At real estate’s big Inman technology conference in Manhattan, Redfin squared off with Allan Dalton, Move.com’s President of Real Estate, in a keynote session entitled high-touch vs. high-tech, about the differences between online brokers and traditional real estate agents.
Move.com runs Realtor.com for the National Association of Realtors, publishing listings nationwide. It has also threatened to sue Redfin to change our logo, which, after some ineffectual begging, threatening and groveling, we are now changing.
You of course will be wondering only who won? Well I can’t say, for several reasons:
1. I’m not sure who, which probably means I lost.
2. I wouldn’t say I won if I had.
3. Allan and I both blathered, though he blathered well.
I met a few industry veterans in the morning for breakfast, who promised me Allan would toss chunks of ahi Redfin to the delirious crowd. They told me to watch a video of Allan comparing Zillow’s astounded Lloyd Frink to a carnival barker guessing someone’s weight:
This is probably why, the whole time I was under the lights with Allan, I found myself looking at Lloyd for support, who alternated between nodding sympathetically, and diddling with his mobile device.
In the green room beforehand, Allan was very kind, telling me in a wonderful Boston accent that his daughters loved my home-town. He looked comfortable in a tie, and a sweater over the tie, and a coat over the sweater (whereas I had just gotten my hair cut by someone who I am fairly certain had never cut white hair). Allan said he represented all Realtors, including Redfin, the way someone might say, “we’re all God’s children,” to a deranged child. Then he explained how we would destroy me on stage.
Allan went first, touting executives from Google and Amazon who have joined Move.com. He talked about negotiating skills, not service. He said he was in favor of consumer choice; then he said that anyone claiming a consumer could save money from reduced commissions was on dangerous ethical and legal ground.
Before I could pipe up, he told me don’t be defensive: he wasn’t talking about Redfin. Then he started bludgeoning me with “THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TRANSACTION OF PEOPLE’S LIVES.” The rest of the conversation alternated between the boring (me) and the somewhat disparaging (Allan).
The moderator, Brad Inman, asked if Redfin had faced opposition from the industry; we said yes, acknowledging that sometimes we’ve made it worse for ourselves by stoking the controversy. Brad asked how Redfin could do better at negotiating a $2-million deal in the Berkeley Hills than a superstar agent: we told him we could do $40,000 better (but not that coherently).
The battle was joined. Allan and I wrangled over whether we could cost the customer more by screwing up the deal. I said the most basic premise of Redfin’s business is that we have to be the best, not the cheapest. It was an aspiration that seemed to settle Allan and the crowd; it’s something we all understand.
Then Redfin antagonized everyone by saying that what’s wrong with the industry is the commission structure that pressures agents to pressure clients, and the desk fees that pressure brokerages to recruit more agents than the market needs. If we don’t reform ourselves, and take out all the sales baloney too, people will come to hate real estate agents the way they hate tobacco companies or Big Oil.
Then it was over. Many people afterwards congratulated me, for nothing in particular, which was very kind. The floor cleared, and I started to chat with a New York board member whom I rarely see but was eager to impress. “How’d you do?” he said. A Hamptons broker with a magnificent head of hair and a Bluetooth embedded in his ear interrupted us to say, confidently and happily, that I had bombed.
Random bonus, from a friend of Redfin: this magnificent obituary of a frenzied gardener.