24 January 2015 ☼ opinion
My wife and I have recently begun the home-buying process. After looking at our finances last fall, I realized that if we were to liquidate some of our investments, we could have a downpayment for a house. With this in mind, I began lining up the assorted “ducks” needed in buying a house, namely:
Around the turn of the new year, we finally got a chance to go to meet with a representative from our credit union and talk over the basics. While I was familiar with some of the info, my wife had little knowledge of the process (and to be honest, I wanted confirmation of my own knowledge).
Prior to all of this, I had occasionally perused Redfin and Zillow. After a while, I determined I actually preferred Redfin and thus began keeping active searches just so I could get an idea of what I liked in a house and what I didn’t. After we had met with the credit union, as aforementioned, I started spending more time looking at details and scrutinizing photos provided on Redfin. It was this closer scrutiny that raised to my attention a detail I hadn’t previously noticed, Redfin realtor ratings mean nothing.
What do I mean by that? Why would I say that? People love reading feedback about individuals in service industries and how they treat their customers. Of course the ratings matter. No no, you misunderstand me. The reviews mean something, the ratings mean nothing.
The Redfin Realtor Search site is the way I looked up ratings for Redfin Realtors in our area. Go ahead, take a look at the ratings for realtors. At least in my area, Seattle, there’s not a single realtor they list that doesn’t have a 4.5 out of 5 stars or better rating. That leads me to the corollary to my previous statement: When everyone is a 4.5/5, no one is a 4.5/5.
This is the same concept as participation ribbons and “honorable mention.” If your scale isn’t actually differentiated, then the scale doesn’t matter. It’s the reason your college courses were curved. It’s okay that the highest grade was a C+ and you got an F, the professor is going to curve the grade so that the person with the C+ gets an A+ and now you’ve got yourself a C. The professor wasn’t interested in the absolute value of grades people got, he knows that shit is hard. Maybe he feels he didn’t cover a topic well enough and now because everyone bombed the midterm, he’ll correct it by curving the course. Curves have an interesting side effect in which they encourage the class as a whole to gravitate toward a small range of grades. If some asshole gets an A before the curve, everyone else is hosed. That’s a story for a different time, and now I’ve gotten sidetracked.
So if every realtor is rated 4.5, how do you differentiate? Well you meet with realtors until you find one that clicks. The homebuying process is incredibly nerve-racking for your first time or at least it is for Caroline and I. You want a realtor that can keep you grounded (within your price range, how much maintenance to take on) and keep you calm. You can’t discern this from rating nor can you discern it from a review. That brings me to my next point: The written reviews matter as they’re a way to narrow down what you’re looking for.
If you’re a high energy person, you probably like being around high energy people. If you’re prone to being a little neurotic, you probably should have some people that are level-headed in your life. Same goes for a realtor. While the reviews written about a realtor help you filter, you won’t be able to really discern how good of a fit you are with them until you meet them and spend some time chatting.
A good example is our experience in interviewing realtors. We talked with two realtors, whom shall remain anonymous. Both were great and lovely individuals. They both had qualities we loved. I’m a detail oriented guy, security engineer and all. I like people that I feel are on top of their shit. They got it together, they know what’s happening. My wife likes to make an emotional connection with the people around her. She wants to feel involved and connected, and wants them to feel involved and connected. The first of the two realtors (let’s call her Realtor A) we met, is very detail oriented. She is a clear Type A personality, very results oriented but very friendly too. The second realtor we met was less of a Type A personality, but she clicked really well with my wife and I on a personal level. She seemed to have a calming effect that worked well with my wife’s anxiety and yet she didn’t seem inattentive to the details, which calmed my own anxiety.
So if the ratings don’t matter, why does Redfin post them? My presumption is that, similar to having a merit scholarship in college, Redfin-affiliated realtors must keep a certain quality of review feedback as well as throughput on home sales & purchases. It is likely that in order to meet the 4.5+ rating in the first place, you’ll likely already be a 4.5+ realtor straight out. That is to say, those realtors which can sustain such a rating and sale/purchase numbers is holistically a 4.5/5 realtor. They’re just that good.
So what do you propose Zac? Now, I cannot 100% say that Redfin only displays 4.5+ realtors, but if that’s really all they display and/or affiliate with, there’s no need to show the rating. Absolutely keep the reviews. By displaying the ratings, they create false market where consumers believe that these ratings matter except that they don’t. If a consumer trusts Redfin and even consider Redfin’s affiliated realtors, they’re already bought in. I remain unconvinced that the ratings actually influence user decisions in going with a Redfin realtor. That said, it’d be interesting to see Redfin use A/B testing for a period to see if there’s a meaningful drop in users requesting Redfin realtor services.
All in all, the point is simply this: When everyone’s a 4.5/5, no one’s a 4.5/5.