The Real Deal New York

Why brokers are remaining faithful to StreetEasy (for now)

It's peak rental season, and landlords aren't keen on pulling the plug, agents tell TRD
By Miriam Hall | September 05, 2017 07:30AM

The StreetEasy Express (Photo illustration by Lexi Pilgrim for the Real Deal)

UPDATED: Thursday, Sept. 7 at 12:20 p.m. When StreetEasy announced it would start charging agents a daily fee for advertising rental listings on the website, Joshua Brick knew he’d have to eat the cost.

“I don’t have much of a choice… I’m a small mom-and-pop shop,” said Brick, who owns four-agent brokerage Smart NY Realty in Brooklyn. “I enjoyed the run while I could.”

Much of the city’s residential real estate industry is desperate to pry StreetEasy’s locked grip on the city’s listing data — all but a handful of the biggest firms in the city have stopped providing their sales and rental feeds to the site, opting instead to feed data exclusively to the Real Estate Board of New York’s RLS, which StreetEasy is refusing to accept.

But individual rental brokers told The Real Deal that they have no choice but to continue working with StreetEasy and paying $3 a day per listing, especially with it being peak rental season. “[The fee] cuts into revenue a lot… hopefully another viable option will come,” said Brick.

Amy McDonald, a broker with Triplemint who represents smaller-scale landlords, said it’s simply not viable for her to pull her listings. “I don’t want to be paying StreetEasy, and a lot of companies are pushing for the RLS — but I also have a fiduciary duty to the landlord,” she said. “I have to make sure my listings have the most exposure.”

The fee, officially called “NYC Rental Network,” is handled differently by the various firms. Douglas Elliman — which continues to send its feed directly to StreetEasy — is allowing agents to bankroll the cost into their existing marketing budgets. But brokers at firms like Town Residential must foot the bill themselves if they want to keep their rentals on the site. Stribling & Associates is reimbursing agents for the fees in order to “ease” the transition to the RLS. “I’m reassessing on a weekly basis,” said Stribling broker Dena Driver, who still has multiple rental listings on StreetEasy.

Driver also advertises her listings on Apartments.com, Zumper, PadMapper and Renthop.com, and said she’s noticed an uptick in inquiries from those platforms since StreetEasy’s fee kicked in. It’s not enough, however, for her to abandon StreetEasy. “I don’t want to exclude a section of prospective tenants just yet,” she said. “I wouldn’t be doing the best job for my owners.”

Some landlords also want to avoid a big marketing shakeup. “If there’s a new platform and vehicle that provides the same access that StreetEasy does, I’m happy to entertain it. [But] until it’s been solidified and tested we want maintain status quo,” said Martin Nussbaum of Slate Property Group, which owns scores of rental properties across the city. “One of the firms came to us and said they wanted to pull their listings, and we said if they did that, we would not do business with them,” he said.

Brokerages fear that totally cutting off StreetEasy would also alienate their own brokers.

“It would be impossible to retain agents,” said Adam Mahfouda, whose firm Oxford Property Group sends its feed to StreetEasy and requires agents to pay the daily fee. He’s concerned about StreetEasy’s extensive access to listing data, but sees the website as essential to remaining competitive. “My concern is what Zillow has done in other markets; they’re targeting consumers directly to sell properties directly through the website.”

But some firms accept the fee as an unavoidable cost. “I used to pay significantly more for the New York Times,” said Andrew Barrocas, the CEO of MNS, who estimates his firm now has to pay around $42 out of the average $3,500 rental commission. “The consumer is still going to StreetEasy and our listings are getting more attention.”

StreetEasy said it was not yet able to provide data on the number of listings, but StreetEasy’s general manager Susan Daimler said in a statement that the rental program is “exceeding expectations” in terms of “participation and listing integrity.” She added that there is “plenty of room” for both REBNY’s RLS and StreetEasy to “co-exist” in the marketplace.

Still, some brokers are abandoning StreetEasy for their rental listings — and say it’s made little impact. “I want to say 95 percent of my current clients are coming from the Citi Habitats website,” said Natalia Padilla, a broker who now only uses StreetEasy for her sales listings. Meanwhile, Lee Williams, of the Level Group, a firm that does not provide a rental feed to StreetEasy, found tenant traffic has remained steady without StreetEasy.

“I find StreetEasy is great if you want to get the word out and fill an open house,” he said. “The more qualified tenants are coming from other sources and that’s something I’ve explained that to my landlords.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Level Group does not send a feed to the RLS. It does provide listings to the RLS.