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Open letter to Ryan Serhant re: Zillow/StreetEasy

03/10/2017

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This post is in response to Ryan Serhant’s recent Instagram posts.

Hey Ryan,

I am writing this in reference to your recent post on Facebook/Instagram about the new changes at StreetEasy/Zillow. Before I get started, though, I have to preface this whole note with the fact that I respect you a lot.

Obviously, we don’t know each other. I am an agent out here in sunny San Diego, and you are a broker/team leader out there in Manhattan.

I think that it’s super important to mention that I was writing Zillow-friendly articles back in 2015, so this isn’t just me playing devil’s advocate to capitalize on the virality of your post.

A post shared by Ryan Serhant (@ryanserhant) on Mar 5, 2017 at 5:39pm PST

And virality might be an understatement. As I’m writing this, you have thousands of likes, and hundreds of comments, on your Facebook post. It looks like you speak for a lot of our industry on this one.

As for Zillow/StreetEasy, welcome to the party. It looks like they’ve made the changes on StreetEasy in New York City that Zillow has implemented for years across the rest of the country.

For years, when we’ve listed a property on Zillow, it would appear to the consumer with three of their “Premier Agents,” along with our profile as the listing agent (they show four total options).

Unless of course, we’re a “Premier Agent,” in which case we get exclusivity on our listings.

I just did a quick search of an awesome loft unit that I love here in Downtown San Diego, and I actually see the listing brokerage information three different times on the result page (two of them being clickable and leading directly to that listing brokerage’s profile).

So to say that the consumer doesn’t have the option to access the listing brokerage directly seems misstated. I’ve been hearing the opposition to Zillow for years, and the only thing that I can think about when I hear agents who don’t like the set-up is — don’t use it!

Nobody is forcing you to upload your listings to Zillow/StreetEasy.

Here in San Diego, if we don’t want our listings to syndicate to Zillow (or realtor.com or other agents websites), we can simply uncheck a box on our MLS listing input.

It sounds like you are manually entering your listings in NYC? Just don’t upload them. It’s the only way to ensure that you are the only agent who receives the inquiries about your exclusive listings.

Although I imagine that you’ll have to have a tough conversation with your clients about why their home isn’t being marketed on the biggest real estate website in the world.

It sounds to me like your problem is with syndication as a whole, not just StreetEasy/Zillow. Just about every real estate website in the country pulls syndicated listings from an IDX feed of some sort.

In fact, showing the listing brokerage’s information three different times on the property detail page is way better than the majority of real estate sites that usually hide the listing brokerage information discretely somewhere under the fold.

I don’t know much about your website set-up, but I assume that if you have some sort of property search tool, a consumer can search every for sale listing in Manhattan right? Not just your exclusive listings?

Do those clients then get redirected to the listing agents if they click “contact”? If not your site, then I suppose that I’m speaking to the hundreds of commenters in your post because I would assume that their website does have a full IDX that pulls listings from other brokerages.

As for the situation that happened with the agent you called, I think that speaks to a bigger problem in the real estate industry as a whole.

Here in San Diego, the majority of real estate transactions are done by “part-time agents” (everybody has an aunt in real estate, right?).

What makes sites like Zillow great for the industry are the reviews and transaction history that they display publicly. I think if you crystal-ball our industry, we will get to a time when consumers will not deal with an agent with less than 25 5-star reviews, then 50, then 100.

This type of “raising the bar” is actually awesome for the best agents in the industry, the real professionals, who are consistently providing the best service to their clients.

The agents who are out there giving us all a bad name, who do two deals each year by posting cell phone photos into the MLS, should be very worried about sites like Zillow — industry professionals shouldn’t.

Actually, maybe here is an opportunity for Zillow to make a change that would be helpful to the industry. Maybe Zillow can restrict their Premier Agent program to vetted agents who have at least a certian number of transactions closed in the past 24 months? Or a certain number of 5-star reviews? Not a bad idea.

A post shared by Ryan Serhant (@ryanserhant) on Mar 6, 2017 at 4:07pm PST

Lastly, I saw a follow-up post that you shared with the pop-up that recommended that the buyer get their own representation on the buy side of the transaction, instead of working directly with the listing agent.

I don’t know if you were insinuating that it was a bad recommendation. Dual agency seems to be a pretty contentious issue across the country right now, and I don’t really have a say one way or the other on the matter yet.

But I don’t think that you can really fault Zillow for that recommendation. It actually seems like the right thing to do, as the listing agent technically only has a fiduciary responsibility to their seller.

Jason Cassity is a real estate professional at City Consulting Group in San Diego and specializes in the downtown San Diego real estate market.

Email Jason Cassity

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