Hundreds of Realtors have called Yvonne Belardo, a Realtor with Prudential Florida WCI Realty in Jupiter, Fla., to find out whether she’s experienced problems with her Web site or the Web site developer Informedia Group. The calls are coming in because Belardo’s Web site is displayed on Informediagroup.com as a sample of its real estate Web development services and the concerned Realtors can’t get anyone at the company to return their calls.
The telephone calls prompted Belardo to switch her Web site to a different company when her contract with Informedia expires this month. She hadn’t noticed any problems with her Web site, but other Realtors’ stories about their own troubles with Informedia compelled her to quit the service while she was ahead.
“I wasn’t concerned until the last couple of weeks because of the phone calls,” she said.
Informedia is indeed in trouble.
The Morristown, N.J.-based company is selling its business line following a damaging sabotage of its technology and the departure of several employees, who have started their own competing company. Customers allege Informedia is holding their domain names hostage. And the state labor department is investigating the company.
“We are in the final stages of selling the Internet services business of Informedia to a new larger firm with the resources to provide all the services required to our clients,” Informedia’s chief Alan Isabelle Isabelle wrote in an e-mail message.
The new owner will honor current customers’ contracts and introduce new upgrades and improvements to the service, he added. Isabelle expects the deal to close sometime in the next week. He didn’t disclose the identity of the purchaser.
The New Jersey Department of Labor is “inspecting” Informedia, department spokesman Peter Saharko said. But he could not comment further on the matter.
Informedia suffered a blow after its technology was hacked in January. At that time, the company sent an e-mail to its clients explaining what had happened and that some agents’ listing information and photos may have been lost in the incident.
But after that, the company became silent. No one answers Informedia’s telephone or replies to messages. Customers also say no one responds to their e-mail and telephone messages. This silence has infuriated some agents who have been trying to obtain service support for their Web sites.
Several agents who subscribe to Informedia’s Web site development service suspected the company had registered their domain names in Informedia’s or Isabelle’s name rather than their own names as promised in their contracts with the developer.
Domain names are an important piece of an agent’s overall marketing plan since most URLs contain the agent’s name. Agents spend thousands of marketing dollars advertising their Web sites on business cards, flyers and signs. Not owning the domain name makes it difficult to switch the Web site to another Web developer. Creating a new domain means thousands of dollars were wasted marketing the old one.
Belardo was fortunate in that she’d already registered her domain name in her own name before she signed on with Informedia three years ago.
Mike McGirr, a Realtor with Trafford Realty Co. in Florida, wasn’t as lucky. Since January, he’s repeatedly asked Informedia to release his domain name, but no one at the company has responded. He’s also tried to contact Informedia regarding malfunctions with his Web site, but no one has responded to those inquiries either.
“I’d be happy if I could add my listings, ride my contract out and have control of my domain name,” McGirr said.
He can’t log into his Web site to update home listings, add photos or refresh information. Nor can he move his domain name to another Web site service provider because Isabelle maintains control of it.
“I’ve asked (Informedia) for two things: reimbursement for the seven months’ service I prepaid them for and control of my domain name,” McGirr said.
McGirr’s next move may be to file a lawsuit. He said he paid about $1,000 for his Web site, but he’d be satisfied if the company would just release his domain.
Robert Reess, broker/owner of SynComm Real Estate and Management in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., also has asked Informedia to release his domain name. He said he sent a certified letter to Isabelle on Feb. 11, but no one responded to it.
Reess found his domain name was captive when he conducted a domain name search. He cited Section 5 of his Informedia contract, which states Informedia would register his Web site domain in his name. Reess paid $1,500 for Informedia’s service.
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