RE Pros and Consumers – Various interpretations of Trulia Guidelines. What is your take?

Asked by Deborah Madey, Brick, NJ Sat Dec 29, 2007

The vast majority of RE Pros agree that a Question posted by a RE Pro that reads: “Need a great Realtor in xxxxx, call me” would be in complete violation of Trulia guidelines. Trulia guidelines prohibit the use of Voices for posting personal ads, or for commercial or advertising purposes. Some RE Pros have interpreted that that to mean that a RE Pros should never offer to contact a consumer offline, and neither should they suggest the consumer email or call them.

I have seen this topic hotly debated a few times over the last 6 months, and I have heard and read Trulia's commentary on the same. Here's my Questions......Consumers.....If a RE Pro offers valuable content in an answer, and offers you to contact them for further info, do you find that offensive or inappropriate? RE Pros........Your views, please. Trulia, please chime in. Pete? Any comment? My positon and thoughts are posted as an answer.

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Ginger R., Home Seller, Massachusetts
Sun Dec 30, 2007
Hi Deborah -
1. Consumers have the choice of enabling email contact or not. Since I have enabled this, I have implicitly given permission for a Realtor, or another consumer, to contact me by email. I have NEVER been spammed thru trulia email contact. I have found this a valuable feature and have gotten more in depth info from emails. I don't know the ratio of consumers who do vs don't enable the email feature. If it were abused, I would disable the email feature. But it has been very helpful to me.
2. Generally, I don't mind the offer to contact the RE Pro. Most RE Pros post some content along with the contact offer.
I do find a vague answer with a contact solicitation to be useless. The good news is that this hurts, not rewards, the RE Pro who is "walking the line" here. I think most consumers dismiss these posts, as I do.
I find it much more impressive when a RE Pro posts substantial content without the solicitation to contact them. Most of the Top Voices post this way. I think they are much more likely to be contacted. Because they gave substance without a solicitation.
There are times when a RE Pro really MUST say contact me i.e. certain info that they don't want to publicly post. Also, if the consumer asks for a local Realtor or local info, the "contact me for help" is an appropriate response. However, the Realtor who posts content along with contact offer is the one who will get the call.
3. Multiple posts by a RE Pro, all of similar few lines length, all saying "contact so and so" OR "go to my website for more info" are spam. This is bad for the Trulia community because if the forum is full of these posts, consumers will stop reading. I have gotten aggressive with some of these spammers - it is very annoying. They have gotten aggressive back with TD.
4. I strongly prefer a web reference in a RE Pros profile or web reference section over no reference. It allows me to learn more about the RE pro and follow up further if I want to do so. Most of us are not idiots who need to be told to contact them for further info.
OK, that's my two cents worth. Thanks for asking!!!
7 votes
Deborah Madey, Agent, Brick, NJ
Sat Dec 29, 2007
Here's my position on the matter of what is and is not acceptable Meaningful content in the post is the determining factor. Defining meaningful content on Trulia becomes subjective, similarly to defining a “nice” house. Extremes are easy to distinguish. For a house, one that is in extreme disrepair, untidy and with much deferred maintenance clearly is not “nice.” Posts without any content whatsoever, clearly are only a personal ad or advertising. But, what about the house that isn't nice for in the eyes of some buyers because it has wallpaper, but another buyer finds the same acceptable? And, what about the post that offers worthwhile info for a consumer, and also says “contact me if I can help you further?” Is that advertising?

There were a few prior threads where Trulia was asked to step in and moderate. There was an instance (or two) where one RE Pro went online and posted in 50+ posts in succession, all suggesting that the Q-Poster contact “x.” The volume of posts generated flags and complaints from across the Voices board. Because the posts were clearly void of any meaningful content, these posts were easily identifiable. I clearly remember Trulia stating that the use of your personal website in the web reference section was not a violation of Trulia policy. I also clearly remember Trulia disagreeing with some complaints on prior issues and finding that the posts of a RE Pro with an offer for further contact to be perfectly acceptable; even in instances where the offers were numerous and the content of the answers were, in my opinion, very weak.

