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Elliman's New Website Keeps Friends Close, Enemies Closer

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After loads of hype, a smidgen of delay and a rumored $1 million spent, the kingpins at Prudential Douglas Elliman have unveiled a beta version of the brokerage's brand new website. The Wall Street Journal even filed on it, so you know it's important! The new search function is clean, easy and pretty, but the Big Idea here is the incorporation of a VOW (Virtual Office Website), all the rage in the real estate industry these days even if the benefits to buyers are so far, shall we say, unproven.

In the continued absence of a true Multiple Listing System (which allows people to browse all properties for sale and is in place pretty much everywhere but New York City), the industry was forced to allow VOWs?slightly less comprehensive than a MLS, but with more listings than, say, a StreetEasy. To attract as many eyeballs to its website as possible, Elliman has decided to jump on the VOW bandwagon, even if that means displaying the competition's listings right alongside their own. Are they insane?

Um, no. In this era of StreetEasy, Zillow, Trulia, Natefind, etc., people expect to search all available inventory at once, not just what one brokerage is offering. So once you get over the shock of seeing "This listing courtesy of Halstead Property Co." at the bottom of a property's page on Elliman, everything is pretty much business as usual. So far the site displays over 39,000 listings from about 200 firms repping NYC and Long Island. The market transparency theme continues with the displaying of price changes right there in the listing, another move brokerages have been hesitant to make, even if this sort of info is now easily accessible to buyers. Welcome to 2010, Doug! Now who's going to join ya?

Of course, there are annoying things about VOWs, like how you need to register to browse one. Elliman makes things a bit more scary with its pledge to basically stalk people who use the site but aren't yet affiliated with a broker. The new site (there's more fine-tuning still to come) is interesting and advanced, but is it "definitely a game changer," like Elliman's director of sales told the Journal? Have a look around and let us know?then maybe unplug your phone.
· Prudential Douglas Elliman [beta.prudentialelliman.com]
· Brokers Seek Edge With Listings [WSJ]