Redfin Flourishing Despite Downturn, Dirty Tricks

A couple of national outlets have had interesting stories about Redfin in the last few days. Since you’re not likely to read about it in the “we pretend Redfin doesn’t exist” local agent blogs, I thought I’d highlight them here. First up is a New York Times story that claims the bursting of the real estate bubble isn’t stopping Redfin (or Zillow, Terabitz, and Trulia) from growing.

It was late October, and Redfin, an online real estate brokerage firm based in Seattle, had received just three months earlier a $12 million investment led by the marquee venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. In the interim, the mortgage industry melted down, foreclosures spiked and housing sales slowed to a crawl. Now, one of Redfin’s biggest markets, Los Angeles, was battling a series of wildfires and Redfin’s sales had stopped cold.

Redfin was not the only victim of bad timing. Venture capitalists poured about $50 million into three other real estate Web sites last year — Zillow, Terabitz and Trulia — only to watch the market enter a historic slide.

Now, although most of the real estate industry wishes it could fast-forward through 2008, these online start-ups are surviving nicely. Each company recently reported strong sales and increases in Web traffic. Trulia surged to the top by the end of 2007, from sixth place in 2006, according to Nielsen Online.

Although these sites are not growing as quickly as they might have during a bullish market, they are at least growing.

“In September, we thought it was maybe the beginning of a very long downturn,” said Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s chief executive. “But for whatever reason, the last few months have been very strong for us.”

The second story, from Forbes, chronicles some of the unique trials Refin has faced as they have positioned themselves as an alternative to traditional brokerages.

Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s chief executive, knew it wouldn’t be easy to shake up the real estate brokerage business. Tradition-minded and protective of their turf, Realtors don’t take kindly to discounters. Still, says Kelman, he scarcely anticipated the dirty tricks aimed at his online discount brokerage.

In southern California Redfin’s for-sale signs are often knocked down, stolen or smashed. In Seattle a traditional Realtor posted Kelman’s address online, and a sturdy Redfin yard sign at his house was soon hacked down. In a national forest near Yosemite National Park someone affixed fake Redfin bumper stickers to signs, trees and rocks to make the company look like a shameless promoter and defiler of the environment. After Redfin staffers removed the stickers, which they have never used to pitch the Seattle company, the trickster started tossing the signs, attached to weights, into branches of sequoias. “I never considered how violent the reaction to us would be and what that would mean to our customers,” says Kelman, 37.

Yikes. If that’s how some of these real estate “professionals” act, I guess I can understand why many of my bubble-blogging counterparts around the country have chosen to remain anonymous.

(Bob Tedeschi, New York Times, 01.28.2008)
(Christopher Steiner, Forbes, 01.2008)

About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.


  1. 1
    Buceri says:

    “But for whatever reason, the last few months have been very strong for us.”

    Does this man know he can’t be so honest in this industry??

  2. 2
    local Realitor says:

    I’m a nice guy but d*mn if I do another favor for a Redfin buyer on one of my listings.

  3. 3
    vboring says:

    no kidding about the honesty.

    the worst i’ve heard about redfin is that they don’t return calls from traditional RE agents.

    if redfin can offer good customer service and a complete package in terms of loans, legal advice, market knowledge, and actually getting people in to see houses, i can’t see how they can fail.

    the violence committed against them is evidence that RE agents agree

  4. 4
    biliruben says:

    You don’t know how to spell your chosen profession? I’m mean, if we were talking crystallographer or entomologist, ok I might cut you some slack. I’m not that swell a speller myself, but come on.

  5. 5
    biliruben says:

    When I read that article yesterday, I wondered what Kelman meant by growth. I’d love to see the numbers. Not to take anything away from Redfin (they were actually responsive when I requested a small tweak to their website), but he is a bit of a media hound and does like to use stats to his advantage. When I don’t see them, I wonder.

  6. 6
    Erik says:

    Err, I think that “Realitor” is a joke, if that’s what you’re referring to.

