Keller Williams targets former Los Angeles agents’ marketing
Jesse Weinberg received an unusual email on April 22nd from an attorney representing Keller Williams, Weinberg’s realtor, until he left in February.
“It is both inappropriate and unethical for you to promote sales under Keller Williams Silicon Beach as they were sold by you,” wrote attorney Steve Spile in the letter.
Offensive Weinberg and Associates Advertisement (Image credit: Steve Spile)
Weinberg had previously founded Jesse Weinberg & Associates with eight other agents at Keller Williams in February. But now he has been informed that his new agent could not publish the sales of his old agent.
In the email, Spile asked Weinberg to “stop selling advertising properties sold by anyone other than Keller Williams Silicon Beach”.
Weinberg said he was shocked by the letter. He believes that Keller Williams, the largest residential franchise broker in the country by sales volume and number of agents, is running a “bullying campaign” to get him out of business.
A Keller Williams spokesman said it was her policy not to comment on “pending legal matters”.
Spile commented, saying Weinberg misunderstood the situation.
“I apologize for misleading Jesse in any way,” said Spile.
The strange – and still unfolding – argument underscores an apparently unanswered question in real estate advertising: Who is allowed to promote past sales as their own? The agent, the agent’s ex-broker, or both?
The lack of guidance on the issue, according to real estate attorneys, is due in part to Spile’s injunction and the resulting squabbles.
“The letter is not believable,” said Sean Andrade, an attorney with Andrade Gonzalez. “He literally quotes nothing, no real estate rules, regulations, or jurisdiction.”
The Weinberg-Keller Williams standoff affects a specific part of LA County that is centered around a man-made harbor, recreational boating, and the similar-sounding communities of Marina Del Rey and Playa Del Rey.
To potential home buyers, the area is advertised as part of Silicon Beach, but is several miles south of the county’s technology hub.
Weinberg joined Keller Williams in 2009 and soon became the No. Real Estate Agent. 1 seller in Marina Del Rey. In 2013, Keller honored Williams Weinberg as head of Realtor No. 1 nationwide sales team.
When Weinberg set off on his own three months ago, he picked up a sales team that the agent said had total sales of $ 170 million in 2019 and closed deals with homes valued at $ 1 million to $ 2 million typical of its market.
Spile, a seasoned real estate attorney at Spile, Leff & Goor, said Keller Williams contacted him to write the injunction for two reasons.
For one, Weinberg’s accomplishments in Keller Williams have been plastered all over his agent’s website – to the point, Spile said, that someone might be confused if they think Weinberg is still working for Keller Williams.
“It was risk management. It was a holy mackerel. What if Weinberg is sued? “Said Spile.
Second, Keller Williams turned against Stephanie Brooker, a former Keller Williams agent at Weinberg & Associates, and sent out mailers detailing some of the sales she had made at Keller Williams.
Spile said Keller Williams is okay with Brooker and other Weinberg & Associates agents promoting their old sales. However, the broker inquiries have “a footnote” that the deal took place at Keller Williams.
However, the cease and desist letter contains no indication of a possible compromise in the use of footnotes, nor does it ask Weinberg to make it clear that he no longer works for Keller Williams
Instead, the letter mandates Weinberg & Associates not to advertise any sales made at Keller and “review your various websites and other social media and remove all references to Keller Williams Silicon Beach immediately”.
John Gordy, director of operations at Weinberg & Associates, said his brokerage business interpreted the cease and desist order as a blanket ban on promotional sales that were taking place at Keller Williams.
“Given that demand, we weren’t able to create ads referring to past sales,” said Gordy. “We will proceed as recommended by our lawyer for future advertisements.”
The letter “had and will continue to have a significant impact on our business,” Gordy said.
Spile said it was never Keller Williams’ intention to cool Weinberg & Associates advertising.
When asked if he had reached out to Weinberg to clarify Keller Williams’ claim, Spile said he did not.
Real Estate Advertising 101
Realtors change their colors like leaves in fall, but the California Department of Real Estate has no guidelines for promotional sales by brokers made with previous brokers.
The estate agents and real estate attorneys interviewed said that to their knowledge the matter had not surfaced in civil suits or simply in bad blood between agents and brokers after parting ways.
“In my experience, I have not seen real estate agents request a former agent to determine that they sold the property while they were with the company,” said Carolyn Rae Cole, Nourmand & Associates agent and attorney. “The most common scenario is that the agent continues to promote sales as part of their portfolio. And often the previous broker promotes the sale after the agent leaves if it is a notable sale. “
Andrade agreed, saying that even asking Weinberg agents to mark old businesses as cellar sales was unreasonable. Every professional, Andrade said, “advertises past profits,” and there is nothing in state or federal law that requires real estate agents (or others) to say where those profits came from.
For example, Hilton & Hyland does not publish the brokers Lisa Optican generated sales for before joining Hilton & Hyland last week.
The ambiguity of the advertising label, however, means that Keller Williams “could have a legitimate criticism,” said Nicholas Rozansky, an attorney at Brutzkus Gubner.
Despite significant revisions to the Weinberg & Associates website since the failure, one website is a list of the past sales by the new estate agent’s agents that does not link to Keller Williams.
“There is a possible false advertising claim here,” said Rozansky. “You really should go over and revise your website.”
Keller Williams may also want to redesign his website. Jesse Weinberg is still listed as an agent.