Sunday, March 18, 2007

The "Long Tail" of Real Estate Agents

I recently completed the book by Wired editor Chris Weber, "The Long Tail". As a result, Agentopolis realized there is a "long tail" of real estate agents that has never been made available to consumers. With over 1.3 million agents to choose from, how does a visitor decide which agent is best for them and in fact wouldn't it be safe to say that everyone of these agents is different from every other in a way that is relevant to some home buyer or seller somewhere?

Before Agentopolis came along, the only way a home buyer or seller could search for an agent was by city,state and buyer or sellers agent. But when you look at most of the major metro areas in the US, you find that even when you drill down to a city like Minnetonka, Minnesota, you still have to filter through 458 real estate agents. So how do you decide?

In the old days, before the Internet, a person might use the Yellow Pages to find a Realtor. This worked great for agents who's last name started with "A" as users of the Yellow Pages had little reason to look past the first page of listings as there was no other information to help a user discern one agent from the other. Also, because of the costs to both the publisher of the Yellow Pages and to the agent for advertising in it, this dinosaur of a directory only gave the consumer access to a very small subset of available real estate professionals in their area.

Agentopolis and the Internet have seriously changed that by making a free listing available to every real estate agent who is still in business. (about 20% of Realtors quit the business every year). Initially we simply offered home buyers and sellers a complete list of EVERY agent doing business in their city or market. While we thought we had done a good job of exposing our visitors to the long tail of real estate agents, after reading Weber's book, we realized that we were missing two important pieces of the puzzle, a way to drill into the data/directory in a manner that is important to the visitor (micro niche), and a relevant way to help visitors differentiate between the abundant choices.

We have begun to solve the first issue by increasing the number and type of search criteria a visitor can use to find exactly what they are looking for. We are in a state of evolving in this area as we continue to get feedback from both Realtors and consumers as to what they are looking for in an agent. The initial role out of this is going to feel awkward because never before could a home buyer or seller look for an agent based on social criteria like gender, religion, and sexual orientation all in one place. Agents aren't sure how much information they want to disclose about themselves and consumers are still deciding what criteria they want or need to search by. Through this process, Agentopolis will continue to revise our optional search criteria to better reflect the needs and wants of our agents and visitors.

We are responding to the second issue by allowing visitors to recommend a realtor and give them up to a five star rating and leaving comments and these recommendation are visible to the visitor. This way, when your search brings up 275 agents who, by your search criteria, all look the same, the visitor has additional relevant information to help sort through all the possibilities. In addition to recommendations, the agents have the ability to post, as a part of their free listing, any information about them that may help a home buyer or seller feel confident in choosing them. Most agent are including things like their years of experience, awards, training, results, hobbies and interest to position themselves as the best choice for our visitors.

Going forward, Agentopolis will continue to monitor and respond to the needs of the real estate agents and our visitors in order to insure that Agentopolis is the most useful real estate agent web site on the Internet. Feel free to respond with any questions, comments or ideas you think can help us achieve this goal.