A new Web site gives the skinny on brokers

By Lauren Elkies | December 24, 2007 04:57PM

A new and free Web-based search system called FlyRig is giving apartment hunters another place to sound off about brokers.

Flyrig, which launched Dec. 10, says its broker and listing evaluations will help guard against shady brokers and bait-and-switch ads.

In just over a week, Flyrig has added more than 100 listings and signed up more than 40 brokers from agencies including Citi Habitats, Manhattan Apartments and Metro Realty. By the end of January, general manager Adrian Liang expects 100 brokers to have posted 1,000 listings.

The site’s initial traffic is low, but marketing has yet to begin, said Liang.

Liang says that while Craigslist has a huge database of listings, “it is not designed efficiently for real estate searches.” Craigslist’s CEO and president, Jim Buckmaster, told The Real Deal that the New York City real estate section of the site receives roughly 450,000 new postings per month and roughly 150 million page views per month.

Flyrig officials tout the fact that the site provides broker ratings, maps for quick visual reference, school zoning information and lists of neighborhood restaurants and shops.

Still, some industry professionals questioned the need for broker ratings.

“I don’t think that a random comment that cannot not be qualified is relevant,” said Kathy Braddock, co-founder of Braddock + Purcell, and Charles Rutenberg Realty. “It is too difficult to know what one consumer’s level of great is compared to another. Too hard to benchmark.”

Flyrig’s listings are generated from brokers, who will not be charged until the end of the first quarter of 2008, at the earliest, Liang said. Brokers will probably pay a monthly all-inclusive charge, or a per-post charge. The costs “will be much lower than Craiglist’s $10 per-post charge,” he said. Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty, said the site was “just another case of intermediation.”

“There is always an endless supply of people trying to interpose themselves between the agent and the customer or client,” he said.

Warburg supports another new listing service, ResidentialNYC.com, launched in October by the Real Estate Board of New York, the biggest industry trade group in the city. REBNY’s public Web portal provides homebuyers with free access to thousands of exclusive real estate listings from participating member firms. The site is Manhattan-centric, targets buyers and does not include listings from all firms, including two of the city’s largest, Prudential Douglas Elliman and the Corcoran Group. Other sites also cover the rental market.

But perusing only one site is seldom enough in a city that lacks a multiple listing service and has a large number of rentals negotiated behind the scenes.

“All these things are helpful. The problem is it’s not one specific site,” Braddock of Braddock + Purcell. “It’s impossible to aggregate every single listing.”

Other similar sites, in fact, abound. In October, UrbanSherpa, another free Web rental resource, launched a system that offers “real-time” listings, owner and super contact information, applications and the histories of buildings and landlords.

UrbanSherpa, run by brokerage and management company City Wide Apartments, boasts that it puts renters in direct contact with landlords, bypassing brokers and eliminating broker fees. Brokers are not charged for posting their listings on the site.

StreetEasy is a no-fee rental listing site with a longer history. That two-year-old site gets its listings directly from real estate agencies. It also has a “talk” section open to any topic.

Buckmaster said that Craigslist has a flagging system that allows users to take down bait-and-switch ads. He also said the site encourages users to report them to government authorities.

Brownstoner.com, which focuses on Brooklyn real estate and renovation, tried a rate-a-broker feature but it was short lived. The site was launched in spring 2006 and was shut down within two months, according to Jonathan Butler, the site’s publisher.

Butler said in an e-mail: “The traffic to the site was tremendous, helped by a NYT story the day before it launched, but at the end of the day I decided that the site’s inability to differentiate between legitimate commenters and brokers looking to anonymously trash their competitors was ultimately too unfair to the brokers being rated on the site so I shut it down.”

Homethinking, a national site that offers a rate-your-broker feature, was set up to help home buyers find an agent.

Homethinking’s founder, Niki Scevak, said the reviews are meant to supplement data showing a broker’s sales record.

“It’s certainly not fool-proof,” he said. He added that he has has taken steps to provide oversight.

Reviewers are required to cite the home they visited as well as the asking price range, which is checked against county records.

Scevak said the review feature is polarizing, largely because users are expressing extremely positive or negative opinions.

The site focuses on agent sales records, culled from property records, agents, brokerage Web sites and media sties. More than 5 million property transactions are listed, compared to only 15,000 consumer reviews. Scevak, who launched the New York City site just over a year ago, said the number of New York City reviews was not immediately available.