A.C. Lawrence ‘VOWs’ to be one-stop shop

TRD New York /
Jan.January 18, 2010 01:00 PM

A.C. Lawrence will be launching a VOW, or “Virtual Office Web site,” which will allow users to browse all of the industry’s listings without leaving the A.C. Lawrence Web site.
The company plans to unveil the site by the end of the week, pending approval from the Real Estate Board of New York.

The Manhattan-based firm will implement its VOW company-wide, rather than by agent only, making it the first to do so in New York City, according to Antonio del Rosario, president of the sales division at the nearly 40-agent firm.

A VOW provides an opportunity for the boutique residential firm to keep apace with its larger rivals, del Rosario told The Real Deal. “It’s really a no-brainer… the virtual office Web site levels the playing field for all the firms,” he said.

The VOW approach is still a relatively new innovation in New York City, following a recent settlement between the Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors. Under the terms of the settlement, REBNY is required by law to provide these listings directly to VOWs who are REBNY members, provided they agree to certain guidelines and pay a fee for an audit by REBNY. Last summer, online firm CBS 2 Real Estate Market, launched the first VOW in Manhattan. By December, Halstead Property had joined the trend, making it the first of the city’s major brick and mortar firms to do so.

But while del Rosario said that he “love[s] Halstead,” he disagrees with the way that it’s implemented its VOW. Halstead did not institute a company-wide VOW, but rather per agent. Currently the firm has just 10 percent of its agents signed up and it requires multiple clicks to access a VOW on an agent’s site, according to del Rosario. Halstead declined to comment.

A.C. Lawrence, on the other hand, hopes a company-wide VOW will make it easier for customers to find the firm’s exclusives as well as those provided by the Real Estate Board of New York, without leaving the firm’s Web site.

Del Rosario would not divulge the cost of launching the VOW, or what the per-agent expenditure will be, saying only that it is “a substantial cost,” that includes REBNY fees for the company to register with Real Plus, the online listing provider for the governing organization of New York City real estate.

Still, the VOW is a better value than another recent online innovation, Residential NYC, the multiple listing service spearheaded by REBNY, del Rosario said. The MLS has garnered widespread attention in the last week, when it doubled its listings — thanks to the recent participation of the Corcoran Group, one of the city’s biggest residential players. While the site, as of just a few days ago, includes about 75 percent of all the sales listings in New York City, del Rosario said it’s not worth the cost until Prudential Douglas Elliman signs on.

“We don’t think Residential NYC [will be] a big player until Elliman joins,” del Rosario said.

Steven Spinola, REBNY’s president, told The Real Deal last week that he’s been courting Elliman, the White Whale to his group’s online aspirations.

But at the Inman News Real Estate Connect conference last week, Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Elliman, told The Real Deal that her company’s priorities lie elsewhere: on launching a VOW of its own. She said that Elliman didn’t feel pressure to join the REBNY MLS site just because the city’s other brokerage behemoth, Corcoran, did.

“We’re doing our VOW, so that’s what my focus is on now,” Herman said.

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