Online Reputation Management for Realtors

At Inman News Blog today, I discuss the threat of real estate agent review sites are and how new online reputation management firms have popped up to counter negative reviews. Unfortunately, these firms show mixed results in hushing up a bad review, principally because a reviewer with an axe to grind can leverage any publicity associated with trying to remove the offending remarks.

In this article, I review five websites where the online real estate agent review are made. The second column indicates the number of reviews I could pull up for San Francisco, my hometown.

Review site # of SF Reviews Analysis
Rich content but reviewers have no profiles
The first and largest review site dedicated to real estate - has rich review content but reviewers contribute no profiles and are less credible than sites with profiles.
Great design but needs to list ALL reviews in a city
Only three reviews show for SF... the site doesn't list out all reviewed agents for a given city or state. Good agent comment feature allows agents to rebut criticism or thank reviewer.


Prolific but needs to put all agent reviews in one place
~ 55 Weakness: When searching for "real estate agent" in SF, Yelp displays 110 reviews, of which about half are agents. Strength: draws a lot more consumer traffic than the two above, and has a lot more reviews.


Agent reviews not really relevant to this shopping site
16 Judysbook is a shopper review site, so if user enters via the home page, it's almost impossible to find the agent reviews. All reviewers have profiles and a "trust score" makes the reviews more credible.


Shill site
24 Report card grading on criteria such as price, quality, punctuality, professionalism... no written comments... too much grade inflation (shilling) - 21 of 24 agents received straight As.

Addendum: see comments for Agent Scoreboard - an agent review site in launch preparation.

Negative Reviews

I checked Homethinking to check what percentage of reviews are damaging. 20 of the first 400, or 5%, of the reviews in California were negative... almost all authored anonymously. The majority of complimentary reviews (remember, I skimmed over 350 of them) were frankly boring and unpersuasive on the magnitude of "she was the best and helped us a lot". Enough of the complimentary reviews, say 20%, were anonymous to lead the reader to think that a lot of self-promoting shilling is going on, whether or not it does.

In conclusion, at this time, agents have a lot to lose from a damaging comment and little to gain from the complimentary ones
. When I Googled the name of a negatively reviewed agent, the poor review always shows up near the top of the first page of Google results. More incriminating, an aggrieved reviewer sometimes posts the review on multiple review sites and that shows up on Google search too.

I believe, for the consumer, the review sites are not primarily used to search for an agent. The consumer visits the review sites to check against a specific set of agent candidates for negative results, much like one would use the Better Business Bureau. As reviews attain critical mass, an agent with a strong following of positive reviews will benefit from the elevated stature in the same way restaurants or movies with five star reviews become popular

Types of Negative Reviews

Negative reviews fit into the following categories, by degree of virulence. I'd say 80% of the poor reviews were pretty vengeful:

  1. Dishonest or illegal
    • "This Realtor assisted my husband in forcing me to sale my home against my will? Only to later find out my husband still owns my property? He had co-workers pose as prospective buyers just to get me out of my home. The woman living in my home works for my husband who is a Realtor himself? The entire transaction was a dirty deal and I plan to pursue this matter legally in a criminal court case brought against all parties involved?"
    • "I would not recommend _____ at all,I found her to be very dishonest and very hard to deal with."
  2. Disgust
    • "This man is awful. If I hadn't signed a contract I would have dropped him instantly. I was absolutely appauled at how he treated his co-workers, assistants, and others that he did business with. I will never do business with this man again and am still sick to my stomach that he got commission from my sale."
    • "As a Real Estate Sale Agent ________ has a lot of undesireable qualities. 1. Lack of commitment to clients 2. Lack of communication, even evasive at times. 3. lack of customer loyality. 4. incorrectly prices her listings using vague compareables. 5. lack of any real market strategy 6.uses her "Open House" listing to gather buyers for other property listings."
  3. Greedy
    • "She only sees money on my face"
    • "He initially tried to under-price our home for a quick sale. He was a disaster to work with, it was very clear after we accepted the sellers offer that his only focus was his commisssion and how he could accomodate the buyers because he thought he would gain their future business ... turns out he didn't!"
  4. Poor character
    • "____ is an obnoxious, belligerent person who has a really bad anger problem. He does not know how to communicate as a decent human being. DO NOT use him as a realtor. He will cheat you and treat you like dirt. He yelled at me and used foul language calling me obscene names."
    • "Weakness: Anger, poor grammar skills, rude, obnoxious, pushy. Strength: I don't ever have to see him again"
  5. Unprofessional
    • "Underestimated the buyer's ability and failed to properly inform us as to what we needed to do to have the sale go smoothly. Did not professionally handle last minute problems and blamed us for not being aware of these problems in the first place. Isn't that why we hired an agent in the first place to help us sort through it?!?!"
    • "Ms. Harrison is a nice person but we found her to be disorganized and unwilling to spend the required amount of time necessary to have a good experience."
  6. Made mistakes
    • "Strengths: Very knowledgeable about the area; provided extensive data which was very helpful. Weaknesses: did not deliver on one part of the property sale price expectation."

