- Lynne Allaker is the Senior Director of Customer Support for StreetEasy, a real estate marketplace in New York City.
- A big part of their job is to eliminate “bait and switch” scams, which are when agents advertise bogus ads.
- This is what his job is like, as freelance writer Nick Dauk recounted.
Bait and switch tricks are a big deal for apartment hunters in cities like New York. My job as Senior Director of Customer Support for StreetEasy is to spot these scams and make finding apartments easier and safer.
I was born in Dipton, a village in the North East of England. After studying literature at university, I ended up working in client operations for a utility company.
After 10 years in the town of Pity Me (yes, it’s really called that!) In Durham City, I moved to New York City and worked another decade for the same utility company. I have spent so much of my career in the same industry that I realized I wanted to see where I could grow and develop.
Although I have no real estate experience, I fell in love with StreetEasy when I interviewed their team in late 2016.
Fortunately, my operating and client management skills were transferable to my current role.
Like most professionals in New York, my team has been remote since the start of the pandemic. We had just moved into a new office two weeks ago and were temporarily away during the transition, so moving away in the long term was not difficult for me. I live in New Jersey so I’m grateful to avoid long commutes, but my daily to-do list is quite similar to when I worked in the StreetEasy office in Manhattan.
To make finding apartments safer during the pandemic, StreetEasy has invested heavily in new technologies, especially virtual tours, 3D tours and more to give a really good idea of the physical space on a platform. Virtual. We have also deployed Zillow 3D Home for free to all real estate agents on our site.
Unfortunately, inaccurate apartment listings have been a long-standing problem for New Yorkers.
NYC allows open advertisements, which means multiple agents can try to fill a single vacant position. This sometimes results in multiple versions of the same unit being advertised a little differently. Photos may be different, the number of bedrooms may be different. Renters are then confused when trying to decipher which listing is correct.
Another problem that New York renters face is what we call ‘the bait and the swap’. For example, an agent can create a listing for Building A (which has no actual vacancy) to generate interest. When a potential tenant asks to view the unit, the agent says that the unit in building A is no longer available, but nearby building B has vacant accommodation (the unit that the agent is trying to to provide).
Why are agents doing this? Often times, Building A is the desired building for tenants and Building B is the unit the agent is trying to rent. Since Building A is more popular, the agent knows he will attract more interested viewers. Since the potential tenant has already made the trip for a non-existent availability in building A, the agent has an easier time convincing him to come visit B.
My team reviews and closes these listings before they get in the way of potential tenants.
As soon as suspicions of inaccuracy are raised, our data integrity team will investigate.
If anyone reports an inaccurate number of rooms, this team can look at the floor plans to see how the building was reported during construction and if any updates have been made. If we do not have any data points (such as construction plans) available, we will contact the agent directly and advise them of the inaccuracy.
We always try to give agents the benefit of the doubt. Depending on what we find, we can update the list if it is an innocent error. We could also remove the ad or even suspend the agent’s account if they have multiple violations.
On the backend, our Data Integrity team uses tools to monitor data points and check for inaccuracies, and verify IP addresses as necessary. New Yorkers, tenants and agents, are also good at self-monitoring, which makes our monitoring efforts easier. Anyone can instantly report a problem with an ad and we’ll investigate it.
Due to our policies, we don’t see a lot of scams on StreetEasy.
In 2017, we made the decision to charge agents for advertising ads, which reduced inaccuracy reporting from 3% to less than 0.5%. We also limit the representation of each individual unit to a single brokerage, which prevents the posting of duplicate units.
Fortunately, due to our policies and the work of my team, any potential scams are usually identified and dealt with very quickly. But I’ll say the agents are incredibly nimble and creative, so they play around with their ads to try and get noticed by as many tenants as possible. I’m constantly in awe of the creativity of the industry – we had an agent who started including Bernie Sanders’ now famous meme in their post-opening list photos, either leaning in the kitchen or sitting on the balcony.
Whether you use StreetEasy or any other site, renters should know that they have a wealth of information at their fingertips that can discover inaccuracies. If you see more than one version of a unit listed on a website, that’s a huge red flag. You should also cross-check the information provided: do the photos match the video presentation and the information in the listing? StreetEasy also includes all of a building’s history in each listing so you can see how much they’ve changed over the years.
Beware of apartment owners claiming to be overseas.
These dangerous scenarios are real scams and usually involve a “landlord” requesting a wire transfer to reserve an apartment. Never, ever accept these requests.
As always, follow the same rule of thumb as when you see an empty subway car: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Approach any “unicorn” apartment with caution. Always visit an apartment in person if it is safe to do so, but only after verifying the accuracy of the advertisement.
My working day always starts early, between 6 a.m. and 6.30 a.m.
I usually enjoy a cup of coffee and get ready for the day for an hour, then get ready to check in with my team of 19. Some are in different time zones while others are working later so I tend to have multiple hours
meetings throughout the day.
My day is balanced between working with my team and collaborating with other departments on projects that impact the end user. I log off at 6:30 or 7 p.m. and I use the rest of my evening to spend time with my family.
I rarely work late or on weekends, which shows just how conscious StreetEasy is about work-life balance. My team is now allowed to stay completely distant in the future, but after COVID I think I’ll probably choose to work from the office once or twice a week as I miss being with my team in person.
I’ve always managed client-centric teams, so the transition to real estate was right for me.
Even though I started in another industry, I’m happy to have changed careers. For other job seekers looking for a new industry or role, my advice would be to find what excites and motivates you and then find a company that can meet those needs while doing so. aligning with your values.
Most importantly, ask yourself if you are qualified and ready for the position you are applying for. If there’s a gap that’s holding you back from advancing in your career, find a practical way to fill it. For example, our customer support positions are excellent entry-level, yet complex, positions that we are currently recruiting for. Roles like these can open avenues for professionals to break into the real estate industry without going down the traditional brokerage route.