Something I’ve Been Meaning to Say for A Long Time

For no real reason, a San Diego Sweet Digs blogger attacked real estate broker Kris Berg today. The contract blogger, a usually kind person who deeply regrets the post, no longer works for Redfin because she violated the first rule of our culture, which is that everyone is respected. The charter of Sweet Digs is to write about local real estate, and to leave the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot-stuff to me.

The post makes me physically ill, not only because it seemed mean-spirited but because we know Kris Berg to be a wonderful person, a total pro and a darn good blogger. Worst of all, it deepens a brainless, destructive division between Redfin and our peers that has caused me great — this is the right word — anguish. We have already commented directly on the post, and Kris has already been gracious enough to accept our apology. So the rest of this post is an apology to everyone else in real estate, many of whom have reacted to more than just what we said about Kris last night. And because this is so hard to write, it’s also a list of small but important things we can’t apologize for too.

We all know the Redfin business model is different than yours: we try to get customers via our search site, we pay our agents salaries and customer-satisfaction bonuses, we want to put the escrow process online to avoid talking so much to our customers, and we refund part of our commission. This makes us freaks perhaps, or even fools if you like, but not an enemy.

Just because our model is different doesn’t mean that we think it’s universally better than the commission-based model. You have no idea how many times a day, every day, all night, we worry that we can’t make it work, usually right before we’re filled with euphoria at our prospects. We long ago imagined the party you’ll throw on our grave if we fail. But the reason we can’t give up on Redfin is that it’s what we would want for ourselves. Clearly, most consumers still prefer the traditional model. But some consumers have chosen our model too.

So that’s what we can’t apologize for: for who we are, for tinkering to make our model better (especially around tours, where it has been broken), for believing we can make it work. But we are sorry for our tone — I am sorry for my tone. What is most important to us is that Redfin (often ineffective) calls for reform stop ticking you off. Like you — and unlike the Zillows and Trulias whom you love (and whom we sometimes find ourselves admiring too) — we are real estate agents. We have a vested interest in making real estate better. We share our data via the MLS. We play by its rules. And we work together buying and selling homes.

The change we want is change everybody wants: that consumers can choose the services they pay for without fearing retribution, that they can access property information on their own. That’s it.

I don’t know how we’ve screwed things up so badly that our complaints about vandalized yard-signs or blocked offers have ticked you off. We should all denounce the one-in-a-zillion nut jobs who pull these stunts, because they make us all look bad, and it only takes one or two to terrify an entire market (#1 reason Redfin.com visitors don’t buy through us, 2 years straight: “fear of discrimination”).

It took us a while to realize how stupid it is for us to talk to the press about these incidents — nobody is ever punished, in even the slightest way, even when caught red-handed, and nobody else in real estate is outraged — but we’ll try harder to work out future incidents in private.

And, today’s blog post aside, there is reason to believe we can patch things up with everyone else. Last week, I finally told Greg Swann — he was so nice and gracious — that I was sorry for picking fights with him. Last month, an MLS decided to liberalize its data-sharing rules. Yesterday, a broker phoned to point out — privately, kindly — a possible error in one of our marketing claims (which we will correct if it’s wrong). And Kris Berg took my call today when 9 out of 10 people would have hung up in my face. Every week or so, I get a thank-you note from an agent about a deal we worked on together. How wonderful, how unnecessary and necessary, is that?

So maybe there’s hope that we can work things out. This isn’t a promise to be boring. But at least we can be civil. We weren’t today. We are sorry for the post about Kris Berg. We wanted to say to everyone else in real estate talking about this post that we hope there can be peace between us.

Discussion

  • http://www.retechcoach.com Nick Bostic

    I’ve been reading and quietly watching all of this unfolding and I’m happy to have correctly predicted this post. As a consumer first and person working in the industry, but not a Realtor, your post here not only is correct from a PR perspective, but it comes across as completely genuine.

    As others have pointed out, damage to Redfin is already done and I can imagine you and your team are creating systems so future Sweet Digs bloggers won’t be able to do such damage. I look forward to seeing how you continue to innovate and hopefully a return to civility between all real estate professionals, regardless of which company they work for or which business model they use.

