Meet the new players spending big on StreetEasy’s lead-generation tools

RE/MAX and Century 21 among the firms buying leads
By E.B. Solomont | November 17, 2017 07:00AM

Diane Ramirez and Michael Napolitano

Halstead Property is targeting buyers from Midtown to Hudson Heights, while RE/MAX is going after Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. LG Fairmont is courting buyers citywide, and a Texas-based Keller Williams franchisee is making moves on the Upper West Side.

These are just some of the firms advertising via StreetEasy’s Premier Agent and Premier Broker programs, according to data obtained by The Real Deal.

Although some of the city’s top brokerages initially knocked the platforms — which let agents and firms purchase buyer leads in specific ZIP codes — they’re now betting on neighborhoods.

Among the largest of the new users is Halstead Property, which began testing Premier Broker two months ago because “[StreetEasy has] the market share,” said Jim Cahill, chief information officer at Terra Holdings, the parent company of Halstead and Brown Harris Stevens.

While BHS is not participating in Premier Broker, Cahill said Halstead has opted to experiment with the program — which lets firms purchase bundles of buyer leads from the online listings platform. Its future spending “will be dictated by how successful the test is,” Cahill added.

Although Halstead CEO Diane Ramirez was not among those who publicly blasted StreetEasy’s lead-generation program, the two companies have tussled in the past few months. Halstead discontinued its automatic listing feed after StreetEasy introduced a $3-per-day fee to post rental listings.  Instead, the firm is sending sales and rental listings to the Real Estate Board of New York’s new residential listing system (RLS).

Other new players include BOND New York, which was among the group of firms — including Corcoran Group and Douglas Elliman — that said it would give Premier Broker a try this summer.

As of last month, co-founder Noah Freedman was advertising in nine ZIP codes, including the Upper West Side and Chelsea. “Leads are only as good as the systems and people that nurture them,” he told TRD via email.

Perhaps the most surprising participant is the Heyl Group, a Central Texas-based Keller Williams franchise, that is currently advertising in six ZIP codes in New York such as the Upper West Side, Upper East Side and Greenwich Village. The team is headed by Tim Heyl, who in Texas is known for scaling his business by using buyer leads. Heyl and his colleagues closed $463.5 million in deals nationwide last year, according to Real Trends.

Heyl did not return calls seeking comment, but sources familiar with his team speculated that it collects leads from StreetEasy, vets them and hands them off to New York-based Keller Williams agents.

The influx of participants has made Premier Agent and Premier Broker more competitive — and more expensive, since the programs use auction-based pricing. Some agents who purchased leads through Zillow Group, StreetEasy’s parent company, before the programs launched in New York say it’s too expensive.

“I don’t see it as sustainable,” said Jack Kishk, executive director of a Century 21 franchise in Flatbush. Kishk said he’s spending about double to advertise on StreetEasy compared to three years ago. But instead of receiving 40 leads a day, he gets around 25 a month.

“They’re not taking care of the people who have been with them for years,” Kishk said.

But Michael Napolitano, who owns two RE/MAX offices in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, said he has no problem with new competition in the market. “It’s open game,” he said.

Napolitano is one of the agents who took advantage of Premier Agent when it was only offered through Zillow. He estimates that those buyer leads result in around 50 percent of his annual business. “I was an associate broker for 10 years, and buying leads helped me scale my business even bigger,” he said.

Napolitano currently has 20 agents, and purchasing leads help them get a foot in the door, too.

“Agents who are hungry, they get them in hand,” he said, “and they know how to respond to that customer.”