Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Over seven years ago, I moved from Phoenix — where I had lived for over a decade — to Seattle, a city I had visited twice for a grand total of four days.
I knew nothing and no one. Not where to buy food, get a haircut, see a movie — nothing.
Already tired of the restaurant at my short-term stay hotel, I pulled out my phone and opened Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google or Facebook and began my quest.
Because that’s what many looking for something do — they go online, and many start with reading reviews.
When I speak in front of large (and small) crowds, I often ask the audience a question: “Raise your hand if you have never looked at a review online.”
That question has been posed to hundreds if not thousands of people. Guess how many have ever raised their hands?
Zip. Zero, Zilch. Not a single person has ever said, “Me. I have never looked at a review.”
That’s because everyone has looked at reviews. Sure, some put more weight into reviews than others. Some will flip though reviews, muttering to themselves, Fake, best friend, fake, paid for, fake, fake, paid for, mom, fake.
Others, however, will look at reviews and almost instantly trust and give them credibility, and use what they see — be that positive or negative — to help them form a decision about what product or service to buy.
Just go to Google and type in, “using reviews to make decisions,” you’ll see articles like this:
- “84 Percent of People Trust Online Reviews As Much As Friends”
- “90% of Consumers Say Online Reviews Impact Buying Decisions”
- “Online reviews impact purchasing decisions for over 93% of consumers”
Those are huge numbers. Virtually nothing sees adoption rates in the high 80s to to 90s.
Reviews are ubiquitous, readily accessible, and most importantly, they are used and trusted by consumers.
It’s not just books and movies people are seeking reviews for. Almost every item for sale on Amazon has been reviewed. Need paper clips? Some on Amazon have over 300 reviews.
That’s 300 reviews — on a box of paper clips.
It’s not just products and entertainment being reviewed. All businesses are getting reviewed by consumers, including service providers.
The aforementioned providers like doctors, lawyers, hair stylists, plumbers and mechanics all have reviews. Many of the larger professions have entire websites dedicated to nothing but reviews for service providers.
You know what other service professionals many people leave reviews for?
Real estate agents.
Yes, there are literally millions of reviews of real estate agents scattered about the interwebs. Millions.
Stop by virtually any gathering of real estate agents and brokers, be that on or offline, and odds are good that you will find someone talking about reviews — how to get them, where to publish them, whether or not to respond to them and how to deal with negative reviews. Many agents, like many other business owners, understand the power of reviews.
This great article is chock-full of sourced statistics about reviews and how consumers use and perceive them.
- 68 percent of Americans report positive reviews make them more likely to use a business.
- 88 percent of buyers are influenced in their buying decision by reviews.
- Only 3 percent of buyers say that reviews never factor into their buying decisions.
- 73 percent of consumers trust a local business more after reading positive reviews.
I could go on and on. The point is, the consumer has spoken, and if you have a product or service to sell, you need to be incorporating reviews into your marketing, online presence and general business planning.
Given the importance vast droves of consumers place on reviews, the astute agent will actually have a plan for securing, showing and managing their reviews.
Step back, and ask yourself: Do I have a plan for getting more reviews this year?
Be honest! There’s a good chance you do not. Fear not, however, because it’s never too late to get started building a base of reviews and implementing things to help you secure more of them.
How to get reviews
I’ve talked to hundreds of agents about getting reviews. These are agents with dozens and dozens, sometimes hundreds, of reviews. Remarkably, they have similar tips, with very little differences among them.
Here is what they’ve told me about how to best get more reviews:
- Ask for them: Don’t play the wait and hope game when it comes to getting reviews. You’ve got to ask for them. When, where and how you ask for reviews matters.
- Make it easy: As in make it easy — for them, not just you. Send them a direct link to a review form and the site’s explanation of their review process and the site’s info on how to create an account. Alleviate their fears, and explain to them why every major site that accepts reviews requires some sort of registration (it’s because doing so greatly reduces the occurrence of fake/trolling reviews and abuse of the review terms).
- Be persistent, but not annoying: In theory, you could ask for a review once. Odds are that won’t work well. Consider that the person you’re asking is a human being. As such, they have busy lives, they forget things, and while having the best intentions, they just get busy, and it slips their mind.
Agents most successful in securing reviews understand two fundamental things:
- They won’t get reviews unless they ask more than once
- They won’t get a review from everyone they ask.
So ask everyone, and be prepared to ask a few times. (Please, do not bombard someone with 47 requests for a review. That just becomes annoying, and you either wind up with no review, or you get one lower than expected because you failed to factor in your annoyance level to the consumer.)
