Hamptons listings: From Stone Age to E-Age

<i>Initiatives under way to increase shared listings on Long Island's East End</i>

Brokerages on the East End are catching up to firms in Manhattan and other parts of the country with a new shared listings service.

Agents on the South and North Forks of Long Island have been known to keep exclusive listings of properties for sale to themselves and not disclose them to other brokers so they can find the buyer and retain the entire commission, but some brokers are hoping that will soon change.

A couple of initiatives are under way to facilitate communication among agents in the East End: a new Internet-based cooperative listings exchange system for brokers and the possible launch of a multiple listing service exclusively for the region.

As of the beginning of June, companies in the Hamptons and the North Fork that subscribe to a back office listing system, RealNet Solutions, can use its new Web-based listings exchange system, Open RealNet Exchange, or OREX, which transmits property listings between companies using a computer system rather than the archaic facsimile machine. That is helping brokerages move from the Stone Age to the E-Age, brokers say.

Speaking with “Forked” tongues

Not all companies played fair when it came to co-broking their listings, and that situation is not remedied with OREX. Under the old system, some companies would selectively co-broke their listings by omitting certain companies from the fax broadcast — some purposely and others inadvertently. OREX subscribers can still exclude companies, by un-checking boxes that correspond to company names.

“It’s just too tempting for an agent or agency to un-check that ABC box to a competing agency that maybe they just lost a bidding war or a listing to,” said Judi Desiderio, president and founder of Town & Country Real Estate in East Hampton, and an OREX user.

Real estate agents on the East End used to depend on faxes as the primary means of transmitting listing information and updates to other companies, and some firms still use this method. It was up to the recipients to type the information into the company’s internal database.

“I think OREX is a step in the right direction,” said Rick Hoffman, senior regional vice president of the Corcoran Group’s East End offices. “Our goal on the East End is to share information.”

Jay Flagg, manager of the Southampton office at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said that OREX “will save a lot of trees.” And “it’s a more efficient way to disseminate information.”

Seventeen companies of all sizes that command more than 90 percent of the listings in the East End were already using RealNet’s OREX feature within a few weeks of its launch, said Nicholas Khuri, managing partner of RealNet, which is affiliated with the public real estate portal HREO.com.

The new system is a boon for companies that do not pay for RealNet, which costs several thousand dollars a year, because they can still receive the OREX e-mail updates. They don’t get the downloadable updates, however, and so they have to input the information into their in-house systems.

Khuri said the company is not charging RealNet subscribers extra for the OREX system. He did not disclose the price but said it varies by company size and other factors.

One company said that when it negotiated its contract with RealNet, the OREX system was figured into the price.

“It’s just basically making things more efficient,” Khuri said. “Not only does it eliminate the need to fax listings, but the data is more accurate because it comes directly from the participating companies’ databases,” he said.

Although OREX improves on the fax system, “there are no guidelines in place regarding the distribution of co-brokes,” said Michael Daly, principal broker at RE/MAX Beach Properties and an OREX subscriber. “All cooperation is voluntary.”

The executive officer of the Hamptons and North Fork Realtors Association, called HANFRA, is also critical of OREX’s absence of regulatory supervision.

“Without compliance in place, it’s nothing more than a gentleman’s agreement,” said Richard Stauffer, HANFRA’s executive officer. He added, somewhat jokingly, “we know how honorable all Realtors are.” HANFRA does not endorse OREX, Stauffer said.

The developers behind OREX said they developed the technology but are not set up to police its use.

“We are just the humble technology providers,” Khuri of RealNet said.

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Still, some technology is better than none, another said.

Diane Saatchi, a senior vice president at Corcoran working out of the East Hampton office, said, “Up until just a few years ago, many of the agencies used homemade programs, the data was not online, folks could not access [information] remotely. Corcoran has, by far, the most advanced technology of any of the local agencies, but our database out here is not nearly as sophisticated as it is in New York City.”

Behind the hedges

Perhaps part of what has kept the East End in the dark ages of technology is buyers’ insistence on discretion.

“The Hamptons has been insular because of property owners’ privacy requests,” said Corcoran’s Hoffman.

To cater to the exclusive East End clientele, HANFRA is exploring the development of a regional, East End-only Web-based listing service. Unlike OREX, there would be tight rules and regulations for usage. And, different from the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island offered through the Long Island Board of Realtors, it would only cover the niche market of the East End.

The Long Island MLS encompasses several counties — Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Kings — so East End listings can get lost amidst the thousands of services for other areas of Long Island.

“Selling property in the East End is not selling in Nassau County,” Stauffer of HANFRA said.

Because it doesn’t exclusively cover the East End and not all brokerages participate, many brokerages do not consider the MLS relevant.

Stauffer expects the HANFRA listing service to be more inclusive because it is cheaper than OREX. HANFRA would charge a company $2,500 for a start-up fee and $150 per user, per year, compared to the many thousands of dollars RealNet, and in turn OREX, charges.

Although the fax system was subject to error, transmitted limited information about properties, and was wasteful of paper and time, some people found it to be reliable.

“The faxing was not archaic,” Desiderio of Town & Country said. “It works.” While the new system is “more automated and provides instant gratification, it may not be comprehensive. Not everyone’s on there.”

To cover their bases, some companies are still faxing their listings to make certain their information makes it to all of the firms on the East End.

Firms make signing off on co-broking easier

When a real estate deal is co-broked on the East End of Long Island, the accepted practice is for brokers on both sides of a deal to sign off on the transaction.

That’s a surprisingly arduous task, requiring a contract to be faxed along with the announcement of a new listing to all of the region’s 80 to 100 real estate offices for signature. The recipients, in turn, have to sign the form and fax it back.

Agencies in the North Fork and South Fork are seeking to simplify and clean up the process by creating a universal co-broke agreement, to be renewed annually, that would allow competing firms to sign a blanket approval for all shared deals.

Having one form will save trees and personnel time, said Michael Daly, principal broker at RE/MAX Beach Properties. He is planning on signing the agreement, which was expected to be distributed to the agencies toward the end of last month. Many of the big companies were reportedly on board.

Diane Saatchi, a senior vice president at the Corcoran Group, is a proponent of the revised co-broke arrangement.

“I am all for it. We waste an awful lot of time sending co-brokes for each listing,” Saatchi said.

Charles Manger, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, added, “Ideally, it would work among all offices. It works pretty seamlessly through REBNY [the Real Estate Board of New York] in New York City.”