Today, RealSatisfied was acquired by Placester. Brad Inman talks to RealSatisfied president Jeff Turner.
A customer satisfaction platform, RealSatisfied launched in 2010 in Australia. Jeff Turner joined as president in 2012. Buyer and sellers reviews are all done online, often with an API integration with broker websites. RealSatisfied collects 47 data points on sellers and 45 on buyers.
The focus on the platform is helping brokers and agents get insights on their customers.
With degrees in psychology from Grace College (Bachelor of Science: Psychology) and Ball State University (Master of Arts: School Psychology), Turner is a long-standing leader both online and at live real estate events.
Brad Inman: Welcome, readers and listeners. I’m so excited today to have with me Jeff Turner, who is the president of RealSatisfied — and Jeff is in the news today because the company Real Satisfied was sold to Placester. Welcome, Jeff, great to have you.
Jeff Turner: It is always great to talk to you, Brad; you know that.
Let’s talk about a couple things.
First of all, here’s an M&A [merger and acquisition] deal in the real estate space by two very credible companies — smaller companies, start-ups, I guess you could call yourselves.
Back in the day, marrying two start-ups was always challenging because there’s usually a burn rate. But it sounds like you two have found a way to do something strategic that’s kind of interesting. So give us a little background on where you all came from — but also, how it led to this deal.
Sure. So I met the two founders of RealSatisfied, David King and Phil Kells, when I was speaking at the Australia Real Estate Conference in May of 2011 in Sydney, Australia. So the company was founded in Australia — and I think it’s really pertinent to this conversation of what makes this deal so interesting, because they built this product outside of the hype that really was just reaching some heat in the United States in May of 2011.
It started when Bob Hale went online in 2009 with HAR [Houston Association of Realtors] with his ratings, those public-facing ratings that he was doing for agents. And Zillow was really just just getting started in the United States at that point in 2011 with their ratings — literally, [Kells and King] had no idea what was taking place in the United States around them, so the platform was built in a completely different real estate environment, without this notion that the end game was ratings and reviews.
It was built as a platform designed to collect as much information as possible for brokers and agents so they could truly understand how they performed for the consumers they were delivering services to.
So often, so much innovation doesn’t always happen in New York City and Silicone Valley and all of these other places in all far-flung parts of the world.
Let’s move to the deal — I want to go back to all the ratings, and I think we should help our readers understand, one, the importance of data, two, reviews, ratings, what’s the difference, and how can people control them other than just doing a great job.
But first, the deal itself — Placester and RealSatisfied, I guess none of us would have guessed that marriage. But strategically, you all felt like it was a great move for the company?
Yeah, we did. Very, very early on in our conversations — myself, Phil and David — I told them, and they agreed, that they really felt that ultimately the future of RealSatisfied was to be a part of a larger ecosystem that was serving the same customer base.
And our customers are agents and brokers, and that’s who Placester’s customers are. And we were, quite frankly, a little bit surprised, as well.
I don’t think I’m talking out of school by saying when we were first approached by Placester, I’m not sure we saw the fit either. But it didn’t take long. Matt Barba did a presentation for us that was a future-looking presentation about the company, and when we finished with that presentation, the three of us said, “Wow, they really have some great ideas around how to assist brokers and agents in really capitalizing on business intelligence and really taking advantage of big data to help them make better business decisions.” And we saw where we fit in that.
It seems like we all have a narrow view of Placester. They do websites — I did an interview with Matt, and I always sensed he had a bigger strategy.
And you painted the picture here pretty eloquently. So this is a big part of their agenda, then.
It is, they’re building a suite of tools for brokers and agents and brands. And the beautiful thing about about Matt is, one, he was a former real estate agent, and Frederick Townes, who was one of his co-founders, is a really brilliant technologist.
And so this marriage that they have and this focus on the broker and the agent — we obviously think it’s the right focus, and it became really clear that the fit was perfect for us, and for them as well.
Gotcha. So the deal came down today, it closed. You’re joining them?
