Hard to ignore, VOWs face uncertain future here

Boston-based CondoDomain, a Web-based discount real estate brokerage, is now a member of the Real Estate Board of New York, offering offers a VOW (Virtual Office Web site), reports the Real Deal. That means that customers who log onto the company’s New York site can browse through the listings in REBNY’s database, which is far from comprehensive.

CondoDomain founder and  told the Real Deal that the appearance of VOWs in New York City has opened the floodgates for new companies like his to penetrate the lucrative New York City market.

“The VOW will lay the groundwork for companies like ours to come in and compete,” CEO Anthony Longo told the publication.

The company, which specializes in new developments and discounts its commissions by 20 to 75 percent from the usual 6 percent fee, has offices in Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Baltimore (with all listings on one Web site).

What it doesn’t have is the capacity to shepherd folks in their searches and through the arduous co-op approval process.  According to Longo, they have just two agents, who work out of an office in SoHo.

CondoDomain offers buyers two fee options: 1. full-service model in which brokers guide a buyer through the apartment search in the traditional way and gives the buyer 20 percent of the commission; 2. a discount model in which the buyer finds the apartment on his or her own and hires a CondoDomain broker to handle everything else for a fee of $10,000.  Says Longo:

“We’ve created efficient technology.  One-hundred percent of our clients come from online.  We don’t need any retail offices.”

Manhattan got its first VOW, known as the CBS 2 Real Estate Market, last summer. And Seattle-based online brokerage Redfin is also expected to set up shop in New York City via a VOW feed from REBNY, though Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman would neither confirm nor deny the rumor.

Even Long concedes that New York City’s VOW it offers far less information than the MLS systems in other cities.

Moreover, it asks what some buyers think is too much: They have to register before scanning listings.

Corcoran and Prudential Douglas Elliman are among the brokerages reluctantly adding VOW capabilities, resulting in the possibility of a buyer logging into one and seeing the listings of all the other brokerages that have formerly guarded their exclusives jealously.

VOWs clearly make listing brokers nervous, but it seems momentum is gaining and the the New York City real estate industry may well be undergoing a transformation.  Or not.

Although consumers get what they pay for when it comes to discount brokerages, maybe that’s all they want.  Or not.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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