REBNY Moves to Protect Consumers From a State of Confusion Over Premier Agent Program

Imagine in the midst of your search for an apartment in New York City you are directed to an agent halfway across the country.  Last week, a broker clicked on a “contact agent” button on a listing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that his client wanted to see. Instead of talking to the listing agent, he was connected with a broker in Cincinnati, who said she had bought leads for listings in New York and could put him in touch with a New York broker she worked with.

Sounds confusing? This disorderly situation is playing out all over New York City since StreetEasy’s “Premier Agent” went into effect recently.  The consumer experience on property listing websites should be as simple and straightforward as possible. Ensuring a smooth and functional environment benefits the public and our industry alike.

REBNY always appreciates feedback from our members and the broader public on these matters, so we have taken initial steps to help address the issue. This source of uncertainty for consumers is something we can all learn from and work together to rectify.

REBNY believes the “Premier Agent” program diminishes the online experience for consumers because it directs messages from potential home buyers to brokers who have paid a special fee to the website, rather than the broker who actually listed the property. By becoming “Premier Agents,” REBNY believes that these fee-paying brokers are able to circumvent New York State adverting regulations and the process of communication that everyone expects when searching for a home on the web.

The result is that consumers are bewildered because they have received one or more messages from a broker who has no connection to the property they viewed.

Think of it this way, the “Premier Agent” program is the equivalent of allowing a real estate agent to purchase a billboard, advertise another firm’s listing on the billboard without identifying that firm, and include a phone number and generic email for the consumer to use to contact someone for more information. The potential buyer has no idea the broker who will be contacting them is not the listing agent, and that the agent—like in the Cincinnati case above—is someone who knows nothing about the property, and simply paid for the lead.  Additionally, the “Premier Agent” program fails to account for the required disclaimers and license status of the agent.

As a first step in response to this issue, REBNY has written to the New York Department of State – which has the authority to regulate statewide real estate advertising – to request an advisory opinion on the “Premier Agent” program. We expressed to the Department our concern that the program violates the New York advertising regulations which prohibit advertising a listing that is subject to an exclusive with another firm, as well as requires specific disclaimers.

We are continuing to review all potential options in this matter – but the bottom line is that protecting consumers will remain our priority. We look forward to doing whatever we can to rectify this situation and ensure a quality experience for all users of StreetEasy.com and other similar websites.