All the Homes for Sale (Well, Nearly All)

One Sunday morning last fall, my great friend Conan, a debonair former nose-tackle who often advises me to get in touch with my feminine side, called to ask about using our site. It took half an hour to convince someone who knows I would never lie to him in a million years to run a search on Redfin. And almost all that time was spent on one simple question: “do you have all the homes for sale?

Conan and the Great Peter Seidenberg (Far Left)

“Great question,” I said as real estate inventory has somehow become one of my favorite subjects, second only to “how popular I was in high school,” gossip, my many grudges, and what different drugs are like. “We have all the broker-listed homes for sale.”

“And that’s ALL the homes for sale?”

“Well, technically there’s always a few sold by the owner, without a broker. It’s called FSBO.”

“Yeah?” Conan said. “You don’t have those?”


“Is that it?”

“And there’s also stuff in foreclosure, that’s been repo’d by the bank, before the bank has hired a broker to put it in the MLS.”

“Yeah?” Conan said. “Is THAT it?”

“And there’s always the possibility that you could sell your place to your cousin, without ever putting it on the market. We wouldn’t have that either.”

“So basically you’re saying you kind of suck,” Conan said. We had now come to very familiar ground in our 20-year friendship.

“Yeah,” I said. “But everyone else sucks too. Many suck worse.”

In the background, I could hear Conan typing in his first search.

A few minutes after our call ended, the U.S. real estate market collapsed, putting more inventory in a gray market of foreclosures. And we soon began working with I-don’t-have-an-office-number-just-a-cell-phone middle-men, data-scrapers and offshore aggregators to get our hands on every home for sale we could find, minus outdated garbage, copyrighted information, stuff that wasn’t really for sale, and teasers where consumers would have have to pay someone else for the address.

This culmination of this effort is the latest version of our site, live since 6 a.m. this morning, which has bank-owned foreclosures and for-sale-by-owner listings alongside all the listings from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). It’s a little controversial, and lots of fun to play around with and of course we think it’s beautiful too.

Redfin Supports FSBO and Foreclosure

Not that even now the new version of Redfin has all the homes for sale – we only had enough money to get data on foreclosures once the bank owns them, but not before, when they’re up for auction. For the markets we serve, we should have more real estate listings than anyone else. And the foreclosure data we do have is unique, because we give the foreclosures’ actual addresses and bank contact information, which other sites require you to pay for. Redfin is the only site we know of that aggregates bank-owned properties for free.

We’ve hit up more than 50 for-sale-by-owner sites for their inventory, with only two major gaps: Zillow and Craigslist. Zillow is, we hope, coming soon. Someone offered us a Craigslist feed, no questions asked. But when we emailed Craigslist about it, Internet god Craig Newmark confirmed this was a violation of the terms of service. What was incredible about his reply was that it took exactly three minutes and it came from The Man Himself (Craig Newmark rocks).

On other fronts, we’ve fixed up our URLs for Google, and juiced up our MLS integration again, in both Boston and Southern California, so that we can get comprehensive inventory updates every 15 minutes (our only laggard MLS integration is now in Ventura County). While we were at it, we grabbed more open-house data, let people search for open houses, and upgraded our email notifications to tell people when their favorite listings change prices or sell. Next up, the data team is hoping to get photos of very-recent past sales.

But for now we’ve also made it more obvious how to search for data on past sales, a sweet feature that Redfin has always had but which no one ever knew about because it used to be hard to find. No longer! For the markets we serve, you can easily see what any home sold for between last week and 20 years ago (the lag is often more than a week, depending on how long it takes the transaction to record).

What does this all add up to? The new version takes us deeper and deeper into Freakish Depth, which is our strategy to build the best real estate site by getting the best data. Because we’re a broker in the thick of doing deals, we have access to data as it’s being recorded. And unlike lead-generation sites, we want people to use Redfin to go all the way, getting everything they need to buy the home without having to talk to anyone or pay anything.

The strategy started in January with super-low-latency-MLS integration, bird’s-eye views, two new estimates, Excel integration, neighborhood boundaries and comparable listings. Then we got deeper with listing statistics, which analyzes where the traffic for a listing is coming from, and how inventory levels in the neighborhood have changed.

A gratifying subplot of all this is that the MLSs with whom we have sometimes jousted worked with us on this release. One MLS guided us on how we could show different types of inventory without violating the rules. And another provided the square footage data we’d been asking for. It’s still a delicate balance, sharing data among competitors, and working within a common set of rules to protect the different brokers’ clients.

Which makes us all the more careful not to screw things up. For years, we’ve wanted to add inventory to Redfin, but have hesitated out of respect for the brokers who share their listing data with Redfin, many of whom have legitimate concerns about properties for sale directly from banks or owners. In the end what swayed us was:

  1. the consumers who want above all else to see all the homes for sale
  2. the market, where in places like San Diego 40% of the sales have been foreclosure-related
  3. guidance from some of the MLSs we work with

Hopefully, we’ve found a way to show consumers more information without causing any harm to other MLS members. We’re going to roll out flat-fee services in the next few weeks to work with buyers on for-sale-by-owner and foreclosure properties, but we won’t help anyone go around a listing broker if one has been hired.

