The internet is a great tool. It conveniently provides access to information about real estate activity and home sales to assist you in your decision making. It’s only natural that people tend to gravitate to the internet because it provides somewhat of a buffer from aggressive real estate agents; it allows a certain amount of anonymity. This may also be a reason for the rise in popularity of internet Realtor® reviews.
But, internet anonymity can be a two way street. Besides reading online what others are saying about your agent, without anyone being the wiser; online reviews are often posted without verification.
An August 19th New York Times article by David Streitfeld (In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5: Printed August 20, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition) is an exposé of the fake review business. Yup, fake online reviews. Streitfeld describes how in an effort for online businesses to appear better than the competition, “an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance.” Streitfeld illustrates the “game” as it’s played; posts on websites such as Craigslist and help for hire sites offer a positive review for a fee.
Also known as “deceptive opinion spam” or “review spam, Cornell researchers claim “these fake reviews are fictitious opinions deliberately written to sound authentic, in order to deceive the reader.” They conclude that the detection of fake reviews is “well beyond the capability of human judges;” and recommend an analysis of reviews to include, among other things, psycho-linguistically motivated features. (Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, pages 309–319, Portland, Oregon, June 19-24, 2011.)
“There have always been fake reviews from employees and competitors,” states Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence, in a March 7th blog post “Fighting the Rise of Paid Reviews.” Describing the increase of “guaranteed positive reviews” for a fee, “… the increasing importance of online reputation to consumers and the potential influence on rankings that reviews bring the stakes are higher than ever. Hence the emergence of services that will guarantee positive reviews.” He further states, “I don’t know this but my guess is that somewhere in some room … there are minions writing positive reviews without ever having actually used the business or visited its location.”
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) code of ethics prohibits deceptive practices, which includes posting or encouraging fake reviews. However, Lani Rosales of AGBeat argues that there has always been an element posting fake Realtor® reviews and testimonials (“Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers”).
What to do?
Suresh Srinivasan of agent reputation platform ReachFactor (ReachFactor.com) stated in email correspondence that review spam is a “big and growing problem. It’s extremely cheap to pay others …to write a review of any service professional.” He states that many websites get “gamed” because they only require the reviewer to register but don’t actually verify that a transaction took place with the agent. He points out that even though some popular real estate websites try to read every review, it is not entirely effective in weeding out the fake reviews. Mr. Srinivasan’s company verifies factual information collected about Realtors® so as to ensure consumer transparency as well holding Realtors® to a higher ethical standard.
by Dan Krell. Copyright © 2011
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