  • http://www.diversesolutions.com Robert Luna

    Well said…

  • http://www.bloodhoundrealty.com/BloodhoundBlog/ Greg Swann

    > Last week, I finally told Greg Swann — he was so nice and gracious — that I was sorry for picking fights with him.

    Oh, come on! Now you’re going to damage my reputation for ferocity. ;)

    For the record, I was amazed by Glenn’s overture last week, because I didn’t think he had anything to apologize to me for. To the contrary, I felt that I had been needlessly caustic toward him when he was, in fact, doing an excellent job of launching Redfin.com, reaping millions of dollars worth of free publicity for the company.

    In any case, I think this is a good way of handling this contretemps. My hat is off to you, Glenn Kelman.

  • http://www.phoenixrealestateguy.com Jay Thompson

    Glenn -

    Well said. I think my post was the first to tee-off on Ms. Hian’s post. I was mortified when I read it, so I wrote about it. And I don’t regret it. It was totally uncalled for.

    But I knew that neither you nor Redfin as a whole were behind that post. I applaud you for apologizing so sincerely. It speaks volumes to your character.

    I honestly don’t have an issue with Redfin. Oh, I may disagree with some of your model. I don’t *think* it will work (getting closer though!) — but I could certainly be wrong – that happened once ;). But (and I’ve posted as such) you are certainly welcome to give it a run. And more power to you if you do succeed.

    The industry needs change. You and Redfin are one of the drivers of change, and that is a good thing.

    I just wanted to clarify that I’ve never felt Redfin was the enemy. Yes, you can be a little harsh on “traditional” real estate at times (and at times it needs it). Ms. Hian’s post was most unfortunate in that it adds to what many in the industry perceive as Redfin’s unwillingness or inability to work with “traditional” agents. But we need to see it as HER opinion, not Redfins.

    Again, I thank you for the appropriate apology to that wreck of a post, and I don’t expect nor need an apology for you running your business.

    Don’t be boring!

    An aside: Trust me, not all agents like Zillow and Trulia. You should have seen the verbal abuse I got when I was wearing a Zillow shirt at the NAR convention….

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  • http://www.bonzai.squarespace.com/blog Mike Farmer

    Good job. As I have written about lately, I think the Redfin model has some great things going for it, and as you “tweak” I watch with interest.

    You are on to something that could grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years as we all change together.

    I’ve become somewhat of a Redfin Watcher. I’m sorry about the post and all the trouble it’s causing you. It goes to show the importance of quality when providing a service, only the best will do.

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  • http://realestatezebra.com Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra

    Well done.

    I’ve got no beef with Redfin. Never have. The beauty of capitalism is that that it separates the wheat from the chaff pretty effectively. Who I am to try and claim I know which is which?

    The one thing I do know is that Kris deserved an apology, and I am glad you stepped-up and gave it.

  • http://www.diversesolutions.com Robert Luna

    Mike I agree with you I have been watching also and Glenn there many things you have done right I know this because I have had clients and friends referring to Redfin in our conversations.

  • http://blog.sellsiusrealestate.com Joseph Ferrara.sellsius

    The power of a sincere apology goes a long way toward making things right. And it takes a noble human being to do it publicly. For this, I respect you Glenn. Unfortunately, there are some folks who have been personally attacked who will never get such an apology, for the same reasons. MD, TB, DR, DL.

  • http://maxsell.net Brad Nix

    I was right behind Jay with comment #2 (and I think #27 or so later in the day). I am on the opposite side of America (Atlanta) and I only have a passing interest in your success/failure in California. However, I am impressed by your quality of character and seemingly genuine concern about agent relations.

    The blog post was disgusting and you handled the fallout beautifully. I commented earlier on the original post that Realtors, Bloggers and Consumers could learn from this issue. I now say Corporate America can learn from your speedy and real response!

    We are all consumers of many things and I think we all have a desire for expedited and sincere response from the companies we do business with.

