A group of brokers is protesting the process through which the Real Estate Board of New York trade group approved a public home-search Web portal, and is calling for more discussions and a general vote of all brokerage-company members.
In a petition that the brokers’ group plans to submit to REBNY this week, the group states that the portal “appears to serve only the interests of the largest member firms” and that the decision to launch the portal “was neither transparent nor democratic.”
Also, the petition calls upon the REBNY board to “immediately cease plans to implement this portal and instead seek further discussions with the members, after which the proposed plan would be approved or rejected by a majority vote of all member firms.”
In a public announcement Nov. 1, REBNY officials announced plans to develop “a Web-based, user-friendly searchable database of residential properties in New York City.”
The announced portal represents a shift for a real estate market that has been slow to embrace the online display and sharing of property listings.
Steven Spinola, REBNY president, stated in the announcement, “Those looking for a home in New York City will soon have one tool that enables them to search and browse listings in the most comprehensive database of residential properties on the market. Accurate and current exclusive listings of the most active and professional firms in the city will be available.”
REBNY’s Residential Board of Directors and Board of Governors approved the creation of the portal, and the news about the portal came as a big surprise to some of REBNY’s members.
Michele Peters, CEO for Weichert, Realtors – Peters Associates who serves as co-chairwoman of REBNY’s Independent Firm Committee, said, “When I first heard about it I had the reaction, like a lot of other people — ‘What? You’re doing what? Where did this come from?’ ” The committee she helps to lead serves broker-owners of firms with 19 or fewer agents, and Peters noted that “most of the dissent has been from the small firms’ owners.”
Peters said that REBNY board made “a choice to be discreet” before announcing the Web portal plan. “I was completely against it, as were a lot of other persons. I would say, rightly so, that members — mainly smaller boards, felt insulted by (the late notice).”
Now that Peters has learned more about the portal and worked past the initial alarm, she supports the plan.
She credits Spinola and Reba Miller, co-chairwoman of the InterFirm Forum, for helping to educate members about the decision and the portal.
“They have reached out to give everyone as much information as possible,” Peters said.
Spinola said there is a lot of support for the portal, and a working group has been created in an effort to work with members who have questions and criticisms. There are some legitimate concerns, Spinola said, and then there are those people who don’t know the facts or have misunderstood the facts about the planned portal.
“There are some firms that may not like the idea that we’re going to be making a public portal of listings. The truth of the matter is, the future is really tied to providing greater service to the public, (which is) exactly what the public portal does,” he said. “We’re moving ahead. We have no reason not to move ahead. There is no question we’ve had a great deal of support for this. It’s something we’ve been pushed to do over the years. I see no reason we will not keep to our schedule of having this go live sometime in the first part of 2007.”
Some brokers have questioned whether the cost of the system is worth it for smaller brokers, too.
Spinola said that smaller firms have been pushing REBNY to offer a more robust listing service for several years, and the board of directors — with representation from small, medium and large firms — made a decision to pursue the portal. The board “worked through the elected process that exists here,” Spinola said, and the group decided to announce the plan when some of the details had been worked out.
“There would have been no way we would have come out making everybody happy. If we announced this from day one, (opponents) would have said, ‘What are you telling us? What are the details?’ ” Spinola said that there are still details to be worked out with the portal, and the task force will address those.
Chris Shiamili, founder and CEO of Ardor Realty Corp., a brokerage company with about 100 sales associates, said that owners of about 50 REBNY-member firms — including his own firm — have signed the petition, and there are plans to present the petition to REBNY leaders Thursday.
Shiamili said that while the Web portal may not be in the best interests of all REBNY members, the petition has more to do with opposition to the process in which the Web portal was approved.
“The issue is the procedure — it seems they didn’t want to have any discussion on this. If it was a true MLS system I would support it,” he said.
The process to approve the portal should have involved all, Shiamili said, and he said subsequent meetings after the initial announcement appeared too fragmented. “Better deliberations lead to better decisions. If you have a good process you’re going to have a good outcome.”
Shiamili also said he believes that “a handful of the biggest companies” will benefit most by the exposure on the Web portal, which he said is “a Web site — nothing more, nothing less.”
Peters said she believes that some of the opposition for the proposal is a basic reaction to change. “Once again we have change taking place. Not everybody is going to love every aspect of this,” she said, though she came to realize that the portal provides a service to consumers by providing a better source of information.
“I’m about our fiduciary duties, and what are they? They’re to service the public … to service our customers by as much information accurately and comprehensively being given to the public. That is the great attempt by the portal. I’m all for that,” she said.
“In Manhattan we are in many respects in the Dark Ages,” she added, and many of the major real estate firms in the city do not participate in a conventional multiple listing service such as the system operated by the Manhattan Association of Realtors. It was just last year that REBNY instituted mandatory co-broking of exclusive listings, she said.
The creation of a REBNY portal appears to be at least a step in the right direction, Peters said. “I do believe small firms as well as large firms — everyone is going to benefit from it. Agents are going to be more vigilant to make sure listing information is accurate.”