By Don Procter
Four years ago, members of the Canadian Real Estate Association voted against using a Realtor rating system on Realtor.ca, but times have changed. And rating services have evolved.
The Association of Saskatchewan Realtors (ASR) moved ahead with one of those services – RealSatisfied – this year, after it conducted a pilot project in partnership with the company and CREA in 2016.
Phil Kells, co-founder of RealSatisfied, says the company’s objective goes beyond Realtor ratings to provide a platform “to collect detailed customer satisfaction information” for a broker at the conclusion of a transaction. “We see the ratings as a complete by-product of that process.”
Kells, who says agent and broker ratings are simply a marketing tool, believes ASR chose his company in part because it provides “detailed data” collected through feedback that is “driving changes in the behaviour of agents and brokers.
“Making the industry better is the idea,” he says.
This October, RankMyAgent.com became the second such service to provide agent rankings and reviews on Realtor.ca. While RankMyAgent is an opt-in program, not mandatory, the company has seen “strong interest” from agents and is largely growing through word of mouth.
Riti Verma, president and founder of the Calgary-based company, says with young tech-savvy people moving into the real estate profession – and the popularity of online reviews and ratings on services thriving in other industries – it made sense that CREA would move to provide a service to its members.
RankMyAgent, which has agreements with Re/Max Integra and Re/Max of Western Canada, is structured to confirm the authenticity of Realtors and their clients. It eliminates the potential for “fake negative reviews” – a concern of many agents – by fact-checking the details provided on its rating surveys of all transactions, Verma says.
“If there is something that we see that we find out is false…if it is slanderous it is never allowed on our site,” Verma says.
RealSatisfied has a couple of proprietary mechanisms to prevent fake reviews from going online, says Kells. An “audit and quarantine” program includes an assessment of all reviews by RealSatisfied management. The reviews are also “checked with the brokerage, specifically, and not necessarily the agent…” Checks are, furthermore, in place in its transaction management system “to understand where the data is from.”
While agents can decide whether they want to show their “overall ratings” to the public or not, “they can’t decide what ratings they want to show,” Kells says. “We won’t remove data they don’t like. We include everything.”
He says RealSatisfied has lost customers (agents) who aren’t willing to play by these rules.
Twenty years ago, Larry Romito started looking at how to create “greater accountability and transparency to positively influence professional behaviour and the service provided” by Realtors, he says. Romito, who heads Quality Service Certification, says QSC’s feedback ratings are based on evaluations of information of a software program of five areas of a broker’s work, after a closing and a commission has been paid.
Romito says he understands why some realty associations might choose rating companies that “selectively present (feedback) information” because they want to keep their association members happy. But he says it can lead to false advertising.
That is not the approach of RealSatisfied, says Kells, pointing out that the company separates its rating data from “what we call the testimonial data.” All of its surveys have a rating but only surveys that are positive have testimonials.
“We only ask for a testimonial for public display when it is a positive review but that doesn’t mean we suppress negative reviews – we actually display everything,” says Kells. “We do give our agents the option of whether to display ratings on their profile page or not and whether they display all their ratings or just an aggregate number. If they display the aggregate number, they still display the aggregate of everything.”
Verma says critical reviews can be posted on RankMyAgent, but agents are given 14 days to respond to the criticisms before postings go live. “It helps them (Realtors) to handle the situation in a better way.”
She says that in order to gain credibility in the public’s eye, its reviews “can’t all be positive.” Furthermore, “it is hard to know how they can improve and enhance their business” if their only reviews are positive.
Kells says that more than 99 per cent of the agents that signed up with RealSatisfied through the ASR display all of their data. So far, close to 50 per cent of the ASR’s agents use RealSatisfied. He believes the service has attracted “all of the productive agents” in the association.
While the real estate industry has had “a very bright light” on its sales and production metrics, there has not been any light on the behaviour between agents and their clients, says Romito, noting that feedback (when negative) can alter agent behaviour. And that can be positive.
Romito says the problem starts with the definition of a top Realtor: “He or she that sells the most.” It might have worked in the 1950 and ‘60s, he says, but service quality is as, or more, important today for consumers than sales numbers.
He says while it is important for agents to make post-closing service calls to consumers to avoid dissatisfied customers that can lead to negative reviews, it is “very hard” to convince some agents paid on a commission basis to make those follow-up calls. “The companies we do business with, according to those buyers and sellers, are contacted after their agent’s closing over 90 per cent of the time.”
Verma says when agent-customer communications start on day one and follow through without wide gaps to the transaction stage, there is less chance of things going wrong.
She adds that every rating system should provide “a balanced perspective and really paint a complete picture because we do want them to be credible and unbiased.”