    Moving on, this might be a bit off-topic, but it is at least sort of related to Redfin and to “dirty tricks”.

    A house in Georgetown (MLS #28003787) was stated as have been listed “On Redfin” for 117 days as of 1/12/08. Now, on 1/30/08, it is listed as having been On Redfin for 23 days. But the MLS number is the same and so is the price ($297,950). What gives? Even if it were relisted later in the day on 1/12/08 it (a dirty trick) wouldn’t it show as having been On Redfin for 18 days?

    Does Redfin have a time machine? Or is this an MLS problem? This relisting BS really irritates me. If you can’t sell the damn house at your asking price, then your price is (duh) too damn high. Granted, the owners are under no moral obligation to sell, but the the agent/MLS/Redfin sure as hell seem to have an ethical obligation not to lie about the listing.

    Can someone explain this to me?

  7. 7
    S-Crow says:


    My understanding is that homes taken off the market for a period of 6 mos. or longer can be re-listed and the market time is resent to a fresh start at “0.”

    We would need clarification from any of the contributing agents on this blog on that matter.

  8. 8
    S-Crow says:

    speaking of spelling: meant to say, “reset” to a fresh start at “O” days on market.

  9. 9
    Erik says:

    Thanks, S-Crow. That makes sense to me. A house relisted after a half year off of the market probably should be “reset-able”.

    Now if only the listing agent can come up with a convincing argument that the period from 1/12/08 to 1/30/08* constitutes six months. Heck, if they can convince me that’s 30 days I’d have to give him or her plenty of credit just for pure rhetorical skill.

    *Note that as far as I am aware it was listed during the 18-day period in question as well.

  10. 10
    WestSideBilly says:

    I saw “Realitor” used once before and assumed it was a play on “reality” and “Realtor”.

    Erik, the relisting thing is a major annoyance with the MLS and real estate in general. A 180 day old listing is an instant red flag that it’s overpriced, so I can see why the listing agent would want to hide that number as much as possible.

  11. 11
    biliruben says:

    Erik – doh! Probably right on the Realitor joke. Yokes on me.

    The deal with the days on the market – I don’t know about your specific example, but the MLS does keep real “days on the market” statistics that don’t reset with relisting.

    Members of the MLS (such as Redfin) however, are not allowed to share this information with the public, for reasons of, well, I guess they can’t say “national security”. How about “job security?”

    It isn’t clear why they insist on hiding this info, but Redfin is merely playing by the rules of the MLS. They could probably keep legit track by storing via address instead of MLS #, but then they would piss off the MLS even more than they already do, i suspect. Not worth the aggravation.

  12. 12
    biliruben says:

    Though if it’s a joke, I can’t figure out what’s funny. I need a funny-bone replacement I guess. Just dry sarcasm?

  13. 13
    Erik says:

    Hmmm…I suppose so. I wonder why they cheat with their “On Redfin” stat as well. This really hurts their whole “friend of the consumer” angle, at least as far as I am concerned. I mean, the 23 days they’re showing is not only dishonest, it’s also mathematically impossible given the information they were showing on 1/12 (which, according to my memory, was basically accurate). Did they relist to -5 days on Redfin on 1/12?

    I expect the MLS/NAR to try to fool me, but had hoped that some of the newer generation of firms like Redfin would be at least a little bit more honest. This is disappointing.

    Thanks to both Biliruben and S-Crow for helping to answer my question.

  14. 14
    Erik says:

    Oops, sorry, I meant “5 days”, not “-5 days”.

  15. 15
    Ray Pepper says:

    Since opening on in Aug 2007 we have had over 60 signs taken from our listings. Our sellers call us to replace them all the time. In addition our “You Found this Home 75% Commission to You” consistently get torn from their rider placement. Not to mention our directional arrows that also dictate the 75% commission to buyer.

    We were hoping its teenagers but we get the feeling its not anymore. Agents call us and say “How do You expect me to explain this to my client.” when they arrive at one of our listings. We pleasantly remind them their client doesn’t qualify. They are your client. You showed them the home! You signed a buyers agency agreement with them correct? Then we usually get hung up on.

