As I wrote about last month, Streeteasy rolled out a customized version of a program for real estate agents, similar to what they are doing branded as Zillow or Trulia across the country.
March 1st, agents were able to “purchase” zip codes.
Actually, they were able to purchase a percentage of the time that their information would be shared with a buyer, if the buyer were interested in a property.
Really, though, the agents are buying the opportunity, in theory to be among the three (3) agents who could be contacted at any given time if a buyer wanted information about a listing.
So you were buying a percentage not of 100% of the eyeballs, but 300% of the eyeballs.
Perhaps I should back up even further, and then tell you this:
First, I participated in the program for a week, because I’m an early adopter, and I always want to be in the know.
Second, I ran screaming from the program, and I want to tell you why it’s incredibly awful, not just in theory but in practice.
You have taken an amazing platform, one whose praises I’ve sung before, and gone and ruined it.
But that’s about as rude I want to be with my language.
I could say Streeteasy took a dump all over its own
delicious plate of food.
But that would be mean.
True, but mean and pretty gross.
Let’s share and discuss the letter that Streeteasy shared with the brokerage community directly:
“StreetEasy is uniquely woven into the fabric of New York City real estate. We are the real estate destination for consumers and where agents conduct their business. This raises the bar for us and requires that we execute on behalf of both our audiences, which we strive for in everything we do.
First and foremost, our goal at StreetEasy is to provide consumers with the best experience possible. This builds the most engaged audience of buyers and sellers, which is great for the consumer and full of opportunities for real estate agents.
As many people have noticed, we are updating StreetEasy to provide more options for consumers when they make the decision to contact a real estate agent. Our aim is to give consumers the ability to contact the Seller’s Agent or a Buyer’s Agent in a clear and easy to understand way.
Evolving product designs to improve StreetEasy is our lifeblood and a never-ending process. In the coming weeks, we will be testing new Contact Box concepts with consumers to ensure we optimize their experience. I’ve included a sneak peek at those concepts below.
Feedback from the agent community is also incredibly important and starting today we are opening a new channel at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite agents to share their thoughts and opinions on these designs, as well as any current or future products. We look forward to hearing from you.
Lastly, as you may be aware, on March 3rd REBNY sent a letter to the New York Department of State. Though we have not heard from the Department of State, we have seen the letter and we have decided to proactively submit a response. If you would like to read our response, you can do so here.
General Manager, StreetEasy”
So, Streeteasy calls it more options for consumers.
To give consumers “the ability to contact the seller’s agent or buyer’s agent in a clear and easy to understand way.”
Perhaps George Orwell came back from the dead to write this letter.
I have echoes in my head of the four or five essays that I wrote during my college applications in the 90’s using
1984 as the basis.
Ms. Daimler did ask me to share my opinions and thoughts.
And share I will.
It’s not clear.
It’s not easy.
It’s not even an option.
It’s just a waste of time.
The experience is horrible.
The amount of outrage I experienced
in four days- towards me from frustrated buyers- was beyond my wildest imagination!
I thought that sellers might be okay with the new system.
I thought that, somehow, the User Experience (UX) people who had made Streeteasy great up to 2/28/17 would step in and find a way to keep the experience good.
WRONG WRONG WRONG.
Here are the headlines:
- The buyer user experience has been utterly diminished
- Sellers would be horrified to experience what buyers are dealing with now to schedule viewings
- New York City properties are not houses in the suburbs
- All agents are not created equal, obviously
- The experience actually diminishes the already-low opinion many New Yorkers have of Real Estate Professionals
- The simple process of contacting an agent, ANY AGENT, has been turned to mush
- Streeteasy risks lowering a gate over their moat.
The Buyer Experience
First, buyers work on their cell phones, get emails about new listings, and click on links.
For years, there have been nice and easy buttons for buyers to contact listing agents- including calling the listing agents.
There is an added layer to contacting the listing agent, who has been “disappeared” to a degree that a buyer can’t really even find the agent actually connected to the listing, but must click on the agent information to even get email and phone information.
That is, if there are multiple people working on a team (like my team), all of the team cannot be contacted at once (the system that teams have to ensure quickest response).
Delayed response time, confusion, anger, rage, acceptance, depression, resignation.
Buyers want to email an agent:
“When Can I see this property?” “Are you having an open house?” “Does the building accept part-time residents?” “Can you install a washer/dryer?” and send it off, and go back to dinner with the kids, or whatever.
Now it takes too many clicks. It’s as if Amazon went back in time and acted as if it were 2010.
If there is one buyer who gave up on trying to get information on a property, then that’s one too many.
Let’s say that the buyer didn’t realize that the person they were connecting with was some random agent who paid $250/month to participate in the program.
Let’s assume further that for some reason an agent from anywhere in the world, with no specific neighborhood experience anywhere in Manhattan, decided to pay-to-play in the program.
Now, imagine a buyer calling on a $5mm cooperative apartment on Central Park West.
