Ryan Serhant is the Taylor Swift of real estate

Taylor Swift and Ryan Serhant (credit: Wikipedia and Bravo)

Earlier this week, “Million Dollar Listing” star Ryan Serhant posted a video and a note to StreetEasy on his Instagram account in response to the listing site’s controversial new “premiere agent” feature.

“StreetEasy, you’re my jam, but I wish you had asked us – the agents who give you all of your content and who pay for your advertising – before making this change. What do they say about biting the hand that feeds you?” he wrote.

The note reminded us a lot of the letter Taylor Swift wrote to Apple in June 2015, and at a party for the new Twenty1 building this week, we overheard Serhant comparing himself to the pop star.

When reached by phone the next day, Serhant told LLNYC that he was “super nervous” to write the fiery note and that he didn’t realize how similar his letter was to Swift’s until his wife, Emilia, pointed it out.

“I thought about it being like Taylor’s afterward, and how [her letter] got picked up everywhere and made a difference,” he said, adding that he is a big fan of hers. “T Swift for life.”

In her note, Swift threatened to pull her album “1989” from Apple music because the streaming service was not going to pay artists, writers or producers during its three month trial.

“I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company,” Swift wrote. “This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.”

Her letter brought so much attention to the issue that Apple reversed its policy less than a day later and announced it would pay artists during the trial period after all.

In his note, Serhant wrote that after he used StreetEasy’s premiere agent form, “the result was shocking, upsetting, and deeply disappointing coming from a company that survives only through content – which are the listings provided to them by sellers and brokers, like me.”

“This isn’t about me. I currently have 128 active listings on StreetEasy, my team averages $60M/month in sales, and I am fortunate upon fortunate to have a TV show that airs to millions of people around the world […] This is about the NEW real estate agent with no money (like we all were once) with their first listing, forced to use StreetEasy because it has control of our market, putting his or her entire income from that sale in the hands of other agents who have money to afford the Premiere Agent program.”

The premiere agent program allows brokers to pay StreetEasy to be the primary contact on a listing, rather than the property’s exclusive listing agent. It has drawn the ire of New York City’s top brokers, and the Real Estate Board of New York asked regulators yesterday to look into whether it violates state advertising laws.

Serhant says other brokers encouraged him to take on StreetEasy because he has such a big platform. “I thought, let’s see what happens if I use the system, and the nightmare is what happened.”

When Serhant called the number listed on StreetEasy for one of his listings at 56 Leonard, he was redirected to a premiere agent named Nathan who had paid StreetEasy to be the primary contact. Serhant has removed the video of him calling Nathan from his Instagram feed.

So far, Serhant says he has not heard any word from StreetEasy since posting the video, though he has heard from “hundreds” of brokers who have thanked him for the note.

The premiere agent system is new to New York, but it is very familiar to brokers around the country because Zillow, which owns StreetEasy, has been using it for a long time.

“The agents are thankful,” Serhant said. “They say that now that it’s happened in New York, maybe New Yorkers can change the system.”

Dear @streeteasy and @zillow (part 1 of 2), I am writing this post in reference to a change that StreetEasy.com has implemented that negatively effects the way real estate agents, and consumers, connect with listings through their platform. I was hesitant to speak up at all, because StreetEasy is one of the best partners we have in selling real estate in New York. The site single-handidly became our MLS (there is NO MLS in New York City), and it made our market transparent by publishing every bit of data you could ask for as a buyer, seller, or broker. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years advertising on StreetEasy, because I believe it’s the best platform out there to connect me and my listings with consumers. I respect the system, and the genius programmers who have built it into the life-blood of the NYC real estate industry that it is today. If you have been on StreetEasy in the last few days, you have probably noticed their new Premiere Agent program (which Zillow – the parent company of StreetEasy – has been using forever and apparently earned them $600M in profit last year). Up until March 1st, you used to be able to find listings on StreetEasy, scroll down to see the real estate agent who is the exclusive agent on that listing, and contact him or her. NOW, this new program removes the exclusive agent completely. The listings are all still there, but there’s an ambiguous contact form that says “Contact Agent” covering the section that used to have the listing agent’s information. This is the new Premiere Agent program, which allows any agent who pays money to StreetEasy to be randomly assigned as the primary contact for another agent’s listing. This violates state laws governing advertising – it’s illegal for someone to advertise another agent’s exclusive listing. So…I decided to see what happens when I fill out the new contact form for one of my listings. The result was shocking, upsetting, and deeply disappointing coming from a company that survives only through content – which are the listings provided to them by sellers and brokers, like me. See my next post to see what happened when my phone rang…

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Dear @streeteasy and @zillow (part 2 of 2), Reposting this since the press has picked up… This isn’t about me. I currently have 128 active listings on StreetEasy, my team averages $60M/month in sales, and I am fortunate upon fortunate to have a TV show that airs to millions of people around the world. And it’s not about me wanting to hurt anyone. I wish no ill will on StreetEasy, Zillow, or any agent who buys into this. I am also not against companies making money – quite the contrary, I love StreetEasy and I want them to CRUSH IT, and if it’s through my advertising dollars used the RIGHT way, then I will be even happier. This is about the seller whose single largest investment – their home – is being mishandled, mistreated, and misrepresented. This is about the consumer who is nervous about the home-buying process already, and who will now be lead to contact an agent that knows nothing about the property they are interested in, for no other purpose than for StreetEasy to make money. There is no vetting process for agents who pay to get into the Premiere Agent program other than a credit card number. This is about the NEW real estate agent with no money (like we all were once) with their first listing, forced to use StreetEasy because it has control of our market, putting his or her entire income from that sale in the hands of other agents who have money to afford the Premiere Agent program. I realize that StreetEasy is trying to figure out a way to connect consumers to agents directly who are not also the listing agent on a property. I think that’s great, and my team and I have been advocating for a better tool to connect to buyers directly through the site for years! But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the listing agents, my peers, who hold StreetEasy with such reverence that they’re too nervous to write something like this for fear of retaliation. StreetEasy, you’re my jam, but I wish you had asked us – the agents who give you all of your content and who pay for your advertising – before making this change. What do they say about biting the hand that feeds you? – Ryan

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  • Welcome to our world. Zillow/Trulia have been sticking it to us – the brokers who give them content – for years now. I cannot understand how they succeeded, agents all knew it was wrong to pay for leads, but they wanted an edge, so they started paying increasingly outrageous Premiere Agent fees. Simultaneously, Zillow & Trulia blanketed TV screens with very appealing consumer ads vs. Realtor.com’s lame ads. So, Realtor.com, which was the only game in town a dozen years ago, got beat at its own game by a bunch of guys who weren’t even real estate brokers. In 2003-2004, I got 90% of my leads from my own high-end listings on Realtor.com, now, zilch. Even Realtor.com sells leads to anyone now.