The Real Deal New York

OK, you’ve decided to boycott StreetEasy. How do you explain that to your sellers?

10 resi firms won’t feed the Zillow-owned portal
By E.B. Solomont | August 04, 2017 06:21PM

UPDATED, August 6, 9:35 a.m.: In an attempt to control their own destiny, many of the city’s top brokerages and heaps of their agents boycotted StreetEasy after the listings platform introduced new paid programs and rental listings fees.

Josiah Hyatt isn’t one of them.

The Keller Williams NYC agent said about two-thirds of his inquiries come from the platform.

“If I were to stop advertising with StreetEasy, I’d be doing my owners a big disservice,” he said. Hyatt’s first bill after StreetEasy introduced the program came to $700, and he expects to shell out up to $3,000 a month.

“To wake up one day and think, ‘Now I have a $3,000-a-month payment,’ is eye opening,” he said. “But I’m in the boat saying, ‘I don’t have another option.’”

Though it’s been a fire-and-brimstone week — 10 firms and counting have said they’ll stop feeding listings to StreetEasy — some held back, recognizing the ubiquity of the platform and its popularity with buyers.

“If all these firms pull listing offs StreetEasy, that’s their right,” said Kathy Braddock, a managing director at William Raveis NYC. “But what’s it being replaced with so the consumer has a one-stop shop?” Starting August 1, the Real Estate Board of New York started syndicating listings through its residential listing service, which feeds around 200 aggregators.

But StreetEasy has refused to accept the RLS feed.

The numbers show that those hesitant about cutting StreetEasy out might have a point. The Zillow-owned portal logged just over 480,000 visits to its website in June, according to data from Quantcast. In comparison, the Corcoran’s Group website had just over 106,000 visits, while Compass; had just under 75,000 (Data for Douglas Elliman wasn’t available.)

Scott Durkin, COO of Elliman, said StreetEasy is the second-largest source of inquiries for his agents.

Removing listings from it, Durkin said, would be like driving “on an expressway and you asked us to take local roads.”

Agents aren’t compelled by law to maximize the reach of a listing.

“That’s at the discretion of the agent,” said Terrence Oved, a real estate attorney who did note that agents have an “inherent and intrinsic interest in marketing the property as broadly as possible” in order to broker a deal and collect their commission.

“If $3 a day gives it more exposure, because they make $10,000 in commissions, they may do it,” Oved said.

Jed Garfield, owner of townhouse brokerage Leslie J. Garfield, one of the firms that stopped feeding StreetEasy this week, said his agents initially balked at the boycott.

“They told me, ‘My owner wants to know their home is on StreetEasy,’” Garfield recalled. His reply to the agent: “It’s getting advertised, it’s on the internet, it’s shared with all the other brokers out there. The seller doesn’t care about how they get the results, they care about getting results.”

Like Garfield — who estimated that 5 to 8 percent of his agent’s inquiries come from StreetEasy — others said their clients don’t know (or don’t care) where their properties are advertised.

Michele Kleier of Kleier Residential said a move away from StreetEasy won’t hurt her business since most of her deals are co-broked.

“Obviously, we’re not going to hide the fact that we’re not on StreetEasy,” she said. “But most of my clients don’t even ask.”

Right after StreetEasy began charging agents a fee to list their rentals, the number of listings on its site plummeted. Sources estimate that without listings from firms that will only feed RLS, StreetEasy will lose more than 20 percent of its listings. As of Friday, those firms included Brown Harris Stevens, Town Residential, Compass, Stribling & Associates, Warburg Realty, Fox Residential, Kleier Residential, Leslie J. Garfield, Bold New York and Tungsten.

Nest Seekers International’s Eddie Shapiro said his firm never relied on StreetEasy to generate traffic, since the portal only accounted for 2 to 4 percent of web inquiries.

“Does StreetEasy have power? Yes. Is there traffic over there? A lot. But at the end of the day it’s all about data controlled by brokerage firms,” he said. For now, Nest Seekers is feeding its listings to both StreetEasy and the RLS. “Either way, this is not how we intend to survive in this business, not based on StreetEasy or REBNY syndication,” he said.

Nest Seekers is in wait-and-see mode about StreetEasy, as is CORE. Meanwhile, the Corcoran Group and Citi Habitats said they pulled their rental listings, but haven’t yet talked about what they plan to do with sales listings.

In Compass’ first statement on the matter, CEO Robert Reffkin asked why StreetEasy won’t accept the RLS feed in New York when Zillow accepts the MLS feed in every other market nationwide. “To go to such great lengths to refuse the feed makes me wonder what their long-term plan and underlying motivation is,” he said. “Taking the RLS feed is more accurate than taking listings from thousands of individual agents as they are now doing, and accurate data is what consumers and agents want.”

Compass’ Victoria Shtainer — who will follow her firm in keeping her sales listings off StreetEasy, opted to put two rental listings on the platform. Last year, she found tenants for the same units on the site.

“If it’s $90 a month and the commission is at least $15,000, it’s worth it,” she said.

Susan Daimler, general manager at StreetEasy, acknowledged that all the changes on StreetEasy “has the industry frustrated.”

“What hasn’t changed is our unwavering commitment to the consumer,” Daimler added, “which comes through in the tremendous size of our consumer audience. We are thrilled that so many agents recognize our reach and are putting their clients’ needs and properties in front of any frustrations they may have.”

A big chunk of New Yorkers start their buying or renting hunt with a visit to StreetEasy. That’s a fact of the market, and that realization has some hoping that brokerages and the platform can reach a detente.

“It’s got to stop being about us versus them, and start being about what’s in the client’s best interest,” said Stuart Siegel, CEO of Engel & Völkers’ New York City operation. Though he doesn’t think StreetEasy is acting in the consumer’s best interest, he said his priority is maximizing exposure for his sellers. Engel & Völkers will take a 90-day evaluation period to see how things shake out.

“I’m not about to compromise my ability to affect a material transaction for a client,” he said. “I’ve got to put my interests beneath theirs.”