Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent 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.
Dec. 2, 2010 — a date in real estate history that passes every year unnoticed. It was on that day that Zillow announced it had implemented an agent review system, and the real estate agent review was born.
Although Zillow was far from the first site to offer an agent review platform, it was the biggest, and it had the best PR department. And even the most devout Zillow detractors would have to admit that Zillow’s launch into agent reviews changed the perception of agent reviews from that day forward.
Oh, there was much whining, gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. On my real estate blog at the time, I penned an article titled, “Real Estate Agent Review Sites. On Zillow, Gaming and Whining.” (Incidentally, this was written over a year before I joined Zillow).
Some of the negative comments scattered about the interwebs shortly after Zillow’s announcement were:
- “This is an alarmingly irresponsible action on their part.”
- “No one looks at online reviews or gives them any credibility.”
- “This latest effort by Zillow to take over our business will be a disaster and could likely spell the end of them.”
Whatever. Just five years after Zillow began publishing agent reviews, the one millionth review was posted. I believe they are now well-north of three million agent and lender reviews.
Yeah, what an unmitigated failure that was.
Some agents swear by reviews, some swear at them. Regardless of your feelings about agent reviews, they are certainly here to stay.
Always a subject of discussion, the topic of agent reviews surfaced again this week in a Facebook real estate group. The same set of questions surrounding reviews has popped up repeatedly, literally for years. Seems prudent, and hopefully helpful, to address some of those questions.
What’s the best way to get reviews?
In the years I worked for Zillow Group, I had the good fortune to speak with dozens of great agents who were very successful in their efforts to gather reviews. Some commonalities in strategies and tactics came up repeatedly in my talks with these agents.
Fundamentally, the most important thing to do to secure a review is to ask for it. That seems blindingly obvious, but as with many things in business and life, it’s not so much that you ask, it’s how you ask.
Agents who have collected hundreds of reviews told me they make review requests a part of their conversations early in the transaction process. Rather than making your first mention of a review in some post-closing email, discuss reviews up front and early.
Don’t do it like this: “Hey there! It was so nice working with you. Now that you’ve closed on your new home, would you mind writing me a review? Thanks, I’d appreciate it!”
Instead, try this: “There’s a ton of stuff we need to cover in this first meeting. Needs, wants, desires, how the process works, how we can best work together, lots of things. So let’s get going!”
Then work this into the conversation: “My goal is to give you ‘five-star service.’ I want you to walk away from this transaction thinking, ‘Wow, that was an amazing experience. Jay is the bomb!” And I want you to tell people how great it was. Client reviews mean a lot to me and my business, and by the end of this, you are going to want to leave me a five-star review. Want to!”
Don’t stop there.
Drop little reminders throughout the transaction that a review is something you expect. This is not to say you should beat your clients over the head while chanting “review me, review me.”
On the contrary, you don’t want to seem pushy and aggressive. You shouldn’t come across like the review is all that matters. But you can make references to reviews and how important they are to you.
A perfect example: You’re showing a home, and you notice a small stain on the ceiling. Pointing it out, you say something along the lines of, “not sure what that is, it could be nothing. But it’s something we’ll need to look at closer if you decide to move forward with this.”
Your client says, “Thanks! I don’t think I’d have even noticed that.”
“You know, my amazing attention to detail is something you could put in that five-star review you’ll be writing when we’re done with all this.”
It’s somewhat humorous, it isn’t forced, and it simply serves as a little reminder about how important a review is to you. Sprinkle a few of these throughout the transaction, and it will make the formal request for the review much easier and likely more successful.
While we’re here, taking notes of your conversations and recapping those notes is a useful tactic for getting more reviews.
There’s nothing wrong with reminding people of specific interactions and thoughts they had while working with you. Sometimes providing a client with seeds of thought makes writing a review a whole lot easier, and the easier you can make leaving a review, the more likely it is one will be left.
If you want reviews, you have to ask for them. Sometimes you have to ask more than once. People are busy, they forget, other things pop up.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a review multiple times. (Do not, however, be “that guy” who relentlessly asks multiple times a week. You aren’t going to get a review from everyone, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting that you will.)
