Buying and selling real estate is a big deal, and can be a stressful, emotional process. You need a great real estate agent on your side to guide you through the complex process and to look out for your interests! So, how do you go about selecting the right agent for you? I am a big believer in using tools such as personal relationships, trusted recommendations, and reviews to help you make your choice. I want to share a few things specifically about reviews and how you can best use them to help you make a choice.
These days, it’s pretty hard to find a product or service that hasn’t been reviewed and rated on a handful of different websites. Yet how do we tell the worthwhile reviews from the worthless, and what does the number of stars really say about a real estate agent?
Reviews are verified. Both Zillow and Realtor.com take steps to ensure that the person leaving the review for the agent has actually worked with that agent on that particular sale. They match up client names with the sold address. If someone leaves a review that is not a client, it gets researched, then removed if necessary. All actual clients can leave a review, good or bad. In contrast, websites like Yelp don’t bother to verify that the person leaving the review was an actual client, leading to a flood of reviews from friends, family, or perfect strangers who never actually worked with the real estate agent. Worse, Yelp will do nothing to remove bogus reviews, even if the person in the review itself admits they were not a client of the agent. Unfortunately, this is also true of Google Places, or reviews you see on local Google Business Pages.
You can browse agent reviews without logging in. Type “Portland real estate agent reviews” into Google and you’ll find a number of websites where you need to create a “free account” to read the reviews of agents. Why give away your personal information when you can simply go to a site that offers verified reviews by actual customers, without the extra hassle?
Cut down on the noise. Attempt to search for the top-rated Portland real estate agents on Yelp, and you’ll mostly get a bunch of ads — realtors who have paid to appear first in the results. Although Zillow generates revenue this way as well, the number “featured agents” that appear at the top of the search page is currently limited to three. Visually, they’re separated from your actual search results, and it’s pretty easy to tell who is who. Realtor.com, meanwhile, features all agents equally, without offering paid placement in search results. However, I find their website design a bit more difficult to navigate than Zillow’s streamlined layout. Even with the limited ads, Zillow’s section on real estate agents is by far the easiest to use.
Filter by activity. Once you’ve entered a zip code or city in which to search for a real estate agent, both Zillow and Realtor.com offer a drop-down menu by which to filter the search. These include categories like “most active,” “most recent sales,” “best local reviews,” and “most listings active/sold.” This feature is helpful when choosing an agent — you not only want someone who has great reviews, but they should also be involved in the current market. The Portland real estate market changes all the time, so it’s important to find an agent who is active in the game.
While I think online reviews are an extremely helpful tool, especially if you find quality reviews, they are not the one-size-fits-all answer to how to select your agent. I highly recommend interviewing the agent (or agents) you are interested in - ask some questions, get a feel for their working style and personality, and make your own judgment call.