Uneasy alliances. Powerful clans trying to decide whom to bend the knee for. A scramble to get new weapons ready for the great wars to come. Sound familiar?
We’re yet to see fire-breathing dragons. But what’s playing out on the New York residential landscape right now makes it worth investing in a projector and inviting a few friends over. Since February, when The Real Deal revealed StreetEasy’s plans to introduce Premier Agent, the brokerage industry has been fighting an existential conflict. The internet had long stripped brokers of their standing as gatekeepers of information; Premier Agent threatened to render their expertise and exclusives irrelevant. The fight for supremacy between platform and provider that’s played out in industries such as media and e-commerce has now come to brokerage. Both sides hate the war metaphor and insist it is overblown. But framing it thus helps one to understand the stakes.
First came Premier Agent. The advertising program was met with derision, then with dollars. Perhaps buoyed by the swift and decisive victory in that fight, StreetEasy took on rentals next, introducing a new daily fee for listings. That battle, however, was much bloodier.
Last week, 10 firms stopped feeding both sales and rental listings to the Zillow-owned portal. If StreetEasy wants the listings, they say, they simply have to go through the Real Estate Board of New York’s new syndicated listings service (RLS). StreetEasy, so far, refuses to do so, citing concerns about data quality, integrity and customer value. And while StreetEasy and the brokerages are in a prolonged standoff, brokers are in the awkward position of having “the talk” with their clients. How do you explain to someone whose home you’re marketing that you’re not putting it in front of the largest possible audience? Sellers don’t give a damn about brokers losing control or about the politics of listing feeds. Sensing this could be a possible weakness, StreetEasy is reaching out directly to brokers from those firms and offering them a lifeline: manually upload your listings with us, it says, and you’ll be safe. The firms in question collectively hold about 20 percent of StreetEasy’s listings, sources told TRD’s E.B. Solomont. Douglas Elliman, the city’s largest and wealthiest firm (a Lannister/Tyrell hybrid, if you will), is not boycotting StreetEasy — quite the opposite, which it says has resulted in listing traffic up over 30 percent. Though Realogy-owned Corcoran Group and Citi Habitats have taken their rentals off the table, they are being coy about what they’ll do with their sales listings.
But this wouldn’t be GOT-worthy without even more intrigue. This morning, Rupert Murdoch’s Realtor.com, a major Zillow rival across the U.S. but a bit player in New York, announced it has inked a deal with REBNY to take the RLS feed directly. The move gives Realtor.com more cred in New York, and it allows the REBNY-affiliated brokerages to tell their sellers that they’re trying to maximize reach. It also puts StreetEasy in a corner. But that’s when dragons, even wounded, are most dangerous.