As tension with Zillow builds over Hamptons real estate listings, some residential firms are launching their own consumer-facing portal.
The group, dubbed the Hamptons Real Estate Association, plans for HamptonsRE.com to go live Thursday after several months of behind-the-scenes work, sources told The Real Deal. The nascent association was formed earlier this year and includes the Corcoran Group, Sotheby’s International Realty, Saunders & Associates, Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead.
“The objective was to create a tool for brokers that would be owned by the brokers, who would have a say in the direction of the website,” said Andrew Saunders, founder of Saunders & Associates. The end product, he said, is a user-friendly site that connects consumers directly with listing agents.
“That is an important characteristic of HamptonsRE.com and a significant differentiator between it and other online real estate websites,” Saunders added, taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Zillow and its Premier Agent advertising program for buyers’ agents.
Zillow’s tight grip on Hamptons listings pushed brokers to create their own portal even after trying — and failing — to do so in the past.
Four years ago, firms including BHS, Corcoran, Douglas Elliman, Saunders and Sotheby’s attempted to launch a multiple listing system called the East End Listing Exchange. Thirteen firms supported the effort and joined the nascent East End Real Estate Association.
The group disbanded in 2017 when Zillow purchased Hamptons Real Estate Online (HREO), the de facto MLS used by Hamptons brokers. Over the past year, Zillow rebranded HREO as Out East and updated the design. But when Zillow overhauled the back-end system, brokers complained it was buggy and unusable.
“This is the No. 1 second-home market in the country,” said Saunders. “The stakes are very high.”
Not long after, many of the firms that backed the East End Real Estate Association reconvened with a different mandate. Instead of creating an MLS and a shared code of ethics, they focused on a consumer-facing portal.
According to Saunders, HamptonsRE.com was designed by Michael Gabriel of Gabriels Technology Solutions, which will also maintain the site. “We all compete against each other aggressively,” Saunders said, describing a key challenge the firms faced. But, he said, “We were able to check it at the door every week to work on this. That was key, frankly, in getting this done.”
Saunders said Hamptons Real Estate Association gave all of the Hamptons firms a preview of HamptonsRE.com in June in the hopes of persuading them to join the effort. Notably, Douglas Elliman — which was part of the earlier effort — has not yet signed on to HamptonsRE.com. A spokesperson for Elliman declined to comment.
“The five of us collectively represent a significant percentage of the exclusive listings in the Hamptons,” Saunders said, estimating they control 60 percent of for-sale listings and 90 percent of rental listings. “You have to start somewhere.”
“As a brokerage owner, it’s a very hopeful moment,” Saunders added. “It’s the first moment when we have a portal that really accurately reflects, on just about every level, what we’re all about in the Hamptons.”
In New York City, four of the city’s top firms are teaming up on a shared back-end listing system. In October, Corcoran and Elliman agreed to buy a partial stake in RealPlus from Terra Holdings, which owns BHS and Halstead. Terra had owned 50 percent of the company since 2001.
Realtors in Westchester and Long Island last year agreed to merge their systems into an MLS rebranded this fall as OneKey.