What’s your new title?
I think my new title is going to be vice president of strategic partnerships, and I’ll work directly with the president of strategic partnerships.
It’s pretty fun.
And all these talented people — Laura Monroe, you and Seth [Price] and Matt — I mean, that in and of itself sounds very exciting. We can’t wait to watch your success.
Let’s jump back to the data stuff, Jeff.
Suddenly, real estate’s discovered little data, big data, medium data — everybody loves data. We’ve all been talking about it for 10 years — and actually longer than that, I think — this idea of tracking buyers and sellers after they do a transaction is something I remember when I first got into covering the industry as a journalist.
But now, it seems like there are tools, there’s software, there are applications that are being built by companies to help agents and brokers collect the data that only they could possibly collect. Suddenly, the brokerage and agent community woke up to — my gosh, we got data, we gotta do something with it.
Well, I think there are two parts to this. Some of it has to do with the fact that you finally have systems in place where data is just beginning to be able to, for lack of a better way of putting it, talk to each other. These different data sets have the ability to be co-mingled so that you can utilize them and see things, begin to see patterns.
Quite frankly, that hasn’t been the case until recently. And so, we’re seeing, finally, in the real estate industry, the opening up of this data. And that’s really one of the things that we try to do when we launched agent profiles on RealSatisfied.
We believe that the data we collect — and our license clearly states it — it doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to brokers and agents. So our goal is to is to empower that data to the greatest extent possible.
And the way you do that in today’s world is to make it open so that it can be accessed and utilized and married with other data so that you can take advantage of those insights.
Gotcha. Jeff, let me ask you this question. You said “our customers are brokers and agents” — I think that is what you said.
Wouldn’t the customer here be the consumer?
No, not at all.
OK, explain that — because you’ve got data that not only helps the public see how agents are reviewed and rated (and, by the way if I’m saying review and rated and should be saying rated or reviewed, clean me up, here).
But secondly, you’re also providing a lot of business intelligence to brokers and agents for this data you collect from them.
Exactly. Ratings are a by-product of what we do, it’s not the goal of what we do. Again, when we launched our product in the United States, there was no public-facing agent profile page to display ratings on.
All of the ratings that were shown were done as a tool in the back-end to give them an easy visual to look at to say, “this is how I’m doing.” And we always provided tools that allowed agents to see how they were comparing to other agents in their office and other agents in the company.
It wasn’t until we launched in the United States and some of our first clients like Meybohm in Augusta, Georgia, and ReeceNichols in Kansas City that came to us and said, “We love the data we’re getting in the back end. Don’t get us wrong, we like it. We’re getting great results. We’re getting good information from these surveys.
“But we believe that our agents really need a way to show that these ratings and this data is being collected by a third party. How do you accomplish that?”
And we decided to accomplish that by building our agent profile pages on an RSS feed of the data that we collected on their behalf. So our ratings really, truly are — they’re an afterthought.
What do you mean, “afterthought”?
The public display of those ratings wasn’t a part of the original product.
So it’s an unintended consequence that was really positive.
Exactly, and so what’s come about is this collection of this detail — and we collect a lot of detail.
That is what we believe we were designed to do, that’s our goal. Our goal is to collect as much information for brokers and agents as possible at the close of a transaction. And all of that data that we’re collecting has some aspects of it which has some value on the public-facing side.
These broker/agent clients — are they publishing it publicly or are you publishing it?
They are, absolutely they are.
So we can imagine a day when I’m Brad Inman, real estate agent in West Hollywood — which I’m not, by the way, I would have no customers — but imagine I was.
If I was, I would have a web page from Placester. I would have my data, my customers being surveyed by RealSatisfied, and I would publish those on my website.
And then, I presume, I’m a premium realtor.com agent, I’m a Zillow Premier Agent, so I could publish them there, I could publish them on my broker site.
Tell me about the distribution of this content.
The reason we built these agent profile pages on top of the RSS feed was to have it be as open as possible. There is no more open standard for syndicating data than an RSS feed.
