Century 21 Runs an Anti-Redfin Ad!

About a week after Redfin showed up on 60 Minutes, Century 21 started running an ad challenging the idea that you could buy a home online (video of ad no longer available on YouTube due the account being suspended).

“Some people think they can do it all on the computer,” the actor says. “Find a home, sell a home. Except the computer can’t do what I do at Century 21. Understand your needs. The subtleties of the market, the neighborhood… the schools… the process! To watch your eyes when you walk into a home and know right away that you’re in love with it. No computer can do that.”

I like the music, and the shy way she never quite stands in the center of the screen, or how she scrunches down as she talks about understanding your needs, even while the background darkens. The ad seems to be a self-conscious departure from the sinister tone of Century 21′s earlier efforts, which like most real estate marketing, oscillate between corn-pone dreams of home-ownership and scaring you to death.

But, since we still are one of the only online brokerages, it feels like a blunder for Century 21 to take us so seriously. Watching it, I was overcome with the elation of a high-school nerd after the prom queen noticed him enough for a put-down.

And the ad falls into the same old trap, arguing that customers need help picking out a home. Most don’t.

According to the market research we conducted before launching Redfin Direct, people value a broker for putting together a winning deal over helping them pick out a place, by a margin of about four to one. Buyers’ big anxiety is that their agent, because he’s paid by the seller, isn’t completely on their side. Negotiations, contingencies, legalities are of course where Redfin salaried real estate agents focus all their efforts. The ad doesn’t really speak to any of that; it acts as if online brokerages don’t even have any agents.

Our CTO, Michael Young, disagrees. He thinks the ad is bad news for Redfin. In an e-mail, he worries that traditional brokerages “have a lot of money to spend… there’s a consistent FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt] attack against us that we’re just a bunch of low-touch clerks that we don’t combat well in our current marketing.”

Redfin spent peanuts on marketing last year vs. the traditional industry’s $12 billion. Mike suggested all sorts of guerilla tactics for getting the word out that we offer better service from offer to close than a traditional agent. Somebody suggested providing complete real-time access to customer survey results. My favorite was cinema verite of Redfin customers and agents working together. Our founder, David Eraker, once proposed picketing traditional real estate brokerages. (“What would we put on our signs?” I said.)

And so we’ve started to think about how we should change up our marketing, and could use a few suggestions. We’ve already got some raw material: Redfin customers have shown up on TV in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and nationwide. We’ve got heaps of real estate agent and customer photos and testimonials buried somewhere in our site. We’ve also written an exhaustive overview of the home-buying process, more than I thought anyone would ever read, except we know from all the questions we get in our real estate classes that occasionally they do.

If you know someone handy with home-movies, or you have an idea about what we should do to spread the word, let us know.


  • http://www.cjmillisock.com CJ Millisock

    I think Century 21′s response was typical. You guys probably should’ve expected this kind of resistance. You’re disrupting their long-standing business model. :-)

    I disagree with your CTO, Michael Young. I think this ad is like a child throwing a temper tantrum (albeit, a little more professional). The reason I say that is that Redfin IS a better way to buy a house. The people at Century 21 can cry all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that their business model is outdated and is inferior to Redfin’s. They haven’t adapted with technology and as a result they will be faded out.

    You guys just need to keep doing what you’re doing, expand into more parts of the country (and world), and you will eventually become THE way to buy a home.

  • http://www.ekday.com/blog/blog.html Shaun McLane

    I love when marketing teams come up with such original material (implied sarcasm). Shows they are an outstanding company!

  • Lisa

    So, I have to pay a broker so that THEY can have the opportunity to see the joy in my eyes. I’ll pass.

  • L.J.

    I agree, from my home shopping experience I would choose to have nothing to do with the handful of “usual suspects” (traditional agents) I encountered at open houses…they’re vultures and I think some of them fall into a class one step below used car salesman. I felt that even as a first time homebuyer, I had no trouble learning about the market and finding the perfect home without an agent holding my hand. My experience with Redfin exceeded my expectations.