    So we’ll keep ordering signs. They cost us 4.00 each so were OK. What they cannot take is our 500 Realty Shirts off our backs! Although I bet they want to. They state” YOUR ONLY TRUE FRIEND IN REAL ESTATE.”

    Its all about education.

    Ray Pepper

  16. 16
    biliruben says:

    Yeah, I don’t know. I have sometimes seen double-listings on Redfin – the agent resubmitted on the MLS a few days or a week later, but Redfin stored both the old and new listing. Then one expired and now you are only seeing the other? Maybe?

    My guess is it’s a glitch, not intentional deceit.

  17. 17
    Erik says:


    That could be, but as the MLS # is unchanged it would it least amount to poor record keeping. Perhaps you are right that it is an honest mistake. The REIC has made me very suspicious about these sorts of things, but I hope that you are right.

    Then again, maybe Ray Pepper is my only friend in real estate.

    Thanks again.

  18. 18

    Redfin on their website lists all the MLS listings of all the brokers,.
    Agents do things all the time that are “frowned upon” by the NWMLS.
    I don’t remember the rule regarding the length of time a home needs to be off the market, but it’s typical for a listing to have expired, and relisted the next day with a new NWMLS number. Agents get to see the property history, and that’s a little harder to hide. The property you mentioned, 28003587 was expired for one day and listed again the next day with a new NWMLS number.
    The other thing that gets my goat is that properties are supposed to be only in one area, but all too often they have separate listings for the same house in two different areas with two different NWMLS numbers.
    I ran into one of those this morning. It had been a Redfin listing, unsold for 400,000 dollars and the listing expired. They relisted a couple of days later with john L Scott in two different areas( with two different NWMLS numbers) for the same house, and at the bargain price of 399,950.

  19. 19
    old timer says:

    House across the street, listed with ‘Name Brand’ realtor
    had a For Sale sign on it for about 8 months.
    When the little diagonal ‘sold’ sign finally went up.
    it had the Redfin logo on it.

  20. 20
    Erik says:

    Ira, are you referencing the practice of listing one house twice, one in, say Greenwood and another in Ballard? Now that I think about that, I think I’ve seen that as well. It’s does not inspire confidence in the quality of information that the MLS provides.

    By the way, I’d like to say that I appreciate your input on this board. I don’t necessarily agree with every last projection that you (or Mr. Pepper) make but it is very refreshing to folks working in the business that are willing to give us straight talk.

  21. 21
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    I actually have nothing to add, but I wanted to test out my Gravatar.

    Well, there is one thing. As much as realtors claim they don’t care about web-based real estate tools. This is strong evidence that they should. If you sell anything, and in a falling market someone else is gaining sales…well it means they are eating your breakfast for breakfast and eating your lunch for brunch. The real estate professionals can come out and tell me I don’t understand their field, its clear they are losing market share rapidly.

    One final point. I often notice that when someone takes something easy and makes it sound like hard work, that just means they’ve made a lot of money doing it. Double so if they expound what a service they are providing. I do legitimately difficult work as a software developer, but I don’t tell people how hard it is, because most people have an exaggerated view of the difficulty of programming to start with. Further, it’s clear I’m providing a service so I have no need to remind people about it.

    My 2 cents.

  22. 22
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    Gah! New gravatar try.

  23. 23

    Yeah. the property I was looking at this morning is in Skyway, area 360. But it’s also listed under a completely different NWMLS number as being in Central Seattle area 380.
    As far as real estate agents go, there is no such place as Skyway. They are usually listed as West Hill, or Earlington, or Bryn Mawr, or Lakeridge.
    Why can’t they say “it’s Skyway, but you probably won’t get shot here.?”