    Good job today!

  • http://www.truliablog.com Hi! I’m Rudy from Trulia. Way to go Glenn.

    Thanks for standing up for our friend Kris. You’re a good man.

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia

  • Emma

    I am a customer currently using Redfin to find a home, and I have to say that many traditional agents I meet at open houses are hostile towards Redfin and have indicated that sellers do not consider Redfin offers, “real” offers (whatever that means).

    However, I believe in this organization. I work in a field where research is my life, and Redfin has allowed my husband and I to conduct one of the most relaxing and least stressful house hunts of our life.

    I for one applaud your model and I do think it will work. If nothing else, it is working for me and for that I thank you all.

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/glenn%20kelman Glenn Kelman

    Brad, Rudy, Daniel, Greg, Mike, Jay, Robert, Nick others: thanks for your kind words. I’d been sure this post would be greeted with scorn but the world surprises you every day. You are all amazing.
    And Emma, thanks for your kind words too. If there’s any way we can be of help as you tour properties, please let us know. (And I can’t help but add this plug: of course, your offer will be taken seriously. We’ve closed more than 1,000 transactions in Seattle so far!)

  • http://www.feedbacksecrets.com Marsello Oentoro – Feedback Secrets

    Regretfully, the damage has been done and gone viral, as the aforementioned writer name is all over Technorati and has become the most notorious person of the day.

  • http://wallingfordwired.blogspot.com TheHarrimanTeam

    As others have stated, Glenn has shown his class and integrity with his quick and well-stated apology. It’s just a shame that Ms. Hian could not be prevailed upon to issue her own apology. I just hope that, now that she’s unfettered by Redfin’s blogging code of ethics, she’s learned a valuable lesson and doesn’t continue this behavior from the relative safety of her own blog.

  • http://www.zillowblog.com David G

    Bravo Glenn. I believe you’re often best measured in the face of criticism. This post sets the bar. Freaks with an awesome website indeed!

    PS. if anyone wants to attract attention at the NAR conference like Jay did just e-mail me your address and tshirt size [davidg AT zillow DOTCOM]

  • http://blueroof.wordpress.com Greg Tracy

    Glenn,

    Redfin has given the industry things to cheer and scorn, ridicule and revere, but it’s mostly been by you. You’ve led your company in defending your policies and practices, and you’ve also led it with your nose-thumbing at the rest of the industry. And that is why you have to deal with people being ready to fight when you, or your company, attacks again.

    I do think it’s great that you always take accountability for every part of it and you don’t hide away when faced with a challenge.

    I don’t always agree with you, but I always enjoy watching you lead your company.

    Nice work with this post!

  • http://www.RainCityGuide.com/author/ARDELL ARDELL

    Personally, I think that there are many in our industry who need to be re-trained to be accepting of other business models. It will take time, during which much venom will be spewed, toward Redfin and others.

    I think Redfin employees deserve the same consideration and ability to amend their ways as everyone else in the industry. Clearly if everyone who aimed their poison darts at Redfin in this industry were fired, the majority’s dream of “thinning the herd” would be accomplished and then some.

    There should be an enlightenment school for agents and real estate brokerage employees, much the way there is re-education for driving offenses.

    I feel your pain, Glenn. But I send best wishes to the woman who was fired over this. There but for the grace of God go many.

  • http://tech4repros.blogspot.com Frank Jewett

    ARDELL, the same type of venom was spewed at RE/MAX and Century 21 when they had the temerity to challenge the status quo. They reshaped the real estate landscape and became part of it. Redfin may also reshape the real estate landscape, for better or worse. As always, consumers will cast the only ballots that really matter.

  • http://www.SoundBiteBlog.com Sparky

    Many of us ‘talk’ about transparency in real estate, but Mr.Kelman ‘walks’ transparency. There is so much that we can all collectively achieve in improving the reputation of our industry, and striving towards truly empowering our clients.

  • http://mioaklandcounty.com Maureen Francis

    Glenn, I admire how you handled this. It was painful for you, Redfin, Ms. Hian and Kris, and we have all learned something from your transparency and swift response.

