The Real Deal New York

Compass deploys sneak-peek marketing; cue the raised eyebrows

“Coming Soon” lets agents post listings to the brokerage's website days before sharing them with MLS, other listing portals
By E.B. Solomont and Alexei Barrionuevo | September 17, 2018 04:00PM

Compass #compasscomingsoon listings (Credit: Compass, Instagram, and iStock)

In a world where movie trailers can still lure film goers into theaters, residential brokerage Compass wants to deploy that kind of sneak-peek marketing to sell homes.

The New York brokerage has launched a feature that allows its agents to post their listings to Compass’ website days before sharing them with local multiple-listing systems and portals like Zillow, StreetEasy and Realtor.com.

“Compass Coming Soon,” as it is called, launched last week nationwide except in New York and Washington, D.C., where it will roll out in the coming days.

Compass CEO Robert Reffkin said the new strategy “will help our agents get a head start on marketing while still getting the property ready for market,” according to an email he sent agents last week, which the The Real Deal obtained. “By harnessing the power of pre-marketing, [the listing] actually shows up twice in everyone’s alerts: once when it hits Compass.com, and again when it hits the open market, doubling potential exposure.”

But critics of “coming soon” listings argue that — like whisper listings and pocket listings — they create an unfair advantage. They reward agents with direct deals and limit exposure to listings by not putting them on the open market.

Compass, which has aggressively been grabbing market share nationwide, may encounter a strong pushback with this latest move.

And it may start with The Real Estate Board of New York, whose universal co-brokerage agreement governs how listings are shared.

The agreement requires members who post listings publicly to share them simultaneously with other brokers and websites. “Public dissemination includes, but is not limited to, the display of the exclusive listing on the exclusive broker’s website, any exclusive agent’s public website, any social media application… [and] any third-party website,” the rule states.

“How would their agents feel if Corcoran or Elliman did that?” said one New York brokerage chief.

REBNY declined to comment on Compass specifically, but sources said it would vigorously defend the co-brokerage rules.

In his email letter, Reffkin said the idea for “Compass Coming Soon” came from agents who were informally announcing their listings on social media. But by validating the practice, Compass is also arming agents with a way to control their listings (and data) at a time when online portals are the first place buyers look for a new home.

The move comes on the heels of Compass’ acquisition last month of San Francisco-based Pacific Union International, which had recently launched a portal for showcasing listings before they hit the open market.

That offering, “Private View,” went live in May with $400 million worth of exclusives. “I think there’s a growing opportunity for brokerages to become more and more relevant,” Nick Segal, then president of Pacific Union in Southern California, said at the time.

For years, Zillow and Redfin have let agents promote future listings on their platforms. For its part, Zillow restricts “coming soon” posts to listings that will go live within 30 days, while Redfin allows those posts to publish within 21 days.

In June, Segal said Compass had been looking for its “own answer to what Zillow was doing.” But he saw a potential competitive advantage: While Zillow takes all the listing information as soon as it goes live, the company can’t “take advantage of the information before it goes live.”

On Compass’ website, landing pages with “coming soon” listings encourage visitors to the site to “discover local Compass properties that are not listed on the market.” In the Hamptons, for example, Compass listed 20 such properties, including a 9,500-square-foot home on Georgica Close Road in East Hampton, asking $7.35 million; and three-quarters of an acre of land in Montauk, asking $645,000.

Leonard Steinberg, who was president of the firm until he moved into the role of “Chief Evangelist” in July, said the firm’s legal team is looking carefully to make sure no rules are broken. That includes in New York or elsewhere, where local MLS rules dictate how listings may be shared. He said any “coming soon” listing would immediately be open to co-broking.

Still, in New York that quiet marketing — and an uptick in off-market deals — has divided brokers.

Whisper then a roar

In March, REBNY’s residential board proposed a ban on whisper listings, eliciting blowback from the city’s largest firms. They argued that some sellers have legitimate reasons for keeping properties off the open market.

As of early September, REBNY hadn’t come to a final conclusion on the issue.

Meanwhile, a former Keller Williams agent launched RealAgenz.com, a portal that charges brokers a monthly fee to access whisper listings.

Nationwide, similar portals have popped up in recent years. In Los Angeles — where off-market deals are the bread-and-butter of celebrity real estate — the Agency’s CEO Mauricio Umansky and agent Christopher Dyson rolled out “The Pocket Listing Service” last year, which allows brokers to share and search off-market deals.

Beth Styne, vice president Coldwell Banker’s COO for Greater Los Angeles, said she is against pocket listing services. “Their actual intent,” she said, “is to control inventory and steal clients.”

She criticized Pacific Union, which she said created “Private View” because “they are trying to create a value proposition where there is none.”

Steinberg distinguished between “coming soons” and whisper listings — which he tries to avoid. “I don’t like pocket listings because I think they’re exclusionary. These are as inclusionary as you can get,” he said. “I’m happy to show this listing at any time.”

But others were more dubious of Compass’ motives.

“They’re creating an island for themselves that doesn’t serve their clients’ best interests. It serves Compass’ best interests,” said Bess Freedman, co-president of Brown Harris Stevens.

If “coming soon” listings don’t violate REBNY rules, she said, they certainly go against the spirit of the co-brokerage rules. “We share our listings with each other. We promote working together,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be received well by the brokerage community.”