Zillow hit with a second Premier Agent class action

Attorney Spencer Sheehan was also behind prior Trulia suit

Zillow CEO Rich Barton (Credit: JD Lasica via Flickr, iStock)
Zillow CEO Rich Barton (Credit: JD Lasica via Flickr, iStock)

From the people who brought you the smash hit, Kim et al V. Trulia, LLC, get ready for part two of the Premier Agent Class Action litigative universe!

A few weeks after Long Island attorney Spencer Sheehan filed a class action lawsuit blasting Trulia’s Premier Agent program as “unfair and deceptive,” the lawyer filed a new lawsuit against Trulia’s parent, Zillow Group, containing the same allegations and using the same metaphors.

The program is “the analog equivalent to buying a billboard to advertise another real estate broker’s listing but with the contact information of [Premier Agents],” the new suit states. That’s almost identical to the language in the prior suit that called the practice “equivalent of buying a billboard to advertise the listing of another real estate broker and including a picture of the property and telephone number for prospective buyers to call.”

Sheehan is joined by two other attorneys as joint filers on the most recent lawsuit, which was first reported by Inman. The new suit is more expansive in a number of other ways as well.

While the previous suit defined its class as “all real estate brokers in New York,” the new suit encompasses “all real estate brokers and real estate sales agents in New York, Pennsylvania and States where defendant conducts business.”

But like the prior suit, which featured Queens-based broker Andrew Kim as lead plaintiff, the lead plaintiff on the new suit is another Queens-focused real estate agent — Max Brizer of R New York.

“Plaintiff Brizer has been a listing agent for various properties on defendant’s website and lost money due to Premier Agents who paid defendant to be on his listings,” the lawsuit states.

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According to the agent’s page on Zillow subsidiary Streeteasy, the bulk of Brizer’s past deals have involved properties in Astoria and Long Island City, including six for which he was the listing agent. Representatives for R New York did not respond to a request for comment.

Unlike the Trulia case, the new lawsuit also raises new concerns that “consumer confusion and frustration” caused by Premier Agent may also lead consumers to unknowingly enter dual agency transactions.

At the end of the day, however, the two suits share the same four primary allegations: violation of New York’s Consumer Protection from Deceptive Acts law, violation of the state’s Donnelly Act (an antitrust law), unfair competition and unjust enrichment.

Despite the slight differences between the two class action suits, Zillow appears to consider them one and the same. “The claims made in this suit are a replica of the meritless claims made a few weeks ago by the same lawyers, who use the same baseless and unsupported attacks against us,” Zillow spokesperson Viet Shelton told Inman.

“If a consumer wants to do more research, we provide them with the necessary information for this to happen, whether it be to work with the seller’s agent or contact a buyer’s agent on their own,” a prior Zillow statement said.

Premier Agent has long been a cash cow for Zillow, and a source of bitter controversy in the real estate industry. In a letter to state regulators this week, the Real Estate Board of New York argued that Premier Agent “falls woefully short” of a proposed rule banning the practice of steering consumers to agents who advertise on its site. [Inman]Kevin Sun