(NEW YORK, NEW YORK)— A group of brokers have brought a lawsuit against the Trulia for its Premier Agents Program, which allows agents and brokers to purchase an advertisement on a listing without the permission of the listing agent, according to Inman.
Premier Agents, paid advertisers on Trulia, have long-enjoyed special privileges on the platform, including access to customer feedback and marketing data to help them succeed on the platform. The service nets at least $240.7 million a year for Zillow, according to The Real Deal. Zillow relies heavily on that revenue to finance other expansions.
The suit likens the Premier Agents Program to “buying a billboard to advertise the listing of another real estate broker and including a picture of the property and telephone number for prospective buyers to call,” effectively diverting business to the selected Premier Agent instead of the rightful listing agent. The suit alleges that, because of the program, “plaintiffs have lost numerous potential customers and will continue to lose customers and money until the illegal and deceptive practice is put to an end.”
The plaintiffs seek $5 million in damages, on the grounds that Trulia’s Premier Agents Program unfairly favors those willing to pay for additional services on Trulia rather than respecting the proper legalities and etiquette of a listing. The suit also points out discriminatory user interface design: while the box featuring the Premier Agent is emphasized by a number of design features, the design for the listing agent looks outdated and bland, Inman reports.
The Premier Agents program first faced criticism from REBNY in 2017 and was investigated by New York State in May 2018. The lawsuit seems to be the culmination of mounting frustration from real estate industry experts. Zillow denies any wrongdoing, on the grounds that it still provides the contact information for the listing agent. In a quote to Inman, the company defended itself by saying that “for-sale listings on Zillow and Trulia show the listing agent – for free – along with his or her contact information, profile, broker information, and a link for a consumer to use to contact the listing agent if they choose”—even if they show that information in a confusing manner.