Tales of turmoil as REBNY picks Perchwell for RLS

Members mum — bound by non-disclosure agreements

Clelia Warburg Peters and Brendan Fairbanks (Credit: Getty Images)
Clelia Warburg Peters and Brendan Fairbanks (Credit: Getty Images)

The Real Estate Board of New York’s RLS Board has reached an agreement with venture-backed startup Perchwell to operate its back-end system, The Real Deal has learned.

The 10-member board reached the decision to replace national MLS provider Stratus Data Systems after sending out requests for information to a small group of firms including RealPlus, Perchwell and Marketproof. A third party was hired to oversee the process and make a recommendation.

Brendan Fairbanks, Perchwell’s founder and CEO, said his team had created a new application, the Elastic Listing Platform, which will be used for the residential listing service’s back-end system. The contract was not for the front-facing Perchwell product — a distinction that had created confusion in the brokerage community, according to RLS Board co-chair Clelia Warburg Peters.

Sources familiar with the matter told TRD the selection process had caused frustration among those involved, some of whom complained that it lacked transparency.

“This RLS skirmish is a piece of a larger issue with REBNY,” a source familiar with the matter said, adding that the opaqueness around the board’s process, and the selection itself, could “risk the RLS’s future.”

“The whole thing is a complete clusterfuck,” another source familiar with the matter told TRD.

But Warburg Peters denied there was friction. “There was no expressed dissent at the RLS board–level and virtually none on the residential board,” she said.

She stressed that the transition would make the RLS — a nexus for incoming and outgoing listings — cleaner, faster and more responsive.

“In the short-to-mid-term, in terms of the experience of agents, they will see no difference except the data will hopefully improve,” she said. “But behind the scenes there will be a few changes for vendors in the marketplace.”

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Jonathan Greenspan, the founder of OLR, said his firm was not approached about the board’s search, which he said he found “insulting” after 25 years in the business.

“We certainly have the resources and the experience to service the community in any capacity,” he said, adding that the previous system had created a distinction between Stratus — a hub — and the companies feeding data in and out of it. That would now be blurred, he said.

A relative newcomer to the industry, Perchwell came onto the scene in 2017 and has since established itself as somewhat of a disruptor, poaching a roster of high-profile clients including Sotheby’s International Realty and Fox Residential from industry stalwart RealPlus.

In October, Terra Holdings sold a portion of its ownership stake in RealPlus to Corcoran and Elliman, giving the firm a greater market share.

Fairbanks called the RLS contract a big win for his firm.

“In the years I have been working in New York City real estate technology, data quality has always been a challenge,” he said. “We are really looking forward to the opportunity to significantly improve data quality as the foundation of the next generation of the RLS.”

Perchwell’s other clients include Warburg Realty, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Engel & Volkers, Leslie J. Garfield, Christie’s International Real Estate and CORE.

John Canniffe, head of the residential listing service at REBNY, said in a statement, “The RLS is committed to supporting the residential brokerage community with the best available technology to ensure clean listing data to better serve the consumer. The addition of new tools is a step forward in the evolution of the RLS as the only definitive source of listings data for the industry, by the industry.”

The CEO of Stratus Data Systems, Carlos Grass, did not respond to requests for comment.

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at so@therealdeal.com