Trustworthy reviews of real estate

Chris_ChyungMarch 2, 2014

Hi everyone, I'm in the process of building a comprehensive real estate agent reviews site. To abide by GardenWeb's no-advertising policy, I am not going to give away the name of the tool, but we were featured on a large beta launch list today and a number of interested people signed up with us.

I wanted to ask the community, how did you find real estate agents you used, especially if you moved to a new city? If you could find highly detailed, trustworthy reviews of agents online, do you think that would be useful?

As far as I know, the process of finding agents is almost entirely word-of-mouth. Homebuyers and sellers often choose agents out of convenience or familiarity, instead of using data and trustworthy experiences of the crowd. The problem I have with existing tools like Yelp is that the reviews are (1) seriously limited and read more like endorsements and (2) not filterable by useful data like neighborhood, commission %s, or days on market. I think our tool could be useful for people wanting to find a low-commission agent, or one who has sold studios in your neighborhood recently, or one who sells homes quickly with fewer days on market, etc.

It will be a challenge to ensure that reviewers are truthful, no doubt, but we have a lot of mechanisms built into the beta version to deter fraud, and we are planning to be extremely strict about which reviews get posted to the site.

I would really appreciate your constructive criticism/any questions you have for me.

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One challenge facing on-line review websites and the customers who write reviews is the potential for liability. It seems there are more and more news articles lately where reviewers are being sued by the company they reviewed. Even if the information presented in the review is completely factual and truthful, defending oneself in a lawsuit is expensive and time consuming. Even consumers who have had a horrible experience with a service provider may choose not to leave a review due to the hassle factor.

I hope your site will allow consumers to filter by realtors professional designations (i.e. corporate relocation trained, buyer's agent, etc.)

My only other comment is about arbitration. If your site plans to offer it when negative reviews are made, please alert the reviewers BEFORE they post so they can decide if they want your site's help in resolving a situation.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:28PM
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Thanks and I absolutely agree that it seems lawsuits are being filed pretty frequently over sites like Yelp. One safeguard we hope will work is eliminating star reviews. I know it sounds absurd that a ratings site would not have stars/numerical scores, but it seems that Yelp's problem is that their stars have developed into an over-simplified, yet overvalued metric (there are some studies that show each star of a restaurant's Yelp score correlates to a sizable revenue bump). Since homebuying/selling will never be as simple as ordering food, my team is pretty confident that eliminating stars will reduce fraud as well as the need to sue, while still upholding the integrity of the site. Great points, I will definitely need to discuss these scenarios with our attorney, including your point about arbitration.

The current site structure divides agents into selling/buying, but we have not built in any professional designations. Do you think the average homeowner is aware of most designations, or are they somewhat esoteric? However we are going to have reviews filterable by short sale/foreclosure/dual agency fields. Again, thanks for your input. It is immensely helpful!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:55PM
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In answer to your follow-up question, I think experienced home buyers and sellers going through the process for the 3rd, 4th, 5th time are more likely to want to search for realtors by their professional designations than newer/less experienced home buyers and sellers.

Our last move (our 3rd) was a corporate relocation. Working with a relo expert to buy our new home was invaluable; there were many details she knew to handle both with us and my husband's employer that the average realtor accustomed to working with in-town buyers and sellers would probably not have thought about or known to do.

Best wishes on your venture! I look forward to seeing the roll-out.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 11:07AM
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While I use many of the online tools to make decisions, that does not mean I accept something just because someone says it is so. And that is not just information taken from the reviews. You may proclaim your reviews to be trustworthy, but in truth, I am the one that will be determining if I find them trustworthy. Your say-so counts for zilch at this point; trust is something you have to establish. And while "we are planning to be extremely strict about which reviews get posted to the site." is a sound byte that is intended to inspire confidence, it leaves me wondering whether your criteria for weeding would align with mine, or cause the results to skew the way you determined they should be over how I would rank priorities.

When I am doing research on business and services, I read everything. Then I weed out what I think is bogus or not a priority, and evaluate what remains. So the stricter you are with removing what you determine to be unhelpful, the less helpful your site might actually become IMO.