Not only does the agent not know which way the views face, what the cooperative is looking for in a buyer profile, the condition of the apartment, nor can he/she get access, or tell you what amenities the building has, or the washer/dryer policy. NOTHING.
The agent knows nothing or next to nothing.
In effect, Streeteasy has allowed seller representation to accidentally get farmed out to people with no information.
Sellers would and should be horrified.
So the buyers are now on the phone with someone that knows nothing and must get back to the buyer about setting up an appointment?
Weep. Double over in pain.
The Uber-type Experience has become like calling a cab in the Hamptons on a Summer Weekend.
Let’s talk about Streeteasy’s “Onboarding Process”:
So, I wanted to test the experience.
I was told that the only way I could get Streeteasy to tutor me in their process was to commit to six (6) months of the service.
Otherwise, if I only wanted to see how good/bad it would be, I had to fumble through their awkward phone process.
Everything routes through their team of operators in Somewhere USA, who don’t know the first thing about the property, to me- with the most awkward handoffs each and every time.
And guess what?
Half of the calls were agents who don’t know how to use the new system (and didn’t know how to use the old system, either).
The other half were buyers who were utterly perplexed.
NEW YORK IS NOT THE SUBURBS, BUT THIS PROCESS SORT OF STINKS ANYWHERE.
Perhaps you have looked online at properties in other markets.
I have. I’ll go on a beach vacation and consider buying a condo there, or spend a week on the North Fork and look around at houses.
The Bottom Line?
Expertise is amazing, anywhere.
I don’t want to dive into a search just yet.
I want some information about a condo or apartment.
I might want some market color.
I want to know that people I speak to are experts in their market.
And if i like them, think they know a lot, then perhaps there could be an opportunity to work together.
That seems like a totally reasonable thing to want.
We all hire them all the time.
And yes, if you’re a new agent, or trying to grow your business, perhaps there is value in throwing money at the problem.
But what is the real cost?
So I see a house in Greenport, or Destin Florida, or Fire Island, or New Orleans, or Atlantic City (Yes, I’ve looked up properties in all of those places for different reasons) and I try to email agents who I think are the representatives of a house, but they are just random agents.
They know next to nothing about the house.
They ask me all sorts of generic questions about my property search.
I just want to know about this one for now- and then we can zoom out.
But the agent hasn’t seen that house yet.
And Knows Nothing.
And so I give up.
It’s not that important to know about that house.
There are other fish in the sea.
And given that I know that I’m not a lazy person- and I’ve given up?- I shudder to think at how low the barrier has to be for others to do the same.
Once I experienced the awfulness
I pulled out of the “Pilot” immediately.
I also will be cancelling my Streeteasy Pro membership which costs $1000 a year.
I refuse to give them money right now, until they realize what an utter disaster they have created.
I will have to hope that my expertise over the last 15 years will carry me through.
What upsets me the most is the potential long-term threats.
I have been in businesses over the last 25+ years where salespeople in those businesses often have bad reputations.
I have joked that the only professions with worse reputations are Tow-truck drivers and Meter Maids.
I’ve done all the rest.
And in this case, Streeteasy has taken the worst side of agents- a brazen, utterly self-interested greed- and put it on display.
This program isn’t about helping buyers because Streeteasy knows that you’re good at what you do and that they will be really helping buyers.
This is about selling leads to the highest bidder, and making agents look less trustworthy than they have ever looked.
I’m proud to be at a firm which really has the best of the best agents in the city and the country.
True experts at what we do.
And it’s frustrating that buyers will think less and less about us as a casualty of this horribly designed experiment.
STREETEASY- BAIL OUT!!
The last thing that I’ll say.
When I was in third grade, I was in a little group called the “Eager Beavers.”
It was nerd central, and I loved every minute of it.
We got to build paper-mache castles, and once we learned about all aspects of Medieval Times over a few months (other than, well, a bunch of things that 3rd graders couldn’t really process), we went to a Renaissance Faire and had huge chicken legs.
All of this is to say that I clearly remember learning about the benefits of that water moat, the ability to pour boiling oil on marauders who charged the castle, and to keep the king safe.
Warren Buffett likes businesses that are protected like Castles.
Castles with big moats like what Streeteasy used to be.
And it seems to me that anyone who is thinking about building a better mousetrap, just a clean interface, a better interface that doesn’t try to get cute- the time is now.
If you’re read all the way to this, I have a lead on a terrific listings site that it already up and running, could be purchased for a reasonable price, and be a great competitor to Streeteasy in this toxic climate.
Rebrand it, make a big marketing push to the brokerage community, and be off to the races.
I am so utterly disappointed in Zillow for this idiocy.
I guess we’ll see how it shakes out.
Perhaps there are enough greedy agents to pay for 300% of a bad program.
But perhaps this will ignite the NYC-based agencies to finally create a self-sustaining MLS that will be more transparent and give agencies an edge.
It seems like it will be a battle for a while as Streeteasy decides how bad they can make it for buyers and agents.