The Real Deal New York

With Premier Agent 2.0, StreetEasy will screen buyers by phone

Portal will screen live leads before calling agents
By E.B. Solomont | August 31, 2018 04:00PM

(Credit: iStock)

Here comes Premier Agent 2.0.

StreetEasy is making changes to the way the controversial agent advertising program works, the company confirmed. Going forward, a StreetEasy representative will screen potential buyers before passing along live leads to buy-side agents by phone. Previously, agents who advertised on StreetEasy received an email notification if a potential buyer wanted more information about a listing.

The Zillow Group subsidiary informed New York brokerage heads this week about the change, which is set to go into effect in early September. Zillow said the change will improve the quality of leads agents receive.

But some Premier Agents said they are concerned that StreetEasy’s involvement will reduce the overall number of leads they get, and raise the cost per lead.

And agents are also anxious that when they pick up the phone, they won’t have any information about the property that the buyer is interested in. “It also doubles confusion,” one agent said. “The client has to speak to a Zillow rep, then a buyer’s agent before getting service.”

A Zillow spokeswoman, Emily Heffter, acknowledged that agents will receive fewer leads, but said the ones they get will be validated. “We really think this will make our services more valuable and improve the agent and consumer experience, and save agents time and the expense of validating leads,” she said.

So far, Zillow has introduced the “new” Premier Agent in 20 states around the country. Zillow previously said 49 percent of buyers didn’t hear back from a Premier Agent. Now, 97 percent of buyers are talking to Premier Agents, the company claims.

Zillow isn’t the only listings platform shoring up the quality of its leads.

Earlier this week, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — which operates Realtor.com through subsidiary Move Inc. — said it was shelling out $210 million to acquire Opcity, a lead-generation service that uses an algorithm to pre-screens leads.

In New York, StreetEasy’s introduction of Premier Agent last year shook up the industry, prompting backlash from large firms and the Real Estate Board of New York, which alleged it had caused a “maelstrom” of consumer confusion. Although some of the biggest firms ultimately backtracked, state regulators have been examining the program at REBNY’s urging.

The New York Department of State is now considering changes to real estate advertising rules that would require additional disclosures from StreetEasy (and all brokers).

Although StreetEasy is billing Premier Agent 2.0 as a way to improve the agent and buyer experience, the screening could also eliminate questions about whether buyers know they aren’t necessarily contacting the listing agent when they reach a Premier Agent.

Heffter said StreetEasy reps who screen leads will need to determine three things before connecting the potential buyer with a Premier Agent: whether the customer is actively searching for a property; is already working with an agent; and wants to work with a buyer’s agent.

Nationwide, Zillow’s Premier Agent revenue rose 22 percent during the second quarter of 2018 to $230.9 million. But Zillow’s stock tumbled after it reported earnings and lowered its full-year revenue target. In particular, its foray into home-buying and mortgage origination, announced this month, spooked some investors.