Where to get reviews
Much angst seems to be created when people decide where they want reviews displayed. The easy answer is, “Put them everywhere!” Easy to say, not so easy to do.
Fundamentally, a review does little to no good if it is never seen. So in deciding where to have your reviews published, one of the first things to consider is where will it be seen. Your first targets in building a review portfolio are large sites with lots of visitors. They are at least somewhat known for posting reviews.
In real estate, that would be sites wide-scope sites such as Facebook, Yelp and Google, along with focused-scope sites like Zillow, realtor.com, RealSatisfied and QSC/RatedAgent.
“So do I just ask a client to leave me a review everywhere?” is a question often asked.
“No,” should be the answer. Leaving reviews takes time. For most legit review sites, the reviewer will need to create an account. Then they have to actually write and submit the review, then they wait for the moderation process to complete.
Asking people to write one review is asking for their precious time. Asking them to do so on many sites, sites they may have never even seen, isn’t a reasonable request, and it’s likely to have the opposite affect you’re looking for — and you’ll wind up with no reviews on any site.
If you know what sites a person uses, ask them to review you on that site. Send Yelpers to Yelp. Send someone who has mentioned Zillow or realtor.com to Zillow or realtor.com. Almost everyone has a Facebook account. Although most use Google, not all have a Google account — they’ll need to create one.
If you can’t identify a site someone uses, then send them to the site you are currently targeting to get more reviews. Understand the process a consumer follows to post a review on that site (most will have an FAQ or info on leaving a review — share that with your reviewer).
Make is as easy as possible for the reviewer to access the site, and guide them through the process.
Bake reviews into your business processes
What I mean by this is don’t look at reviews as an afterthought. If you approach a client at the closing table and say, “Hey, I could really use a favor and would love a review from you on Zillow/Facebook/Yelp/wherever. That cool?”
It might work. But if it’s the first time your client has heard you utter the word “review,” your odds decrease dramatically.
On the other hand, if you bake reviews into your process, if you’ve mentioned, from the early days of your relationship, how important reviews are to you and your business. If this ask at the closing table is understood and not a surprise, then your success rate will skyrocket.
One agent I know with hundreds of reviews told me about the time she pointed out a small water stain on a ceiling. Her client said something along the lines of, “Wow, thanks. I never would have seen that or even thought of it.”
Her response? “Thanks, that would be an outstanding point to make in the five-star review we’ve been talking about you leaving me.” If you’re consistently (but not in an overbearing, boorish, dominant fashion) discussing reviews and their importance to you and your business, then you are far more likely to have a client understand the importance and leave the review.
What to do with negative reviews
The biggest fear and the thing that holds most agents back about developing a plan to receive and leverage reviews is the fear of a negative review.
Here’s a few things to remember, and do:
- No one is perfect: Not you, not the person reading the review, not the person leaving the review.
- Reply to the review: Don’t be defensive, don’t be snarky. Be honest and direct. If you screwed up, own up. If the reviewer is insane and accusing you of things that didn’t happen, gently explain what did happen. Take the high road. Don’t stoop to the reviewer’s level. The people reading the review and your reply will get it.
- To that end, consider replying to every review, not just negative ones: Replying to each review gives you an additional opportunity to interact with the reviewer — and everyone else reading the review.
- Take comfort in the fact the the occasional lower-end review actually validates all your other five-star reviews: Study after study has shown that review readers and those who place high value in them see lower reviews as evidence that reviews aren’t faked or bought. It adds to your humanity and makes you relatable — all traits many are looking for in an agent.
Here are a couple of interesting stats on that last bullet point:
- 95 percent of consumers get suspicious of fake reviews if there are no bad scores (Revoo, 2013)
- The likelihood of purchase peaks at a star rating of 4.0 – 4.7, then decreases as the rating gets closer to 5.0. (Spiegel Research Center, 2017)
The bottom line
Reviews are important for many consumers in making a decision on who to work with. In this day and age, a complete lack of reviews for you will look suspicious to many. So embrace reviews, understand what they can do for you and your business. Don’t freak out if you get a bad review or stress too much on where to get reviews.
Make the ask, provide resources to make it easier for the reviewer, and actually put review gathering and responding into your business planning and tasks.
Dozens (if not hundreds) of times I’ve had conversations like this with an agent or broker: “I got this call out of the blue. Some guy said, ‘I’ve seen your reviews online, and I’d like to talk to you about selling my home.’”
Be that agent. It’s way more productive, fun and profitable than taking the, “all reviews are fake, and no one cares about them,” attitude.
Consumers do care, they’ve made that crystal clear. Be prepared to take action and gain that advantage.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.