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NAR has an opportunity to create the primary, trusted source of Realtor research

Quelling the angry mob part deux: NAR New Orleans edition

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There’s a lot of commotion this week at the National Association of Realtors’ annual convention in New Orleans about the “Realtor of the future” (ROTF) policy proposal.

The document, developed by a presidential advisory group under instruction from the strategic thinking committee, has proposed some improvements to the Realtor way of doing business.

The point that will likely get the most attention is the development of a Realtor “rating” system.

Part 1 of this article was written in the not-so-recent past when Realtors were lambasting the new AgentMatch beta program on Realtor.com.

There were all kinds of problems in its implementation, probably most important being the messaging of that never-really-launched product. Visually ranking members against one another is the kiss of death for a trade organization and its partners.

Let’s be very specific with our wording on this topic as we consider the “Realtor of the future” proposal this week, though. Rankings, ratings and reviews are three distinctly different things.

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Rankings imply a best-to-worst display. Ratings, most often seen as “how many stars out of five,” can be displayed on an individual or accumulated basis, but don’t necessarily need to be stacked or ranked between members.

Rankings, ratings and reviews are three distinctly different things."

They’re often accompanied by reviews. Reviews are what we as Realtors are already used to, and perform much like testimonials, except that some reviews might be negative. “Testimonials” are virtually always positive.

The words used to describe the policy proposal in ROTF were, frankly, unfortunate and could taint many members’ views: “NAR should develop a methodology to rate Realtors.”

I’ve had the privilege of working for a short time with some of the committee members involved with this policy proposal, and I know that the impression those words give are not in line with the intent of the objective. NAR, as an organization, will not rank, rate or review Realtors.

The objective was to create a review system that allowed clients to review members. NAR members could highlight their client interactions on a distinct, fair platform unadulterated by advertising sales models.

We regularly bemoan the loss of our listing data and our portal’s dominant place in online search, but this committee can see the loss of another huge opportunity coming down the line. Either a third-party review platform like Yelp or a real estate advertising portal like Zillow will own the mind share of consumers when searching for background on Realtors.

Not only will they no longer be reading the testimonials on your website for research, they wouldn’t believe them even if they found them — this dominant source of agent reviews will become the trusted go-to destination for verifying who you are as a business person.

While some members might prefer to stay out of online reviews altogether, that ship has sailed. Companies like Yelp, Agent Ace, HomeLight and NeighborCity have been posting their own versions of agent reviews and rankings for years already.

Consolidation and greater visibility in the agent review space online is going to happen. It’s already is happening. We, as Realtors, are the content for this platform of real estate research.

The potential outcomes are fairly simple:

No. 1: Yelp wins. Consumers post reviews with scored ratings about you, and you live with it. You can respond to the reviews and ask other clients to post positive reviews, but unless you pay up for advertising, those good reviews are going to conveniently disappear. You play in Yelp’s back yard, and you pay up or your business pays. It sounds conspiratorial, but after speaking with many agents and reviewing their stores, it’s sadly true. There is no compassion for your reputation at Yelp. They exist to please their consumer users, and the businesses who buy advertising. That is all.

No. 2: Zillow wins. Consumers post reviews with scored ratings about you, and you can invite clients to do so as well. The reviews are verified by the transaction, and are, frankly, far better managed than Yelp. The platform is easy: Agents share those reviews on their own websites through the new API and spread the Zillow name as the trusted source to consult for information on Realtors.

If you don’t create your own profile, you can’t be reviewed by consumers on Zillow. I’ve been assured that won’t change, though I wouldn’t be shocked if future management decided to attach agent names from MLS sales data to transactions and allow any consumer to review any agent (remember when Redfin tried to give all Realtors a visual profile online with their data?).

With tech management, it’s usually not so much about whether they should expose more data, but why they haven’t done it faster. Zillow has created the best review-rating system to date, one worth emulating in many ways. That doesn’t mean an advertising portal is necessarily the best place for the industry to cede total control of the review and research of its professionals.

No. 3: NAR wins. The organization creates a Realtor-friendly review system that also caters to consumers’ desire for more information on the professionals they’re hiring. By developing a system that allows consumers to review Realtors, and for Realtors to respond to those reviews, all the while verifying that each review came from a true client before being published, the organization taps into its enormous membership rolls.

NAR creates the primary, trusted source of Realtor research online. Far more members use the system because it is ubiquitous, not tied to any single advertising outlet or broker’s website, but something that can be ported anywhere online and be recognized as the real estate professionals’ official seal of review authenticity. Consumers love the Realtor-based database because it combines the ease of use of the Zillow model with a much broader member base to research.

Adoption of a review system by even one-third of NAR’s 1 million members could easily be seen outpacing the number of reviews on other sites within a year. When consumers go online for reviews of real estate agents, they, and over time their search results, would gravitate toward a database of research far more expansive than any of its competitors.

The opportunity

Reviews and ratings can be scary for us as business people. I was against the entire spectrum of these ideas when they were initially conceived. The only reason I was asked to be a part of the AgentMatch advisory board and to work with some of NAR’s committee members in this discussion was my opposition to the ideas being brought forth and the way in which they were proposed to be implemented.

It has become clear, though, that there is not just a risk in missing the train again on agent reviews, but a huge opportunity to claim the public profiles and consumer reviews of our professionals as our own and build them into a net positive for the organization’s exposure.

It must be done with absolute care for our members, but not so blandly that it isn’t interesting to consumers. It can’t be castrated into a shapeless testimonial repository in order to avoid some Realtors receiving a few less-than-stellar reviews.

We will all receive reviews that aren’t perfect. That’s the point.

Consumers don’t believe that agents get five stars every single time they sell a home. They actually prefer a 4.7/5 because it’s believable. Getting honest feedback from our clients helps us improve our skills for our future interactions and improves the industry as a whole.

If that’s not a good enough reason to start creating reviews on a NAR platform, it also allows each Realtor to house their most significant source of reviews on a platform that’s sworn to protect their business interests instead of with the next technology upstart with a very different financial motivation.

We’re at a defining moment in our industry’s history for the control of Realtor research, and the ability to affect its display. We can own it, make it a consumer-friendly and attractive product, and also manage it in a way that is respectful of our members.

Or, we can sit back, watch another technology wave pass us by, and wait for our next set of data overlords to explain to us how we they will review, rate and rank our members in the way that will most benefit their company.

That’s much scarier than getting a public review from a client.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and a director for Washington Realtors and Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.