    I’ve read a lot of the blogs on Rain City Guide. What a pathetic bunch of people with an inflated sense of self importance! I hope the Ardell’s of this world get put out of business by Redfin.

  • http://realiventblog.com Matt

    If you think that is an anti-Redfin ad, you’re crazy.

    She, the actor, is completely right. You’re just spinning it AGAIN…

    I thought Redfin was not only a computer home search, you have agents, and you help clients personally…so why is this an attack?

    Now if she came out and Glenn Kelman can’t do what we do…now that’s an attack!

  • http://myblog.daltonsazhomes.com Jonathan Dalton

    Hubris anyone?

    From Wikipedia … Hubris or hybris (Greek ?????), according to its modern usage, is exaggerated self pride or self-confidence (overbearing pride), often resulting in fatal retribution. In Ancient Greek hubris referred to actions taken in order to shame the victim, thereby making oneself seem superior. …

    I don’t remember hearing Redfin mentioned in the ad. Maybe I should play it backward, just in case. Nope … just confirmation that Paul is still alive.

    The fact Century 21 put together such an ad is less proof of Redfin’s impact than its lack of originality. Internet real estate searches are not particularly novel. Not actually helping clients view the property is.

  • http://www.redfin.com Glenn Kelman

    Guilty as charged! We should have acknowledged that Century 21 is reacting to a broader industry phenomenon. Of course, Redfin does in fact help its clients see homes in person: http://www.redfin.com/stingray/do/home-tours?direct-section=buy

  • nonymouse

    Jonathan Dalton, I’ve heard a lot of negative stories about your work ethic and selling practices. Its no wonder you of all people are so outspoken.

    You know what they say about he who speaks the least. Well, actually you probably wouldnt know how that saying goes. otherwise you wouldnt be making a clown of yourself all over the internet.

    PS. get your thyroid checked

  • nonymouse

    please do a side by side comparison matrix showing a traditional agent and the redfin agent. show exactly what you do and what they do. let this be the start of disputing the agent’s claims of full service. i dont think they will have anything to top redfin.

  • http://myblog.daltonsazhomes.com Jonathan Dalton

    They already have, nonymouse. It’s on the web site. You don’t even have to look too hard to find it, if you’re really interested.

  • http://www.redfin.com Bahn Lee
  • Private

    Thanks, Bahn!

    See, Jonathan? Rather than implying that nonymous is dumb/lazy because they didn’t look hard enough for a link, a wonderful Redfinian was nice enough to post them.

    See the difference in service?

    Also took a look at your blog. You’re with Century 21, huh?

  • http://myblog.daltonsazhomes.com Jonathan Dalton

    Well, thanks for visiting Private. Always happy to have new readers.

    Since you were there, you may have seen my comment that my view would’ve been the same had the headline been about C21, Re/Max or anyone else. I surrendered defending the corporate keep years ago when I became an independent contractor. I’m with Century 21 because of the brand and what it’s done for me. If there were better available, I’d switch. It’s all pretty simple.

    I sure didn’t mean to imply anything. I just thought it was odd that someone rushing to the defense of Redfin didn’t know what was on Redfin’s site. Otherwise, the post just smacks of Realtor-bashing – not actual support of the Redfin model.

    Which is fine, I suppose, if that is what makes you happy.

  • Private

    Aw, come one, of COURSE you meant to imply it – and you meant for everyone else to infer it. It’s a common theme throughout your posts here and on your site. You’ve got the same “RTFM” attitude that makes the web such an unpleasant place for those of us who don’t already know everything. I humbly bow to your excellence.

  • http://realiventblog.com Matt

    “makes the web such an unpleasant place…”

    Troll blog posts that are written to cause flammatory responses make the web unpleasant.

    Glenn: “Guilty as charged!”

