The Real Deal New York

Zillow and REBNY finally come to the table over RLS feed

The listings portal's CEO Spencer Rascoff met with John Banks on Thursday
By E.B. Solomont | January 12, 2018 09:00AM

From left: Susan Daimler, Spencer Rascoff and John Banks

For the better part of a year, StreetEasy has been a magnet for criticism from much of New York real estate’s brokerage community.

But a visit Thursday by Spencer Rascoff, CEO of StreetEasy’s parent company Zillow, to the Real Estate Board of New York may signal a thaw in relations.

Sources said Rascoff — who is based on the West Coast — met with senior REBNY officials, including president John Banks, to discuss the possibility of StreetEasy taking REBNY’s syndicated listings feed, which it so far has disavowed.

“It’s not happening tomorrow,” said one source familiar with Thursday’s discussion. “But they were open. They were listening. It’s something that’s being considered.”

The meeting was two months in the making, according to sources. After reaching an impasse with StreetEasy, REBNY reached out directly to Rascoff late last year to propose a face-to-face meeting.

In addition to Rascoff and Banks, others present at the meeting included Susan Daimler, general manager of StreetEasy; Jim Whelan, REBNY’s executive vice president and chief lobbyist; and Sandhya Espitia, REBNY’s senior vice president.

“It was a productive, positive conversation,” confirmed a REBNY spokesman. “They’re going to keep talking.”

The two sides have been at odds since last March, when StreetEasy rolled out Premier Agent, a controversial ad program in which agents can purchase buyer leads. The program is a cash cow for Zillow, which made $600 million off Premier Agent in 2016. Amid outcry from New York brokers, REBNY asked state regulators to intervene, expressing “strong concerns” that Premier Agent violates state advertising laws and is confusing to consumers.

But things came to a head in August, when REBNY launched a syndicated listings feed, dubbed the RLS. StreetEasy has refused to accept the feed, arguing that doing so may compromise the accuracy of listings data it used to get directly from brokers. In response to StreetEasy’s refusal to accept the RLS, several of the city’s top residential firms stopped automatically feeding listing to StreetEasy.

Despite all the drama, agents have been spending considerable sums on Premier Agent, and costs per lead on the auction-based service have shot up in many neighborhoods.

Until now, there’s been little indication that StreetEasy would come to the negotiating table, though competitors like Realtor.com (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.), Homes.com and the New York Times are looking to grab a bigger piece of the market. Those sites are taking the RLS feed, as will The Real Deal, which is partnering with REBNY on a listings portal.

Critics claim the competition is taking a toll on StreetEasy’s popularity. Visits to the site were stagnant for the month of October, with 3.2 million visits, roughly the same as the prior year, according to analytics firm SimilarWeb. (StreetEasy called the numbers “completely inaccurate.”)

But while that’s down from the 5.3 million visits in June, the dip is seasonal, a SimilarWeb analyst said. “Lower traffic number in November shouldn’t be concerning,” said Gitit Greenberg, director of digital insights. “The real test for their growth will come mid-2018.”