Craigslist tightens controls on property listings

Is the change another reason for brokers to list with competitors?
By Hiten Samtani | November 15, 2013 04:35PM

Online classifieds platform Craigslist recently made a change to the way it lets brokers add photos and links in the listings they post on the site. And while the adjustment may seem technical, it could prove to be another chink in the armor of the one-time apartment search powerhouse, sources said.

Specifically, the site axed the ability to embed photographs and links in listings. To be sure, brokers can still post ads and manually upload images, but any links to external websites – such as a brokerage’s homepage — will no longer be active. Though the company did not officially announce the change, brokers started noticing it earlier this week.

Brokers and small firms who rely on Craigslist as the main source for their leads and lack other marketing resources will likely feel quite a pinch, even if more established firms are barely affected, said Jonathan Miller, the CEO of Miller Samuel.

“The negative impact is going to be on the smaller firms,” Miller said, “that had used the site as the main vehicle [to drive traffic].”

But Craigslist itself could also see an effect. The San Francisco-based site once dominated apartment listings in New York City, but now a new crop of companies — from StreetEasy to Naked Apartments and Zumper — has carved off some of the market. Broker ads in New York are one of the few types of postings for which the site charges a fee, so many brokers had been resorting to posting in the “for sale by owner” section to avoid the charge, sources said.

Representatives for Craigslist did not respond to multiple requests for comment by press time.

Yuval Greenblatt, a senior executive at Douglas Elliman, said that Craigslist had probably made the decision to change the embedding process as a quality-control measure. “Lots of brokers spam the site, posting multiple times a day,” Greenblatt said. “Craigslist is probably looking to get some control.”

Another reason for the move is that Craigslist may be looking to roll out its own enhanced listings service, in order to compete with giants such as Zillow and Trulia, said Carlos Angelucci, chief operating officer of Rapid Realty.

Anthony Lolli, CEO of Rapid Realty, said that his firm and others had already been moving away from Craigslist toward sites such as Naked Apartments, which allows features such as agent reviews.

“I look at Craigslist almost like a Blockbuster Video, where the name has more power than the product,” Lolli said.

This latest policy change will likely shift Craigslist toward becoming more of a for-sale-by-owner resource, Miller said.

Indeed, David Schlamm, CEO of City Connections Realty, said that his brokers weren’t too worried about the change. Craigslist postings will be less flashy, and the inconvenience of going through a couple of extra steps to get in touch with a broker would be offset by the greater transparency of the process, he said.

Lolli, whose agents often use the site to market rental listings, said that brokers had “got pretty nifty” with using Craigslist.

Rapid, for example, programmed their website to work with Craigslist in a way that allowed a broker to generate listings at the “touch of a button,” Lolli said. Rapid also analyzed traffic coming in from Craigslist to inform their future listings, he added.

“They wanted to level the playing fields for landlords and sellers,” Angelucci said. “It’s uneven when real estate brokers are more savvy.”