- New York City brokers are pulling their support from StreetEasy, saying the site's new Premier Agent program misleads buyers and violates New York state advertising laws.
- Ryan Serhant made two Instagram posts that recounted his experience as he called the phone number on one of his listings, and reported the results.
StreetEasy has apparently turned into “A Nightmare On Elm Street” for a number of New York City brokers.
They say that adding Zillow Group’s Premier Agent program to the platform is misleading potential buyers by guiding them to buyer’s agents who’ve paid for advertising on StreetEasy instead of the exclusive listing agent.
The Premier Agent program, which includes coaching, concierge, inbound lead management and business consultation services, launched for StreetEasy on March 1.
The Premier Agent contact forms that appear on Zillow and Trulia feature specific agents, but the forms that will show up on StreetEasy listings do not. They are “opaque” contact forms without lists of agent names and photos.
When a buyer goes to a listing, there’s a box on the righthand side that says “Contact Agent” and asks the buyer to send a message with their name, number and email.
Additionally, there’s a number listed underneath the contact form that buyers can call for more information.
There’s also a secondary tab within the box called “Seller’s Agent’s Info,” but according to a number of agents, some buyers may overlook that tab and call the number below, which leads to a StreetEasy Premier Agent — not the exclusive listing agent.
Ryan Serhant vocalizes concerns
This feature has brought an onslaught of criticism from a number of notable NYC brokers and agents, one of which being Nest Seekers International broker and star of Million Dollar Listing New York Ryan Serhant.
Serhant took to Instagram on March 5 to show what happens when a buyer tries to contact an agent for a specific listing on the site.
The 40-second video shows Serhant explaining his experience after calling the “Contact Agent” number listed on one of his very own listings, and being guided to another StreetEasy Premier Agent named Nathan.
“I was hesitant to speak up at all because StreetEasy is one of the best partners we have in selling real estate in New York,” he wrote in the video’s caption. “The site single-handedly became our MLS (there is NO MLS in New York City), and it made our market transparent by publishing every bit of data you could ask for as a buyer, seller or broker.”
Serhant goes on to lament StreetEasy’s decision, saying that it “violates state laws governing advertising — it’s illegal for someone to advertise another agent’s exclusive listing.”
In a follow-up post, he says: “I realize StreetEasy is trying to figure out a way to connect consumers to agents directly who are not also the listing agent on a property.”
“I think that’s great, and my team and I have been advocating for a better tool to connect buyers directly through the site for years,” Serhant wrote. “But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the listing agents, my peers, who hold StreetEasy with such reverence that they’re too nervous to write something like this for fear of retaliation.”
‘This is how the rest of the industry operates’
StreetEasy spokesperson Lauren Riefflin says brokers who have reservations about the Premier Agent program, specifically changes to the site’s contact form and how that impacts where leads go, need to remember that buyers have the right to contact a buyer’s agent or seller’s agent to help facilitate the homebuying process.
“It’s anti-consumer to not provide homebuyers a choice to contact a buyer’s agent or a seller’s agent,” Riefflin says. “It’s a 100 percent change for the New York market, but it’s also how the rest of the industry operates.”
“Buyers calling a [buyer’s] agent to help them get more information about a property is normal,” she added. “People should have buyer representation or at least the option to have it.”
She describes New York City as a “tapestry of neighborhoods” that have distinct markets, and that no matter what, an agent will have to reach out to another agent to get more information on a particular borough or neighborhood, and that the StreetEasy Premier Agent program is simply helping to facilitate that conversation and offer a set of invaluable tools to NYC agents.
“For years, tens of thousands of agents across the country, including those in New York City, have built their business leveraging the tools and services provided to them through the Premier Agent platform – now that opportunity is on StreetEasy, and it’s a huge, exciting opportunity, said StreetEasy General Manager Susan Daimler in an emailed statement.
“It’s a change for StreetEasy, to give buyer’s a choice of who to contact, but it’s an important choice,” she added.