How to Monitor Negative Reviews and Remedial Action Steps

First set up Google Alerts for your name and website address or domain name.

If an unwarranted negative review occurs, contact the review site for deletion. Niki Scevak, CEO of Homethinking, explains (in an email to me):

If a review is challenged: we first check to see if the transaction did in fact occur by searching the county records for the address and price range of the review. We then check to see if the email address provided is valid (even if anonymous they must provide any email address when they review). If either doesn't check out, we'll remove the review.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,


What did you think of this article?

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.
Page: 1 of 1
  • 6/14/2007 11:32 PM Agent Scoreboard wrote:
    Well this is a post near and dear to my heart.

    As Agent Scoreboard is yet to be launched, we haven’t crossed your radar screen, so I’m not surprised that you didn’t mention us.

    We’ve spent almost two years thinking about “Credibility Marketing” or “Reputation Management” as you call it, and how to handle negative reviews in a way that is equitable to both the reviewer and the reviewed.

    I think your statement >>In conclusion, agents have a lot to lose from a damaging comment and little to gain from the complimentary ones<< seems to me to be a error of logic, since we can’t really prove the negative, however you can show conclusively how many views, contacts, or leads that a set of reviews has generated. The same could be said of most other marketing mediums.

    In our research on just how to build and use such a product in the real estate industry, we too came across the phenomena you mention where positive reviews tend to be vague and brief, while a reviewer of a local eatery will write 4 paragraphs on Yelp about a really good pastrami sandwich. After discussing this informally with several clients of our research group we discovered that many consumers don’t have a clear understanding of what constitutes a “great agent”, contrast that with a really terrific pastrami sandwich, you know when that’s good.

    We had plenty of responses like “the guy sold my house, I got what I expected, I wasn’t unhappy”. I attribute that largely to the industry’s attempt to keep the actual duties of a real estate professional ambiguous, to prevent side by side comparisons to more efficient processes.

    What we learned in the end is that, a consumer may not know to what lengths you (agent) had gone to, to provide them with great customer service, they know when you haven’t. It is then the function of the rating system to serve as a means to manage the potentially negative effects of disgruntled or unhappy clients. If the system is integrated into the overall process, it can not only help an individual agent manage downside but a means for brands, to monitor feedback from clients.

    In the end the value of a review, set of reviews or the review mechanism itself is the value placed on it by the reader of the reviews and the community that is being reviewed. I think it will be a matter of time before the market places value on consistent customer experience and high levels of services. But as the process becomes more transparent, it will be a reality of life that agent and brands will have to deal with.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if discount brands adopted client surveys into their sales process and used those reviews as proof that their customer satisfaction and service levels are just as high as the major brands.

    Reply to this

  • 6/14/2007 11:48 PM Agent Scoreboard wrote:
    Another good paper is” Reputation Systems” by the guy who is arguably the foremost researcher on Credibility and Reputation Paul Resnick (his blog is here: you can see that here and his great paper on Eliciting Informative Feedback at

    Finally there is actually a government funded research network of researchers into reputations, trust and credibility

    Feedback and recommendation systems tend to reinforce great agents and drive traffic from the fringes to the center, since people tend to “trust” things many others have sampled. This means a credibility system benefits the top producers and works against the average agents. This should help thin the ranks of agents where more than 90% of them close less than 7 transactions a year.

