Agents to StreetEasy: The fee is too damn high

NYC brokers call for a new, free listing platform after $1.50 increase

Nov.November 21, 2019 07:00 AM
From left: Jed Wilder, Bess Freedman, Richard Grossman, Josh Sarnell and Adam Mahfouda (Credit: Emily Assiran) 

From left: Jed Wilder, Bess Freedman, Richard Grossman, Josh Sarnell and Adam Mahfouda (Credit: Emily Assiran)

After StreetEasy announced another fee hike, brokerages and agents are calling for an alternative platform.

“Every time that something like this happens it makes our need to figure out an alternative solution more pressing,” said Warburg Realty’s Frederick Peters of the new $6-a-day rental listing fee.

The Zillow-owned listings portal on Tuesday announced that the fee would increase by $1.50 on Jan. 1 — and that all agents would need manually enter listing data. The brokerage and agent community has largely been at odds with StreetEasy ever since the platform first started charging fees for listings in summer 2017.

“I think it’s going to open up a can of worms that will hopefully fire back at them,” said Jed Wilder, a rental agent at Compass.

Citi Habitats agent Judy Stepeck said of the fee “that’s a crazy amount,” while Brown Harris Stevens’ CEO Bess Freedman asked, “When is enough enough?”

Wilder, who runs a top-producing rental team with Lindsay Krantz Wilder, said he’s currently paying $30,000 to $40,000 annually to advertise listings on StreetEasy — which he said was a lot.

“They were getting greedy at $4.50 a day,” said Wilder. “This is getting excessive… I don’t think people will list at this price.”

Josh Sarnell, a rental agent at Citi Habitats, also called the $6 fee unaffordable for most agents and said that it may lead to more agents circulating deals among each other, rather than paying to advertise to the public.

“It’ll be like it used to be, where we hold all the inventory,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think that’s a good thing but called the $1.50 increase “price gouging” by StreetEasy.

Asked to respond to the criticism, a StreetEasy spokesperson said the company stands by its pricing.

In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, some brokerages are making changes as others ponder solutions.

Freedman said BHS is launching a consumer-facing website that will show listings from BHS and other firms. She said it will go live at the end of the month.

“It’s not really apples to apples, but it’s something,” Freedman said, noting that brokerages failed agents after plans for a citywide multiple listings service collapsed years ago. BHS does not pay StreetEasy listing fees for its agents.

Meanwhile, Douglas Elliman, which does pay agents’ listing fees for rentals, said it is “assessing the return on its StreetEasy investment as it works to explore alternative listing options.”

Oxford Property Group — a lead-generation firm where agents collect 100 percent of their commissions in exchange for a desk fee — is changing its model. Founder Adam Mahfouda said the brokerage will pay rental listings fees for its agents in exchange for a split of their commission.

He said the idea had been around since January, when StreetEasy increased fees from $3 to $4.50, and that Oxford was still working out what split the firm would charge.

Mahfouda said that while “nobody likes a price increase,” Oxford supports any service or program that helps agents close deals and accepts the trade-offs.

“We’re all kind of in the passenger seat, while they’re driving,” he said. “But StreetEasy has the highest market share… I don’t think that will be changing anytime soon.”

Agents argued, however, that the increase opens the door for competition.

Wilder said he hoped the hike would “start some sort of movement” and prompt a free listings platform to emerge.

“There needs to be something new that’s free and has the public’s best interest in mind,” added Sarnell.

Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]

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