The Real Deal New York

City goes after StreetEasy’s Premier Agent

Portal urged to add “explicit” language to avoid consumer confusion
By E.B. Solomont | August 18, 2017 04:00PM

StreetEasy’s Susan Daimler, DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas and Senator Jeff Klein

StreetEasy’s Premier Agent advertising feature has landed in the crosshairs of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

In a letter to StreetEasy and its parent company, Zillow Group, the department’s general counsel Daniel Tiger said the site’s “Contact Agent” box was misleading to buyers looking for more information about a listing.

“Consumers may believe they are contacting the agent who listed a property for sale, when they are actually contacting a different agent,” Tiger wrote in the July 31 letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Real Deal.

To avoid confusion, Tiger urged StreetEasy to add “explicit language” to its website and mobile apps to make clear that they may be contacted by a buy-side agent instead of the exclusive sales agent.

The move by the department, which licenses businesses and enforces consumer-protection laws, came at the request of state Sen. Jeff Klein, who urged the agency to intercede.

“It is now the responsibility of Zillow to take DCA’s suggestions seriously by adjusting their web listings accordingly,” Klein said in a statement. The Real Estate Board of New York has said that Premier Agent causes a “maelstrom of consumer confusion.”

In a statement, StreetEasy’s general manager Susan Daimler said the company is talking with the department, has done “extensive testing” to ensure the agent contact box is clear for consumers, and will continue to do so.

“The box we currently have is very well-understood, and in fact a large percentage of buyers proactively choose to contact the listing agent,” Daimler added.

In 2016, Premier Agent was a cash cow for Zillow, generating over $600 million in advertising revenue, by far the company’s greatest source of income. According to a recent Deutsche Bank analysis, its rollout in New York could pull in up to $86 million in ad revenue over the next two years.

In March, REBNY wrote to the Department of State, claiming the program violated a rule that prohibits advertising a property that’s another broker’s exclusive. StreetEasy challenged that assertion and said Premier Agent is in no way illegal.

More recently, StreetEasy and the city’s top residential brokerages have fought over the portal’s decision not to accept a syndicated feed of listings from the Real Estate Board of New York. Brokers say there is no good reason for StreetEasy to reject the feed, which Realtor.com and Homes.com have agreed to take.