StreetEasy to ban listings, rather than agents, that break its rules

Platform reduces penalty after backlash over exclusivity policy

StreetEasy general manager Caroline Burton (StreetEasy, iStock)
StreetEasy general manager Caroline Burton (StreetEasy, iStock)

Compass agent Phillip Salem had a listing that he wanted to keep quiet, so rather than post it on StreetEasy, he put it on his own firm’s “coming soon” platform.

When StreetEasy found out, it retaliated by banning the agent from using its platform for two weeks. The city’s dominant listings site does not allow users to post properties elsewhere first, a policy it bills as democratic but Salem considers unfair.

“If a client decides that they want to be private, I think it’s up to the seller,” Salem said. “If StreetEasy [is] so concerned about people, they should be more concerned about how the client wants to list their property.”

Last week, StreetEasy took a step back.

rnrn“A service provider who tells you how to act on your yet-to-exist listings is somewhat questionable.”rnrn

David Avgi, Avenues Real Estatern

In 2020, the Zillow-owned platform had told agents to post their sales listings on its site within 24 hours of advertising them elsewhere or they could lose professional access to the site. The new policy bans the offending listings, not the agents, meaning they can still post other properties on StreetEasy.

Although the revised policy is less aggressive than the old one, agents still don’t like it. For StreetEasy, it is part of a balancing act of maintaining its dominant position and maximizing revenues without upsetting agents — who are customers — too much.

“Punishing the agent for not feeding the machine within hours is definitely raising some eyebrows,” David Avgi, CEO of Avenues Real Estate, said in an email. “If I work for you, or if you pay me to do it, then I get it. But a service provider who tells you how to act on your yet-to-exist listings is somewhat questionable.”

Under the policy, a listing is considered publicly advertised if it is sent to the RLS, syndicated to a third party site, made available to the general public on a website or shared with third parties via email, according to a StreetEasy spokesperson.

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“New Yorkers trust StreetEasy to help them find their next home, and they deserve access to the most accurate and up-to-date listings available,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “It’s why we have policies like this in place to hold ourselves — and all of our partners — to the highest data standards, ensuring customers are receiving the best possible experience every time they visit.”

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Not everyone sees it that way.

“This is them trying to create an ironclad de facto MLS,” said Donna Olshan, president of Olshan Realty. “They are seeking to make StreetEasy as powerful as possible.”

With listings scarce and flying off the market, sometimes within days of posting, some view the update as an attempt by StreetEasy to ensure it gets a piece of the action.

“There’s no question that this is a hot market with very little inventory. StreetEasy is simply looking for another advertising edge compared to the other search engines where they can capitalize and make more money,” said Jamie Safier, a top agent with Douglas Elliman.

In a memo to staff after StreetEasy’s 2020 announcement, Brown Harris Stevens CEO Bess Freedman called its “strong-arm tactics reprehensible.” In an interview last week, she deemed the new policy “some momentum in the right direction” but still inadequate.

“Everybody feels like they’re powerless against aggregators, in particular StreetEasy,” Freedman said. Agents “want to be able to do what they want with the listings that they’ve worked hard for, and being penalized in any way is unfortunate.”

Safier said agents have also been hearing “chatter” about the Real Estate Board of New York’s forthcoming residential listing service, a partnership with Homesnap. REBNY calls the service, dubbed Citysnap, the “most complete inventory of residential real estate listings in New York City.”

It is expected to launch in the second quarter and could give StreetEasy a run for its money.

StreetEasy has not said how it will enforce the policy. “They would have to go out and create something that scrapes the data … and matches it up with what they have in their database,” Olshan said.

Even with the market as hot as it is, StreetEasy’s dominance as a property search engine in the city leaves many agents with no choice but to abide by its rules.

“Agents will tell you that they just despise StreetEasy because they feel like they don’t have a choice and StreetEasy will monetize everything and anything,” Freedman said. “The agents feel they’re really pushed back into a wall.”