TRD Friday Feature:When StreetEasy launched its “Building Experts” advertising program last month, it was billed as a “win-win” that would reward agents for their knowledge of a building and match consumers with the best possible broker for a given listing.
The initiative, rolled out as a pilot program across 250 buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, replaced the “Top Agents” feature previously on the site. That feature, which operated on a merit-based algorithm, gave users a short list of the top brokers at a property based on deal history. The more prolific an agent was at a particular building, the higher their position on the totem pole and the greater their visibility.
But the new “Building Experts” program has come under scrutiny from some brokers, who expressed concerns to The Real Deal that a previously merit-based tool has been discarded in favor of a paid advertising initiative that may not accurately or transparently deliver the most qualified agent. It’s also seen by some as another unwelcome change brought about by Zillow, the listings behemoth that acquired StreetEasy in 2013 for $50 million.
The “Building Experts” program allows StreetEasy users to view qualified agents’ successful deals in a building of interest and contact those agents. Up to three agents can be displayed at a property, and an agent needs only to have been involved in two transactions at the building in the last 24 months to qualify.
Of the two transactions required, however, one could be a current listing in a building, StreetEasy confirmed, meaning that it’s possible a building expert could only have completed a single transaction at a property. And some agents, speaking on condition of anonymity as they did not want to damage their relationships with StreetEasy, told TRD they were disappointed that their previous “Top Agent” status at a property had been replaced by a paid program — one with a relatively low threshold for qualifying as an “expert.”
Others, however, were more sympathetic. Jordan Sachs, president and CEO of residential brokerage Bold New York, said he’s “okay” with the program in principal, citing the influence of “the Zillow/Trulia” model. He expressed concerns, however, that it could cause confusion “as to who the actual rep is” for a listing.
“The average listing broker will see this as competition to getting deals done,” Sachs said. “But brokers who are seeing the bigger picture and thinking long-term should not allow it to be a hindrance, as long as it clearly states who is the actual rep and there’s no ambiguity to that.”
StreetEasy general manager Susan Daimler said that the company is “excited” about the reception the program has received thus far, and noted that it provides “exposure and personal branding” for agents “that simply did not exist” with the Top Agents program.
“Building Experts” operates on a cost-per-impression model “typical for most online advertising programs,” Daimler said, with each listed building given a specific price and traffic forecast that “gives agents the opportunity to select how much exposure they want to purchase.”
She added that 60 percent of the 250 buildings operating under the pilot program “already have Building Expert representation,” and StreetEasy is “proactively hearing from agents requesting buildings to be added to future rollouts of the program.”
Caren Maio, founder and CEO of residential listings database Nestio, said StreetEasy’s strategy “makes sense.”
“From my standpoint, it’s not surprising,” Maio said. “They’re a media company and they’re trying to monetize placement where they see relevant. I think it makes sense to monetize all the traffic they get and the fact they have a big footprint in this market.”
Sachs noted that transparency in the program’s implementation is “important,” and that there “needs to be some metrics in place from StreetEasy’s side to understand whether that ‘expert agent’ should be considered an expert.”
“Does (two deals in 24 months) make you a pro? That’s a question that can be argued,” he said, adding that it “depends on the building.”