That said, being able to separate by filters could be very a useful tool. But I might use it differently than you seem to envision. For example, it sounded as if you think days on market information would provide me with the names of agents that sell homes quickly. Frankly, that information may just provide a list of agents that under-priced the homes for quicker sales, or didn't have clients that refused to lower their asking price. You may provide the info--but I am still going to interpret that information how I see fit. Granted, many site users will not look beyond the face value statistics.

Cannot say I am sorry you have gone the non-star rating route. It is a pain weeding through one-star reviews that evaluate Windows 8 rather than the computer for a computer review, for example-- (fresh in my mind from my research yesterday lol). But I am curious what you may have set up in its stead.

Good luck with your new site.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 4:17PM
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I agree with gyr_falcon-- with a decision on which faucet to buy for my kitchen sink I'm very interested in reviews. However, with something like choosing a doctor I actually don't care about online reviews. If I have a personal friend who can refer a doctor, real estate agent, lawyer, etc. I will listen because I know the person referring them so I know to an extent where our personalities are similar. An online review is only helpful in alerting me to unethical or unprofessional people. And in those cases I'd be skeptical at best.

Frequently when I hear people excited about their realtor it's very personal it's because they love the house they ended up with. This can be due to a good realtor, but it may also be because they were moving up to a much bigger or nicer home, because they liked the first house they saw, or because the inspector told them the house was solidly built. On the other hand, if a seller's buyer backs out because their foundation turned out to be a wreck at inspection, I don't want to read a whiny review about their real estate agent.

We went and saw some property with a realtor recently. I wouldn't go look at anything with him again. He just wasn't my style of realtor at all. Would I write a review about him? No way. He did nothing wrong, we just didn't have the kind of chemistry I look for in an agent I want to deal with. That's not something that makes a helpful review for anyone else, and I could have read a hundred reviews about him and not been able to tell he wouldn't have been my realtor of choice.

Just my two cents as someone who finds sites like yelp and urbanspoon only marginally helpful and mainly just a time waster. You're only getting one side of the story from an unknown source and that never gives you the tools to make a good judgement call on a person.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 6:04PM
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I see, thanks Jewel654, that was really helpful and I appreciate your support.

Gyr_Falcon and threepinktrees, thanks for your candor. I absolutely agree that it will ultimately be the user's decision whether to trust what we accept on our site, as well as how the user interprets the information shared with them.

When I espouse the strictness/trustworthiness of our tool, I'm trying to emphasize how we would differ from what's available to consumers now. For example, a random Zillow agent review I picked from Chicago, where I live, reads: "I randomly found [redacted name of agent] when my husband and I came across a property on Zillow. All I can say is she is the best agent out there." And the reviewer gives the agent 5 stars for each aspect of the transaction.

With Yelp/Zillow flooded with limited reviews such as this, I'm hoping our tool can provide a more comprehensive picture of the user's experience whether buying or selling. What kinds of technology/social media/marketing strategies did the agent use? Did the agent help coordinate inspections/appraisals/repairs/title/attorneys efficiently? How many showings were held? Did they go smoothly? What additional fees were there? The aforementioned review answers none of these questions. Eliminating reviews that sound like endorsements is a top priority for us.

Your points are both very valid, and I thank you for taking the time to write a response to my post. It seriously means a lot.

Threepinktrees, how would you feel if the tool integrated your social network? The structure of our beta has users signing up using Facebook. Would that change your mind about online ratings sites since the reviews arenâÂÂt strictly coming from an âÂÂunknown sourceâ anymore? Again, thanks a lot for your input.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 8:27PM
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Well, to be honest I am not a Facebook user and never sign up for things that require facebook. Although I may be one of the few of the millennial generation in that camp.

I do think focusing on the more 'objective' aspects you mentioned is the only way to make it a highly useful tool. Information like, "Our agent was pushy about showing us a house in her office's new development" would concern me. Sure, it might be true that such a reviewer had a pushy agent, but that of subjective statement doesn't really help anyone. One couple might feel that having a home mentioned more than once is 'pushy' when another might find such an agent to be 'helping them explore all the options.'

