In a major shift, the Corcoran Group, Douglas Elliman, Nest Seekers International and BOND New York are taking part in StreetEasy’s “Premier Broker,” a program that lets firms purchase bundles of buyer leads from the online listings platform, The Real Deal has learned.
The move represents a dramatic 180 for some firms, most notably Corcoran, whose CEO, Pam Liebman, lambasted the ad program and said her firm would not reimburse agents who take part. It could also indicate that the established firms are now more willing to play the role of rainmaker for their agents, spending time and cash on generating and distributing leads. It’s a strategy that some of the city’s newer firms have already embraced.
In a statement to TRD, Liebman explained her change of heart: “For agents interested in identifying new opportunities for developing their business, they see this as a potential tool that can expand their customer base,” she said. BOND’s Noah Freedman added that Premier Broker will “facilitate connections with buyers.”
Similar to Premier Agent, Premier Broker enables companies or team leads to purchase buyer leads in bulk and then distribute them to agents. It also has software that lets firms monitor how quickly agents pick up and respond to leads.
Here’s the catch: Like individual agents, firms’ contact information will appear on listings. And firms will pay to advertise in specific zip codes, effectively going head to head with individual brokers.
Lauren Riefflin, a spokesperson for StreetEasy, said Premier Broker launched in New York City March 1, but the four participating brokerages only began playing ball over the past couple of weeks.
Their participation doesn’t mean all agents at the firms can access leads. It’s up to firms to decide how to distribute the leads. Although StreetEasy declined to disclose pricing, Riefflin said brokerages don’t get a discount for purchasing bundles of leads.
“The price is set by the market, regardless of you participating through Premier Broker or Agent,” she said.
Premier Agent is a cash cow for StreetEasy’s parent company, Zillow, generating more than $600 million last year, or over 70 percent of the firm’s total revenue.
But StreetEasy faced fierce backlash earlier this year when it introduced the program in New York. Leaders of the city’s biggest firms, including Corcoran, Brown Harris Stevens and others, blasted it as unethical, confusing and a “pay to play” scheme. The Real Estate Board of New York also piled on, complaining in a letter to the Department of State that the initiative created a “maelstrom of consumer confusion.”
Many agents from these very firms became avid users of the program, as TRD reported in May, and some brokerage chiefs softened their stance.
Since Premier Agent’s debut in March, StreetEasy has tweaked how agents’ contact information appears in listings — more clearly directing buyers to the listing agent or buy-side agent.
Scott Durkin, Elliman’s COO, said the firm decided to opt in as a service to its buy-side agents. “A lot of the brokers that work with buyers are the unsung heroes that you never read about, but there are a large group of them,” he said. “We’re using this to garner more leads for our agents that like to work with buyers.”
“It’s not taking any business from another listing,” Durkin added. “This is a program where the buyers are actually requesting help and more information and we’re buying positioning where we can help them.”
Nest Seekers International’s CEO Eddie Shapiro said he became aware that a number of agents had been experimenting with Premier Agent. As a firm, he said Nest Seekers uses various strategies to reach clients.
“I think that people got a little too caught up in this discussion about online leads,” Shapiro said. “While it is no doubt a part of our business, in the grand scheme of things it is still just a small part of what it takes in this business. And without everything else, it’s nothing.”