It is a subjective evaluation when determining what is or is not helpful for the consumer. We aren't always going to gain consensus on what meets the criteria of meaningful. Two different consumers may read the same post, and one may find value in a post and another may not. Even if when a post lacks personal solicitation, it can be empty or even annoy a consumer. i.e. Q = How do I find out the value of xyz parcel? A = “Call a Realtor.”

Voices is a place where consumers may ask questions without obligation. For my take, it is all about if the poster delivered content. I don't get bent out of shape if a poster offers to help further offline, as long as an effort to help online was extended. I haven't read in Trulia guidelines that a RE Pro was in violation for helping a consumer offline. I have also heard Trulia speak a few times on this matter, and fully believe that Trulia would be pleased about success stories of consumers and RE Pros working together offline. I believe that Trulia would find that a testament to the success and value of Voices.

I believe that some consumers who come to Voices have no need or desire to establish any contact with any of the RE Pros on Voices. Other consumers are in want and need of a Realtor, and Voices may be a path for their best find. It remains in the best interest of the consumer to let them have choice without obligation, all the while providing information and feedback.

I have seen a few other topics pertaining to Trulia guidelines debated repeatedly. i.e. Should a RE Pro be allowed to ask a question? I always go back to review my interpretation of the mission and purpose of Voices. Does it serve the consumer interest? For me, content rules. A thread that asks a Realtor-to-Realtor question that aids the consumer in making decisions about their real estate is a TU. A thread that asks a Realtor-to-Realtor question that is of no value to a consumer is one I prefer to not see posted on Trulia. IMHO, all things Trulia Voices are about the consumer first.
8 votes
Carrie, , Princeton, NJ
Sun Dec 30, 2007
On another forum an agent wrote about programs for kids thorugh the local parks deparment. I would not have called her to ask her what else she knew about park programs. On the forum, she offered to mail a guidebook to me. Today, I have this great book in my hands. Business letters frequently close with an offer to contact for further assistance It's polite. Straight advertising should not appear. Garbage should be removed or prevented.
6 votes
William, Home Seller, 18951
Sun Dec 30, 2007
Unless the poster is specifically soliciting for realtors to contact them, then realtors shouldn't offer it. This is a general guideline in most online forums. It's basic Net etiquette. I can click on your picture and get all the contact info I want for you. People posting online know how to use the features, and if they're looking for help they'll find you.

I do think it's ok to mention that you're a re pro in the area, and would not have a problem if Trulia allowed a *short* signature (maybe 2-3 lines) at the bottom of your post where you can add your phone#, etc.

But that's it. Any solicitations cheapen the integrity of the forum (and your credibility IMO) Besides - you don't need to solicit if you're providing good information, buyers and sellers will want to contact you!
6 votes
Alan May, Agent, Evanston, IL
Sun Dec 30, 2007
I have to agree with the multi-optic spud.

If you give good counsel, and they find your ideas of value, the consumer can figure out how to contact you. The "contact me for further information" is implied, and need not be restated in your post. People who found your advice and wisdom worthwhile will contact you.

I think it might be different if someone said "if you'd like further confidential information, feel free to e-mail any of the agents online" that's something entirely different, not as self-serving... but again, it's already implied.
5 votes
Alan May, Agent, Evanston, IL
Tue Jan 1, 2008
Ruth, while I agree, I usually prefer to read other people's answers first, prior to hearing the posters thoughts... I did the same thing you did... (glad to hear I'm not such a freak!) BUT at the end, I went back to Deb's answer and read it last.

