I read an article the other day about a company that claimed they were going to empower home buyers by providing "Yelp-like" reviews of realtors, then offering a link and a headshot (ugh) to an agent who will help you buy your home, saving you thousands of dollars, by knocking their commission down. After all, you're the one finding your house online anyway, right? I don't think this is going to revolutionize the business. I think it's terrible and I'm going to tell you why. For starters, you shouldn't Yelp people. We are not stores or diners, we are people, and whatever you write about us, unfortunately/fortunately, lives on the Internet forever. (I would never Yelp anything negative, by the way -- that's bad karma and I'm super spiritual.)
There are twenty people involved in your transaction. Maybe thirty. Escrow officers, title reps, inspectors, the realtor representing the other side, etc.
Your realtor is like an air traffic controller, using all his experience and smarts and finesse to manage every minute detail of your transaction on your behalf. It takes a lot of skill. And that's why we shouldn't discount our commissions. You get what you pay for in this world. If you need to save one percent so badly, if you think that discount brokerage headquartered in another state can help you formulate your offer to make sure you get the best result better than a local agent who doesn't discount, please, by all means, go for it. Where was I? Oh, thinking you're helping our industry by reviewing realtors like diners.
What often happens in this business, it seems, is that when someone ends up disappointed, they need to blame someone. With so many people involved in your transaction, it's challenging to know who's at fault. Maybe you're blaming the agent representing the other side for something your discount broker, hungry to make his commission, and not a member of the local community -- not so concerned about his reputation -- is really responsible for?
Speaking for myself, I work to be helpful and ethical in every transaction. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I didn't. My name's on my door. Trust me, the realtors involved in your transaction are not interested in just this one transaction. They're trying to make you a fan too, so you say to everyone you know at your housewarming party, "The agent representing the other side was great and really helped."
I know a lot of other real estate agents in my community who feel the same way I do. Sure, there are some bad apples out there. I've come across plenty of them. That's another thing to consider before we are putting too much stock in these reviews. There's a lot of competition out here -- maybe that review was written by a web savvy competitor of mine?
So how do you find a reputable realtor? It's easy.
Interview them. Ask for their references. Ask yourself how you know them. Does your kid go to school with their kids? Do you know a lot of people in common with them on Facebook? I use Facebook for things like this all the time. Ask yourself, "How do I know the person representing me on the largest transaction of my life?" You should also think about what's at stake if you have a bad experience. If they are discount brokers from out of the area, they have less on the line than someone who is a member of the local community. These are good ways to find a realtor.
Some bad ways? Did you find them on an ad they took out on a bus sign clutching a cell phone with an antennae on it (ugh)?
Or have they been hitting you with pads and paper with their face on it for a decade (ugh) claiming they are your "neighborhood specialist"?
Or, have they been attacking your email address you gave them when you went on an open house with white-label email marketing drivel filled with charts that they didn't even make themselves? These are called drip marketing campaigns and the agents don't even write them themselves.
Using a real estate agent because they are bombarding your neighborhood with signage is no different than hiring an attorney you find on a bus ad for an important business matter. It makes no sense to me that people are doing this.
I believe these traditional ways of "advertising for clients" is a form of trickery, and can result in a lot of unhappy buyers and sellers. Because the starting point for the client-agent relationship doesn't start from a personal network, it starts from advertising and "farming" techniques agents learn at seminars taught by slick cheese-balls. Sure, some of those agents using these techniques are good. But think about it -- if you use an agent you know from your personal network, or an agent whose references you've checked, you know you are going to get well taken care of. We don't need Yelp, we need to use our networks.
I think we all need to fight back against these websites that think they are "helping buyers and sellers" by Yelping humans. Or Yelping anything.
P.S. As opposed to using those gross pads in your home with strangers' faces on them, go support your local neighborhood stationary store and buy your own stationary. It makes your home pretty, which makes a nice impression at open houses.
Follow Jon Bronson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lahomeandstyle