“For agents, they have now a chance to build another side of their business by connecting with the largest audience of NYC buyers that are actively shopping for a new home. This program has a tool set and business infrastructure to help agents succeed, which has always been our goal. It’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the agent.”
LG Fairmont Chief Marketing Officer Rani Nagpal says the brokerage’s experience with StreetEasy has been positive and recognizes the StreetEasy Premier Agent program is “obviously a bit of a change,” but aligns with the industry standard as Riefflin pointed out.
“There’s still the option to contact the seller’s agent if you click on the other tab, so for us it still shows the information, and I suppose it’s too early to say how will impact our leads,” she said of the contact form update some brokers are up in arms about.
“Generally there’s someone on the buy side representing the transaction as well. In New York the prices are somewhat high, and the deals are fairly complex so the buyer are using brokers to help advise them in the transaction.”
Michael Napolitano, the team lead of the Napolitano Team at Keller Williams Realty Empire, says what StreetEasy is doing is indentical to the IDX data exchange — the only difference is that StreetEasy is a for-profit advertising platform.
“If you’re on kw.com, for example, the site itself actually uses what they call an IDX — which is a feed from the MLS to your personal website,” Napolitano says. “So, in a sense, let’s say Michael Napolitano could have all the listings pushed to his own personal website through this IDX feed.”
“So, this could include listings that aren’t even represented by me, but it says on the bottom [the listing] is courtesy of such-and-such company,” he added.
Napolitano says brokers who use StreetEasy should keep in mind that “it’s all about the consumer,” and NYC buyers love the StreetEasy site because of the wealth of data it shares about agents, properties, market conditions, etc. and how easy it is for brokers to be seen by consumers, thus creating a “win-win” situation.
Riefflin also said that listing agents should note that they’re still listed in three places on the site: in the contact box, in the listing history and at the very bottom of the listing’s page — the same areas that they’d be listed on Zillow and Trulia’s sites.
As far as the accusations that StreetEasy may be breaking New York State advertising laws, Riefflin says StreetEasy takes its compliance with local and state laws seriously.
“We don’t believe Premier Agent is in violation with any local and national laws,” she said.
Compass and The Corcoran Group chime in
Since Serhant’s initial videos on March 5 and 6, Compass CEO Robert Reffkin, The Corcoran Group CEO Pam Liebman and Citi Habitats President Gary Malin have released statements about StreetEasy’s controversial program.
Liebmann and Malin said their brokerages will no longer provide StreetEasy Pro subscriptions to their employees.
“We will not support Premier Agent,” wrote Liebman in an email that was obtained by The Real Deal. “If individual agents choose to take part in the program, you must do with your own credit card; there will be no reimbursement for any participation through your ad budgets.”
“Many of you have reached out to me or to your managers to tell us how upset you are about this feature,” she added. “I was told yesterday that to buy 20 percent of one of the ZIP codes is $6,000 per month. The more people that participate in the program, the higher that prices will get.”
Reffkin said agents and real estate professionals across the board need to be more aware of the power aggregators hold, and realize they have the power to shut those aggregators down, if need be.
“As an agent, you have to make a decision,” Reffkin said.
“By having a [StreetEasy] pro account and taking their links and sending them to your clients, those are two ways you’re paying them. If you’re really concerned about this, you shouldn’t do those things.”
This isn’t the first time StreetEasy has come under fire for new features that brokers say undercut their business. This February, the site revamped their contact forms, which no longer list the listing agent’s name or photo.
“It is crucial for home shoppers to have a buyer’s agent on their side, helping them analyze information and protecting their interests during the shopping and purchasing process,” said StreetEasy General Manager Susan Daimler in a statement to Inman writer Teke Wiggin.
But, brokers said the forms could direct leads previously bound for listing agents to buyer’s agents, which could reportedly force listing agents to share commissions with buyer’s agents.
We’ve reached out to REBNY for comment, and will update the story when their comments are available.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.