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Sham Rating Site? Oregon Agents Raise the Alert

Agents at RE/MAX Equity Group in Portland, Ore., were suspicious.

A site called agent-ratings.com was giving F grades to agents as a result of what appeared to be faked customer ratings. They consulted with the company’s general counsel Jeffrey S. Davis.

Agent-ratings purports to protect consumers from “lazy, irresponsible” real estate practitioners. But its ratings are highly suspect, Davis says.

At the site, agents are given a grade in five categories: knowledge, professionalism, reliability, experience, and communication, as well as an overall grade.

The site offers an A ratings for life to agents who pay $99. If you look at the ratings of agents who haven’t paid for the A rating, you’ll see some obvious patterns, Davis says. First, it appears that every agent who hasn’t paid has an overall F rating, he says. In addition:

  • No agent has an F ratings in every category.
  • Every agent has two or three—not one or four or five—different grades.
  • No agent has any individual category rating of B or A.

“These factors suggest a limited attempt to make the ratings appear to be genuine,” he says. “There would be much more diversity in the ratings if the ratings were real.”

I did my own search of the site. When I searched for agents from Oak Park, Ill., where I live, the site returned results from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Thousand Oaks, Calif. So I tried using the “Find Agents by State” function and clicked on Illinois. Lo and behold, every name I clicked on had D and F ratings in the individual categories and an overall grade of F.

Davis investigated the provenance of agent-ratings.com, and, again, what he turned up was suspicious. “The WHOIS record indicates it was created on Jan. 25, 2013,” he says. But when he scanned the site, the customer ratings supposedly predated creation of the site. “I just took a quick look at about 100 of the ratings, and all of the agents’ ratings are dated 2011 and 2012,” he says.

Vigilance Required

The recent exposure and shutdown of bogus rating Web site—Realtor-complaints.com—was a victory for the industry and proof of the need to be vigilant in policing so-called rating sites.

In the case of Realtor-complaints, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® attorneys were able to identify the site’s operators and exert pressure based on misuse of the REALTOR® trademark.

Evaluating and taking action on agent-ratings.com is trickier.

“We have reviewed all the domain name records associated with [agent-ratings],” says NAR attorney Michael Thiel. “The site’s real owners are hidden behind one of the privacy services that operate to prevent people from contacting those owners. It appears that the company has at least some operations in Panama, as the contact page includes a location there.”

If the location in Panama is correct, he says, that means the site is operating outside of U.S. jurisdiction, making NAR’s options for challenging it limited.

Consumers should be able to see through the site’s weak content at a cursory glance. But if you get questions from prospects, you can point out that such sites have cropped up around a variety of professions, and any site that offers “premium ratings” of professionals for a fee isn’t a true rating site.

Other sites, such as RipoffReport.com, are more difficult to judge. This site allows essentially anonymous, unsubstantiated claims. Yet it also allows those who have been the subject of a complaint to provide a free rebuttal.

The trouble is  that rebutting a complaint can make the practitioner look defensive, says Jeff Berger, a REALTOR® from Boca Raton, Fla., who says he has been the subject of false complaints. For example, one complaint against him centered around a supposed listing appointment.

Berger, who got his license and joined the association in pursuit of another goal – to found and grow the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals – says he hopes to go on a listing appointment someday. But, thus far, he has never been on one. Meanwhile, the claim continues to harm his reputation, he says, by turning up high in a Google search of his name.

A Real Ratings Alternative

Given the continued plague of fake and unsubstantiated ratings, I was excited to learn that NAR has partnered with the respected Quality Service Certification to launch its own agent rating system. The REALTOR® Excellence Program enables brokers and agents to receive and track ratings from actual customers.

I’ve talked with Kevin Romito of QSC, as well as NAR General Counsel Laurie Janik, who is facilitating pilot programs in suburban Chicago, Denver, St. Paul, and the state of California. Ratings are attained using QSC’s time-tested customer service survey, which brokers have been using more than a dozen years.

Brokers and agents who participate in the REALTOR® Excellence Program, choose whether to share those ratings publicly or not. Either way, they can be sure the ratings are the result of actual closed transactions, and they can use the detailed data to improve their customer service experience.

