StreetEasy is making it easier than ever for New York City agents to become “experts” on all sorts of things. Despite broker backlash earlier this year to its “Building Experts” advertising platform, the listings service is launching another similar initiative.
On Thursday, the Zillow-owned company announced plans to allow any agent who’s brokered at least two deals in one New York neighborhood over the last 36 months to become a “Neighborhood Expert,” allowing that broker to advertise on building pages.
Predictably, agents who railed against the initial Building Experts program — which similarly knighted any agent who struck two deals over 36 months at one building — levied similar criticisms at the latest ad product.
“From a consumer standpoint, this is even more nebulous than the building expert program,” Douglas Elliman’s Tom Postilio and Mickey Conlon wrote in a joint email to The Real Deal. “It’s one thing to imply that someone who has done two deals over three years in a particular building may know a little bit about that address, but to suggest that someone who has two deals in a neighborhood is an ‘expert’ is something else entirely.”
Postilio and Conlon said both programs should be clearly labeled as paid endorsements or ads. Otherwise, they said, the platforms “will continue to mislead the public and extort from the brokerage community.”
Unlike the Building Experts program — where agents pay between $.02 and $.45 per page view — there’s no fixed price to become a Neighborhood Expert. Agents can become experts in 300 neighborhoods, Susan Daimler, who heads up StreetEasy, said.
For Seattle-based Zillow, which acquired StreetEasy in 2013 for $50 million, agent advertising is a key revenue driver. Zillow’s revenue jumped 13 percent to nearly $177 million in the third quarter as agents paid to advertise on its sites.
Sheilla Manigat-Levin, a Douglas Elliman agent who is designated a Building Expert at the Sheffield at 322 West 57th Street, said the advertising program helped generate traffic to her listings.
“It just helped to highlight to people who aren’t familiar with me that I have extensive knowledge of this particular real estate,” said Manigat-Levin, who has lived at the Sheffield for eight years and has completed 12 recent deals there. “It also reaffirms to some people that I’ve done the highest number of transactions in the building. It’s here in black and white.”
In March, just before launching the Building Expert Program, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff said the company would target high-earning agents to increase their advertising.
“We anticipate these highly producing agents will continue to increase their spend with us to grow their business and growing their market share in their respective cities,” he said.
StreetEasy says the program has been successful, and that after debuting with 250 buildings, Building Experts relaunched in July with 1,300 buildings. Agents are advertising on nearly 60 percent of those buildings, the company said.
Some New York City brokers, however, questioned whether the Neighborhood Experts would have a real impact.
“I think advertising like that is good, but I would still say I get more than 50 percent of my business from referrals and repeat business,” said Brown Harris Stevens’ Lisa Lippman, whose experience on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side would qualify her as an expert in those neighborhoods. “More and more, I get business from the Internet, where people want to sell their four-bedroom on the Upper West Side and do a search for which agent has the most apartments like that.”
“Hopefully it will do well,” Manigat-Levin said, “but I think ultimately when you’re in this industry for an extended period of time it’s important for you to have a pretty masterful understanding of the neighborhood and city.”