Real estate agents in Australia are facing a new wave of online innovation in which consumers use the internet to rate agents and read the ratings that other consumers have posted. In a sad attempt at a surfing analogy, let’s say that agents can either catch this wave or let it dump them.
A few days ago I attended an event at which Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital, (photo courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald) spoke to about 250 real estate agents (and me and some other folks from realestate.com.au) about the online trends affecting their industry.*
One of the critical issues Peter talked about is agents’ loss of control over their reputations to consumers online. US real estate blogger Joel Burslem called this “online reputation management” in our interview last week. He thinks it’s one of the most important issues agents face.
What both men are saying is that the rise of new tools online is giving consumers the ability to (in Joel’s words) “rate, rank and review” agents. Worse: agents might have little or no say in the matter.
To describe these tools using old media terms: It’s like having a single copy of the Yellow Pages (back when people used them) for the entire country. As people look up vendors they also write comments and reviews in the margin. They might say things like “This barber is terrible,” or “This agent was fantastic.”
Before long, the comments written by other consumers become more important than the original ads themselves.
Here’s a real-life example. On HomeThinking in under a minute I found an agent in Los Altos, California. On his profile, I could see that Owen W Halliday “usually sells 2-bedroom homes around $1.25m in value.”
I could see all nine of Owen’s current properties and four of his past sales in list form or on a map. And, I could rank him. (Luckily for him, past rankings have given Owen a positive-looking row of yellow stars next to his name.)
That doesn’t sound too scary, until you read Homethinking’s manifesto, which in its first line starts out with a reference to the “ruthless, sweet-talking and conniving real estate agents, with no regard for their customers” in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. It then goes on to ask, “As a home seller, would you want any one of them selling the most important asset you own?”
This is what’s already happening in online real estate. The only reason you haven’t heard about it yet is because it has started in other countries before Australia.
However, you can bet good money on betfair.com that this will be coming to the sunburnt country.
[NOTE: realestate.com.au doesn’t have any plans to introduce such a service (although the site is giving consumers the ability to comment about their street and neighborhood). However, realestate.com.au General Manager Shaun Di Gregorio says he fully expects someone to do so.]
The agents who have the most to fear from losing control of their reputations are those who provide the worst service. However, even good agents should worry. We all know how emotional people can get about their houses and their money–and agents deal with both. Just one former customer with a vendetta–whether justified or not–could cause many potential new customers to avoid you.
How Agents Can Take Control
Agents can take control of this situation by working with their industry bodies or with online leaders like realestate.com.au (this is my personal opinion, not official doctrine at realestate.com.au) to develop their own ratings site.
Don’t leave it to someone who may be unfriendly to agents, like Homethinking.
Instead, seize the opportunity to do something that consumers clearly like, and to do it in a way that protects good agents in the process. This could involve–for example–giving agents a chance to rebut each negative charge against them, so that no nasty complaint goes unanswered.
The details would have to be worked out, but the mission is clear: the real estate industry should take ownership of the next wave of online innovation to the benefit of agents and consumers.
–Joel Burslem has some online reputation management tips on his blog here, here and here.
–For a list of some of the sites that rate, rank and review agents in the US, see this post on Transparent Real Estate.
–Read Peter Williams’ July profile in the Sydney Morning Herald.
*Full disclosure: the event was organized by realestate.com.au as a service to agents.