Inman Conference Report: Realtors Gone Wild, Redfin Wins Most Innovative B-Model

Inman’s big Connect conference kicked off today in San Francisco. It isn’t raining here, but the city was pretty all the same:
San Francisco Rain.jpg

For starters, TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington threw Molotov cocktails for an opening keynote at the new geek side of the conference, Inman’s Connect Tech, bringing in a dump-truck of ideas about everything that is happening on the Web to open things up for consumers.
We were glad to see such a good turnout, maybe 200 people, for an event that we’d cooked up with Inman only a few months ago. One day, maybe it’ll be as big as Connect, the event for agents. Mike (pictured above at left) stayed up the night before writing his speech, confirming the impression he made earlier of being an overgrown, talented kid, shy when he isn’t being startling.

What worried me was that instead of all the industry types barfing on Mike’s ideas, as I think they would have done last winter in New York, everybody was writing down what he said, or even worse, volunteering “we’re doing that now!” (Redfin is going to have a run for its money). The best part was when somebody said the Salt Lake MLS had allowed them to combine its data with for-sale-by-owner listings, only to have the Salt Lake MLS stand up and say “Not anymore.”
I kept looking over at the mild-mannered Inman CEO Mike Edelhart, to see if he would blanch at the controversy, but he was thrilled, engaged; good journalists never die, even when they become CEO’s.

The map guys didn’t say much new, but probably gave another 50 entrepreneurs enough encouragement to put listings on a map. Redfin was on a tame standards panel. Later on, Craigslist’s Craig Newmark stood on the other side from us of a large plant but nobody had the guts to say hi. We all felt pretty glum about being so chicken until Rob McGarty, who screwed up royally converting everyone to Treo’s, said “Hey, he’s using a Treo.”

The main event, Inman Connect, was a mob scene, with people jammng the doorways of a huge ballroom. I missed Brad Inman’s keynote speech about transparency because of a meeting that ran late, but Zillow’s blog hits the high points.
Zillow’s main men, Lloyd Frink and Rich Barton, gave an utterly charming presentation about what they learned over the past six months, consisting mostly of funny pictures. They introduced a neat feature for getting Zestimates by e-mail and opened up their API, which maybe we’ll use to put more data on our map.

They said they’d never be a brokerage, which is always nice for us to hear. They showed a slide of a house with a “Buy It Now” button next to it that kind of reminded me of our site. It was supposed to be an example of what not to do. The audience roared. The lady next to me craned around to see the look on my face. Note to self that we really need to change that Buy It button to something like Start Offer…

From the forum on journalism, I really liked Lockhart Steele’s comment on community features, that you should assume people are intelligent, so much more so than computers, and not worry that they might say something crazy, vengeful or stupid (though that’s fun too).

I ran into anti-realtor legal gadfly extraordinaire David Barry, wearing another scintallting shirt open at the chest, who said he felt “so energized coming to tradeshows.” I looked at him, not for the first time, with wonder.

We won an award for most innovative business model, which we’ll announce tomorrow. Winners in other categories included Trulia, Zillow, RE/MAX, Urban Digs, Cell Signs. I had set aside my laptop and patted my hair down when the envelope for our category was being opened, only to see Rob and Eric Heller jump up like Academy Award-winners on hearing our name, and take the stage to get their photos taken with Jessica Swesey. This was awesome.
We got invited to a swanky party at an expensive house up for sale but I didn’t go.


  • Craig Newmark

    Hey, I’m no big deal, will be back today.


  • Glenn Kelman

    Craig, anyone who can’t be bought, who cares about all the little things, who is a believer that we can make things better, is a very big deal.

    Your comment made us very happy.

  • Michael Kirch


    While I applaud your efforts to radically change the real estate business with a new and innovative business model, I strongly believe that there is a better model. I like the idea of having employees, rather than agents on commission, and I completely agree with a centralized office serving a large area with agents in the field, representing a territory. One other element that would add value is for all agents to drive redfin branded vehicles (all of the same model and year like a mini or something like it) with laptops and printers. In regards to representing the buyer, offering a rebate is excellent, so long as the agent is familiar with the territory (home values, schools, etc). Real estate is a local business and will alwasy be and it is extremely difficult to only rely on information systems/technology to obtain this information. Also, research has been done by a consumer marketing company that concluded using the word “match” or “matching” is more effective than the word “rebate”. In regards to representing sellers, I think you model will be much more difficult to execute successfully. Cooperating with other agents and brokers is so important – remember the goal is to sale the house, not change the world. The Help U Sell model of charging a flat fee does not mesh well with the traditional system. A more effective approach is to push the commission strucuture to the out limits. For example, if the prevailing local commission is 6%, charge 4% with 2% as a cooperting commission. Even more innovative, is to have a tiered commission schedule offering 2% to “for sale by owners”, 4% to the typical home seller (average house in a neighborhood), and 6% to those who want to pay more for whatever reason or for more complicated transactions like land, commercial property and investment property (apartment buildings). The most successful company that has a similar business model is Foxtons in New Jersey, formerly known as “YHD” or “Your Home Direct”. This model allows for you to save your clients money, it allows for the ability to cooperate with other agents, it allows for redfin agents to make a career in real estate (higher compensation), and it allows for you to establish yourself more quickly and to potential steal away agents from other companies as you grow – this will only happen if you are willing to cooperate (albeit to the extreme) within MLS and if you are able to prove that your system works not only for the client but for the agent in terms of leads.


    Michael Kirch