Estate agency comparison site Meet My Agent answers our questions in today’s blog.
Liya Fateh, 24, and former agent Ashley Alexander, 26, are both directors of the business.
Q: What does your site do and how will it benefit estate agents?
Liya: MeetMyAgent.co.uk is an independent review website which allows home owners to find the best local estate agents based on reviews from previous clients. Valuations can be requested with any estate agent listed directly from the site, so it will provide warm leads from consumers who are actively searching for an estate agent to instruct.
Ashley:As consumers would already have read past client reviews before making a valuation request, agents have an increased chance of turning a lead into an instruction. Listing on the site demonstrates a commitment to transparency, excellence and continual improvement, and independent feedback is much more influential than testimonials on an agent’s website.
Q: Why did you start the site?
Ashley:In my time as an agent, word-of-mouth recommendation was my biggest generator of business and I wanted to create a way of amplifying that effect to the wider public using the internet – something that we like to call ‘Word-of-Web’. Word-of-mouth can also be detrimental, as when people have a bad experience they will tell all their friends, and that business is already lost. On the other hand, if those friends then saw a selection of reviews on the site showing that you generally perform well, it can result in securing business that you may not otherwise have won.
Q: Won’t the site just be a place for people with an axe to grind to comment?
Liya: While I think that people with grievances are more likely to search out forums to voice them, sites such as TripAdvisor demonstrate that happy customers do show their loyalty and leave reviews. However, there is huge consumer awareness of TripAdvisor, and both reading and writing travel reviews has become common practice: this isn’t true for the estate agency industry and it’s something we have to replicate. Agents can reply publicly to comments to demonstrate how they maintain customer relationships and deal with criticisms, and by encouraging their clients to leave reviews, the positive will outweigh any negative if they are providing a good service.
Q: How do you stop people from writing fake reviews?
Ashley:We collect information about where reviews are coming from and publish them on a time delay, allowing us to spot patterns of suspicious activity. Our system also looks at the way in which reviews are written, and as the number of reviews increases so does the dataset that we can cross-check against. This acts as a self-correcting mechanism, as if a fake review is published, any attempt to publish a similar review in the future would flag up both the new review and the initial review.
Liya:Agents and consumers can also report suspicious reviews to us from their admin sections, although reviews may not be taken down if there is no evidence that they are fraudulent. The nature of such sites does mean that one or two fake reviews may still filter through, and the best remedy is to encourage the satisfied majority of your customers to leave reviews so these outstrip any fake/negative reviews: consumers will look at trends, disregarding reviews that seem out of sync with the consensus.
Q: How are you different to other review sites like Allagents?
Ashley: MeetMyAgent is aimed specifically at home owners who are looking to instruct an estate agent in the sale or rental of their property so, unlike other websites, we only publish reviews from sellers and landlords. Our ratings exclude feedback older than six months, reflecting current performance and rewarding agents that have improved their service as well as those that are consistent.
Liya: Agents are also rated on a branch level, so only local branches appear on search results. This allows small agents to compete against brands with 50 times their marketing budget based solely on performance, while corporates can monitor individual branch performance and consumers can accurately assess which agents perform the best locally.
Q: After a three-month free trial, you will charge a subscription fee to list. Why would agents join your site when Allagents is free?
Ashley: Whilst Allagents is free, you must be a Transparent Agent to fully benefit, as only agents who are a part of the scheme can receive valuation leads, and consumers cannot choose which agent to request a valuation with. In addition, Allagents actively encourages agents to buy advertising on competitors’ listings. This approach is unethical as it effectively forces agents to pay for ad space on their own listing or be disadvantaged, and the cost is significantly more than the £25 per month we will charge. Charging a small fee allows us to offer agents support, focus on consumer marketing and target local search terms to drive relevant traffic to their listings, which are provided exclusively to them.
Liya: Moreover, the Transparent Agent Kitemark is misleading to consumers as it seems to indicate quality – the website recommends users to choose a participating agent, despite an admission in their terms that being part of the scheme doesn’t necessarily indicate that the agent is better. I believe that promoting particular agents in this way stops the site from being impartial.
Q: But how can a site that takes fees from estate agents be independent of estate agents?
Liya:Our independence is demonstrated by the fact that we charge all agents the same fee on a per-branch basis regardless of size, therefore we have no incentive to manipulate the feedback published on the site. Most review websites now offer paid-for premium listings, while we provide a uniform service to all our listed agents, which in some ways makes us more impartial! We offer a marketing platform for agents, and they are our customer to the extent that we provide them with a dedicated page and administrate the system. However, agents list voluntarily with the understanding that they can be subject to both positive and negative feedback.
Q: How will you be promoting the site?
Ashley: We invest heavily in search engine optimisation, ensuring that we rank highly for relevant searches, and already rank first page for ‘best estate agents’, ‘local estate agents’ and ‘find estate agents’. We have also begun targeting local keywords such as ‘estate agents in <area name>’ to ensure that we receive traffic from consumers in specific areas and will run pay-per-click campaigns until we rank first page organically.
Liya: Over the next few months we will be running a consumer campaign which will help generate reviews as well as create public awareness, and will be advertising in property-related press, local radio and on Metro and Evening Standard online.
Q: Why do you think your site will be a success?
Liya: We will be actively supporting listed agents through our focused and localised marketing strategy, to ensure that they receive the best out of the site. I think that the industry has been waiting for the right model, and we have worked hard to build a platform which is intuitive for consumers to use and rewards agents who perform. As listing is voluntarily, we believe that only agents who are confident in their services will join, and that is exactly what consumers want – a list consisting of the best agents in their area, with past client reviews allowing them to make a confident and informed choice on who to instruct.