Seize Control of Your Online Identity
Customers are putting more weight on online sources in choosing the right agent to work with. Will your online reputation measure up?
September 30, 2015
Who’s driving your online reputation?
Your highest-profile competitors didn’t get there by happenstance; they took an active role in building their online identity. But for many agents, the web remains a lost opportunity. Profiles on Google, Yelp, realtor.com, and other sites remain unclaimed or fall out-of-date, offering little or no sense of the agents’ market activity, education, or cadre of satisfied customers.
If you’re online presence is less than stellar – or nonexistent – it’s likely costing you business. Research shows that in this Internet-everywhere world, real estate consumers are using online searches not just to view properties for sale but to learn more about agents.
The National Association of REALTORS®’ 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers showed that 19 percent of recent buyers viewed online recommendations when searching for a real estate agent, and half of those buyers said they were influenced by what they saw. What’s more, 38 percent of buyers who didn’t use online recommendations said they’d consider doing so next time – a response that was particularly prevalent among the next wave of buyers, the millennials.
In another survey, this one from brokerage ZipRealty, 2,500 home buyers were asked what would make them contact an agent they found online. The No. 1 factor was “excellent reviews that were clearly posted by real estate customers.”
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“Online is the place to write your business autobiography — to show off the designations you have, your skills, your real estate life,” says Brian Copeland, a broker and chief engagement officer at Village Real Estate Services in Nashville. It’s a form of word-of-mouth advertising, where your customers can talk about — and potential customers can learn about — the work you do.
A Call for Greater Transparency
To make it easy for customers to provide feedback, some brokers and agents employ third-party companies, such as RealSatisfied or Quality Service Certification, that make it easy to conduct post-transaction surveys and share testimonials online. Some brokerages, including ZipRealty and Redfin, have launched their own online agent-rating systems to help customers find the agent who’s right for them.
“We live in a world of TripAdvisor, Uber, and Yelp, where practically every product has been rated by someone,” says Bob Hale, president and CEO of the Houston Association of REALTORS®. Indeed, Yelp alone boasts 83 million reviews on everything from hair salons to federal government agencies. “Consumers are accustomed to it. Why would real estate be any different?” says Hale, a trailblazer in calling for greater transparency of real estate performance online.
In an HAR consumer survey, 90 percent of respondents said they wanted real customer feedback to help them find an agent. That helped convince Houston REALTORS® to launch an opt-in system in 2009 called the Client Experience Rating System. Consumers can complete post-transaction surveys that review and rate agents’ performance. Consumers who search for agents at HAR.com can choose to see only agents who’ve been rated by others.
About 31 percent of HAR members use the association’s free review service, though not all choose to display the results publicly online. Many practitioners remain skittish about oversharing online, fearful of the damage that one bad customer review could have on their reputation.
But evolving technology doesn’t leave much room for such caution. Sites that match consumers with service professionals have proliferated—and in real estate, sales performance data is gradually creeping into the picture. Zillow now automatically uploads past sales data on agents’ profiles, and agents can edit the data for accuracy. The startup HomeLight serves up the names of real estate professionals based on factors that include past transactions. The site has received millions in VC funding from Google Ventures, Bullpen Capital, Crosslink Capital, and others.
“We have to accept the fact that every other site has reviews,” says Leigh Brown, partner at Charlotte, N.C.–based RE/MAX Executive Realty and broker-manager of its Concord office. “For us to stick our head in the sand and pretend consumers don’t want it is a big mistake. As a consumer, they have the right to know who we are and what we stand for, and to find the agent who fits them best. Our next big question we have to ask ourselves is where do we want them to find this information?”
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In 2014, NAR’s board of directors passed a motion calling for the development of an industry standard for models to allow consumers to fairly and more accurately evaluate REALTORS®.
That goal is about to be realized. This fall, realtor.com® is beta testing enhanced tools and a new “Find a REALTOR®” search that bring together such information as an agent’s designations, customer reviews, and sales performance. The tool was created with the input of REALTORS® from around the country. Agents will be able to better control which information consumers can see. And consumers’ search results will be based on qualifications they deem most important.
Beginning Sept. 30, members of the Austin Board of REALTORS® are beta testing the new features and providing early feedback. “Austin REALTORS® see the value in a product that balances exposure on both sides of a transaction and also provides a platform for new agents to expand their online presence,” says Barb Cooper, 2015 president of the Austin Board of REALTORS®. “We’re committed to equipping our members with the latest technologies and resources to ensure a smooth home buying and selling process for their clients, so it’s a natural next step to provide an online platform where members can enhance their visibility and where home buyers can find an Austin REALTOR® who meets their needs.”
REALTORS® in Rhode Island are also part of the beta testing. But you don't need to be a beta tester to get a jumpstart on the new features. Complete your Realtor.com® enhanced agent profile now, so when the site’s more than 45 million monthly visitors start using it to look for agents, what they’ll see on your profile is a professional worth talking to.
Visit realtor.com and login in the upper right corner to claim your profile.