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Trick or Treat?

Halloween is upon us, and while this is the season when you get to see the masks that people put on, it also provides a good reminder for us not to just take things at face value the other 11 months of the year.

The Internet has become the way most people search homes now. Not surprisingly, it has also become the way many agents build their presence. And, as with most things, there are straightforward ways and not-so-straightforward ways this is achieved.

The organic way an agent ends up with a presence on the Internet is by listing a property on the MLS, which is then propagated via the RETS infrastructure to consumers via third-party sites who provide access to all the available properties out there within as little as 15 minutes from when they are put into the system. That is the treat part. The tricky part can be when the consumer tries to reach the agent for more information on the property, which can often be misleading to say the least.

On the two leading consumer sites—which happen to be owned by the same company—the user is given 4 choices of agents to contact, one of whom is the agent who actually listed the property, along with 3 other agents, referred to as “Premier Agents”, who paid to be on the page. And since they paid for the promotion, quite often their bios are far more elaborate and impressive than the Listing Agent, despite how ever they might compare in the real world.

Another leading site narrows down your options to just one agent, and that agent isn’t the listing agent at all. Instead, viewers are provided a link to the site’s “Partner Agent” for additional property information. The listing agent is relegated to a non-descript, single line statement “Listing Provided Courtesy of…” buried in the text of the main body of the listing, but you are on your own to try and track down their contact information.

Why is this so? In short, it is endemic to the business model from which these sites profit, which is primarily by charging agents anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month to promote themselves to the consumers who use the sites to find homes on the market.

Clearly the model is working for agents who use it to their advantage, as evidenced by the fact that several top agents in our county spend literally tens of thousands of dollars each month promoting themselves on these sites. That’s not to say that the agent who popped up on your search isn’t necessarily a good agent, but you may want to dig a little deeper to make sure you are dealing with the agent who will serve your needs to the level of care that you would ideally want before simply accepting the paid promotion they have put in front of you.

These promoted agents range locally from a newer agent who has 15 positive reviews despite having only 3 sales in her entire career to a “Top Producer” with a team of 7 assistants who will handle a dizzying number of transactions per month alongside yours.

In this age of mass media and fake news, where paid and boosted content often eclipses the real content or people you are looking for, it is more important than ever to verify the information you are being fed and look for the telltale signs of what kind of professional you are dealing with before you press that button.

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