Dang. That’s Fast.

Engineering at Redfin

Dang. That’s Fast.

In a real estate world suddenly frenzied with competition, Redfin just released Instant Updates, the first* major service for immediately alerting home-buyers about new listings and price drops. Now, 15 – 30 minutes after a real estate agent lists a home for sale, folks using Redfin to search for listings in that area will get an email alert. Users of any other major real estate website have to wait until the next day.

What does a day matter? Well, 17% of the homes that debuted and sold since the beginning of this year went under contract within three days of their debut. Giving our customers an extra day to get into the home and decide about an offer is a crucial competitive advantage, particularly when we now see home-buyers going door to door to ask if anyone in the neighborhood might be willing to sell.

To get instant updates, just click Email me new listings in the results box that appears on the left whenever Redfin presents search results in a map:

If you’re already getting daily listing updates, you can switch over to Instant Updates by opening the menu under your name at the top right of every page on Redfin.com. From there, just choose My Alerts & Emails:

Then scroll about halfway down the page, and change all your alerts from Daily to Instant:

And then brace yourself. New listings will start coming fast and furious:

You can always unsubscribe once you find a home.

You can get Instant Updates on individual properties too. If you mark a home as a favorite, you’ll get an Instant Update when the price changes, when it first goes under contract, and when it finally sells or comes back on market. We’ll also alert you if a Redfin agent tours the home and then shares her first-hand observations. Folks who are already using Redfin to track their favorite homes from day to day can switch to Instant Updates by accessing the My Alerts & Emails page.

How did we get so fast? Redfin was able to develop Instant Updates because we’ve made a massive investment over the past five years in direct, high-frequency integration with the local Multiple Listing Services real estate agents use to list properties and record sales. While other websites get partial or indirect access to some MLSs, only companies with real estate agents get full, immediate access to all the broker-listed homes for sale. As part of our commitment to getting data faster than just about anyone else, we tell the world exactly how often we refresh our listings, for every market we serve.

And as the web shifts from periodically updated pages to a continuous stream of new listings, prices and photos, the near-real-time data access Redfin enjoys as a market-maker is becoming more important. We expect over the coming year to deliver Instant Alerts through iPhone and Android alerting systems, and Facebook and Twitter timelines. I’m sure more real-time services will emerge over the next few years.

But as Redfin becomes a more frequent guest in your online life, we have to make sure we mind our manners.  Already, 264 customers have spent the past month helping  us design and test Instant Updates. One was able to beat out other bidders on a hot property because she heard about it first through Redfin. But mostly, we’ve been the ones who benefited: our customers helped us change up the subject line so that each update didn’t get bunched under one email thread, and asked us to allow different searches to send email alerts on different schedules.

The one request we didn’t address: a link that opens the listing in our iPhone and iPad apps, rather than in a web browser. That’s coming later this month.

For now, what I’m excited about is how Instant Updates change the speed of the game. In a world where a Las Vegas chef can now buy a fish from the Adriatic before the fisherman has even returned to harbor, it’s crazy to think that real estate updates have appeared like a 1950’s newspaper, queuing information into a new edition that shows up once a morning rather than in real time. Over the next few years, we hope that Redfin and other technology-powered brokers can help to make the whole real estate market better-informed, and faster too.

*Update: Sawbuck offered real-time alerts before Redfin did, as Sawbuck CEO Guy Wolcott kindly pointed out in the comments. When we get excited about being the first to offer a feature, we’ll check the Sawbuck site out first, just as we do the other big sites out there.

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