Where should reviews be published?
This one seems to cause much angst. There are multiple places reviews can be left, which causes some to struggle with the age-old question: “Where is the best place to publish a review?”
The short answer to that is publish them where people will see them. Thanks again, Captain Obvious! Of course you want reviews published where people can see them. Yet that seems to escape many.
The bigger sites tend to attract the most eyeballs. Facebook and Google are clearly huge sites, with insane amounts of traffic. Anything posted there has a good chance of being seen.
Same with review-specific sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. None of these sites are bad places to have reviews published. That are not, however, real estate sites.
If you really want to get your reviews in front of people interested in buying or selling real estate then you need to have reviews on big real estate sites. Love them or hate them, those listing portals are the place to have reviews.
Zillow, realtor.com and Trulia are three large real estate sites that have a review platform. Zillow and Trulia are both owned and operated by Zillow Group, and reviews are cross-posted between them.
That’s helpful as a consumer only has to write a review on Zillow, and it will be published on both Zillow and Trulia. So you can have a review published on “the big three” real estate sites, but your client only needs to do it on two sites (Zillow and realtor.com). Remember, make it as easy as possible.
How can I leverage on multiple sites?
This brings up the question that’s hard to answer: Should I ask clients to leave reviews on multiple sites?
In a perfect world, a client would leave a unique, glowing review on Facebook, Google, Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, your website as well as your broker, franchise and even association websites.
We don’t live in a perfect world. Getting a client to leave one review on one site is often a daunting task. How in the world can you get them to leave reviews on three, four or nine sites?
You probably can’t. The agents I’ve talked to who have a lot of reviews have almost universally said they don’t concern themselves with having a client post on multiple sites.
Hopefully, during your work with the client you’ve uncovered things like popular sites they visit. Since you’re bringing up reviews throughout the process, you’ll have lots of opportunities to uncover where your clients go for real estate info.
Are your clients Yelpers? Ask them to leave a review on Yelp. Big Facebookers have probably left other reviews on Facebook so they should be comfortable leaving you one there. If they use Zillow, ask them to leave a review on Zillow.
If they use Trulia, explain they need to leave the review on Zillow which will feed to Trulia (which is why you need to make an effort to understand how these sites work. Your clients are using them, whether you like it or not, so be familiar with how they work.)
Focus your efforts on getting a review. Don’t worry about multiple sites, that will work itself out over time.
Why isn’t there an easier way?
Virtually every time that a discussion on reviews pops up, someone will ask, “What app lets clients write one review that gets syndicated to multiple review sites?”
A reasonable question! Such an app sounds delightful. You just send a client a link to an app, clients write a review, click a button and magically your review appears everywhere. I need that app!
Unfortunately, said apps don’t really exist. Oh, some will claim they do this, but the reality is they facilitate the user copying and pasting a review across multiple sites. There isn’t an app or platform that will send one review to all major review sites.
This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone — these sites provide reviews for their benefit, not yours. Yes, you absolutely benefit, but these websites aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
They don’t want copied text that fits someone else’s guidelines. They want unique content and traffic.
There’s much more to discuss when it comes to reviews. This article is already approaching War and Peace length, so things like whether you should request reviews or testimonials (there’s a difference), review objection handling and how to respond to reviews —both negative and positive ones — will be discussed in a future column.
For now, think about these things when formulating your review strategy (you do have a strategy for this important aspect of your job, don’t you?):
- Bake review discussions into your process: The more natural your request for a review is, the more likely a client is to actually compose the review.
- Defocus your effort on getting single reviews published on multiple sites: Although it’s ideal, it’s also not likely to happen. Work on getting reviews that will land in front of the most people.
A good review strategy will increase your review count over time. Today’s consumer puts a lot of faith and trust in online reviews, and the savvy agent will capitalize on this — getting reviews across multiple platforms and allowing your clients to be your best advocates.
It’s word-of-mouth marketing, amplified by the power and reach of the internet. And that, oh avid reader, is the best kind of marketing to have.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.