REBNY asks state to probe StreetEasy’s Premier Agent feature

Program may violate state advertising laws, lawyers say

REBNY President John Banks
REBNY President John Banks

UPDATED, March 8, 11:15 p.m.: The Real Estate Board of New York is asking New York regulators to look into whether StreetEasy’s controversial new Premier Agent program violates state advertising laws.

Attorneys for REBNY said they have “strong concerns” that the program, which debuted March 1, infringes on a regulation that prohibits advertising a listing that’s subject to an exclusive with another firm. The new Premier Agent feature automatically directs buyers to agents who pay for the concession rather than directing them to a property’s listing agent.

“The Premier Agent Program is identical to a real estate agent purchasing a billboard, advertising another firm’s listing on the billboard without identifying that firm, and including just a telephone number or generic email (without the advertising agent’s name or picture) for the consumer to use to contact someone for more information,” REBNY’s lawyers wrote in a March 3 letter to officials at New York’s Department of State, which regulates real estate advertising.

REBNY circulated the March 3 letter among its members on Wednesday, alluding to the significant “consumer confusion” the program caused in just one week. In the letter, REBNY lawyers said the program also failed to include required disclaimers and the license status of the premier agent.

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In a statement Wednesday, StreetEasy denied REBNY’s characterization. “We believe the arguments made in REBNY’s letter are without merit and are confident that the Premier Agent advertising program does not violate New York law,” the statement said. “We take compliance with laws very seriously and will fight any allegations to the contrary.”

Premier Agent, which generated more than $600 million in revenue last year for StreetEasy’s parent company, Zillow, has met fierce opposition in New York, with brokers canceling subscriptions and taking to social media to protest the new feature.

New York City brokerage chiefs have also been strategizing about how to combat the feature, with some calling for an all-out boycott of StreetEast. The Corcoran Group, Citi Habitats and Town Residential [TRDataCustom] said they will not reimburse agents who participate in the new program.

Meanwhile, some of the city’s most prominent brokers have taken to social media to express their opposition to the feature. Nest Seekers International’s Ryan Serhant, a co-star on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York,” said Premier Agent was introduced at the expense of listing agents.

“There is no vetting process for agents who pay to get into the premier agent program other than a credit card number,” Serhant said in a video posted to Instagram.