So what typically happens for us is that third parties, like Cloud CMA and Spacio, for example, come to us and say, “We’ve got agent profiles, we think it would be beneficial to have ratings and testimonials appear on these public-facing testimonials.”
Or in Cloud CMA’s instance, “We think it would be good to have this included as a page of the report that gets presented to sellers in listing presentations,” for example. It makes it really simple to be able to say to them, you don’t even need an API (application programming interface). We have an RSS feed that’s triggered off of a vanity key — just build it so the agent can put in their vanity key, and then these things will flow in real time.
So you have a background in news and RSS keys. Did you bring that to the table, or had the Aussies already figured that out?
No, no, the Aussies —
By the way, can I use the word “Aussies”?
I think they like the word “Aussies,” I think they’d just be happy for you to call them anything.
Yeah, we love them.
When it came about, when the action was asked for — “Can you create public-facing agent profiles for us?” — It was really Phil and David who said, “Listen, we’ve got this license agreement that clearly states this is their data, it’s not our data. Why should we put any barriers between this and it living anywhere?”
And so the RSS feed just simply made sense because it was this standard for syndication, so we will never be the barrier between this data and it living anywhere agents want it to be. If there’s a barrier, it’s always going to come from a third party.
Let me ask you this. No matter what, [the data] is always there, it always exists. Can agents control where this is published?
So I’m a terrible agent in West Hollywood — no one likes me, so I’m never going to publish my data. No one else is gonna publish it for me, right? So no one will ever know that I’m a really terrible Realtor?
Brad, let’s be really, really frank here. If Brad Inman is a terrible agent in West Hollywood, Brad Inman isn’t surveying his clients.
Brad Inman isn’t pushing his clients to go fill out ratings on Zillow.
No — I mean, listen.
I guess what I’d love to see here — you know me, I’m pushing for a higher-quality agent, the brokers to hire better ones or fire bad ones.
Ratings are not the way to a higher-quality agent because ratings are a marketing tool.
I don’t care what anybody says about that. If I go right now, today, on Zillow and search in my ZIP code — 91390, anybody listening to this podcast, just go do it — there’s 25 pages of agents.
You will page through 18 pages of agents before you find a single agent that has less than a five-star rating.
So it’s all B.S.?
There is a purpose to it, and the purpose to it is to act as validation.
Isn’t the public kinda getting screwed here if they don’t know that there’s 18,000 pages or 18,000 agents, whatever it says you’re gonna find, and they land on one who’s on the front page of a paid premium listing, and they see five [stars] and they go “Ooh, wow.”
Is this any different, I guess than Yelp, or anything?
I would hope that maybe we would be giving the consumer some sort of feedback loop that was honest.
I think that’s what we’re trying to do. So here’s the deal.
No consumer gets to the closing table, Brad, and says, “Wow, I just finished closing my house, I guess I better go rate my agent on Zillow.” They’re going be directed there by someone, and it’s typically an agent who believes that they did a good job. Maybe they’ve even asked the client if they’re happy, and they go there.
The beautiful thing about the way our system works is that 90 percent of our transactions are triggered by brokers through a transaction management system. We’re talking to people who have actually completed a transaction with an agent, and the triggering action is …
It’s not an agent saying, “Give me a good review …”
No, it’s not.
This is just done automatically, and so arguably that gets more honesty, candor.
Well, it does, in the place where it needs to be more honest, right. And the place that it really — if you’re talking about improving the quality of the real estate business, you’ve got to give brokers and agents as much data as …
Are they taking action with it, Jeff?
Are they actually firing them or training them or and doing something?
I can’t speak to firing, but I can speak to this. There are pieces of data that I like to call “canary in the coal mine data” that we only surface to agents and brokers.
And so for example, two agents can have the exact same customer satisfaction rating. But one agent has a return rate on their surveys of 90-plus percent –and there are lots of agents who have 90-plus-percent return rates on our platform. And another agent in an office with the exact same public-facing customer satisfaction rating has a return rate of 20 percent.
