It can help find everything from restaurants to auto mechanics. And now users of Yelp.com, the fast-growing consumer-review website, have turned their attention to real estate brokers.
Yelp, which launched in San Francisco in 2004, allows users to rate businesses by giving them one to five stars, accompanied by detailed descriptions of their likes and dislikes. The site now has more than 63 million users in 12 countries, the company said, and New York City is among the most heavily trafficked cities on Yelp.
An increasing number of New York City real estate brokers and firms are now being listed on Yelp, according to industry insiders. And the number of stars on a broker’s Yelp review can mean big dollars for agents — or can redirect those dollars to a competitor.
Jeffrey Schleider, founder of Miron Properties, said several of his current rental customers discovered his firm through Yelp.
“A lot of people find us on Yelp, because they can’t trust the information in the listings on Craigslist,” said Schleider.
In the past, other companies have tried and failed to rank New York City brokers. Flyrig.com, for example, attempted in 2007 to create an online rating system for agents, but the site never took off and was eventually taken down.
One reason Yelp seems to be gaining traction as an agent-rating tool is that it works to filter out bogus reviews. According to Yelp spokesperson Kristen Whisenand, the site uses an algorithm to filter out suspicious posts. Business owners can modify the information on the profile page, but can’t change the reviews (though they can respond directly to reviewers to help address complaints).
But the tool isn’t perfect, said Carlos Angelucci, COO of Rapid Realty, who said his competitors have written negative reviews about the company, while many of its best reviews from satisfied customers are mistakenly filtered out.
“Steer clear if possible,” wrote one reviewer of Rapid Realty. “Too many agents, not enough knowledge.”
Yelp’s algorithm sometimes interprets positive reviews from first-time users as suspicious, and removes them — a serious shortcoming of the website’s rating system, in Angelucci’s view.
Kathy Braddock, cofounder of Rutenberg Realty, agreed. “How do you know what you read is true?” said Braddock, who co-founded the website TopAgent Guide.com, which vets brokers and matches them with clients.
Plus, she said, finding the right real estate agent is all about the chemistry — something Yelp reviews can’t necessarily tackle.
“Yelp is an interesting tool, but I’m not sure I would choose my agent based solely on [it],” she said.