  24. 24
    b says:

    rose-colored-coolaid –
    Your comment about making something easy into something hard reminded me of this scene from Office Space:

    BOB: So what you do is you take the specifications from the customers and you bring them down to the software engineers?
    TOM:That, that’s right.
    BOB: Well, then I gotta ask, then why can’t the customers just take the
    specifications directly to the software people, huh?
    TOM:Well, uh, uh, uh, because, uh, engineers are not good at dealing with customers.
    BOB: You physically take the specs from the customer?
    TOM: Well, no, my, my secretary does that, or, or the fax.
    BOB: Then you must physically bring them to the software people.
    TOM: Well…no. Yeah, I mean, sometimes.
    BOB:Well, what would you say… you do here?
    TOM: Well, look, I already told you. I deal with the goddamn customers so the engineers don’t have to!! I have people skills!! I am good at dealing with people!!! Can’t you understand that?!? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!!!!!!!

  25. 25
    Erik says:

    Oh yeah!!!

    Love the “gravatar”. Is that really what the kids are calling them these days? I didn’t send my first email until I was in high school. I can’t keep up.

  26. 26
    Angie says:

    Nifty new look here, Tim! I like it. The gravatars are pretty cute, too, but I think I’ll stick with the default dog-with-enormous-tongue pic for now. It’s like the Gene Simmons of dogs.

    Another Redfin anecdote, for whatever it’s worth. Redfin featured a house from my neighborhood on its Seattle blog. In the feature, the owner of this flip (which had sat on the market for several months with a traditional RE company’s sign in front, before the switch to Redfin) misrepresented themselves as residents of the house. A few people called BS on this, and Redfin took the feature off its site. A minor story, maybe, but a sign that they’ve got a little integrity.

  27. 27
    Marc says:

    I’m a tiny cog in the real estate wheel but I can relate to Redfin’s experience. As an attorney, when I started representing buyers and sellers in transactions involving an agent on the other side, the responses I got from the agent ranged from general foreboding to outright paranoia (“deal killer, deal killer, run, run, run”). They also thought I’d burned their bible and slapped their momma when I inserted language that the 3% commission would be payable directly to the buyer. I have sense refined my language and gained a better understanding of the real estate agent mindset and don’t experience the same initial shock when I call. However, it might be the substantially slower pace of sales that makes them more eager to talk to me.

    In any event, when they realize I’m not a total prick and I’m not trying to ruin their pay day, things work out pretty well.

  28. 28
    Scuba Steve says:

    Sign stealing isn’t just a problem up here. When my place in San Antonio was for sale this last August / September I had to replace the sign a couple of times within a week or so. It happened when the market started to get just a bit competitive… average days to sale was about 60 days right around then, which was quite a bit higher than it was a few months earlier.

  29. 29
    Olaf says:

    When I buy, I’ll definitely use Redfin. I’ve been using them for the last few years to track the market, and it’s been especially useful as a means for detecting the fraudulent “new listings.” That’s because Redfin sends me daily alerts for all new listings in the area I have my eye on… and I save those emails in a special folder. So whenever there’s a “new” listing, I just run a quick search for that address in my Redfin folder, and bingo — the older listings for the same house pop right up.
    Traditional realtors hate Redfin and the internet because it breaks their monopoly on the only thing of value that they had to offer: information. They’re angry because they know their old business model is doomed.

  30. 30
    laxtosnoco says:

    I’m not sure whether I’ll go the Redfin route, use another discounter, or go with a RE attorney, but Redfin is by far my favorite site to search and track properties.

  31. 31
    Moe Ronn - Realitor® says:

    I guess no one has seen my dozens of posts over the past several weeks. I am the original Realitor®!

  32. 32
    MarkS says:

    I tried using Redfin to sell my condo, but was more than displeased with them. They are incapable of doing proper competitive market analysis because they don’t actually visit the property for sale nor the other listings in the neighborhood. Even worse, Redfin refused to list the condo at the price I thought it was worth. I ended up selling it for $27k more than Redfin wanted to list it at.

  33. 33
    ray says:

    laxtosnoco+++++++ “use another discounter” Well I like that you keep your options open. Definitely use the Red Fin site but when it comes time to BUY don’t forget us. If your selling its either us or MLS 4 Owners. Another 3500 or 4000 for what? Come on be serious!