Many thanks to all the engineers, product managers and customers – a San Francisco focus group talked us into buying the addresses for foreclosures — who came together to create this site. We worked awfully hard on it, some of us through occasionally daunting circumstances, and are anxious to see how you like it. We hope there aren’t too many bugs. And please, spread the word!

*PS: we may add auction properties in the future but in that case we would have to require users to pay an extra fee to see the address.


  • smurfett

    horray horray horray! this is what i’ve been waiting for! I love looking things up at redfin but google was offering more info till now. This will so help w/ the house search!

  • kfcblog


    That really was also my biggest question when I started looking for homes several months ago. It also led me to blog about my findings:

    When I started searching, I didn’t know anything about MLS or anything real estate. All I knew was that on the street corners of SF, there were two free magazines that I should always pick up: Real Estate Times and California Property Guide.
    Real Estate Times is a very flashy magazine. The focus appears to be more about the agents and less about the homes. So trying to find a home to see is harder than finding an agent.
    California Property Guide, a Chinese magazine, on the other hand focuses more on homes. Another feature of the magazine I like is that at the back there are informational articles about all things real estate.
    With both magazines, I knew there had to be more homes than that. So when I moved my search to online, I thought, “Wow! Look at all these homes!”
    At one point, I was switching between Redfin and Zillow until I got burned, or rather embarrassed, on one situation and then stuck with Redfin towards the end. So here’s my embarrassing situation… :)
    I found a home on Zillow and it looked interesting to see. I tried looking for it on Redfin, and but it didn’t appear. That should have been the clue but the info on Zillow said the house was recently listed by someone and the agent contact info was given. Finally I decide to call the agent and to my embarrassment he told me he sold the house three years ago and why I am calling on such an old listing. I couldn’t say anything. :) And here’s the odd kicker!A few days after my wife and I finally bought our home, this house went on the market! It looks like the agent used the same photo and the agent is the same one! Boy I had such a laugh.

  • Conan

    kathleen wrote to say that an unflattering picture of me is on your blog. I just did a spot check of five properties listed on a few local (Boston) FSBO sites. You got all of them. Well done, and I do love the site. I will buy and sell through Redfin when the time comes.

    Glenn in high school = not popular.

  • Drew Meyers from Zillow

    Hey Glenn-
    Congrats on the new additions to Redfin today — very exciting stuff for your team (and the consumers using Redfin).

    I talked with your product folks earlier today, and I’m happy to say Zillow has a solution in the works that should work.

  • Lu Doan

    Hi Glenn –

    Congrats on your new release. It is amazing what you and your team have accomplished. You have pushed the envelope in both technology and business for the real estate industry. Kudos!

    Following Conan’s line of questions. Do you have new construction properties in Redfin? If you do not and would like to add them, we would love to provide them to you.

    My name is Lu Doan, founding partner of a small start up called Agent Shield Technologies. If you’re interested, I would love to speak with you further.

    PS. I apologize for contacting via posted comment. I know its a bit tacky. Please accept my apologies.

  • Landflip

    Sounds like an interesting program. It sounds like Redfin is adapting to the current real estate market. It’s fun to stay on the cutting edge of real estate. I look forward to surfing your site.

  • Sean

    Awesome stuff! It’s so great to see you guys continuing to make fast progress.

    • New home building guru

      I agree, this is awesome, awesome, awesome. Keep up the great work redfin!

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  • Chris

    Please give Opera a little love, it stinks to have to cut over only for the (wonderful) redfin.

  • Glenn Kelman

    Conan, it would be impossible to post an unflattering picture of you. But I did my best.

    @Lu: we have MLS-listed new construction.
    @Drew: hi there! We would love to get access to Zillow FSBO; thank you!
    @KFCBog: your comment worries us, because as we add inventory from other sources, the quality of that inventory will in fact decline. the MLSs will, by far, be the highest-quality data sources.
    @Chris: every browser we add increases the size of our QA matrix, but we will give it some thought…

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  • LandDeals

    Wow, been searching the net for ages trying to figure this out, but what do they mean by this: [...] present” data that was obtained from other sources? Redfin’s Glen Kelman assures the community that the MLSs worked with them on the release and guided them on the approach to listing different [...] whats the deal?

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  • GordonMervin

    Your site looks amazing, I took a glance and saw it's very well structured and you can't lose yourself there. Nobody likes mazes. Your idea of using maps is great, you don't have to write endless lines about where the home is located or if it is a home, actually, you just let the map speak for itself. I looked for manufactured homes in Oregon, because I want to buy there, to be closer to my sister. The problem is that I couldn't use the term “manufactured”, due to the fact that I got no results when I typed it. Don't you have this kind of information on your website?

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  • Las Vegas Foreclosures

    Finally. Outstanding post!

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  • dhamodharan

    excellent post.
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