by Laura Matiz
My customers ask me which listing website they should use for their apartment searches. This used to be an easy answer: use The New York Times. For many years, the NYT was the go-to source, combining listings from most of the major and minor brokerage firms. The NYT served the role of a multiple listing service (MLS), common in most areas of the country, but non-existing in NYC. But times have changed. It is rare now that I get a customer that is using the NYT listings. So, what are the new alternatives?
The outfit that took on the NYT’s dominance was StreetEasy. When they first started in 2005, they would “scrape” — technical jargon for capturing data shown on screen — the listings of the city’s brokerage firms. Now, most of these firms feed their listings directly to StreetEasy’s database. By amalgamating these listings StreetEasy became the go-to site for buyers in a few short years. StreetEasy also became invaluable for agents, who could now use one site to review listings from competitors’ sites.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the country two tech-savvy firms, Zillow and Trulia, battled it out for supremacy. Both offer excellent mobile apps that integrate excellent mapping capabilities which are extremely useful in suburban and rural areas. But, Zillow’s business model has raised the ire of many listing brokers because they sell access to their own listings. A number of large firms have opted out of Zillow because of this concern.
In late 2013, Zillow addressed their lack of market share in the New York City area by acquiring StreetEasy, raising concerns among NYC brokers about whether StreetEasy would maintain their agent-friendly stance. So far they have. But other changes were afoot. Within months of the acquisition, StreetEasy’s founding CEO, Michael Smith, was replaced by executives from Zillow and StreetEasy’s website went through two redesigns.
Of course, the biggest new development is Zillow’s offer to acquire its primary competitor, Trulia, for $3.5 billion. This merger is pending approval and has a number of detractors on antitrust grounds, including the National Association of Realtors.
So, where does that leave my buyers. I still encourage them to use StreetEasy because of its anonymous searching tools and ease of use. Their open house planner is a time saver. My company, Douglas Elliman, CityRealty, and others, offer similar listing coverage, but require a registration, which is a minor obstacle, but a barrier for many buyers. Zillow’s own branded site is now closely affiliated with Douglas Elliman and the details of that collaboration have not yet affected the Zillow-owned StreetEasy site.
The future certainly seems like Zillow’s world, especially if the FTC approves the merger with Trulia. Of course, there is always a possibility that a start-up can take on the new incumbent. It’s happened before.