Agents ‘forced to play’ in online review space

Changing consumer expectations will disrupt the real estate industry and force agents to develop an online review strategy, according to a franchise boss.

Harcourts Victoria chief executive Sadhana Smiles said changing consumer behaviour will become a disruptive force in its own right, as people will demand increasingly high levels of service and become increasingly willing to publicise their complaints.

Ms Smiles told The Business of Real Estate conference in Hamilton Island last week that the industry has no alternative but to accept online review sites such as ProductReview, OpenAgent and RateMyAgent, because consumers increasingly rely on these portals for guidance.

“Whether we like it or not, whether we believe these portals should exist or not, they do – and they’re being driven by the client,” she said.

“It really doesn't matter what we think any more, and it really doesn't matter whether we believe in the products any more – we’re being forced to play in a space driven by the consumer.”

Ms Smiles said that while most agents are good at their job, a minority of poor performers have tainted the industry – with potentially serious consequences.

She said the annual Roy Morgan Research survey of 30 professions showed the scale of the industry’s image problem, with agents placing third from bottom.

Given the Roy Morgan findings, consumers are more likely to trust online review sites than agents, according to Ms Smiles.

“The problem here is that this is a consumer survey: this is how the consumers feel about us. This is where the friction is; this is where the consumer frustration is,” she said.

“As we've seen some other industries being disrupted when this happens, I believe that we’re going to be disrupted as well.”

Real estate coach Michael Sheargold told the conference that while disruption is inevitable, it can be minimised if the industry increases its skills.

“The disrupted businesses are the ones that have the lowest skill set in the delivery process. This is a really important point to take on board,” he said.

“I think individually and collectively we have a responsibility to build a skill set within our team, so a potential disruptor comes and has a look at the profession and says, ‘this is too hard’.”

[Related: Agents need the ‘courage to listen and change’]

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