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online_ratingsConsumers are voraciously hungry for reviews and recommendations for everything under the sun, from hotel rooms, to restaurants, to recipes, to real estate agents. But are consumer reviews in the best interests of agents?

Some worry that online ratings further strengthen the power of the already behemoth online listing portals, and signal a looming threat to their own livelihood. Others fret about the credibility of reviews and recommendations, which can fall victim to fakery, such as glowing (or slanderous) reviews by friends (or foes), or can be hijacked by an irrationally angry reviewer. Others still are simply unaccustomed to using online reviews as a marketing tool.

But the train has left the station. Agent reviews have become extremely widespread—Zillow alone has 420,000 reviews on its site. Most industry leaders say they are a powerful tool for agents and the professional as a whole. Here’s a rundown on what agents need to know about building their brands through online reviews.

A Sign of the Times
“We live in a social world where now and for the foreseeable future, the consumer is in control. They are more informed than ever and have a choice of who they work with,” says Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. “People who are looking to buy or sell a home want the very best partner. Having positive things says about you, whether via third-party sites, social media circles or in-person, is the best way to communicate your value,” says Chris.

Online reviews and ratings are not the predominant factor in choosing an agent; that remains word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family. But online reviews do appear to be an increasingly significant influencer.

More Reviews Equals More Leads
“Managing their online reputation is critical to nurturing an agent’s network and creating new opportunities,” says Brock MacLean, executive vice president of Dominion Homes Media, the umbrella company of

Agents with 100 percent-complete profiles get 20 times more views, notes Ginger Wilcox, director of industry marketing for Trulia.

An agent with five or more reviews on Zillow gets nearly three times as many contacts as those without reviews, says Greg Schwartz, chief revenue officer for Zillow. “Reviews are a powerful tool for agents to improve their conversion and get more business,” he says.

Can Reviews be Trusted?
Site policies differ in terms regarding whether agents can manage their reviews and recommendations. Some sites let agents decide which reviews to include, while others don’t.

“Obviously, good ratings are great,” says Paula Fordham, a REALTOR® at Windermere Real Estate. “What’s not so great is having dozens of different sites collecting either unsolicited reviews or ‘pseudo’ reviews. It would be great to have a system similar to the IDX that collates all reviews into one area. I have reviews on my Windermere website, on Zillow, Trulia and others…having one area with all reviews would be an outstanding addition to my business.”