Industry NewsMLS & Associations

NAR backing test of agent rating surveys

State and local Realtor associations invited to partner with QSC Inc.

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A subsidiary of the National Association of Realtors is partnering with state and local Realtor associations to offer members the ability to participate in a survey-based agent rating service provided by Quality Service Certification Inc.

QSC signed an agreement in August with the Center for Specialized Realtor Education, a NAR subsidiary that also runs Realtor University, to provide the Realtor Excellence Program through a half dozen state and local Realtor associations, said Laurie Janik, NAR’s general counsel.

If the program works in those markets, it could be expanded to other associations.

“We’ve invited half a dozen state and local Realtor associations to participate and give a test run, to see how it works for their members,” Janik said. “I’m very excited about the program but we have to see how it works in the field.”

QSC Chief Operating Officer Kevin Romito said four “charter” associations are currently up and running with the program: the California Association of Realtors, the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR), the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors (MORe, based in Downers Grove, Ill.), and the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors (SPAAR).

Brokerages or individual agents that belong to those associations can sign up for the program, Romito said. Participating brokers and agents pay no fees, unless QSC doesn’t have a client’s email address to send a survey to. In those cases, there’s a $3.50 fee to cover postage.

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After a transaction closes, QSC sends customer satisfaction surveys to clients of participating brokerages and agents. QSC compiles survey data, which can be used by brokers to pinpoint areas where individual agents may need additional education and training.

Agents also have the option of displaying survey data on the website RatedAgent.com, allowing consumers to view survey results, ratings and comments from past clients.

The surveys measure customer satisfaction in areas including agents’ communication and negotiation skills, and how long it took to sell the property. Visitors to the RatedAgent.com can view those results, along with an overall customer satisfaction rating. Agents also have the ability to display ratings on their own sites using widgets.

“We want to be responsive to the needs of today’s consumer,” said MORe CEO Pam Krieter in a statement. “We see this as an opportunity to not only help home buyers and sellers make better, more informed choices but also to give our members new tools they can use to improve their business and increase client retention and loyalty.”

While agent ratings are often viewed as a tool for consumers to select an agent that’s right for them, Janik said the Realtor Excellence Program has the potential to give “incredible feedback” to brokers, allowing them “to increase the competency and professionalism” of their agents.

If a broker with several hundred agents has access to survey data, they’ll be able to get a handle on which agents are falling short on customer service — and what kind of issues they need to concentrate on, Janik said.

“Even if someone’s a top producer, if they’re not providing the kind of service I (the broker) want to provide, I can provide training that’s tailored to the confidential feedback” from client surveys.

That agents also have the option of making survey data available to the public is an additional bonus, Janik said. But NAR sees the main benefit of the Realtor Excellence Program is its potential to raise the level of competency and professionalism. Boosting customer satisfaction could not only heighten the public’s perceptions of Realtors, but reduce the number of lawsuits filed against agents and their brokers.

That could not only reduce the legal liabilities of agents and brokers, but might even translate into lower premiums for “errors and omissions” (E and O) insurance policies.

“I’m hoping we can get statistics that would allow us to approach the E and O carriers and say, ‘If you have a broker that’s using it, they should (qualify) for a premium reduction,’ ” Janik said. “That’s the goal down the road. I think this program definitely has the potential to do that.”

Based in Orange County, Calif., QSC has been surveying consumers and providing agent training and certification since 1998. The company has contracts with real estate brokers, multiple listing services and Realtor associations.

In 2011, the California Association of Realtors sponsored a pilot program with Sunnyvale-based MLSListings Inc. in which QSC surveyed clients of six participating brokerages.

QSC launched its consumer-facing agent-rating website, RatedAgent.com, later that year.

Other websites that allow consumers to rate agents they’ve worked with include Zillow.com, Redfin, ZipRealty, Homethinking, AgentRank and Yelp.

Redfin and the Houston Association of Realtors have experimented with providing consumers with access to MLS data that sheds light on agent performance. HAR pulled the statistical tools it offered consumers because of protests by members, and Redfin did the same in the face of complaints about accuracy. HAR.com and Redfin continue to offer agent ratings.

Last year two MLSs filed copyright lawsuits against the operator of NeighborCity.com soon after the site rolled out updated profile pages for 850,000 agents that feature agent scores and performance metrics based on their transaction history.

Although NAR offered to help fund part of the costs of the lawsuits, at least one of the MLSs — Rockville, Md.-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS) — has declined such assistance.

QSC says its ratings system is the only one that employs a closed system — only buyers and sellers who have completed a transaction are allowed to fill out surveys, and surveys are sent to all of the clients of a participating brokerage or agent. That prevents agents from gaming the system by cherrypicking the best reviews, or even creating fake ones.

Romito said that open systems like those employed by Yelp can work for services that are reviewed by dozens or hundreds of users. A restaurant, for example, would have to have “many fake reviews to overwhelm the real ones,” Romito said.

“In real estate, if an agent is doing 10 or 12 transactions a year, and only half (of those clients provide ratings), two or three fake ones can skew the results in either direction,” Romito said. “That’s why there’s a big fear of ratings in our industry. It’s the Wild West out there — NAR wants to help Realtors own the process.”

Agents who choose to make survey results available to the public can pick and choose which questions they feel are most relevant. Agents who primarily represent buyers might not want to display results of survey questions that are targeted at sellers, for example.

All of the data received about an agent for each question they choose to display is published — agents can’t block the responses of dissatisfied clients.

“There are no mulligans,” Romito said.

Agents can decide, on an “all-or-nothing” basis, whether open-ended written comments from their past clients will be visible.

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