They do not have the same customer satisfaction in reality. But you can’t see that from the public-facing aspect of it.
So you’re saying your tool basically is most about helping brokers clean up their act, whether it be getting rid of [agents] or whether it be training them or …
… and less about this being a public-facing, honest-to-god review that consumers can use to discern who’s a better agent in their backyard.
I think I, personally — obviously, this is going to be a very self-serving comment. I believe we do a better job of both than anyone.
Because the ratings that ultimately get surfaced come as a result of a really in-depth survey. It’s not a simple five-star.
But whether it surfaces is up to the agent?
Whether it surfaces is up to the agent.
You have data that shows — unlike Zillow’s — that shows bad agents.
But whether it’s published is not a function of you getting the data, it’s a function of the agent or the broker just choosing to publish it.
It’s a function of the agent or the broker choosing to publish it.
I guess I’m a little suspicious of Yelp — right? And I should be. OpenTable, I’m suspicious. Is there any stand out out there that you think we should reach, a bar with the public?
I guess you’re getting really good data — that’s the key. My view is transparency, transparency, but obviously that’s not gonna happen. I’m not sure what I’m asking you.
To say “it’s not gonna happen,” I think, is not true. I think consumers function differently around the real estate transaction than they do around a restaurant.
And I think the mistake that real estate consistently makes over and over again is that they begin to compare their industry to things like restaurants. It’s easier for me to understand from a restaurant review whether or not I want to go to that restaurant. Because, quite frankly, the restaurant owner has control over the context of everything that happens in that restaurant, they have control over the quality of the food, etc., etc., etc.
Real estate agents — the complexity, the psychology, the life circumstances that happen inside of these real estate transactions, they’re incredibly complex. And so the consumer, I think, gets this, and the data, our data, NAR’s data, consistently shows that the vast majority of consumers are still finding their agent based upon referral from a friend or family member, or having previously done business with the agent.
And so the action that they’re taking online — I think people like to think the action they’re taking online is to go online to search for an agent, and that’s not what they’re doing. They’re going online to validate a friend’s recommendation, and so it’s a completely different mindset when you begin to look at consumer behavior in terms of validation instead of search relative to an agent.
Searching for an agent online is not what’s happening, validating is what’s happening.
Gotcha. So, Jeff, tell us about the future here — you’re joining this company. Laura, is she joining the company as well?
Everybody’s staying on.
One big happy family!
It really is.
What’s the social footprint of you four, like 10 trillion? You four are like the social gurus out there.
We enjoy what we do and we believe in what we do — and thank you for letting me take Laura from you, by the way.
She’s the best; she’s really fantastic.
She really is. And so what we do, we believe in very strongly.
I feel so comfortable talking about what it is that we do because I believe we are getting to what your hope is, Brad, that the industry will raise the bar.
But the bar doesn’t get raised through ratings and reviews, that’s a public-facing aspect of what needs to have happen.
There’s not enough data collected in any review system online to provide brokers with the understanding they need to make the kinds of decisions they need. We think we’re providing really necessary business intelligence to brokers.
Well, I hope they do something with it.
I do, too.
My criticism is they’ve already gotten it, they know it and they don’t do anything.
So I hope data’s just not an excuse not to do anything, I don’t think it will be, but at least they have it now, and it’s a tribute to you and all the other people. You brought up Bob Hale — God love the guy, I think he only lasted a day, but at least he tried.
And all the other people that have tried and been criticized and chastised — God love them, this is a war to make change.
Hey, we’ve run out of time, Jeff, but would you come to Connect this summer and explain all this to our audience?
I’d love to.
Because I know I don’t understand it very well. But at least we got people in the community that know this stuff that could explain it to everybody else.
And congrats on the deal. I know what it’s like to sell a company, and it’s hard, and congrats to your founders in Australia — I’m sure they’re toasting somewhere today.
And we’ll keep in touch on your progress — keep us posted on everything you’re up to.
Thank you very much, Brad.