StreetEasy Turns Against the Industry That Built It
Making brokers more relevant than ever...
Let's roll back the clock 10 years. In those days, there was a huge gap in the New York City real estate market. With no Multiple Listing Service to speak of, buyers didn’t know where to turn for legitimate property listings for purchase or lease. There was an opportunity to build a website with legitimate sales and rental listings matching agents and customers. And so, StreetEasy.com was born. Quickly becoming the No. 1 public source for real estate, it amassed a huge online database of property for the public to consume, built largely on the work of the agents who posted the listings.
Eight years into StreetEasy's successful run, along comes the national real estate platform Zillow, who bought StreetEasy.com for, reportedly, a mere $55 million. Since StreetEasy held the keys to the world's largest real estate market, the price was considered a steal. Soon after the acquisition, Zillow began implementing money-making tools, primarily by exploiting agents and misleading buyers, detracting from StreetEasy’s original goal of providing a legitimate and agnostic source of New York City real estate data.
One of their most recent changes — the deceptively titled "Premier Agent" feature — even prevents listing brokers from being presented alongside on their own exclusives, unless they pay for the privilege. Instead, buyers are misdirected to an agent who likely bought a percentage of the ZIP code in which the property is listed. This, in turn, leads the buyer to a broker who has no knowledge of the actual property the buyer is interested in. It's a classic, and despicable, bait and switch, and the industry was unsurprisingly up in arms about its implementation. Buyers complained. Sellers complained. Angry commentary filled StreetEasy’s message boards. But it made no difference.
Zillow, a national behemoth, had already swallowed up Trulia, Naked Apartments and others, and had their sights set on one goal: making money. Regardless of whether their tactics are good for consumers, sellers or the agent community.
Zillow's latest change is causing another uproar in one of the world's largest rental markets, and it may be the straw that broke the camel's back: They've begun charging agents $90 a month for all rental listings. This move has banned the city's biggest real estate houses together to create a new Real Estate Listing Service (RLS) through the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) database. This database will provide all member brokerage houses with up-to-date, legitimate listing information — at no additional charge — so that they can continue to service the public's need for relevant and accurate listing information.
It's really only a matter of time before StreetEasy begins charging agents to list anything on their site. So, as of August 1, every major firm — except for Douglas Elliman — will feed the RLS, which Zillow refuses to feed to StreetEasy. After that, we will have to wait and see how this fight moves forward. Will StreetEasy continue to buck the system for their own profit as brokers log off in droves in favor of New York's first RLS feed? Or will they realize that by turning against the industry that built it, they've created their own demise. Only time will tell, but there’s really only one sufferer in this whole debacle and that's the customers, both buyers and sellers.
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