My in-laws hate it when waiters in restaurants hunker down and say something like, 'How's it going, guys?' If they were reviewing the restaurant they might say the staff was rude and unprofessional. Another couple with the same waiter would say the staff was friendly and welcoming. When I go to urbanspoon and see polar opposite reviews like that, it just makes you feel like it's a waste if time to go to the site. I think that's the risk you run.

So I think the idea of extremely limiting subjective information and sticking with concrete data is the way to go.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:55PM
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I know what you mean, I really don't enjoy using my Facebook at all, but it is a better way to verify someone's identity online rather than just an email address, unfortunately.

I think another thing I learned from the replies to this thread is that we should describe the site as a "recommendations tool," not ratings/reviews. We aren't aiming to replace word-of-mouth agent recommendations, merely hoping to spread them to a larger audience. Thanks again, everyone.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:44AM
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I wanted to ask the community, how did you find real estate agents you used, especially if you moved to a new city? If you could find highly detailed, trustworthy reviews of agents online, do you think that would be useful?

We found the houses we wanted to look at first, then looked for an agent who had been selling for a long time ... no problem.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 2:57PM
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Thanks lazygardens. In my city there are hundreds of brokers who have been in the business for a long time. ThereâÂÂs not really a good way for me to compare them side-by-side, so I canâÂÂt help but think that IâÂÂm not getting the full picture of who is capable. But if IâÂÂm looking to sell my apartment, and I have a list of listing agents who have sold comps in my neighborhood, those agents probably met someone who would be interested in my place. Or if IâÂÂm buying a new place, maybe I want to find agents who will offer me a hefty rebate, know about foreclosures, or give me an insider perspective into the coop board. I hope that adds more texture to my question.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 9:51AM
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I am a retired 24 year US Navy Submariner. My wife and I and kids and dogs and cats and sometimes relatives moved every 3-4 years - always to a new area of the country.

I saw this thread and said to my wife, "Boy am I gonna contribute value to this thread!"

Oops, we have not moved in twenty-five years. (Read that to mean before the www was a common tool!)

Back in the day, we would rely on word-of-mouth mainly. Also, we would check the Ads in the Navy Times Newspapers. Long distance calling was so expensive, that even telephone interviews were brief and cursory!

Two years ago we decided to explore moving from the MD suburbs of DC to be closer to granddaughters. Two in Manhattan Beach, CA, two in Indianapolis, and two in Simsbury, CT, near Hartford.

The way we found a Realtor was to ask our sons for recommendations. I also spent a lot of time on-line getting a (distant) feel for values and taxes, etc. (We are in our early 70s, so schools are still of concern primarily for the impact on selling ease and value.)

Bottom line, we decided to not relocate at this time. But if we do, we would use different realtors that ones we looked with last year. Just not a fit!

I do not know how we will find the new realtors if we decide to go forward. My concern would be impartiality and accuracy on the part of the reviewer.

I guess my advice to you would be that while I would value a site such as you are working on, I'd need to feel that you were impartial, thorough. I would be curious how you came up with your evaluations, and I would want to see reviewers comments - possibly in user forums.

You would need to sell me on YOUR value so that I could give weight to your opinions!

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 5:48PM
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Thanks for your reply, saltidawg. We're planning to have users fill out a set of fields in subjects like:

⢠home characteristics (size, neighborhood, beds/baths)
⢠comments on each of the agentâÂÂs abilities (technological savvy, coordination of other
professionals in the transaction, negotiation tactics, mortgage knowledge)
⢠details of the transaction process (commission percentage, fees, number of days on
market, number of days to close escrow, sale vs list price, buyer's agent rebate)

Our goal isn't to tell users which agent to use, but to provide a platform for users to share their experience with their agent, essentially moving the traditional word-of-mouth channel onto the internet. I hope that answers your question! And good luck if you do decide to move!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 2:22AM
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