Zillow Agent Reviews: A Request for Sanity

J Philip Faranda December 11, 2011

Insert Sally Field snippet hereYou might notice in the Sidebar of my blog that I have some excerpts to client reviews I have received with a link to my Zillow profile and ratings.

When Zillow announced their agent ratings system, I voiced some understandable skepticism. However, Sara Bonert, whom I like and respect, gave me some rather convincing reassurances that safeguards would be taken against system gamers and fraudulent reviews from the unscrupulous. I then published a post, to be fair, that Zillow was going about this ratings system in a responsible way. I wish it ended there. It doesn't. 

I have to tell you that as an owner and operator of a company, this is a seasaw that I wish would stop moving.  A few days ago, I received an email that began with the following:

A review was submitted for your Zillow profile indicating that you did not respond to the Reviewer’s inquiry. Consumers who contact you through Zillow or otherwise have the opportunity to share their experience by submitting such a rating and review.

Since we realize that things outside your direct control could have contributed to this, and because we assume that you have every intention of following-up with leads, we are extending you a “Free Pass” and will not publish this review on your Zillow profile. Please note that this is a one-time courtesy and that you will not receive a “free pass” for similar reviews submitted for you in the future. We kindly ask that you follow-up with any and all leads that come your way, and that you ensure your Zillow profile is kept updated with your most current and reliable contact information.

Let's set aside the reference to inquiries as "leads." So, apparently, not just clients or customers can rate us. Anyone with a keyboard and Internet access can. Some guy somewhere inquired about something on Zillow, presumably to me, didn't hear back and attempted to give me a review saying I ignored them. That would very likely to damage to a 5-star rating that I have earned through hard work and dedication to my clients in the sidebar. This is ridiculous.

Zillow agent ratings system still needs workFirst, anyone that knows me will attest to the fact that I follow up on all consumer inquiries pretty zealously. It is how I built my company and why I sell the volume that I do (an "off year" where I only rank 22nd in transactions out of 6500 in my MLS, putting me in the top 0.3% in ubercompetitive suburban New York). I don't need Zillow's bot wagging it's cyber finger at me to do my job.

Well, I do my job. There are just too many variables at play for a random consumer inquiry to have the same power to review me that a past customer or clients has. As you might expect, many consumer inquires through online portals like Zillow are from people with emails with typos or phone numbers like (000) 111-2233. Not everyone that is asked for their contact information will give it. Moreover, even in the cases of well meaning consumers, responses can be sent to spam folders, overlooked,  or otherwise missed through no fault of mine. And anyone who has spent 30 minutes in the real estate business will attest to the fact that a huge number of answers to consumers go unacknowledged. If I had a dime for every email and voicemail that went to black hole hell I'd retire. It is the business. How am I supposed to know if my response got through? And if you pester people, they get annoyed and time is lost from more fruitful endeavors. 

We can argue all we want whether a brokerage like Redfin, a 3rd party aggregator like Zillow, or anyone for that matter should rightly be a conduit for agent reviews. I for one am fine with it- so long as the execution is done correctly. This is absolutely not done right, and it flies in the face of the assurances I was given. I was given a mulligan this time, but what about next time? Any creep can tank my hard earned ratings? Seriously? 

Zillow needs to do the right thing and give the power to rate agents only to those people who have actually worked with the agent, not to any random guy who sent an email once. There is too much room for the abuse that I was assured would not occur. 


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