What you need to know about paid leads on property-search sites

Popular property-search site Streeteasy.com recently rolled out a change to its Premier Agent program for real estate agents that is confusing potential buyers and angering brokers.

Until recently, the site featured the name of a property’s listing agent and company prominently, making the main contact clear and providing a direct “contact agent” button. But now when a potential buyer clicks “contact agent,” the message instead might be sent to a broker who has paid to receive referrals for a specific zip code.

The listing broker can still be reached, but the process is more convoluted. Now users must click on a less prominent button that says “seller’s agent info.” The name of the listing broker and firm are much further down on the page and harder to find.

So, who are these “Premier Agents” and why are you directed to them instead of to the listing agent? These agents pay a fee set through an auction process and are typically looking for clients in particular areas.

The Real Estate Board of New York, which represents the brokerage industry, has filed a complaint saying the new program is misleading and violates rules designed to prevent consumer confusion. The board is asking the state to consider the legality of the program.

In the meantime, consumers can continue to contact listing agents, but will have to look harder for their information.

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