I agree, I wish deb had waited for several responses before posting her answer because I think it often "taints" the pool, but as usual, I think her answer is loaded with excellent information and insights. Do yourself a favor, take a deep breath, and read her comments. They're reasoned worthwhile.
4 votes
Alan May, Agent, Evanston, IL
Mon Dec 31, 2007

Please note, I have not in any way suggested that everyone should be anonymous. Merely that they shouldn't be self-promoting, just as Trulia policy dictates. Clearly not everyone agrees, as I have 4 thumbs down on my last comment, where I agreed with William (who by the way got 4 thumbs UP for his similar comment)

My anonymity is not solely so that my advice can be construed as non-self-promotion, but also to protect my privacy. I am not new to internet blogging, and have found out the hard way, that when I post my personal contact information, I have found my inbox, and voicemail inundated with responses from people with strong opinions about the positions I've taken. I'm not the least bit interested in interrupting my business day to discuss my position.

Anonymity also allows me to not worry about towing the company line. I work for one of the larger RE agencies, and they have strong opinions as well, about what we can and cannot say about the market, publicly.

The fact that I am anonymous merely strengthens my position, I believe, that my advice is not self-promotional, but it was not my primary concern.

I guess, for those who are concerned about whether I truly am or am not a real estate pro, you'll just have to discern that from the answers I give, and take them with a grain of salt, should you decide that I am not.
3 votes
Patti Pereyra, , Chicago, IL
Mon Dec 31, 2007
Simply put: I agree with Deborah.

While I think it's important to have guidelines and to adhere to them, I also think that some are hyper-sensitive to what is considered "self-promotion".

In a way, offering advice here at all is a form self-promotion, since a part of self-promotion is being able to "...promote own strengths in a convincing way, both written and orally...". Consumers aren't stupid and I think it's fair to give them the credit to be able to seperate the opportunistic from those sincerely wishing to be helpful. I'm not sure they need us to do it for them.

If I may address Elvis directly for a moment (and I'm just using you as an example here): I see from several of your posts that you are one that is pretty vocal about remaining anonymous so that your advice can only be construed as advice, and not self-promotion. But honestly? I get suspicious of people who refuse to offer their personal information. How are we to REALLY know you are a real estate pro?

If we are to be as hyper-sensitive regarding issues of self-promotion, I also think we should be just as sensitive toward issues of the information being given here and the potential liability that could result. In other words, when we give information to consumers, we should be willing to stand by it personally and professionally -- and that means stating who you really are.
3 votes
Ruthless, , 60558
Mon Dec 31, 2007
It's funny how I relate Patti's comment to what I was just telling my mom earlier today. Please allow me to explain.

I've been doing children's parties for over 6 years now. My mom watched me work for the first time this weekend. She said she really liked my story. I told her I wrote it at 3 a.m. the morning before my very first party in 2001. It's difficult to create fantasy suspense and danger without encouraging reckless behavior or scaring a 5 year old. My danger is getting a full length cape caught in an escalator at an airport. I say, "I grab the rails and run up to help. You're not suppose to run on the escalators, but he's crying for help, what I'm I suppose to do?"

A few years later, I'm watching child development course videos. I don't recall the exact age, but I do know 4 year olds cannot comprehend the conflict. A 4 year old was told, do not run on the escalators so there is no excuse for breaking the rules. A 7 year old has the development to understand that exceptions to the rules exist.

My opinion is guidelines and rules are two different things. Spam is breaking the rules. Offering further contact or assistance might violate the guidelines, but it is NOT breaking the rules.

I agree completely with Ginger. I've answered fewer questions since she joined because I have nothing further to add after reading some of her posts. I actually enjoy being speechless (except for giving her a TU).

The irony of this Q&A is that it was asked and first answered by Deborah. I normally go out of my way to read what Deborah has to say. However, as Ginger says, "I think most consumers dismiss these posts, as I do" and "consumers will stop reading". I read Deborah's question, skipped her response completely when I saw the length and just moved on to reading Ginger's response as well as all the other posts.

I've now responded just as lengthy as Deborah did and still have no interest in reading Deborah's opinion of the situation she was asking for other people's input on. Interesting, huh?!
1 vote
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