  • Alan DR

    Just want to add my thanks to Redfin for the great research tools. As a seller and buyer I have huge goodwlll to Redfin for your help and look forward to using you when I move. Also impressed by your handling of the blog misstep and at the number of rational responses from all sides.

    I’ve seen some excellent work by agents, a few agents. I have no goodwill for NAR: in my view a monopoly guarding their gravy train at great cost to the American public.

  • http://www.lvrealty.net Charles Richey

    I think the industry as a whole suffers from those kinds of posts. It is supposed to be a professional industry of professionals—which exhibit professional behaivor. Glenn, I applaud you for doing the right thing, right away. Seeing professionalism in any business is always refreshing.

  • http://losangeles.redfin.com/blog/category/northridge_san_fernando_santa_clarita Tim Hebb

    Glenn,

    As a Redfin blogger in L.A., I completely agree with and support your decision. That kind of post is inexcusable, and totally pointless to boot.

    I particularly resent this blogger’s recklessness in that it threatens the independence that other Redfin bloggers enjoy, by violating the trust that makes it possible.

    You have my pledge to continue to respect both Redfin’s and my own reputation, by treating with respect everyone I address in this forum.

    Thank you for the confidence and faith in our good judgment.

    Tim Hebb

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  • http://www.miamism.com ines

    I’m one of the believers that there is plenty of room for different business models. Now what does the attack on Kris have to do with your vandalized signs?

  • http://www.bawldguy.com BawldGuy Talking

    As I said in my comment — A standup guy.

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  • http://www.rsspieces.com Mary McKnight

    Glen,
    Your swiftness and decisiveness in this matter is commendable. First class executive. Others should take note.

  • http://sanmateore.dreamhosters.com San Mateo Home Sellers in Trouble

    I missed the original post, but I get the gist that it was making fun of a food drive. That seems pretty silly. Will Redfin take down all of Carol Hian’s posts now?

  • http://www.sandiego-mls.com Peter Toner

    Glen, Carol’s replacement doesn’t just take a swipe at one individual Realtor – he addresses all of them in this post:

    http://blog.redfin.com/sandiego/2008/05/monday_madness_-_take_a_realtor_to_lunch.html

    This excert is particularly offensive:

    “A little aside here: It’s easy to think that mortgage lenders and Realtors are evil. It takes more understanding to realize that they are victims just as their clients are. They just wanted to make an honest killing living doing a fun job. They meant well but got caught up in a system that rewards behavior that hurts people. Nobody starts out wanting to hurt people but by degrees people veer off course. Ask anyone on death row.”

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/bahnlee Bahn

    Peter: While the post wasn’t intended to vilify real estate agents it didn’t reflect the respect we have for them here at Redfin, and for that we apologize. Sweet Digs is first and foremost about market trends not agents.

    Redfin Sweet Digs is written by contractors and our intention for it is to be an unbiased voice about local real estate. This blog post certainly didn’t accomplish that. We’ve made a note to that effect on the post itself. We have also decided to let our last San Diego blogger go and discontinue the San Diego blog until we can fulfill our vision for it.

    Bahn Lee and Ellie Fields,
    Redfin Marketing

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  • http://www.blue60.com Bo Buchanan

    Glenn – I have no idea what’s going on with all you crazy california folks! I just followed a thread from AR to your retraction. I just thought I’d let you know you responded with class. It’s easy for everyone to get ugly in a down market – but that’s when the gems shine through.

  • http://www.antalyahomes.com Real estate

    Hey Buchanan, you are right. I am agree with your comment.

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  • Fred Pickard

    It’s always difficult to be on the bleeding edge of any business innovation, especially in a business as old and stodgy as our’s. Talk to the pioneers of exclusive buyer agency brokerages and they will spin yarns about the abuses they received when they started.
    The real estate brokerage business needs a swift kick in the butt.

  • http://www.lvvr.com Don

    I agree, an apology does go a long way.
    - http://www.lvvr.com

  • Jim

    That's sad…

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