Agents Handcuffed

handcuffedI have worked with thousands of real estate agents over the last few years, and until just recently I have never felt so compelled to stand up against something that is happening to so many of them working under the iron fist of paranoid brokers.

A company, that I shall leave unnamed, is asking (read: demanding) that all its agents adhere to a strict set of guidelines regarding their use of the internet as a marketing tool.
This policy will affect more than 1000 unwitting real estate agents in the state of California, and I can imagine that it is not the only example of sheer idiocy based on the fear of potential, yet scant litigation.

Here’s the deal:

The power holders in the company are having all agents sign an agreement regarding the use of a third party website; meaning a website other than that which is provided by the company itself.  For more
information on my opinion about the use and usefulness of a company provided website, click here.

This agreement has many requirements, so for the sake of brevity, I will only point out and discuss the most ridiculous and damning.

Stifling this opportunity of participation and networking and replacing it with a cookie cutter company approved website is a recipe for failure.

The first policy worth noting is the push to disallow the use of manually entered listing pages.

Basically, if you have to manually enter the data for a listing on your site, or any other site, you are not permitted to use the service.

Goodbye pocket listings, goodbye featured listings on the homepage, goodbye featured listing database, goodbye open house announcements, goodbye sold listing databases, goodbye Craigslist (and the like), goodbye Trulia, goodbye printable listing fliers, goodbye sharing the exposure of listings, goodbye posting FSBOs.

The only listings that are permitted to be showcased on the website are IDX listings directly provided by the MLS, or feeds off the company website.

Why are they imposing such a policy?  It is against the rules to have expired listings on your site.  Because they don’t trust agents to keep their sites in good standing, then everyone most abide by the new policy.  I would think that this is the individual agent’s problem and responsibility.  Education and castigation would curb the abuse and laziness.  But to disallow it completely… what a lost opportunity to market the company’s bread and butter.

The second policy is that it is forbidden to link to to any service outside of what is provided either by the government or company itself.

Goodbye link exchanging, goodbye referring services (mortgage, insurance, title, inspectors, pest control, contractors, landscaping, maid service, etc), goodbye local resources (chambers, restaurants, golf courses, ski resorts, weather, schools, demographics, etc), goodbye national referral base, goodbye everything you find of value online that you feel would be of value to your visitor, goodbye blogrolls, goodbye RSS feeds, goodbye kudos to other talented writers, goodbye breaking news…

Why are they imposing this policy?  They don’t want to be held responsible for any of the information that is being provided by a third party.

The third: No mortgage calculators.

What?  I guess they think that some calculators are mis-setting expectations, and enough so that they can no longer permit the use of the tool.  Whatever.

The forth: No element of visitor participation.

Goodbye guest books, goodbye testimonials, and worst of all, goodbye interactive blogs.
More on this below… but this one is the final nail in the coffin of their agents’ online marketing capabilities.

Any violation of the above terms, among all the others left unmentioned, can result in the immediate termination of the agent’s contract with unmentioned real estate company.

What is the good news?

California Realtors have more than 1000 agents less to worry about competing with in the online marketplace.  Without them breaking the company’s policies, they will be left behind and without a chance for being found in the search engines.

No-Social-Marketing

Why am I so disturbed by this company’s efforts to control the content of their agents’ websites?  For those of you whom have been following along (with the Tomato’s core mission of educating the real estate agent to become more successful using the internet as a marketing tool), 3 out of the 4 policies I pointed out above (ignore the mortgage calc policy) are the fundamentals for having a successful presence online.

Embracing the tools of “the Age of Participation” such as an interactive blog are going to help you not only offer rich, unique content that inspires the engagement of the audience you are informing, but also the ideal platform to inspire web networking.  This exact formula and phenomenon is the pillar of your continued success in the online marketplace.  Stifling this opportunity of participation and networking and replacing it with a cookie cutter, company approved website is a recipe for failure.

Why can’t they just place some sort of all encompassing disclaimer of responsibility to the agent and the real estate company on the homepage (and any other page)?

Instead, they have just handcuffed their agents with their nearsighted paranoia.

Ouch.