    You should edit the post title, from “Century 21 Runs an Anti-Redfin Ad!” to “Century 21 runs an ad about computers”. You throw it out there, then acknowledge it is a mistake, but do nothing about it.

    Really, if you look at it, redfin is attacking Century 21 for running bogus anti-redfin ads.

  • nonymouse

    its a real estate bubble and its about to burst.

  • awwwlordie

    And Matt, you are considered a troll here.

    Your circular logic is the same type of psychology tactics that abusers use on their victims.

    I’m going to introduce you to a concept of implication and pragmatics. When something is implied without directly coming out and saying it.

    So stop with your “its not about you”. Yes it is and if you can’t see that, then you are not a very sharp person that is probably blogging more than selling and showing houses.

    and I didnt imply you are stupid, lazy or unsuccessful. Why do you think everything is about you?

  • L.J.

    At least the Redfin blog moderators believe in free speech…they allow people to post their thoughts without deleting them off of here.

    Any of you ever try to post a disagreeable statement on the Rain City Guide blog? They delete any and all comments that question or go against their ideas, business model, or moderators.

    While Glenn and others on here may “dish it out” they are also open to “taking it” thereby allowing people to post their comments whether or not it lines up.

    Oh, and Glenn, I must say I really appreciate the “real” photos of the Redfin staff… none of that super-super-soft-focus look often seen on other agents photos… (anyone whose looked at RCG knows who I’m talking about).

  • http://realiventblog.com Matt


    your right, I withdraw my argument.

    That video is a blatant attack against redfin, and I now totally despise Century 21 for pulling such a terrible tactic!

    I feel used :(

  • awwwlordie

    you still do not understand the difference do you? Well I’ll explain it to you as simply as I can. It is not a blatant attack against redfin. It is a subtle, but no less effective, attack by making IMPLICATIONS about redfin.

    at least a high quality troll would have understood that.

  • http://www.redfin.com Glenn Kelman

    Hi there,

    The ad is anti-Redfin, even if it is anti-other brokerages or models as well.

    I left a comment about this issue on Jonathan’s blog that has disappeared (maybe this is because of some user error on my part). In it we talked about how the C21 ad was explicitly focused on a computer’s replacing the services of an agent, which does seem to focus on Redfin more than other competitors. That said, we are happy to acknowledge that we are not the only ones.

    I haven’t edited the blog post title because it should stand as written, so people can see the entire debate, including my earlier comment (“guilty as charged”). Editing the post would be seen as covering our tracks.

  • http://myblog.daltonsazhomes.com Jonathan Dalton

    Your comments are still there, Glenn. I don’t delete comments unless they’re blatant spam or profane.

    And as I said on my blog, I don’t believe that you believe computers can entirely replace real estate agents. If you did, you wouldn’t have hired agents in the first place.

    Forget the touchy-feely moments of the ad and focus on some hard facts of the transaction and there are some aspects where a human must intervene.

    I have dozens of clients, past and present, who have used the internet in their search. Heck, I set them up for the searches in most cases so they can narrow their choices down.

    The difference is, I don’t have the meter running when I’m showing homes. Maybe I ought to with gas at $3 a gallon, but I don’t.

    L.J. – I do admit to blurring one of Tobey’s chins. He’s fairly self-conscious. But that picture was taken at my kitchen table. I’d say that was “real.”

  • http://realiventblog.com Matt

    YOU are basically telling ME how I should perceive the video.

    If I saw that video on Youtube, I would not have thought about Redfin at all. I would not have thought it was anti-anything. It is an ad for century 21, that’s it…nothing more.

    Since it is under a big header that says “anti-redfin ad” the seed was planted, and the video is put under all new context.

  • raindropsonroses

    What irritates me is I see redfin explaining their model over and over and over and over and yet some people still cant not mentally grasp it, yet it seems so basic. Like having to explain things to a small child.

