Introducing First-to-Know

How do you sell a home that isn’t for sale?

Today, we’re trying to find out, as the first step in a program called First to Know. The home-for-sale-that-isn’t-for-sale is a Capitol Hill condo here in Seattle.

The condo owner, Eugene Lin, wants to gauge market demand. So he took some snaps and wrote up a nice little description of his favorite things about the place that we posted to our Seattle blog as a sort of MySpace page for the condo, and now we’re matching him up with all the people on Redfin’s site who have registered for updates on Capitol Hill properties. Hopefully, there’ll be a fit.
Redfin First to Know Trader

Instead of buyers searching an MLS of properties for sale, potential sellers can search a sort-of MLS of buyers.

What we like about this:

–> It’s direct and frictionless: Eugene hasn’t signed a listing agreement or hung a yard sign, and he isn’t interested in paying a traditional commission; he just sent us an e-mail answering some basic questions, with some photos attached.
–> It doesn’t just use the Internet as a marketing brochure: the Internet is great not just for displaying information, like a listing, but also at figuring out what information people want to see. Redfin has a pretty good idea of who would be interested in Eugene’s condo.
–> It’s fluid and provisional: the Internet lets people test ways to think (blogs), to be (MySpace, chat rooms), to do. If you get something wrong, you just change it. Eugene can get a sense of what his property can command in the market, then decide if he wants to sell it in the MLS, or directly to a buyer he meets in the next few days — or not at all.

Living with this quantum jitter of uncertainty is one of the most important ways the Internet has changed how we think. You still need an MLS, for properties that are unambiguously for sale, but marketplaces also need the fluidity for buyers and sellers to connect and converse without transacting.
city view 400x168.jpg
The traditional real estate industry depends on this idea that buying or selling a house is a terrifying ordeal, consisting of one irrevocable step after another. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The notion that buyers and sellers can work together in a simpler way has stuck with us ever since we read in the papers about a young couple who bought a house from a Wisconsin woman representing herself:

“We sat there and had a glass of wine,” Ms. Murphy recalled. “And they said, ‘Hey, there’s that crack in the basement wall.’ And we said, ‘No problem. We’ll take care of it.’ ” Dealing directly with each other seemed so civilized, she said. “I keep coming back to that.”

But enough chit-chat. Check out the condo, or tell us what you think of the idea. It’s something we began talking publicly about since we first noticed a Finnish website that was letting people make bids on homes that aren’t for sale (the comments on that posting were particularly helpful to us in shaping our strategy, giving voice and urgency to concerns we hadn’t yet worked out). There’s a lot more that we still want to do with the idea.

In the meantime, if you’d like to gauge demand for your very own unlisted property, just write ftk (@) redfin (dot) com. Or, if you’ve already listed your place, you can still create a MySpace page for it on our Bay Area or Seattle real estate blog, too. Just use the same address and we’ll hook you up.


  • Pat Kitano


    You’ve described the solution to an age-old question posed by home sellers who are not necesarily FSBO – “Why isn’t there a pocket listing MLS system?”

    In fact, I tried a pocket listing when we sold our San Francisco home last year during the seller’s market and opted for a realtor listing agreement when I realized that would bring more buyer competition. Market testing without obligation gave us the reflection time to figure out our sales strategy and that’s why an institutionalized pocket listing system makes sense.

    Even googling “pocket listing MLS” yields nothing relevant… so

    Go for it and keep me posted!

  • howard

    I agree with the three things about individuals on net, but Eugene missed the most important one: Internet lets people to get.

  • Persh

    It’s a convenient notion to allow “pocket listings” to be made public when the overhead of Redfin as a conventional brokerage is so low for its given geography and particular demographic. To extend this idea– if there were a “pocket listing” MLS why would any reasonable seller wish to use “Redfin Direct” when they could not only use their own judgments as to the buyer, but also to the terms? (i.e, “let’s just use the FTK – its free, gets lots of buyers to call us”) I suspect that Redfin is poised to leverage their internet popularity (read: buyer traffic) to make some buyer-side commissions. After all, where would the dumpy house in Skyway get all the attention it needs? Seriously, Redfin is dabling in many sides of the marketplace by positioning itself as a harbinger of change via “experimentation” – a smart move for a company that is still riding the wave of no-viable-competitor. Redfin is smart enough to make itself anything that the market desires.

  • Dana

    This is the most ridiculous thing ever! I would let ever buyer I know to stay away from these sorts of listings. The seller may sell and they may not? Seems a big waste of time if you are truly a serious buyer.

  • Dana

    This is the most ridiculous thing ever! I would let ever buyer I know to stay away from these sorts of listings. The seller may sell and they may not? Seems a big waste of time if you are truly a serious buyer.

  • theFrontSteps

    Okay…I’m back. Got lost over there on Springwise, and touching up on my Finnish.
    I’ve sold many a pocket listing and known many a buyer who bought others, but I’m in the biz. I’m assuming Redfin will handle the transaction?
    The thing you seem to be forgetting is that the model you appear to be throwing up here is going to be full of the Zillow “make me move” type people that aren’t really serious. You might be spinning your wheels, but you’ll never know unless you try. One thing that helps facilitate the sale of pocket listings is traders…and in this industry those traders are Realtors. But it can be done. I’ve had readers of my sfnewsletter use my comps to sell their condos themselves to friends. It doesn’t bother me, because I have tons of business, but it can happen, it’s just rare…for now. Either way, I’m moving to Finnland. Special shout out to Pat Kitano!


  • Eugene Foreclosures

    Its getting pretty hard to do anything with out someone stepping on your feet.