First of all, a warning. If you’re browsing this post in a car, or while you’re listening to someone blather away on the phone, pull over, mute the line, buckle up, REMAIN CALM. We’ve got some good stuff to tell you about. Really good stuff.
Sometime in the wee hours of the night last night, Redfin upgraded our website to show photos, prices, and all the gory details on every property sold for the past two years, in almost every area we serve. So far, we’ve loaded up 9 million photos of 1.4 million recently sold properties, quadrupling the amount of real estate information we store.
And since we turned on our data slurpers full blast for new past-sales records, the data will keep piling up: within 15 minutes of an agent’s taking a property off the market, you can expect to see the pictures and the price on Redfin’s site. This investment in near-real-time sales history continues our multi-year journey into Freakish Depth, which is our strategy for taking property data to ridiculous extremes of accuracy, freshness and depth. We meet our customers exclusively via our website, and if the site isn’t trustworthy, why would anyone expect the service to be?
Yes, OK, You Do Have to Register…
The only hitch is that outside of the Seattle and Washington DC areas you need to register before going deep. OK, so requiring registration is not normally our style — we’re not looking to spam you or call you out of the blue — but there’s a reason for it. The Multiple Listing Services that share this data with us first want to make sure we’re not posting it everywhere willy-nilly, limiting it instead to the folks who are serious.
But It’s Worth It
Once you’re registered, you can do all sorts of fun stuff, like checking out all the $1M+ homes that sold last week in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Boston. Or do your own search on recent past sales: visit our search page and look underneath the Search Listings button for a More Options link.
Clicking that link opens a big search dialog where the options for searching past-sales records appear bottom left:
After you run a query on past sales, the map fills up with pretty baby-blue icons representing homes that recently sold. Just as with listings, pictures and basic details pop up to the right:
If you click through the thumbnail picture for more details, you get a staggering amount of detail on the property that just sold, usually all the information the seller’s agent provided when listing the house in the first place — which we then pair with parcel outlines, tax record, automated appraisals and all sorts of other goodies too numerous to include in the screenshot.
Before the upgrade, we only showed public records of recent sales: the most basic facts about the property’s bedrooms and bathrooms, the price, no pictures, all after waiting two to twelve weeks for the records first to get recorded by the county, then aggregated by a data-collection service and then syndicated out to sites like ours. What we have up today is a big improvement.
The Killer Application
But now that we’ve published a near-real-time feed of pictures and details of virtually every recent sale, there’s still the question of what you as a consumer can do with that data. And the first, most obvious application is a Comparative Market Analysis, or CMA. If you’re trying to price a property, you can usually establish a reasonable range by putting together a list of similar properties that sold in the area over the past month or two — use the photos to exclude all the dumps, unless you’re buying or selling a dump — with the same square footage plus or minus 10% — and usually the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms plus or minus one. Then take what each of the comparable properties cost per square foot and multiply it by the square footage of the property in question, sorting the resulting prices from high to low. This is the starting point for any real estate professional to think about a property’s price range.
Now you can take this on yourself, using the same data that agents have, even if later on you still want agent’s help corroborating which comparables you picked and analyzing the results — Redfin agents put together CMAs every day, and don’t expect to stop any time soon. But even if you get a little help, it’s nice to be able to see for yourself what the agent can see, and to go as far as you like on your own.
The Other Big Feature… Trackbacks
The other big new feature in this release is blog trackbacks. Any time a blogger links to a listing on our site, we now link back to the blogger, so consumers can easily see what everybody on the Internet is saying about a house. If a blogger reviews a condo in a new development, any link to that listing on Redfin will generate a reciprocal link from the listing on Redfin back to the reviewer’s site, along with a snippet of text from the review.
Tying together everything that’s being said about a property can, we hope, socialize the lonely, scary process of buying a home, and it will almost certainly boost the quality and quantity of online discussion. The same trackback technology that almost overnight created the blogosphere’s ecosystem of criss-crossing links can now nurture the growing number of real estate bloggers — many of them agents — who use Redfin and other brokerage sites as a reference for their real estate discussions.
For the industry, both of these features are a little bit daring. Real estate agents don’t like the idea of some crazy blogger trashing their listings, and most everywhere they have preserved the option for sellers to opt out of any type of blog integration or online commentary. We think opting out is a very bad move, just because social media drives traffic like nothing else to a listing — but we can’t argue with giving the sellers a choice.
Really, it’s impressive that we got this data at all. A long time ago and with plenty of the evidence to the contrary, we made a bet that the industry would become more open, that we could challenge the status quo as a broker without being squashed, that complying with local MLS rules would be worth the extra hassle so we could get information directly from other brokers. This turned out to be a very lucky bet.
You can argue that this version of Redfin would never have happened without last year’s Department of Justice settlement with the National Association of Realtors, which gave online brokers the right to share any data with our customers that an agent can divulge to a customer face to face. Both trackbacks and the newly available past-sales data would not have seen the light of day if not for this settlement. But the hole in that argument is that MLSs not even governed by the settlement nonetheless have agreed to many of the same terms.
We still have plenty of gripes, but the industry is changing for the better. So in addition to the thanks we owe to all the Redfin folks who worked on this gargantuan effort — hats off to the whole team — we also wanted to thank the other brokers for agreeing to a more open data-sharing policy. We’re excited to see what consumers think of the new policy and the new site.