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Mortgage giant Citi steps up marketing on Zillow, StreetEasy

By February 10, 2015 One Comment

Citi, one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, has signed a marketing deal with Zillow in an effort to reach prospective borrowers on the highly trafficked real estate portal.

The deal will boost Citi’s presence on Zillow; Zillow Mortgages, the site’s mortgage marketplace; and StreetEasy, a listing portal owned by Zillow that covers the New York City area.

Citi has a consumer mortgage lending portfolio of $101 billion in North America and services an additional $229 billion in mortgages.

As part of the agreement, Citi has increased its mortgage advertising on StreetEasy, including multiple ad placements, content sponsorship, and visibility for approved pre-certified buildings; and will also “amplif(y)” its brand through advertising on Zillow’s website and mobile apps, the companies said.

Citi will offer an on-time closing guarantee and customized “relationship pricing” via Zillow’s sites.

Zillow and Citi declined to provide further details about the deal, saying they do not discuss terms of their partnerships. It’s unclear whether Citi had previously advertised on StreetEasy, where and what kind of Citi ads will appear on Zillow-owned sites, and the kind of content Citi will sponsor.

Zillow also would not discuss whether Citi has been participating in Zillow’s agent and lender co-marketing program or whether the program is part of the agreement.

The co-marketing program, launched in June 2013, has come under scrutiny recently due to separate lawsuits suits filed against Zillow in November and December, in which current and former Zillow sales employees alleged Zillow retaliated against them for notifying upper management about what they called a “pay for play” arrangement between lenders and real estate agents participating in the program.

The program allows Premier Agents to invite lenders to share marketing costs by paying Zillow to appear as “Preferred Lenders” in advertising alongside the agent on the portal.

A single lender is allowed to pay for up to half of an agent’s total monthly ad spend, but some individual lenders were allegedly paying up to 90 percent of an agent’s ad spend on Zillow. If true, that could violate anti-kickback provisions of the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA), according to attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Zillow has filed a motion to dismiss the November complaint, but has not yet responded to the December suit.

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