Owners.com, a tech-forward real estate brokerage, pulled images Friday featuring the likeness of HGTV-star and celebrity home renovator Scott McGillivray from Zillow after it was determined that ads spotlighting the Income Property star, who does not have a real estate license, were incorrect and potentially violated real estate advertising laws that prohibit misleading ads.
On Thursday, a search of “Owners.com” on Zillow’s “Find an Agent” online agent search platform revealed multiple unlicensed real estate professionals listed among an “Owners.com Team,” accompanied by photos of McGillivray and Owners.com executive Dan Maloney, who as Head of Sales, is not licensed as a real estate agent. Inman called several of the numbers listed among the team members and found them to be non-working.
“[McGillivray] was previously a brand advocate for Owners.com,” said Owners.com spokesperson Lisen Syp, who said the company removed the images on Friday. “The previous use of his image was a representation of the Owners.com brand and not as an individual licensed agent.”
Sheryl Hawkes, a marketing and business development executive at the McGillivray Group — the company that manages McGillivray’s brand — told Inman on Friday that the HGTV star planned to inquire if his likeness was still being used by Owners.com for other advertising purposes. Hawkes failed to respond to follow-up inquiries from Inman on Tuesday and Wednesday.
McGillivray was the star of the HGTV show Income Property from 2008 to 2016. Earlier this year, he launched Buyers Bootcamp on HGTV in Canada, where he serves as executive producer. The Canadian real estate investor and contractor also briefly starred in Moving the McGillvrays on HGTV in 2016 and has appeared in several other HGTV series.
“It is important to Scott that his brand is reflected accurately,” Hawkes said.
In Florida, one of the states where the misleading picture was being used to advertise services, “No real estate advertisement placed or caused to be placed by a licensee shall be fraudulent, false, deceptive or misleading,” according to the Florida Real Estate Commission, a division of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. On Wednesday, Inman independently confirmed through the agency that neither Maloney nor McGillivray are licensed agents in the state.
“[McGillivray] doesn’t have a United States real estate license, so why the hell is he on Zillow advertising real estate services?” said Michael Lissack, a former contractor with Owners.com who resigned from the company earlier this year following a dispute over the company’s business model. “The other guy is [Maloney] who has no real estate licenses whatsoever.”
“Every state says that holding yourself out to the public as providing real estate services requires a license,” Lissack added. “I don’t know how you can argue that putting yourself on a picture advertisement is not holding yourself out to the public.”
In most cases, the advertisements were for an unspecified Owners.com team, but in one instance, an ad for a team led by former employee and licensed real estate agent Fredrik Eriksson — who left the company months ago — also used a picture of McGillivray. Another potential problem: the advertisement was still using Eriksson’s name to advertise Owners.com services.
The advertisement in question is no longer active and would not appear on any page and could only be found by searching the agent database, a spokesperson for Zillow told Inman. The advertisement now appears as “Owners.com Florida Team.”
“With regard to your inquiry about advertising an agent who no longer works for Owners.com, we believe this may refer to a brief period of time between that agent’s disassociation with the brokerage and the time when his image was removed from an Owners.com page on Zillow,” Owners.com spokesperson Syp said. “He has since been removed from that page.”
Zillow confirmed to Inman that Owners.com had oversight over the advertisements and had made the changes itself. Zillow did not scrub the advertisements and Owners.com told Inman that the advertisements did not violate any advertising regulations.
“We believe our advertisements on Zillow are compliant with applicable law,” Syp said.