Something I’ve Been Meaning to Say for A Long Time

Redfin and Our CEO

Something I’ve Been Meaning to Say for A Long Time

For no real reason, a San Diego Sweet Digs blogger attacked real estate broker Kris Berg today. The contract blogger, a usually kind person who deeply regrets the post, no longer works for Redfin because she violated the first rule of our culture, which is that everyone is respected. The charter of Sweet Digs is to write about local real estate, and to leave the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot-stuff to me.

The post makes me physically ill, not only because it seemed mean-spirited but because we know Kris Berg to be a wonderful person, a total pro and a darn good blogger. Worst of all, it deepens a brainless, destructive division between Redfin and our peers that has caused me great — this is the right word — anguish. We have already commented directly on the post, and Kris has already been gracious enough to accept our apology. So the rest of this post is an apology to everyone else in real estate, many of whom have reacted to more than just what we said about Kris last night. And because this is so hard to write, it’s also a list of small but important things we can’t apologize for too.

We all know the Redfin business model is different than yours: we try to get customers via our search site, we pay our agents salaries and customer-satisfaction bonuses, we want to put the escrow process online to avoid talking so much to our customers, and we refund part of our commission. This makes us freaks perhaps, or even fools if you like, but not an enemy.

Just because our model is different doesn’t mean that we think it’s universally better than the commission-based model. You have no idea how many times a day, every day, all night, we worry that we can’t make it work, usually right before we’re filled with euphoria at our prospects. We long ago imagined the party you’ll throw on our grave if we fail. But the reason we can’t give up on Redfin is that it’s what we would want for ourselves. Clearly, most consumers still prefer the traditional model. But some consumers have chosen our model too.

So that’s what we can’t apologize for: for who we are, for tinkering to make our model better (especially around tours, where it has been broken), for believing we can make it work. But we are sorry for our tone — I am sorry for my tone. What is most important to us is that Redfin (often ineffective) calls for reform stop ticking you off. Like you — and unlike the Zillows and Trulias whom you love (and whom we sometimes find ourselves admiring too) — we are real estate agents. We have a vested interest in making real estate better. We share our data via the MLS. We play by its rules. And we work together buying and selling homes.

The change we want is change everybody wants: that consumers can choose the services they pay for without fearing retribution, that they can access property information on their own. That’s it.

I don’t know how we’ve screwed things up so badly that our complaints about vandalized yard-signs or blocked offers have ticked you off. We should all denounce the one-in-a-zillion nut jobs who pull these stunts, because they make us all look bad, and it only takes one or two to terrify an entire market (#1 reason Redfin.com visitors don’t buy through us, 2 years straight: “fear of discrimination”).

It took us a while to realize how stupid it is for us to talk to the press about these incidents — nobody is ever punished, in even the slightest way, even when caught red-handed, and nobody else in real estate is outraged — but we’ll try harder to work out future incidents in private.

And, today’s blog post aside, there is reason to believe we can patch things up with everyone else. Last week, I finally told Greg Swann — he was so nice and gracious — that I was sorry for picking fights with him. Last month, an MLS decided to liberalize its data-sharing rules. Yesterday, a broker phoned to point out — privately, kindly — a possible error in one of our marketing claims (which we will correct if it’s wrong). And Kris Berg took my call today when 9 out of 10 people would have hung up in my face. Every week or so, I get a thank-you note from an agent about a deal we worked on together. How wonderful, how unnecessary and necessary, is that?

So maybe there’s hope that we can work things out. This isn’t a promise to be boring. But at least we can be civil. We weren’t today. We are sorry for the post about Kris Berg. We wanted to say to everyone else in real estate talking about this post that we hope there can be peace between us.

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