    Redfin is using technology to make the home buying and selling process more efficient and consumer friendly. As technology has done in the past for other industries.

  • awwwlordie

    Matt are you totally unaware and out of touch with your own industry? Do you have any idea at all that there is HUGE controversy on the federal level with the very industry you so vehemently and blindly defend?

  • http://www.morelistingsmoresales.com More Listings | More Sales

    Disagree-Ad is not about Redfin. It is not an attack. C21 promoting their C21 agents.

    Agree-Ad is bad. Campaign is bad. The old campaign even worse.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/danaus Danaus Chang

    I just discovered this blog and it’s fascinating. Although I think there’s still a ton of opportunity to improve branding and target marketing, the Redfin selling proposition is strong. Okay so back to the original request for idea generation. (note, I’m sorry, but I haven’t explored the site to the fullest, so if any of these bullets are already done, oh well – I tried).

    1) Educate the buyer as to the value of a $10k reduction in price versus $10k rebate (per the 2%).
    – Mortgage borrowers will see that a reduction in the price of $10k equates to a savings of approx. $55 – $60 bucks a month. On the other-hand, a $10k rebate in the pocket after a deal has been negotiated to its limit may be more attractive. Buyers could use the cash to buy the new furniture they need for their new house or recoup any closing costs they had to pay. Plus, psychologically, often sellers see the commission as sunk cost, so from this stand point, buyers may actually be getting a little extra from a negotiated deal.

    2) Utilize online Live Chat
    - The logistics may be harder to pull off, but this tool could squeeze some buyers/sellers who are sitting at work wanting a quick answer versus an email/phone call.

    3) Conduct more research /segment and target your buyers/sellers cross reference profile with needs.
    - Okay, you mentioned past research, but since I’ve seen the success of real strategic marketing, I’m a believer in this investment. Often businesses may be concentrating too much effort on a specific consumer that just plain won’t adopt this service OR there may be a consumer/organization that needs a service like this, but needs a little more education. Strategy first, then tactical second.

    4) Get involved with the community – sponsor stuff
    - If you’re building a smart brand and you have some good-hearted values, combine the both and get your name out by sponsoring events/organizations that are in-line with the segmentation research you did before. I’m sure there is opportunity to donate a full 3% to somebody out there. It’s good Pub, plus giving sometimes is just the right thing to do.

  • http://myblog.daltonsazhomes.com Jonathan Dalton

    > Redfin is using technology to make the home buying and selling process more efficient and consumer friendly.

    You’re spot on, Raindrops. Of course, there are many, many, many of us who are doing the same thing. That’s my general point.

    Redfin’s welcome to come down here. And if it helps one of my listings move faster, I don’t mind opening the front door … just hope the buyer tells me first, that’s all.

    And that’s all … Glenn, I do thank you for your hospitality here. I’m going to duck out lest I be accused of hijacking the blog.

  • breath_people

    everyone take a deep breath, hold it for a second, then let it out slowly. Repeat up to 5 times.

  • Klio

    Take this ad as a compliment… they would spend the money if they didn’t consider Redfin a threat.

    My question is when might Redfin go public?

  • http://www.agentscoreboard.com/blog Agent Scoreboard

    Mike/Glenn… you’ve got a long way to go to bad a pain in C21 tukas… the markets you guys serve are relatively accepting of new models… when you get to texas, illinois, or florida lets see how it goes… our launch of homeyeah.com in 1997 in indianapolis eventually ended with the law making body of that state create a minimum service law that put us out of business…

    C21 is even the scariest monster in those woods.. ebby holiday and tucker are much worse.

  • http://www.agentscoreboard.com/blog Agent Scoreboard
  • Joe

    United States of America (Press Release) December 6, 2007 — Antitrust complaint unfair trade practices update to previous complaints.

    Shutting off service to your MLS as stated in the letter below and shutting out to prevent non Realtors ( real estate agents) on Realtor owned MLS boards in my opinion is unfair trade practices on a large scale.

