Steven Spinola, the Industry’s Muscle

sitdown stevenspinola1v Steven Spinola, the Industry’s MuscleLocation: The Real Estate Board of New York launched in September ResidentialNYC.com, which it billed as ‘the first comprehensive Web site enabling homebuyers to link to thousands of exclusive home listings in New York City.’ How is it the most comprehensive? Can you explain the scope?

Mr. Spinola: It’s very simple. Our members share their listings with each other … and right now, over 70 of those firms—which have about 50 percent of the exclusive listings in Manhattan and in sections of Brooklyn—are on our Web site. And so, if you go to this one location, [there’s] well over 4,000 listings on any given day; and they are constantly being updated so that there’s no listing on there that’s a bait-and-switch on there.

So, it is comprehensive in that you can go to this one Web page instead of going to 70 to find [a listing], and it is the most accurate because there are no stale listings, there are no phony listings, which some Web sites have. … And these are all exclusive listings.

Is it larger than the Manhattan Association of Realtors’ multiple listing service?

Oh, it’s not even close. It’s much larger. How do I say this? They have 13 firms that are members of the Manhattan whatever it is, and most of them are members of the Real Estate Board of New York.

Are the Corcoran Group and Prudential Douglas Elliman, the city’s two biggest residential firms, on ResidentialNYC.com?

They’re not.

Is there a timeline for them joining?

The timeline is they can come on anytime they want to. And I think as we go through 2008, they’ll recognize that it’s working. The average time being spent on our Web site is nine minutes. We’ve had well over five million hits, whatever that means. The hit concept is a ridiculous concept, but, putting that aside, we’ve had 50,000-plus unique visitors to our Web site since we’ve launched.

Is there a plan right now for Corcoran and Elliman to come aboard?

We’re continuing to talk, and they’re looking at how successful it’s going. They’ve both said to me that they think the Web site is terrific.

Real estate right now is one of the more robust industries in the city. Does the increased prominence of real estate dilute the necessity of REBNY? In other words, what’s the fundamental role of REBNY right now?

Well, the answer is a flat no to that specific question. If anything, people believe that REBNY is at an all-time high in terms of its involvement and its ability to convey the concerns of the real estate industry.

I used to jokingly say that when things are going great my members felt great and left me alone; and when things were going bad they felt they desperately needed us. But the truth of the matter is even in great times there’s problems. And, in the increasing activity of government—meaning, there are a lot of pieces of legislation put forward that deal with real estate that the Real Estate Board has to deal with, and that’s whether we’re in good times or in bad times. In fact, some of it may be encouraged more in good times.

Can you give some examples of legislation?

We’ve had all kinds of legislation in the year, from a new building code, the international building code that we had to give input on and feedback on, which our members volunteered to take a look at.

We’re concerned right now about a harassment bill that the [City] Council is talking about that would permit the individual tenant to have a right to go directly to court to claim harassment rather than the current process, which says that you have to go to [the Department of Housing Preservation and Development], and HPD would determine if there’s real harassment before you go to court. The result is, you’re going to have a lot of unnecessary legal costs because you’ll have lawyers knocking on doors and saying, ‘We can go and challenge your landlord because he once asked you where your rent was.’

There have been constant bills that have been pushing to mandate that people pay prevailing wages—or union—whenever they build something. … My membership pays prevailing wages in almost 99 percent [of construction projects], but we question why government should be dictating that; and it clearly raises serious concerns for the construction of affordable housing in the boroughs if you’ve mandated that provision.