Redfin is going to Washington tomorrow, to testify before the Congressional Subcommittee on Housing and Community about how MLS rules and minimum-service laws gum up Internet businesses. Michael Oxley, who came up with the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley bill that made executives accountable for their financial statements, is leading the charge against the realtors. So the guy on our side has taken down some major scores.
After a year of DoJ lawsuits, FTC hearings and GAO reports, it seems possible Congress might be ready to make a few simple changes that could revolutionize U.S. real estate: give all brokerages fair and equal access to listing services so the MLS can’t exert monopoly power, and regulate state minimum-service and anti-rebate laws so consumers can choose the level of service for which they want to pay.
With the National Association of Realtors President-Elect scheduled to speak alongside Redfin, the hearings should feature plenty of action. It hadn’t even occurred to us to talk to Congress until we read about the hearings in a New York Times editorial. When we started cold-calling Congress, it felt a bit like petitioning Kafka’s Castle, a hopeful, hopeless, absurd feeling, until a staffer said “You really don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” Then she lowered her voice and explained to us that we were “calling the wrong side” — it seemed very odd at the time for someone to be so open and matter-of-fact about her partisanship — and provided the names and numbers of her opponents.
When we finally latched onto the right person, he wrote back by BlackBerry that he was on the floor pushing a bill to a vote at that very moment, and we felt a little School-House-Rock-style wonder. Today we had to submit our written testimony, which we worked on the night before like it was a high-school term paper. A Congressional staff-member made 75 photocopies so that all the staffers could tee up questions for the Congresspeople to ask us, which isn’t a pleasant thought.
And now I’m about to get on a red-eye for Charlotte, and from there to Dulles with its 1960′s alien buses, and then a nap on a friend’s couch, and from there to the Halls of Power. Like every craven businessperson trying to get what’s coming to him from the government, I feel a sudden surge of patriotism, self-righteousness and idealism, tinged only a little by regret about the crazy quotes captured today by John Cook in his excellent blog for the Seattle PI.
Some days, most days, I believe that if we just stopped trying to win an argument with the traditional real estate industry and instead looked for a solution, we’d all be better off. Tomorrow probably isn’t going to be one of those days.
If you have any messages that you’d like Redfin to pass onto Congress, just leave a comment. Otherwise, tune in to read how the hearings turn out, and to get a copy of our oral testimony.