Owners.com, a former for-sale-by-owner search site turned tech-focused brokerage, is making the switch to employee agents, according to job listings in multiple markets.

Owners.com, a former for-sale-by-owner search site turned tech-focused brokerage, appears to be making the switch to employee agents, according to job listings in multiple markets.

The move comes nearly a year after Michael Lissack, a former contractor, filed a complaint in the state of California that said all independent contractors were being treated like employees.

A screenshot of a ZipRecuriter job posting with Owners.com from its parent company Altisource.

Multiple job postings in Florida, Georgia and Texas across recruitment sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter show that Owners.com is looking for salaried real estate agents. The posts are from last week.

However, also last week, the company posted a number of jobs in the same states looking for real estate agents without the promise of salary and instead, a promise of, “a dynamic split with no fees.”

Lissack said the two jobs have the same requirements.

“They are exactly the same except one says creative splits and one says salaried employee,” Lissack said.

Lissack told Inman he believes the move to hire salaried agents is a direct response to his July 2018 complaint filed with California Labor Commissioner’s Office. He has since also filed a national complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees worker rights, alleging that every Owners.com agent is an employee and it’s, “willful misclassification.”

Lissack worked with Owners.com in Massachusetts and California for 13 months as a Realtor from March 2017 to April 2018, when he resigned from Massachusetts and was fired from California the following day, he says.

Lissack alleges in complaints filed on July 2018 that Owners.com tells its real estate agents what hours they have to work and penalizes them if they refuse; tells them which clients they will service; schedules appointments on behalf of its agents and penalizes them if they can’t meet those appointments — all which he says are grounds for them to be considered full-time employees, eligible for minimum wage and benefits.

The use of independent contractors is widespread in real estate. A recent National Association of Realtors survey found that nearly 90 percent of its 1.3 million members were independent contractors in 2018. And the IRS classifies most agents as self-employed for tax purposes.

But state laws on independent contractor classifications vary, and a recent California Supreme Court decision, which established a narrower definition of independent contractors working inside the state, has raised new questions inside the industry.

In addition to the Owners.com complaint, a former Purplebricks agent in Orange County, Shawna Olsen, filed a suit against the company in March, alleging she and Purplebricks’ other California agents were “willfully misclassified” as independent contractors when they should have been classified as employees.

When the complaint was filed, Timothy Del Castillo, told Inman the California Supreme Court’s recent Dynamex case may result in “big change for the real estate industry” and there could be other similar cases filed.

“We have another case where agent classification is also an issue, but I can’t disclose the name of the company at this time,” he said.

In Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, the court laid out an “ABC” test for determining whether or not a worker could be considered an independent contractor. A worker is considered an independent contractor if they pass each of the three standards:

  • (A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
  • (B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business;
  • (C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

Owners.com is a subsidiary of the publicly-traded real estate technology conglomerate, Altisource. It was originally launched as an online directory of for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listings in 1996.

“Now, in 2019, while Owners.com no longer supports FSBO or flat fees, the company is excited to focus on providing premium customer experiences through their professional real estate agents,” the company says on its website.

Both Owners.com and Altisource did not return requests for comment.

Email Patrick Kearns

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