The San Diego MLS is run by Sandicor, who refuses to create a powerful website to help educate consumers and support the agents.  In Houston the association of realtors is doing a great job – they help the agents create their own promotional video and then keeps them together on the HAR website.  They have their own HAR TV, they promote the members’ blog, and they also have an agent rating system where the clients leave feedback about their experience with the individual realtors.  The agent rating system would be an invaluable tool just to keep agents honest – but Sandicor does nothing.  Now others are raising the bar – it doesn’t matter how effective this idea is, just trying to create some extra value gets the consumer’s attention:

From the Redfin blog:

Whoa! Redfin just launched a big new upgrade on our website, showing customers our agents’ comments about the listings we’ve toured. We call these notes Agent Insights:

AgentCommentRedfin Time to Shake Things Up Again!

The big upgrade also shares private comments about each listing with the listing agent: the tool we use to schedule and track tours prompts our agents to say whether the lawn needs to be mowed or if the place showed well.  Then we automatically send an email to the listing agent.

Features for both home-buying customers and listing agents are important, as we’re trying to strike a balance between our obligations as members of the real estate profession and our mission to change the game in customers’ favor.

13,793 Agent Insights, 31% of Seattle Homes Toured

What makes this upgrade a real game-changer for customers is the sheer number of homes we tour. Agent Insights isn’t an empty social network that we are hoping will one day come alive, or one patrolled by trolls and spammers.

On the day of launch, we already have 13,793 Agent Insights about homes currently for sale, each one from a licensed Redfin agent, each double-checked to make sure it is factual and intelligible to customers.

As we systematically capture new notes from each tour conducted by Redfin agents or our partner agents, the number of listings with Agent Insights will grow dramatically.

Even before the busy season has really begun, we have already seen a huge fraction of the homes for sale, and that’s just with our own Redfin agents:

  • 31% of Seattle, Washington listings
  • 24% of Cupertino, California Listings
  • 35% of Irvine, California listings
  • 20% of Washington DC listings
  • 15% of Newton, Massachusetts listings

We expect this level of coverage to increase, and Agent Insights to increase along with it. With each new home toured, Redfin’s online tools prompt the agent hosting the tour for free-form comments to share with customers, along with a form for cataloging key features such as whether the listing has plenty of tour activity, or an open floor plan, or a big backyard.

Be Careful What You Say…
We treat this information with great sensitivity. First, we share Agent Insights on a home with the customer who saw the home with us, so that if the customer wants to make an offer on that property, he can prevent other customers from learning what we saw on tour.

The reasoning behind this is that if you tour a hot property with Redfin, you shouldn’t have to worry that your agent will tell everyone else about it before you’ve had a chance to make your own move. The customer who requested the tour comes first.

Only after giving that customer two days to decide whether to keep our agents’ tour comments on the down-low do we share those comments with other Redfin customers, via our website and email alerts.

Why Require Users to Register?
Wait a minute! Why tell only registered Redfin customers, and not everybody? Because of rules from our data providers, we never publish Agent Insights on the Internet for everyone to see; only users who register on our website as Redfin customers have access to this stuff.

It only takes a second to register via Facebook. And registering doesn’t commit you to using a Redfin agent for a purchase or require you to talk to an agent; it just recognizes that you and Redfin can have online communications with the same level of candor and disclosure as real estate agents having face-to-face communications with their customers.

This is exactly the kind of communication the Department of Justice’s historic settlement with the National Association of Realtors was designed to protect.

Why We Waited 18 Months to Ship This
Regardless of how clear the letter of the law is on the question of what we can share with our customers, the degree of candor that buyers and sellers feel comfortable with is still unknown.

This is one reason the Agent Insights feature has been years in coming. We almost coded it 18 months ago, but couldn’t find a way to make it work for our agents, our buyers, our sellers, our peers in the industry.

After a lot of wrangling, we now hope we’ve found that balance. As always, we’re going to err on the side of trying to make it new. And as always, we’ll pay close attention to your feedback here on this blog, in our forums, and at the bars we’re going to light up in just a couple of hours…

Many thanks to all the agents, engineers, product managers and marketing folks who worked so hard to bring Agent Insights to life!

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