Sock Puppet Reviews in Real Estate: Should We Be Worried?
By Colin Ryan
Last week, the publishing industry and readers everywhere were up in arms when two best-selling authors were outed for writing fake reviews for their own novels on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.
Critics say these “sock puppet” reviews misrepresent books to customers and give those authors willing to use them an unfair advantage.
Does the same hold true for the real estate industry? Are agents writing “sock puppet” reviews, and if so, what sort of impact is that having?
An Age-Old Practice
As others have shown, sock puppeting isn’t new—in fact, it’s been happening for centuries in the literary community. In general, it’s been suggested that as many as four in ten online reviews are phony.
Search engines and consumer watchdogs have fought back with algorithms meant to sniff out fake reviews, but these are only effective at detecting large-scale spammers.
While there’s no hard data about the practice among real estate pros, it’s safe to assume sock puppet reviews are pretty common.
The Numbers Don’t Fit
Still, the statistics we do have about consumer habits suggest this doesn’t matter much. According to the NAR’s 2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 89 percent of buyers said they would use their real estate agent again or recommend him to others, while 85 percent of sellers said the same.
In other words, if sock puppet reviews are widespread in real estate, it doesn’t seem like many people are being duped into working with inferior agents.
The question, though, is how bogus reviews affect the business of good agents. That is, can they help you obtain an unfair advantage over equally competent agents who choose not to do the same?
Not really. Last year, 39 percent of sellers and 41 percent of buyers who used a real estate agent found that agent via a referral by friends or family. Only 9 percent of buyers and 3 percent of sellers found their agent via the Internet—that’s a one-percent decrease in both categories from the 2010 survey. None of this should come as a surprise, since real estate is by its very nature an in-person and local business.
It follows that online reviews account for an even smaller portion of buyers and sellers’ decision-making when it comes to choosing an agent, meaning that the effect of sock puppet reviews is pretty negligible.
Not Ethical, But Not Relevant Either
Does any of this mean that sock puppet reviews are a completely acceptable practice? Of course not. Selling your product or service with confidence is one thing; fabricating tales of your customers’ satisfaction is quite another.
But as the numbers show, our industry simply doesn’t offer significant opportunities for sock puppet reviewers to see real results from their efforts—and as a real estate agent, you should be focused on results. After all, you only get paid when you achieve them.
Published on September 10, 2011