StreetEasy redesign rankles users

Brokers worry listing provider has been "Zillowfied," but website revamp was planned long ago

From left: the old StreetEasy vs. the new design
From left: the old StreetEasy vs. the new design

It was a rough couple of months for New York City brokers who rely on technology — and, really, isn’t that nearly all of them? Not only did the Real Estate Board of New York roll out its new, long-awaited listings transmission system (which some had doubts about) and Apple unveil its much-maligned new operating system, but StreetEasy debuted a website redesign that has rankled brokers and inflamed some consumers.

“I am a big StreetEasy fan – it’s the biggest driver in the market,” said Donna Olshan, president of residential brokerage Olshan Realty. “But there are a lot of issues with the new interface that they need to work out. My brokers are complaining.”

The popular listings provider, greeted with skepticism when it first launched in New York City in 2006, has since become an indispensable tool for residential brokers to advertise homes, connect with clients, and mine data on listings, sales and rentals. Now operating in a handful of markets across the U.S., the site proved successful enough to catch the eye of Zillow, which acquired the company in August for $50 million.

Some brokers who spoke with The Real Deal assumed the new interface, launched Sept. 30, was tied to the Zillow buy, and some warned that StreetEasy would soon mimic Zillow’s sites around the country, which they criticized for promoting agents who do not have exclusives on listings.

“The word that’s going around my office about it is that it got ‘Zillowfied,’ meaning it looks like Zillow,” said Eric Benaim, founder of residential brokerage Modern Spaces. “That can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on who you’re speaking to.”

But the switchover had nothing to do with Zillow, said Sofia Song, StreetEasy’s vice president of research and communications.

“The redesign has been in the works for months,” she said, adding that the roll out had been planned for the third quarter of 2013.

The aim was to create a “visual search,” and make information on the site more accessible, Song said. The redesign offers more tabs, larger photos and new features, such as the “luxury,” section, dedicated to high-priced homes.

Still, brokers are split, with some welcoming the redesign as a necessary update and others maintaining it’s “glitchy” and could cost them business.

“It feels like a step backwards,” Olshan said.

But the new interface and design are a work in progress, Song said. Some features that do not currently appear on the site, such as the custom boundary search and the “show all neighborhoods” function, are set to return. Developers are working on addressing the problem of the site not working well on Internet Explorer, a glitch StreetEasy did not foresee, Song said.

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“We have a bias towards [Google] Chrome,” she said. And the company is in the midst of putting together a guide on how to use the site, which should be done in about a week, Song said.

For some, the challenges are just part of a learning curve, she added.

“Anytime we roll out anything, there is always backlash,” she said, adding that StreetEasy encourages users to experiment with the new system. “Some users are afraid to just click around, to just explore.”

The situation is similar to Facebook and Google updating their social media platform and email provider, respectively, Song and brokers noted.

“It’s not as clean as the original version, but … I’m sure everyone will get used to it,” Benaim said.

“The utility of StreetEasy is so high we forget how dated the site had become,” said Jason Haber, CEO of Rubicon Property, who said the old site design was reminiscent of the 1990s Internet, when AOL was the ubiquitous brand. “I’m sure there will be grousing from some who long for the old layout, but the time had come for a revamp. Now they have great data and a great site.”

On StreetEasy’s discussion boards, the new interface dominated comments. All 87 posts in one discussion yesterday were negative, with many threatening to cancel their “Insider” pay subscriptions. (Of course, message boards are not exactly the domain of measured, positive commentary).

“This new format gives me nothing more than what I can get for free on [New York] Times Real Estate,” wrote one user, adding “I used to be able to get information almost as accurate as my broker does from this system.”

Another put it more succinctly: “Bring back the old format!!!!”

But StreetEasy is open to feedback; the company is monitoring Twitter and discussion boards to address as many concerns as possible. And while StreetEasy had not yet considered offering users a way to revert to the old interface, Song said the company was open to many options.

“We have not had that discussion, but it’s not [because] we are against it,” she said.