    Come to the Seattle Home Show and lets talk Red Fin and conventional brokers. Clear Wire called today and apparently they are really making our combined booth stand out. Were not sure what were in for with these guys but we love the HYPE!

    All I can guarantee is free T shirts, an education, good conversation, and free lunch/dinner to a few I accidently insulted here.

    Did I mention I love Red Fin? Just too expensive for selling and too cheap with the buyer incentive. But, my oh my, what a website!

  34. 34
    S-Crow says:


    Was your condo listed with Redfin and it didn’t work out? Not defending them, they can do that on their own. Just curious.

  35. 35
    laxtosnoco says:

    Ray, you selling real estate or aluminum siding?

  36. 36
    ray says:

    Haaaa ..Ok OK…I’ll ease up!

  37. 37
    common1sense says:

    Here’s a real life example, from a sellers perspective. Seller in Kent, WA listed with C-21 agent 5/07. By 8/07 seller reduced price $20,000, and by 11/07 house not sold, listing expired. Seller called a 2nd real estate company to talk about listing. Second real estate company said that the price started out more than $100k overpriced, and why did seller choose that price? Seller said “I live in Montana, I have no idea what my house is worth in WA, I relied on that agent to guide me …” (a Costco agent referral by the way).

    So, the second real estate company lists the house at $140,000 less than the first real estate company listed it. Because the house was not 90-days off the market, the second real estate companys’ listing showed CDOM (cumulative days on market) at 181 days from their first list date. That house took nearly 90 additional days to sell, at a price even the appraiser was shocked at.

    How would you have liked to be that seller? Do you think the system treated him fairly? Do you think the second listing company was handicapped by the first impression of the CDOM?

    This is a very real example of perhaps why CDOM is both important and damaging too.

  38. 38
    John says:

    common1sense, it sounds like the seller didn’t do any homework. Whether he uses a traditional or a discount broker, he should have done some research about the neighborhood. This isn’t small money we are talking about.

    If I buy a home, I want to see big CDOM all around. I sell, I want to keep my number low :)

  39. 39
    Matt Goyer says:

    At Redfin we do the best we can with the data we get from the real estate agents who input it in the MLS. If you see something funky feel free to email me at or post about it in our forums,, and we’ll look into it.

    Also, today we released a new version of the website so you can now download search results to your favorite spreadsheet program and see price reductions on details pages.

    In the future we hope to track re-listings but it didn’t make it into this release.

    If there’s other features you’d like to see let us know!

  40. 40
    Buceri says:

    Let’s see what the inventory number looks like at the end of the day today.

  41. 41
    WestSideBilly says:

    common1sense, would that MLS listing with 180+ CDOM also show the $140k price drop?

  42. 42
    Erik says:

    The updated Redfin site is really nice. I like the larger map and especially like the fact that some information that didn’t show up on printouts before (sales info, map) seems to print without problems now. Way to go.

  43. 43
    MarkS says:

    S-Crow, no I canceled my Redfin listing before it was listed with MLS, and then hired a Realtor, who did a CMA and priced it $10k more than I figured it was worth, and it sold in around 60 days with no price reductions. I had remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms, but the Redfin agent didn’t seem to think that should increase the asking price.

    I wonder how many other people have been happy selling their home through Redfin, oblivious that they could have sold for tens of thousands more than the rebate check they got. Since Redfin only makes $3000 on each sale, they have really no incentive to try to sell at top dollar, but rather plan to make money through quick sales and large volume.

  44. 44
    sf_boomerang says:

    Hey! I was just coming to tell you guys that Redfin had redesigned but looks like they kinda beat me to the punch.

    The price history at the bottom of the individual listing is VERY handy. Great update, Matt!

  45. 45
    common1sense says:

    west side billy, yes, all agents can tell you how many times in the listed history the price has dropped. The data is easy for the agents to find, and they have an obligation to tell you if you are their client.

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