The Real Deal New York

StreetEasy exec takes heat for “Building Expert” program

Industry players weigh in on luxury bubble, market trends at Compass event

June 25, 2015 05:10PM
By E.B. Solomont


From left: Susan Daimler, Leonard Steinberg, Bill Rudin (credit: STUDIO SCRIVO) and Jeffrey Fine

Susan Daimler, the general manager of StreetEasy and Zillow NYC, hardly cuts an intimidating figure. Except, perhaps, to a room full of real estate agents, who publicly tout the listing sites for improving access to data but quietly wonder if that access will sideline brokers.

Add in a paid advertising program, and you’ve got a recipe for the kind of public spat that ensued this morning at Compass’ “Future of Real Estate” panel discussion at the Asia Society. Along with Daimler, developer Bill Rudin took part, as did Jeffrey Fine, a top real estate executive at Goldman Sachs.

The riff came during the Q&A session, when one broker broached the topic of StreetEasy’s new “Building Expert” program – a three-month-old advertising initiative that allows paying agents to be listed as an expert in a particular building. The program replaces a merit-based “Top Agent” designation on the site.

“Does two sales in two years [make someone an] expert?” asked the skeptical agent. “I think it does,” Daimler gamely replied.

“What about someone else [who brokered] 50 transactions in the building but didn’t want to advertise?” the agent continued. This time, Rudin interjected, quipping: “They’ve got to step up.”

Even moderator Leonard Steinberg, Compass’ president, tried to diffuse the tension. “It’s an old problem, resurfaced in a new format. How do [new agents] get into a building?” he said.

The wide-ranging panel discussion touched on other topics, of course, such as the impact of new development and threats of a luxury bubble. Here are some of the highlights.

Steinberg, on the proliferation of market reports with acute discrepancies: “It’s like looking at the Queen of England and saying, ‘Is she an older woman or a young woman? Is she the queen?’”

Rudin, on buyer fatigue in the luxury market: “Whenever you think there’s fatigue, you listen to Vornado [Realty Trust]. 220 Central Park South is going crazy.” As for lessons learned during the downturn? “I scratch my head at sites going for $1,000 or more per foot… We try to be conservative. We want to make sure we have a cushion in case things go south.”

(Related: The Real Deal’s reporters were on The Brian Lehrer Show” Thursday, discussing demand and supply in the luxury market. Listen to the segment here.)

Fine, on buyers’ choices: “As capital comes back, buyers have more choices… In the $4 million to $15 million market, pace has slowed down because there’s not a run on the market anymore… I wouldn’t judge today’s [market as having] an oversupply versus a slowing velocity because there’s more supply.”

Daimler, on why it’s better to look at market trends from a macro level rather than quarterly: “Inventory is ridiculously low and prices are higher than ever,” she said. At the end of the day? “Stats be damned, people buy things because they like them.”