Trulia Retools Agent Search Directory

July 20, 2013

Find an agent directoryIf you recently bought or sold a home, how did you select a real estate agent to help you with the most expensive — and potentially stressful — transaction of your life?

Did you pick your cousin to be your agent because, well, you knew her? Or maybe you signed on with a neighbor for the same reason. Or perhaps a friend offered a hearty endorsement of someone, and that was good enough for you.

If one of those ways amounted to your agent-selection method, you’re probably living in the past.

That’s because in this age of endless “reputation sharing” — offering one’s own online reviews of everything from restaurants to neurosurgeons — we’re more likely these days to count on the Web to help us find an agent (or merely to reassure ourselves that we’ve made a good choice).

Hence, the online world is practically afloat in sites that purport to offer the goods on agents, listing specialties such as the handling of short-sale transactions or homes in certain neighborhoods, biographical material, etc.

Many of these sites are known in the business as “lead generators,” which means they’re getting paid to feature the agent or to pass along your contact information as a potential business lead or both.

As Jerry Seinfeld and comrades once famously said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” — just bear in mind that the agent who shows up at the No. 1 spot might be there only because he or she paid to be there.

Some of the bigger industry players are working mightily to become your agent source as well as your real estate source.

Trulia, a hugely successful real estate listings site that claims 31 million monthly visitors, revamped its “find an agent” directory this month so that consumers can type in search terms for agents much the way they would for their house hunt.

“They can key in such criteria as how many houses an agent has sold, which neighborhoods they actually sold homes in and client recommendations,” said Matt Holder, the Trulia product manager who led the directory revamp. “It’s going to allow them to get much more granular in their search.”

Trulia doesn’t release specifics on how many agents will be included, beyond saying there will be “hundreds of thousands.”

Holder urges agents to jump in, explaining that inclusion in the directory is “absolutely free.”

However, in the lead-generation world, there’s free and then there’s “free.”

Trulia’s official announcement of the revamp explained that the site has “established partnerships” with some major brokerages that will give their agents “prominent visibility in the directory.”

“We’re giving subscribing agents a higher boost in the directory,” Holder said. “A paid subscriber is an agent who pays for one of our subscription app products, paying for display ads on our site to get leads.”

Trulia acknowledges that using word-of-mouth referrals or knowing the agent personally are still the prime starting points for those who are seeking an agent, but its research suggests that checking out agent credentials online has become an increasingly important step.

“We see a four-step process for agent selection,” Holder said. “The first is awareness (of the existence of the agent), then research, then selecting the agent.”

The fourth part is the consumer passing along the agent’s name to another consumer who’s looking for an agent.

The “awareness” step increasingly is originating online, Holder said. And agent-reputation online research may amount to several hours of serious surfing before the consumer actually contacts an agent for an interview, Holder said.

But all of that endlessly repeated advice (from people like me) to interview three or more agents to ensure a good fit? Nah.

“If you look at the National Association of Realtors studies, chances are that once a consumer decides on an agent they want to interview, that agent is likely to be the one who works with them,” Holder said, “over 70 percent of the time.”

This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on July 19, 2013.

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