked by many brokers to start our own brokerage,” Ward said. “But there are lots of brokerages already.” Lots of agents do a great job servicing clients, he said, but the tricky part for consumers is finding those agents.

Asked why the company decided to rename and rebrand, Ward said the former name, ShackPrices, evoked a strong reaction in people, and the co-founders decided that the name didn’t accurately describe what the company does so they initiated the change.

Other than the name and logo and the addition of the new Agent Match service, none of the site’s functionality has changed, Ward said.

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