    Agent Scoreboard has addressed many of the issues you’ve raise here, by allowing a cooling off period, a dispute process and a separate class of reviews that don’t impact an agents overall score. Additionally, we absolutely don’t allow anonymous reviews, the reviewed will know who has reviewed them, which is as it should be.

    There are several other points you’ve mentioned that I would agree are things the Credibility Community has to address like “puffery’ where agents post false positive reviews. I’ll save that for another post but you can check out Yelp for a clue as to how to handle it.

    Thanks Pat for your attention to this subject. It will be more important as this type of social commentary becomes more commonplace.
    Reply to this

  • 6/15/2007 5:56 AM Herb Hamilton wrote:
    Anonymity and the disgruntled client. What is to be done other than refute the information. Still the damage has been done. Perhaps verification of the offense or at least an opportunity to respond prior to the negative comment would be in order.
    Mom always said that there was two sides to every story.
    Reply to this
  • 6/15/2007 8:48 AM Incredible Agent wrote:
    Pat, thanks for the critique. We're always looking to improve and there are a lot of ways to improve. So help from bloggers and others is always appreciated.

    As Herb said, there are two sides to every story and we want to hear both sides. Allowing agents to respond to a review is a very important part of our system. Whether it's a positive review or negative review, we hope every agent will respond to verify the review or dispute it. We also have a dispute process that consumers don't see, only agents have the opportunity to dispute a review when they are logged into their profile. It's not just an "email me" process.

    The credibility of all our sites is very important. AgentScoreboard is right, "puffing" is a problem, but we do our best to eliminate it as much as we can. However, it's very difficult to determine the puff from real stuff.

    Reviews are going to be a very important part of an agent's business in the future. It will take them some time to recognize the importance of the process. Some will love it and some will hate it. Either way it's a reality.
    Reply to this
  • 6/15/2007 9:17 AM Teresa Boardman wrote:
    I was successful at getting my name removed from the home thinking directory last August. it took some doing. I wrote a post bout home thinking with screen shots of the comments. Actually I have written a couple of posts about it. I would say that there is the potential for slander on such sites. I
    Reply to this
  • 6/15/2007 12:11 PM Heidi Aspinwall wrote:
    This is a very informative article. Thanks for sharing it and putting onto the agent "radar screen."
    Reply to this
  • 6/15/2007 1:26 PM Real Estate, Real Competition & the Law (Michael Erdman) wrote:
    Very interesting post. Thanks for referring to it on the Inman News Blog.
    Reply to this
  • 6/23/2007 7:00 AM Ken Horst wrote:
    I don’t think anyone will ever build the perfect ranking/rating system for real estate agents, by perfect I mean a system that is all I need to be SURE I chose the best agent. Choosing a good agent will always involve feedback and information from different sources and related to different criteria. Geographic location is important, whether I’m buying or selling a home, I want a local expert. Testimonials are a form of user feedback but as many of you pointed out, it is not hard to “game” the system on most agent referral sites.

    That said, I think a simple measure such as “number of recommendations” is slightly more useful than a system that uses only a 5 star rating. Anyone can give themselves a 5 star rating and using a system that uses an email address for verification, if this same agent has 3 or 4 different email addresses, can give themselves 3-4 five star ratings. Even asking your friends to cheat the system for you is going to run dry after a few of your lying cheating best friends anti up their fraudulent reviews. When you see an agent with somewhere between 10 and 40 testimonials, you have to wonder if at least a few of them aren’t real. Also, the longer you have been in the business and exceeding client expectations, the easy it will be for you to get to a higher number of clients willing to take the time to visit a site and give you a testimonial.
    Reply to this
  • 12/6/2007 6:14 PM public auction wrote:
    This is a thorough article. I appreciate the overall simplicity of it. Lay out is very freindly.
    Reply to this

Page: 1 of 1
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.