Armed with a set of questions, provided by real estate agents across Australia, I visited the Sydney offices of agent referral startup OpenAgent to ask Co-CEOs Zoe Pointon and Marta Higuera the tough questions that real estate professionals were keen to know.

To gain a more in-depth insight into the OpenAgent referral service, where I cover more questions of my own, read my previous post called Opening up the conversation with OpenAgent.

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What’s OpenAgent’s core value proposition?

We help real estate agents grow their business. For home sellers, we educate them on the property sales process and make it easier for them to both find and select an agent to work with.

We consider ourselves experts in identifying homeowners who are on the cusp of selling. Our 60+ call centre staff call every lead and have in-depth conversations with them. First to qualify if they’re ready to sell. Then, once we understand their needs, the type of home they are selling, and what they’re looking for in an agent we are able to find them suitable matches and will recommend two to three agents to liaise with.

When OpenAgent sends an agent a lead, they will be good quality; meaning they are primed to sell and will not waste the agent’s time. We’ve already educated that seller on the agent’s behalf.

In short, OpenAgent acts to:

  • Qualify vendor leads.
  • Educate the seller on the sales process.
  • Educate the seller on the recommended agent’s value.
  • Provide a detailed explanation about the client to the agent in advance of them contacting the vendor.

When a seller seeks your help finding a suitable agent, what criteria do you use to select an agent for them?

We are led by the vendor’s preferences, for example, they might prefer the sound of a boutique brand or want someone who has experience working with an older demographic or speaks another language such as Mandarin.

We usually compile a long list of personality traits and sales objectives as the vendor’s requirements, plus discuss past experiences they may have had.

If a home seller raves about an agent after a transaction, we will make sure to get a testimonial that helps us differentiate that agent against others for next time.

How many agents have accepted leads to date and paid you commissions?

3,800 over the last twelve months. OpenAgent aims to grow further by continuing to raise our brand profile with leading agents across the real estate industry in Australia.

We don’t contact agents unless we have a lead for them, so agents in some areas hear from us a lot, others not so much. But we welcome agents contacting us for help in updating their profiles, in advance of any lead. That makes our job of matching them to home sellers far easier.

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Image source: antoineguilly.fr

How do you support the new boutique brands?

We created our website for the agents, not the agencies, which is why when you change agencies we carry the information through on your profile.

OpenAgent is the only industry website that retains your sales history when you move agency. We know that it’s important to agents to keep details of their entire career sales history not just property sales from their current brand.

If you are an agent branching out on your own or setting up your own boutique brand, we encourage you to contact us for help in setting up your OpenAgent profile and educating our call centre team on your business and its target clients.

Is OpenAgent a registered real estate agent in each state?

We do have a real estate license, in fact, OpenAgent has become licensed in every state. So does that make us as owners the most qualified agents in the industry? Jokes aside, we became licensed to appease industry opinion and feedback.

As we are a marketing agency not a real estate agency, there was no legal requirement to become licensed; we don’t sell properties. And we ask for a marketing referral fee, not a commission split. We just make it easier to understand the referral fee by making it 20% like agent to agent commission fees.

Are you asking vendors to sign an exclusivity agreement with you for 2 years?

No, it’s up to the vendor to choose who they sell with. Our only conditions are that if the client was not being actively pursued by you, the agent, already, and you come upon the client through an OpenAgent lead referral, that you give us credit for the lead for up to 2 years.

If a client changes their mind and decides to delay their sale, we will continue to act as your call centre team and follow up with them regularly. If we don’t follow up consistently, and you do, and have records to prove that, we would not stand in your way of claiming that lead as your own.

When an individual agent signs up to accept leads from OpenAgent, is the whole agency obliged to pay OpenAgent the 20% referral fee – if the vendor decides to sell through a different agent?

This all comes down to communication. If one agent has had a referral from us and another has been in touch with that same client independently and becomes the chosen sales agent, then we don’t consider this a referral from our end.

Where we do ask to retain the finder’s fee is if a Principal takes a lead from us and then refers it to one of his agency sales staff.

Dated email communications with the vendor or CRM history is all that is required to confirm your prior connection with the client.

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How do you ensure that sellers don’t use your service to sign up multiple real estate agents to sell their house?

We agree that listing with as many agents as possible isn’t the best idea. At OpenAgent, our role is to educate vendors about the benefits of exclusive listings when we speak to homeowners, and we only refer sellers to 2-3 agents maximum.

There’s some concern in the industry that you are not disclosing your referral fee. Can you clarify your process, please?

We are very proactive about disclosing our fee structure in every vendor phone call and have a compliance team monitoring this. We listen to calls and hand out warnings to our team if they don’t mention our fee structure in every call.

What happens if the vendor is referred to an agent by OpenAgent but the agent does not want to sign the OpenAgent agreement and pay the 20% referral fee? Have you had this situation come up and how have you handled it?

It is very rare for us not to have highly successful agents in the area on board with our service. However, if someone asks, for example, for the top seller in the area and they’ve told us that they don’t want to be listed with us we will tell the vendor that we can’t introduce them.

Usually, someone is looking for a certain match, and we can find it in our database. We are very open with vendors about the process. It would be very rare that an agent wouldn’t want the referral from us.

The agent who has sold the most is a factor, but it all comes downs to the personality traits or type of properties the agent has and also the feedback we receive from OpenAgent clients who have dealt with those agents. We look far beyond past sales history.

Do you have any plans to increase your fees in the near future? There is some concern that you will need to do this to keep your investors happy.

No, we think 20% is fair and aligns with the concept of agent to agent referrals. We don’t want to handicap our relationship with real estate agents.

So, that’s a wrap on the questions that you, the real estate community, asked me to put to Zoe and Marta at OpenAgent. There’s also more to read in my article called Opening up the conversation with OpenAgent. And if you have any further questions, yourself, you can contact the OpenAgent team directly via agents@openagent.com.au.

And you can find out more about OpenAgent at www.openagent.com.au.

Want to hear what other real estate agents have to say?

Here are some testimonials from OpenAgents’ existing real estate agent clients.

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Tim Heavyside – Director, Fletchers Real Estate | No. 13 on the REB Top 100 2016

“I have been associated with OpenAgent now for around 12 months. I have found their team to be friendly, professional and thorough with the leads that I have been provided. I look forward to a continued working relationship in the future.”

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John Kubatov – Principal, Class Real Estate

“My team and I have been working closely with OpenAgent for a number of years. The Client Relations team at OpenAgent are professional, very friendly and so easy to communicate with.

Their experience in communicating their client’s needs, defining what they are looking for in an agent, and describing the property in preparation for our first contact, makes it an absolute pleasure liaising with them.”

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Bill Tsounias – Sales Agent, McGrath Real Estate Brighton Le Sands | No. 81 on the REB Top 100 Agents 2016

“The OpenAgent team are professional to deal with and have been a valuable asset to my business. I personally view working with OpenAgent as a no brainer and recommend them to any agent who’s looking for high-quality leads and listings.

Each time I receive a lead from OpenAgent, not only am I getting new business but I’m also getting a leg up going into the appraisal… I know I’m in with a great chance to win the listing if I put my best foot forward.”

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Melanie Hoole

Written by Melanie Hoole

Melanie specialises in helping real estate professionals perfect their personal brand, build a first-class digital profile, and implement inbound marketing activities to attract property owners planning to sell. If you are unsure which direction to take with your digital marketing – contact Melanie Hoole for help.

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