In recent times the real estate market has seen a proliferation of comparison websites set up. You know the type. Their reason for being, so they say, is to enable buyers and sellers to find the best possible agent in their neighbourhood to assist with a sale or purchase. The implication being of course that sellers will get the very best price and that buyers will get …. well, the very best price.

The way these sites are presented to consumers, it is quite reasonable for them to assume that
they speak with some authority. That the recommended agents have been thoroughly vetted,
their success stories authenticated and their modus operandi checked out. This is however not necessarily the case. In some instances robots list the agents details and fees with no investigation into their competitiveness. The only human involvement is when the site claims a commission from an agent.

The industry is naturally concerned. One of the few agents prepared to comment, but only if granted anonymity said, “Many of these sites are completely automated. They just collect the information and regurgitate it on command. There’s no human insights or judgements. The customer is misled into thinking they will receive services that are not forthcoming and then they demand a considerable commission from agents, which in many cases they just don’t deserve.”

The sites themselves recognise there are problems. Some claim to be improving their operations and have added new technology to improve the consumer experience. But are they doing enough in time to ward of creeping dissatisfaction and disconnection? This remains to be seen.

Agents too are lifting their game. “We are constantly re-evaluating things with an aim to provide the best service to sellers and buyers alike,” said one insider. “We appreciate our image is not as ideal as it might be and that customers are constantly questioning the value they are getting for their money.”

Self regulation is well intended but often not adequate to deal with a myriad of sometimes complex situations where the stakes are high and emotions run deep. After all, buying or selling a home is a very big step in life’s journey.

NSW Fair Trading is now monitoring operators paying particular attention to the services on offer compared to what is actually delivered and what charges and or demands are being made.

No breaches under the Property Stock and Business Agents Act or Australian Consumer Law, have as yet been identified but as aggregator sites are still a relatively new phenomenon and some practices are yet to be fully investigated. Unsubstantiated rumours have already done the rounds suggesting that some companies are emailing agents making unwarranted claims for commissions. It is said the language, to put it politely, is strong. The threat of court action is apparently not uncommon.

It would seem customers and agents would do well to be very aware of how these comparison sites are operating.

They target buyers who are time and knowledge poor with the promise of demystifying the whole real estate process then don’t deliver the services as advertised.

They promise agents a swag of new leads which are often not forthcoming. And the leads they do supply are already known to the agent anyway. (Which doesn’t prevent them from still claiming a commission.)

One agent took action against Local Agent Finder in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on five claims, totalling $11,000.

On the day of the hearing, Sellmycastle Pty Ltd, trading as Local Agent Finder, suddenly withdrew all its claims. When the agent posted his victory on Facebook page, it received 423 ‘likes’ and comments. It seems that dissatisfaction with the company was deeper than first thought.

Local Agent Finder is apparently now working with franchise groups to see how they can improve their services.

Businesses are continually being launched to disrupt existing models. That’s how the world is these days. Those that provide new ways of doing things that improve on the old ways of doing things and take into account that ultimately their services will be consumed by real people will flourish. Those that don’t, won’t.

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