I'll take a break from the usual market banter this week, because I want to bring up details about a project that is very near and dear to my own heart: called the Voice of REO survey (VoREO), it's something that HW's sister publication, REO Insider, has been involved in for about six months now. In short, it's the first major national survey effort ever undertaken that attempts to learn about REO from the real estate agents and brokers that live it each and every day. Most regular readers here know that I believe REO sales are how we'll eventually get out of this mess. But whether through REO or short sale transactions, we're all going to need the best real estate expertise our country can muster -- not just on the Realtor side of the business, but also in terms of the institutions that actually manage and sell bank-owned real estate, as well as process short sales. That means Bank of America [stock BAC][/stock] and Wells Fargo [stock WFC][/stock]; Fannie Mae [stock FNM][/stock] and Freddie Mac [stock FRE][/stock]; and the hundreds of various outsourcing shops that firms like these rely on to manage, market and sell their real estate holdings. To date, the REO industry has had a lot in common with one of my kids' favorite movies, A Bug's Life, where a small group of large grasshoppers run amok amongst an entire colony of ants -- until the ants figure out that they outnumber the grasshoppers 500 to 1. In the REO industry, real estate brokers and agents are often seen like the ants in A Bug's Life (and sometimes, for good reason); yet more often than most might imagine, large institutional REO sellers can be seen acting something like the grasshoppers. So about six months ago, we decided to do the unthinkable: give the tens of thousands of real estate professionals that work in the REO trenches a chance to tell us what they really think about the firms they work with. Which firms are investing in technology? Which are pricing homes properly? Which pay commissions on time? Which firms make it easy to work with the asset manager? Who has the most professional staff? Who pulls listings unfairly? The list went on and on -- to more than 65 questions in all, covering everything in real estate sales from listing practices to closing procedures (and everywhere in between). The response from the real estate community was far greater than I'd hoped for, and shows just how hungry the real estate community was to tell us what they thought. We conducted the survey in January, and received more than 3,200 responses from real estate agents nationwide in that time -- providing us with unprecedented insight into more than 50 REO shops and BPO providers. In fact, I'll go so far as to assert that our media platform now knows more about who's doing well (and poorly) in REO management than any other company in the nation. Nothing like the power of a truly independent media, is there? As you might expect, now that we've got the data, we're going to rattle some industry cages with it: we're going public with it. This June, we're going to recognize who is doing the best job managing real estate in the entire nation, across more than 10 key categories. (The data analysis is daunting, spanning millions of data points collected, but we've partnered with a leading market research firm to ensure the integrity of the results.) Yes, you read the above correctly. For the first time in the real estate industry's history, we're going to roll out an awards program that recognizes the best firms in the REO space, the firms that are investing in the people, process and technology needed. Why? Because I believe that real estate's recovery runs directly through REO, and because I believe that for us to get to a real recovery point as quickly as possible, we must have the very best firms helping drive us there. The awards program is being called, fittingly enough, the Pinnacle Awards series; REO Insider will host the inaugural awards program this June 7 at REO Expo 2010, a real estate industry event focused on the sale and purchase of distressed real estate. We'll announce the finalists in each category about three weeks from now, ahead of the conference. I'm honored to have played a role in this project, and hope that everyone who works in the REO industry takes the time to attend the awards program. And if you didn't participate in our first survey, be sure to watch for our second survey later this year. Your voice really can change an industry. For me personally, this awards series represents a catharsis of sorts: for years, I've heard bank executives lament about the lack of transparency in their real estate operations, and I've listened to vendors lament that huge investments in process improvements often don't matter since business tends to be assigned politically. Such is the case when dealing with a small and often hidden industry; but REO sales are no longer the forgotten corner of real estate transactions in most major local markets. In many of these markets, REO is the real estate market. I'm hopeful that the Pinnacle Awards program is a catalyst for positive industry change, ushering in a new era of accountability and transparency in corporate real estate operations. After all, real recovery in our nation's real estate markets depends on it. Paul Jackson is the publisher of HousingWire.com and HousingWire Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @pjackson Editor's note: For more information about the Pinnacle Awards, please visit www.reoexpo2010.com, or call 469-893-1496.