Maybe it started with the emperors thumbs up or thumbs down in the Roman Coliseum. Maybe it culminated with Fonzie. Or Sally Field. Or Facebook. Nobody knows, but the human fascination with rating each other is well-documented. In light of Zillow's new agent rating system, I am moved to opine on the online versions of how we rate, like, love, endorse and otherwise measure the performance of those with whom we do business, as even a Facebook remark can be liked as much as a business.
I LIKE approval and high ratings. I love to be loved. As I have blogged before, I am a Redfin partner agent, and our ratings are very transparent on the site. I am posting a screenshot from my page, because my profile is off while I catch up with the business they have given me. I have nothing to hide. As a matter of fact, I fully expect all real estate agents to be rated very openly in the coming years. Yelp and other ratings site will only grow. Zillow is just the latest entry. It is good for our industry and good for the consumer.
That said, I have misgivings in how it is carried out. For example, when Redfin first surveyed my clients as a condition of putting me on as a referral agent, I got lots of 10's. I also got some people asking me why I closed my company. We sorted it out, but the lesson is that the best intentioned ideas executed by really good people can still be problematic. And I have two concerns about the burgeoning industry of thumb extensions to the Heavens or Earth.
- I am concerned about crackpots and haters. I live in New York, lunatic capital of the world. Not so much the wacky people who leave anonymous emails or voicemails- I am talking about the folks we occasionally run into in business who can't be pleased and have expectations that Superman can't fulfill and then blame their agent. I can't get you a million dollar foreclosure in Scarsdale for $200,000. I can't help you with that rare new construction in our area if you suddenly decide to deal directly with the builder in stealth while telling me something different. And no, I can't get you $600,000 on your $475,000 house just because you want to pay off your car and credit cards.
- I am concerned about the system being gamed by unscrupulous agents. This may sound surprising, but in the Bronx, for example, many number of brokerages aren't MLS participants. Some don't cooperate. It has gotten so bad in the NYC boroughs that the Department of State has issued cease and desist orders on solicitation to the whole industry, all brokerages, for 5 years because of agent misconduct in some areas. Does that happen where you live? When you have hugely populated areas like the Bronx and Brooklyn with sparse MLS participation with brokerages behaving like it is the wild west, people will default to sites like StreetEasy, Trulia and Zillow for their property searches. With no NAR affiliate or government oversight of those websites, abuse is not just likely, the real question is how they'll game the system, not if they'll do it.
So for me, it all boils down to how it is carried out and overseen. I don't want to pick on Zillow- Spencer Rascoff is a funny, self-effacing guy and Sara Bonert is swell; however, they never bought a house in Yonkers or Throgs Neck. I appreciate that I can respond to reviews, but what if the only way to defend myself against a flaming review were to involve confidential information? What if calling a brokerage out for bogus reviews got me slapped with a petty or frivolous grievance?
Call me a cynical New Yorker, but remember, we actually have attorneys draw up contracts in this neck of the woods. It isn't Kansas.
So, thumbs up to transparency, but thumbs down to abuse. And those who do provide that looking glass into ratings have a moral obligation to prevent abuse zealously due to the damage it can cause hard working, conscientious professionals who lay it all on the line daily. At any rate, to my clients, the link to my Zillow profile is right there in the sidebar. Speak your mind!