My objective here is to prove with spontaneous video interviews of consumers that Zillow/StreetEasy does not pass even the most basic “smell test” for transparency.  I took my video camera to the NYC streets and asked random people about Zillow/StreetEasy’s website.  EVERYONE  whom I spoke with had the same reaction!  (See video clip at top or bottom of post). 

There is real outrage out there caused by Zillow/ StreetEasy’s antics. But it is much more serious than most people believe.  By almost any definition, Zillow/StreetEasy has monopoly power in NYC,  and probably enough abuse to warrant investigation by the powers that be.  

But we can’t wait for that because that day may never come.  It won’t happen until consumers are just as outraged as the brokerage community.  But most of the outrage comes from those who are the most familiar with StreetEasy’s website;  Those who use it day in and day out, like the brokerage community.  Consumers don’t use real estate websites every day like real estate agents do . After all, how often are consumers really in the market to buy or rent?  Also, some of these issues (buyers agent vs sellers agent, dual agency, etc) are complicated to understand, especially to new buyers or renters.  

This is what makes the deception “brilliant” but so “dangerous” at the same time.  That is, most people  – even a lot of agents – are just not paying attention nor do they understand how dangerous this deception is to a free flowing and open real estate marketplace.  However, the good news is this:   

Even consumers who have limited buying or renting experience in NYC understand what should happen when you attempt to get information about a property on a real estate website, right?   Try asking any consumer this question:

“When you click “CONTACT AGENT” on a property listing for sale, where you would expect your message to go?”

Note that I have played this game with many of my friends who are NOT working in the real estate industry.  EVERY one of them is really surprised to learn that your message goes not to the listing agent but to a RANDOM AGENT WHO IS PAYING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR THESE LEADS. 

But producing a video showing you what my friends say is not going to convince anyone of anything.  Therefore, I decided to just go up and ask random people on the streets of NYC to prove just how misleading things are on Zillow / StreetEasy’s website.  

And of course, the average New Yorker is just as surprised to learn that they are being “tricked”.  Everyone I went up to had the same reaction:  They all just assumed that the message would go to the listing agent.

To be clear, I did NOT show you only certain interviews.  I showed you EVERY interview.  I could have interviewed 1000 people and the results would have been very similar.

Aren’t we all just tired of being bait and switched?

Aren’t we all just tired of being bait and switched?  The internet is supposed to make things MORE transparent, not less.  This is deceptive and misleading, and when you have monopoly power, potentially illegal. 

Let’s be clear, without having this monopoly power, there is no way consumers or agents would be putting up with this.  

But what can we do about it?

We know that national companies who have listing real estate marketplaces have historically really struggled to gain market share in NYC. The NYC market is just so unique.  This is why people are not holding too much hope in companies like Realtor.com, Apartments.com, and Homes.com to come save us.  Ironically, even Zillow tried to gain share in NYC before failing miserably which is why they decided to buy StreetEasy in 2012. (And a further irony is that StreetEasy did so well in New York back then because StreetEasy was such a transparent marketplace before all of these dramatic changes last year.)

So, we can’t necessarily wait around for a big national competitor to sweep in (although no doubt that the more competition the better!).  The only way we would ever compete with a billion dollar company is to eventually support a solution for a transparent, honest, free flowing real estate marketplace which can never be turned into a greedy deceptive one.  

I believe that ultimately consumers won’t put up with a greedy deceptive platform focused more on profits than on advancing the consumer and agent experience. 

Let’s work together to make something great.  I am posting every day on Instagram (@philiphorigan) and trying to engage with as many of you as possible.  Please meet me there, and subscribe to this blog.

 

 

 

Author

Philip Horigan is the founder of Leasebreak.com - a leading marketplace for rentals in NYC, founded in 2013. He launched Frēlē - a more comprehensive NYC rental marketplace - in May 2018 with a 4 point pledge (www.frele.com/pledge). Phil has been a New York City real estate agent for 14 years working for some of the top firms in the city. He became an independent broker in early 2017 so that he can focus more on his entrepreneurial endeavors. Phil believes strongly in building businesses in an ethical and transparent way.

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