    When a Realtor list a home is it disclosed to homeowners at the time of listing that all Non Realtors (real estate agents) will not be able to sell or show any homeowners listings unless they join the local board? Of course not, therefore limiting competition in the marketplace by the thousands of potential home sales from real estate agents nationwide with Realtor own MLS boards… I do believe that there are around 1.7 million real estate agents VS 1.3 million Realtors that leaves a Hugh gap for home buyers and home sellers if this information is not disclosed up front.

    Now that shutting down Supra display keys attached to Realtor owned MLS boards because of unpaid Realtor Board dues, Not unpaid MLS dues only compounds this problem even further for the consumers who have active listings on the Realtor own MLS boards with the agents that are now shut out from a service that is provided by GE/Supra and in which the dues are not not in default..

    Lets look at what I call the poster child state, Georgia

    Georgia has two major Non MLS Realtor Boards GMLS and FMLS that do not discriminate between Realtor or Real Estate Agents therefore providing 100% competition for the consumers and has created a fair marketplace with a level playing field for all to enjoy.

    Why have I choose not to renew my Realtor dues is a very simple explanation for me, I am shammed to be associated with NAR and to be dragged into the DOJ lawsuits against NAR for all the public to see and judge me as a not trustful Realtor (Anti trust) guilty by association, and to further damage the already scarred reputation of being a Realtor.

    Were is NAR ethics here ? http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&I.e.=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GGIH_en__214__214&q=the+doj+vs+nar

    So with an estimated Realtor loss of 10% at the Orlando Regional Board of Realtors not renewing next years dues and are paid up MLS dues have had there Supra keys shut off also, what do they tell there listing homeowners clients and Home buyers? When they can not gain access to there listing, or show potential home buyers homes..

    This is fair practice!! Sorry I call it unfair trade practices on a large scale and I support The Department Of Justice actions 100% to protect the general public from this unfair trade practice.

  • http://www.HomeYeah.com Othello Zune

    The Century 21 ad is anti-Redfin and consumers should be offended by the idea that he/she cannot make an informed decision without a REALTOR. When I was looking for a new construction home, a majority of the sales people working in the builders’ showroom told me that most of their buyers did not have a licensed salesperson (REALTOR) assisting them with the purchase. Does C21 believe that the buyers lacked an understanding of their own needs? Or, of being igmorant of “the neighborhood [or] the schools” when making a home purchase? Does a C21 REALTOR have to tell a you if “you’re in love with” the home? By the way, http://www.HomeYeah.com is operational and must be under new ownership.

  • Toobdieby

    hey guys! i’m chic here. my name’s morgan and i’m from Portland.

    i like baking and baking friends. oops i mean making. hahah.

    umm i want to forge fashionable friends! expectedly a true strong people like johnny bravo to
    sweep me off of my feet and pick me up and shake me like a baby! (…just kidding!)
    i think i like watching flicks trailers more than i like watching movies
    and i wish that people would condense all movies to 3 minutes on youtube.

    if you hope for to give me a back massage i can pay off it in jellybeans or uh.. nevermind.. i can deal you out in jellybeans ONLY.

    i’m a gorgeous noble person. i don’t worry about anything. except for myself.

    it’s wintry and cold here during the winter and most of the year, so how does a trim minor woman stay|presentable?

    i hardly get to go outdoors so i use spray tan. it works like demonic magic and it covers up whiteness.
    so don’t worry my rosy cheek friends (you don’t have to lie and hint that you put on too much blush anymore!) well anyway.
    i have boys swooning through me and let me tell ya.. i’m running| out of jellybeans ;) ;) sooooooooooooo

  • http://myworldofwarcraftonline.com zygor guides

    Autonomy is a good thing; I have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak. ….. “Century 21 phoenix real estate agent”, and my personal favourite!