Home Economics: How to rate a real estate agent

Some veteran real estate agents in the Philadelphia region say they see little value in a new Web service that aims to rank them in order to help buyers and sellers choose the best ones. BILL SIKES / Associated Press
Some veteran real estate agents in the Philadelphia region say they see little value in a new Web service that aims to rank them in order to help buyers and sellers choose the best ones. BILL SIKES / Associated Press
Posted: May 12, 2012

What kind of real estate agent is Mayfair broker Christopher J. Artur?

Let’s see what NeighborCity’s AgentMatch, billed as a way to pair “the best-performing agents with the specific needs of home sellers and buyers,” has to say about this veteran of more than 40 years in the business:

“[Artur] is an elite Pennsylvania real estate agent, ranked in the upper 8 percent of his peers at the 92d percentile. He has completed at least 24 transactions with an average sale price of $76,000. He has closed transactions ranging from $46,000 to $199,000 in value.”

According to AgentMatch, Artur has sold 34 condos, constituting 47 percent of his listings.

According to Artur, “I haven’t sold 34 in my lifetime.”

The problem, agents say, may be that the website is incorrectly identifying townhouses as condos, which they can be but rarely are in Philadelphia’s older rowhouse neighborhoods.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” said Artur, who got a high score compared with some of his peers.

AgentMatch was launched last month by NeighborCity, a San Francisco real estate search engine. Its creator, Jonathan Cardella, said AgentMatch profiles were compiled using each agent’s listing and transactions history, analyzed “through a number of performance dimensions that are important to the consumer.”

Those include success rate in selling listings, days on market, difference between the asking and sale prices, the average price clients paid per square foot, and the neighborhoods, cities, and listing types where the agents are active, Cardella said. The statistics are compared to those of the agent’s “peer group,” to establish an overall score showing the agent’s relative market performance.

AgentMatch then uses the information to pair consumers, either prospective buyers or prospective sellers, with a real estate professional.

It’s a data-driven approach, and because Agent Match is still so new, its effectiveness has yet to be proved.

It also runs somewhat counter to findings from the latest survey by the National Association of Realtors, which admittedly has a bias: that most consumers — buyers and sellers — choose their agents based on word-of-mouth recommendation, apparently a more important consideration than an individual agent’s business model or which company the person works for.

“The most important criteria are reputation, trustworthiness, and knowledge of the market,” said Realtors’ association spokesman Walt Molony.

Ivan Shin agreed with that assessment.

“Agent professionalism is equal to price in a real estate transaction,” said Shin, who recently sold a house in Southwest Center City because he had to leave the area for a position in San Diego.

His agent was recommended by friends and was equally familiar with Shin’s neighborhood and the University City market, and thus was able to suggest Shin’s house to buyers hoping to move from that market.

Also valuable, Shin said, was the agent’s “ability to provide guidance, as well as his candor by not being a yes man but instead telling us when he disagreed with our impressions/assessments on items.” Responsiveness to voice-mails and e-mails and the agent’s ability to provide guidance were important, as well, he said.

Bruce Hahn, president of the grassroots organization American Homeowners, tends to be wary of agents and brokers. If you use an agent to buy a house, he recommended looking for one with experience working with buyers and knowledge of the areas you are considering, and who does not have a reputation for being “pushy.”

Sellers should identify three experienced agents familiar with the neighborhood, agents whose names are on for-sale signs there.

“Don’t use an inexperienced agent. Entry standards are low in real estate, and years of experience and contacts, as well as advanced professional designations, are valuable,” Hahn said.

Ask each agent to prepare a market analysis and a marketing plan, he said. Limit the length of the listing — two months or less is good, but no more than three.

NeighborCity’s AgentMatch doesn’t give a score for Prudential Fox & Roach agent Jeff Block, who sells houses in Center City, because a cursory view of data doesn’t identify his transactions.

“I have done more than most agents, and I am not ranked, which shows you how complete the site is,” he said.

“I guess this site is fun … but it is not based on customer satisfaction,” Block said (nor does it claim to be).

“You may get lucky,” he said, “but you cannot count on this site to find you a quality agent.”

Veteran agent Noelle Barbone, office manager of Weichert Realtors in Media, said AgentMatch listed agents supposedly active in her area whom she had never heard of, and did not include some good agents.

Cardella, when told that even some of the Philadelphia region’s highest-rated agents questioned the Web site’s value, said he wanted to reiterate that the service was created for buyers and sellers to be able to make the most informed decision possible when selecting someone to represent them in what are probably the largest transactions of their lifetimes.

He said he was not surprised to be receiving pushback from real estate agents, “as this is a disruptive service that does create another level of competition for real estate agents nationwide.”

“Buying a home is one of life’s most important decisions, but until now, the data necessary to make an informed decision was ... reserved for industry insiders and well-heeled hedge funds,” Cardella said. “Having the right broker can mean the difference between a transaction being successful or financially disastrous.”

Prudential Fox & Roach agent Mark Wade said AgentMatch offered information “much like the estimates of value you get from Trulia or Zillow,” which many agents continue to question.

“I think the information is 50 percent accurate,” he said.

Main Line broker John Duffy Sr. said he felt fortunate not to have been included on the site, which he called “laughable.” But his sons, also agents, were rated.

John Jr. scored 94; Michael, only 86.

“This led to some good-natured teasing between the two this morning,” he said.

Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or follow @alheavens at Twitter.

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