The real estate industry seems to want to avoid judgments and ratings of any and all kinds. It may be for good reason, or it may be for fear. The reality is that agents resist ratings for fear and reason. Most people react to change with emotion and justify that emotion with logic.
According to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, fear is an emotion induced by a perceived threat that causes entities to quickly pull far away from it and usually hide. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it (also known as the fight-or-flight response) but in extreme cases of fear, a freeze or paralysis response is possible.
As we break down the definition of fear, there are a number of keywords like “perceived,” “pull back,” “hide,” “basic survival,” “threat stimulus,” “fight-or flight response,” and “paralysis.” These are all very deeply rooted primary drivers of the human condition. It will take a revolution to overcome this fear, and I think the groundswell of that revolution may have already begun.
Yelp, Zillow, California Association of REALTORS®, National Association of REALTORS®, countless technology firms, and countless MLSs have all dabbled in agent ratings. To be clear, consumers of real estate services demand ratings as part of their selection process. Real estate agents are fearful of the ratings because they may or may not be true depictions of the expected services delivered by an agent. Like it or not, agents will be rated. The real question for our industry is who will you trust to rate you? Who will consumers trust?
Back to Wikipedia, Trust is when one party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee). The trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome… but develops expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.
Who should agents Trust?
I have always believed that the administration of programs like agent ratings should be local – like the local MLS or Association of REALTORS®. These entities are there to develop structure for the agent and brokerage to be successful. They also have developed trust with the agents, and have a solid track record for meeting expectations. However, for consumers to have a brand they can trust for agent ratings, you need something that is more universal and National than the local MLS or Association of REALTORS®. The National Association of REALTORS® or the Council of MLS become brands that consumers can trust.
NAR vs. CMLS
I love the Council of MLS. It is a great organization that is doing spectacular things to move the MLS industry in the right direction to preserve the quality of service to agents and consumers. But I also recognize that on the brand meter, they are at a zero with consumers. That may change with some of the programs they are developing like SourceMLS. But for now, CMLS is not a brand that translates effectively to the consumer for the purpose of delivering a “consumer reports,” rating of agents. That leaves NAR.
The National Association of REALTORS® is a near-perfect delivery point for agent ratings. It is one of the most well known brands on the planet. I say near perfect for two reasons. First, not all agents are REALTORS®. This may or may not be a problem. Second, consumers may not trust the REALTOR® brand to rate themselves.
Keys to Success
Ratings seem to have two paths: surveys and production facts. There are many companies like QSC that send out a survey on every transaction. The key here is “every transaction.” Either the survey results are always displayed, or never displayed. In other words, you cannot game the system by displaying the ratings you like and hiding the ratings you do not like. QSC is the partner to the National Association of REALTORS® for the national pilot they have going right now. The challenge here is that most transactions have two agents. If either one of them is particularly bad or particularly good during the sale – the overall transaction rating will be based upon that. Consumers really don’t see the performance of one agent over another in detail. They just remember the overall sensation. Two great agents equal great ratings. One good and one bad equates to medium ratings. Two bad agents relates to bad ratings. The rating sensation is rarely dependent on the performance of one agent.
The second path of agent ratings is production facts. This is a feature of many solutions that are in competition today, not the least of which is the pilot by MOVE, operators of REALTOR.com. As a near perfect collector of all listings from every MLS in America, they are in a great position to collect and display production facts. But there are problems here too. Realtor.com suffers when there is overlapping market disorder (listings put into more than one MLS). There are also issues related to multiple agents on the same listing, teams, etc. As the venerable Samuel Clemens (aka) Mark Twain once scribed, figures don’t lie but liars figure. As long as market share is a perceived value in marketing, agents and brokers will leverage data to manipulate that perceived value. It will be nearly impossible to get the numbers to be accurate every time.
The New Agent Dilemma
In a marketplace where agents are rated, how do you rate the rookie? A top draft pick may never make the playing field in real estate without a rating. Perhaps a third prong of agent ratings is missing. Recommendations and references have long been a part of the real estate ecosystem, but here is no place for those in today’s popular ratings systems. I would propose that the industry contemplate listing facts (mls production), plus consumer ratings (survey), and add in recommendations. This would allow testimonials to be factored into the equation.
Searching becomes an issue for all of the ratings metrics. Although consumers want to search by criteria such as name, geography, and possibly expertise by market segment – that may be too unhealthy for agent ratings. I think that the chosen solution for the real estate industry needs to stay away from search. Just display the ratings on agent detail pages wherever their profile exists. If you avoid search, I think that you avoid a lot of the fear that agents have.
Fear and Trust
Because of so many problems, our industry is frozen and paralyzed by fear. Ratings are an imperfect system, and they will always be. Indeed, they always have been. We are rating people, not machines. Moreover, people are rating people making the whole darn process human and fallible.
What I can tell you with certainty is that agent ratings will emerge. As an industry, we need to pick how they will emerge and embrace it. It will not go away and whatever solution is chosen will have problems. If I were able to choose, I would choose NAR, and be prepared to allow the mechanics to grow over time.
If agents want to fear something, they should fear a champion of agent ratings that they do not have a trust relationship with today.