Information gatekeepers

Brokers, developers and real estate websites locked in power struggle to control both listings and public perception

They say knowledge is power. That’s especially true when it comes to New York City real estate. For years, the only access to apartments for sale in the city — especially those in posh, highly selective co-ops — was through real estate firms. Each company maintained a stockpile of listings, a valuable asset that in many ways determined its ability to be successful. Sharing this information meant giving up a competitive advantage.

Today, vestiges of this mentality remain, despite the fact that listings are required to be shared electronically, and the vast majority of brokers agree that co-broking is the way to fetch the highest sale price possible for a property. Take, for example, the fact that Manhattan is one of the only real estate markets in the country without a conventional Multiple Listing Service.

Yet with technology improving at warp speed, Manhattan is now seeing vast changes in — and intense battles surrounding — who controls real estate information.

Listings aggregators like, and even and now dominate consumers’ searches for real estate listings — publishing price cuts and other information never available to the public before. And there seems to be little that the Real Estate Board of New York or individual brokerages can do about it.

Moreover, these aggregators, along with websites like Yelp, have given consumers a plethora of ways to voice their opinions about for-sale apartments, new development projects and even brokers. Sometimes, this still largely unregulated commentary provides helpful feedback, but it can also unfairly damage reputations.

Other areas of the industry are also seeing a shift in balance of power when it comes to information. So-called broker specialists, who dominate resales within certain buildings and have the inside track on new listings coming to market, have fought off challenges from outside brokers during the downturn. As a result, many now recognize the need to diversify their business models.

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While the majority of brokers say they embrace the market’s ever-growing transparency, some have responded to all this adversity by becoming less willing to share information than before. Hoping to give themselves an advantage in the market, some brokers are violating REBNY rules that require listings to be updated in a timely fashion and distributed throughout the brokerage community within 24 hours of a signed exclusive.

Keeping listings close to the vest

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