Long term, if the REP became a national rating standard, it could conceivably encourage E&O insurers to offers discounts to companies and practitioners with high ratings, Janik says.

Better still, if the program gains consumer recognition, that will make it much more difficult for false and unsubstantiated ratings to surface.

Stacey Moncrieff

Stacey is vice president of business-to-business communications for the National Association of REALTORS®, overseeing the association's key communications with NAR members and REALTOR® association executives.

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Comments
  1. They are currently trying to implement a RATE YOUR Agent system in Toronto Canada. This is exactly the type of negative reporting that will occur for all those agents who do not pay up!

    Isn’t it easier to ask your Realtor for recent client reviews or Testimonials A few on video maybe? http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgAyzkpcVKWWCTfdakvGXjscUitfJOVfQ

    Call a few references and ask for their experience.

    David Pylyp
    Etobicoke Home Specialist

  2. I received a couple e-mails from this company directing me to an “F” rating. They had my name in a way I never use it and they have me based in a location I’ve never been based in, but they did have my brokerage name correct.

    The website states that if you pay their $99.00 fee, you can erase that F and get A ratings. So they send you phony ratings to extort $99.00 out of you so you can delete those false ratings. The entire site is bogus to agents and the public.

    I did a Google search on them and gave up looking. What supposed clients would ever find this website to give any ratings to begin with?

    I’ve received many real testimonials available online that were solicited by a 3rd party – not myself. I am proud to direct anyone to these testimonials.

  3. Jeanette G Newton

    Some time ago I also reported this site to Laurie at NAR. I am the AOR CEO, and found myself listed and rated with an F. I have never engaged in real estate brokerage as I have never been licensed. Interesting how my non-existent clients rated me. I sent them an email demanding that my name be removed, and nothing has resulted.

  4. wanda cummings

    I am also showing on this site with an F rating it has me listed in Albuquerque, NM with a tulsarealtors.com email. I am not in NM I am in Oklahoma and have never been licensed in NM. It also states since november 11, 2012 I ahave not been with c/21 neokla, Inc. since 2006 I have my own company now Pro One Realty, Inc. This is so unfair to put this trash on the internet. It is a lie, and a sham and unfair to Realtors. Is anyone going to Panama anytime soon.

  5. David, you’re right. I can’t imagine any consumer would fall for this nonsense.

    Judy, I’m glad to hear the site isn’t turning up in Google searches. I didn’t want to give the site owners the satisfaction of linking to their site and driving up their traffic; this one’s certainly not worth visiting.

    Jeanette, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard from a REALTOR association executive who ended up “rated” on one of these sites. Makes you wonder where these folks are getting their names. Thanks for making NAR aware of this!

  6. Thank you Stacey for bringing attention to such an important topic and for your genuine concern with the false complaints written about me, Jeff Berger and other REALTORS. And thank you for tagging my name to this article as I am hoping 1 day soon new pages indexed on google will be on top of the false reports written about me and the false reports will go away to the 2nd 3rd page, etc.

    As for others commenting about agent ratings be happy the site has not gained traction with google as some other complaint sites have. It’s a bigger problem than we can imagine because google actually likes these sites because the emotions and drama that play out on a complaint site pages lead to a high click through rate of google ads on such pages. In my situation, do a search of Jeff Berger REALTOR Boca Raton and you will see the mess I am in on google. Or search NAGLREP and see more of the mess. The rip off site Stacey mentions has approximately 1 million pages of content and indexes very high on google.

    Lastly, these false complaint report sites mushroom all of the parasites and hustlers as many a con person are now getting into the online reputation cleaning business and all they need to do is post a false complaint or 2 to 3 false complaints about a professional. Then they actually have the nerve to call you anonymously and “help you repair your online reputation” with their “proven system”. And it doesn’t cost them 1 nickel to get into business. I have received numerous calls from such companies and told them all they are not shaking me down and can get lost. This is what happened to me.

    thank you,
    Jeff Berger, REALTOR Boca Raton, Florida

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