NYC Real Estate Agents Take on Zillow With Their Own Website

(Bloomberg) — New York’s residential brokers are about to get their own listings website to compete with real estate giant Zillow Group Inc. 

The city’s major brokerages — and the trade group that represents them — are working with Homesnap, owned by CoStar Group Inc., to develop the new platform. Citysnap, set to debut next year, will offer home shoppers an alternative to Zillow’s StreetEasy and other sites that the agents say use their hard-won listings as a springboard to generate revenue. 

The effort comes after several years of acrimony between New York’s residential-property industry and the websites it’s come to rely on to reach the wider public. Agents have protested StreetEasy’s practice of charging a daily fee for rental listings. And Zillow has faced legal challenges over its “Premier Agent” program, which sales brokers say allows any agent, anywhere, to muscle in on a deal by paying Zillow a fee. 

“That’s definitely something that’s been a sore spot for the brokerage community,” said Gary Malin, chief operating officer of Corcoran Group, who advised on the initiative. 

Citysnap will take the listings site managed by the Real Estate Board of New York — for now, open only to professional agents — and make it accessible to the public, with features they’ve come to expect, such as a property’s sales history and notification of price changes. REBNY’s service has more than 40,000 active listings from nearly 600 brokerage firms and property owners. 

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The new site will compete for eyeballs with Zillow’s StreetEasy — a staple in New York for brokers, consumers and urban real estate voyeurs alike, and known for its exhaustive database. Users can see, for instance, all the apartments for sale in a given building, the discounts their owners had to offer, or if the neighbors have a tax lien filed against their unit.   

Being indispensable to brokers has been a financial boon for Zillow. In the second quarter, companywide revenue from the Premier Agent business surged 82% from a year earlier. Under the program, agents pay Zillow a fee to connect with would-be buyers who express interest in a given listing. 

Citysnap will guarantee that buyers interested in a particular home will be reaching out to the broker who listed it, not a random agent, according to Andy Florance, founder and chief executive officer of CoStar.

“It’s a better customer experience,” he said. “With this person I’m calling, am I initiating a nightmare of telemarketing, or am I reaching the agent who knows about this listing?” 

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