Two New York real estate agents claim that the website Trulia unfairly funnels prospective buyers to agents who sign up for the service. Plaintiffs Andrew Kim and John Doe Real Estate Broker say they work in real estate, acting as a broker and selling property. They allege that they lost out financially because they refused to engage in Trulia’s deceptive practices. According to the Trulia class action lawsuit, the company operates one of the biggest real estate websites in the United States. Trulia reportedly advertises that they are able to make the buying and selling of properties easier. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this with Scott Hardy, President of Top Class Actions.

Transcript:

*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Farron Cousins:                  The real estate business is highly competitive and so to now is the online listing business. We have websites of all shapes and sizes, offering customers the opportunity to search for houses without ever having to leave their home. But unfortunately, according to a new class action lawsuit, one of these websites might actually be engaged in some kind of pay to play scheme with what they’re calling their premier agents, which is leaving some realtors without any way to get clients. Joining me now to talk about this is Scott Hardy with Top Class Actions. Scott, the website we’re talking about is Trulia. It is one of the largest listing websites here in the country. And some realtors who are not, I guess paying members of Trulia have filed a lawsuit saying that they’re giving preference to people who sign up as members, I guess, of this website. So, so explain this one a little bit more for us.

Scott Hardy:                          Yeah, this is an interesting one. I’m wondering how well it will do because what you’ve got is you search for these houses and you see one that you like and it pops up. And then under the listing agent it says there’s a premier agent available and you can click on that and that takes you to someone who paid Trulia for that premier listing advertisement. You don’t actually see in gray text hidden the actual listing agent’s name. And so you have these listing agents who are mad because they’re not paying Trulia and they’re having to split their commission with somebody who did. And that’s what this, this issue is because these realtors are saying, hey, I’m the listing agent, I should be listed there as the listing agent.

You shouldn’t hide me in gray text and then make up a new listing agent who is your premier agent because they pay you for that zip code on trulia.com. So that’s really the, the, the crux of this class action. And we’ll have to see how well it performs because, you know, if you’re a website and you’re charging somebody to advertise, yeah, you’re going to give them premier placement. Now if it needs to be more clear to the viewer that that person isn’t actually the listing agent, we’ll see if a judge actually says that’s a real reason or not.

Farron Cousins:                  Well, it’s really interesting too because it does put, you know, I guess the, the smaller, more independent realtors at a bit of a disadvantage here. You know, if, if you have the money, if you can pay to be one of these premier agents, obviously it would be worth the investment for these people because then you get to take some commission off a home that you’re not even the listing agent for. But again, not all the realtors out there are the ones we see on those shows on I guess Bravo, you know, million dollar listing. They’re not all millionaires running out there making $500,000 commission.

They are people who make, you know, two, $3,000 commission off the sale of a home and they may sell three, four homes a month depending on where they live. So yeah, they’re at a disadvantage compared to these massive, you know, multibillion dollar real estate firms that really have already a stranglehold on the market. So obviously there’s an argument of it being unfair. The question is does unfair always mean illegal or something that they can actually get in trouble for? And as you said that, that’s probably gonna be something we just have to find out, you know, depends on the what the judge happens to think that day.

Scott Hardy:                          Right, and I’ll be curious if Trulia rolls out a new service which says, hey, if you don’t want to buy out your own zip code, come and be our premier agent. At least buy it for your own listings. So spend $100 a month on any listing that you have so you will be listed as the premier agent for your own listings. See if they do something like that. Because, you know, as a brand Top Class Actions, we have to buy our own keyword on Google. Yes, if you search for Top Class Actions on Google we’re number one, but competitors might sometimes list their, or other law firms lists themselves there as well and try to buy that. So therefore we have to buy Top Class Actions, the word itself. So we have the ad that we pay for along with showing up organically.

You know, maybe the real estate agents will have to do the same thing, but I really think this is more of a shot across the bow from realtors as a whole who are seeing more internet based companies try to shake up the 6% commission fee that realtors charge to list these homes and are trying to figure out the internet is trying to figure out a less expensive way for consumers to do it. Because when we search for homes now, and it’s not like the old days where you would call up a realtor and they would have this long list of, of home listings. Now we, home buyers, do a lot of the searching ourselves and send those to the realtors to look at. So, you know, it’s the realtors are trying to save their jobs in one way, I think.

Farron Cousins:                  Absolutely, for more information about this particular issue, please follow the link in the description to this video. Head on over to Top Class Actions and make sure you sign up for their weekly newsletter. Scott Hardy with Top Class Actions, always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

Scott Hardy:                          Great talking to you too, Farron. Thank you, sir.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced