StreetEasy is challenging the Real Estate Board of New York’s accusation that its new “premier agent” feature violates state advertising laws.
In a letter addressed to the Department of State seen by The Real Deal, StreetEasy attorney Steven Shepard said REBNY’s characterization of the feature is “incorrect” and that the feature is perfectly legal.
Earlier this month, REBNY asked New York regulators to look into the pay-to-play program, which it said infringed on a regulation that prohibits advertising a listing that’s subject to an exclusive with another firm. The StreetEasy feature directs buyers to agents who pay to advertise on the site rather than to the exclusive listing agent.
“The Premier Agent Program is identical to a real estate agent purchasing a billboard, advertising another firm’s listing on the billboard without identifying that firm, and including just a telephone number or generic email (without the advertising agent’s name or picture) for the consumer to use to contact someone for more information,” REBNY’s lawyers wrote in a March 3 letter to DOS.
Shepard said that logic is flawed, since the listing agent is responsible for putting the listing on StreetEasy and can pull it down at any time. He said there was no need for DOS to investigate the feature.
“The premier agent program is the equivalent of a second billboard, erected nearby, which offers to connect the consumer to an agent in the listing’s zip code,” he said.
He also delivered a reminder that agents were free to remove their listings from the site if they have a problem with the feature.
“Listing agents are, of course, free to remove their advertisements at any time,” he said. “They choose not to do so because StreetEasy is a popular and effective way to reach interested buyers.”
Shepard also accused REBNY of trying to “suppress competition.”
“REBNY’s intent is to make it more difficult for interested buyers to find and contact independent buyer-side agents to represent them,” he said.
A spokesperson for REBNY said the trade group was reviewing the letter.
StreetEasy’s response was distributed to New York brokers Monday afternoon in an email that shed some light on how the listings platform is responding to broker angst about the feature. The email gave the first indication that the company is backtracking slightly on some of the more aggressive elements of the feature.
In the email, StreetEasy general manager Susan Daimler said the company will be testing new iterations of the agent contact box on listing pages. One suggested revision would place the contact information for the buyer and seller’s agent adjacent on the page. She also invited feedback from agents.
New York City’s biggest brokerages, including Corcoran Group, Citi Habitats and Town Residential, have come out in opposition to the premier agent program, saying they would not support any of their brokers who choose to participate in it.