Secret Squirrel and the Redfin Home-buying Class

Last night, we held one of our free home-buying classes, right here in our posh new digs. I’m in the uniquely weird position of working on the creation of a home-buying guide while simultaneously making my first foray into the home-buying experience, which feels a bit like trying to write a guidebook to Paris while being strapped to the hood of Jason Bourne’s Mini Cooper. So I had both personal and professional reasons to attend.

As an extra little twist, I decided to go incognito. Instead of hanging out with my coworkers, I donned my trench coat and fedora and sat in the middle of the audience. I wanted the chance to talk to my fellow schoolmates without them holding back for fear of offending my Redfinnian sensibilities. What did I find out?

jawsWe’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
If you’ve flown, you probably know about overbooking. Typically, an airline will sell more seats on a flight than they actually have available. This is because they know there will usually be last-minute cancellations, a few no-shows, and maybe a couple of people who get stuck in the bathroom.

We do the same thing with our home-buying class. If we get 100 RSVPs, we can count on a few people flaking out. A class that sounds great at 9am on a Monday morning might seem a little less enticing after a long day at the office. Which is the same reason, incidentally, that I can’t speak Italian.

Well, our attendees must have dodged the genetic marker for flakiness, because the place was packed to the metaphorical gills. We were dragging chairs out of offices. At least, my coworkers were. I couldn’t risk blowing my cover.

Maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe not. We won’t rent out Safeco Field just yet, but it was pretty great seeing so many people eager to take the class.

Secret Agent, Man
“How many of you know that Redfin has agents?”

That was one of the opening questions posed by Dave Billings, our Seattle market manager and host for the evening. I’d estimate that somewhere around 70% of the audience raised a hand. Even accounting for early evening hand-raising jitters, that’s a pretty good chunk of people who didn’t realize that Redfin has agents. Which is a real shame, because…

418927703_7007ee6ba0They’re the Best… Around
Man, I love our agents. Different portions of the class were presented by Dave, Allie Howard, and Kevin Broveleit, and they were simply awesome. Knowledgeable, entertaining, personable, and absolutely candid. Allie was particularly frank about the emotional rollercoaster involved with pursuing Real Estate Owned (REO) properties, and Kevin made a funny, from-the-heart argument about how Redfin’s practice of putting the customer first was a much-needed tonic for the entire industry. Did I mention that I love our agents?

Self-Starter, Shows Initiative
I didn’t get to talk to a ton of other people in the class, but when I did talk to my classmates, I was surprised. One couple was taking the class even though they had already worked with a Redfin agent, found a house, and made their offer. They had RSVP’d for the class well ahead of time, and said they figured it was worth attending, in case their offer wasn’t accepted. Another guy had already been out on tour with one of our field agents. Clearly, for at least some percentage of the attendees, the class wasn’t so much a starting point as a helpful mid-journey resource.

Give the People What They Want
Overall, I think the class does a great job. People were clearly engaged throughout the evening, asking good, specific questions, laughing, chatting with co-attendees. But there might be some room for improvement.

First, we spend about 30 minutes during the class showing people how to use the Redfin site. I’m not convinced that we need to do this. I don’t have the data to back this up, but my impression was that our attendees were already well-versed in how the site works. There weren’t many questions asked during this section, and the people around me with notepads generally stopped scribbling.

matt_classOn the other hand, there was a flood of questions during the section that dealt with the home-buying process itself. Dave, Allie, and Kevin did a great job answering these questions, but we might be well-served by spending more time in this section, identifying key terms and explaining them in more detail. A phrase like earnest money might seem basic to some, but for others, it sounds like some scary and mysterious financial commitment.

Finally, it was interesting to watch our attendees react as Kevin explained, in detail, how Redfin agents are compensated in contrast to traditional real estate agents. There was a lot of polite nodding at first, but when he finally spelled it out – that our agents get bonuses based on customer satisfaction, and not a commission – you could literally see a wave of understanding pass from row to row. People were excited. There was a lot of hushed smiling and nodding and whispering. It might take a little extra effort to convince people that this isn’t just a bunch of corporate smoke-blowing, but once that message hits home, it seems to knock down the front door.

That’s about it for my key take-aways, though I’d like to point out that our audience was unbelievably conscientious about recycling their cans and bottles. (Thanks!)

We’re already seeing some tweets from last night’s class. Anyone else there? We’d love to hear your take.

And if you’re interested in taking a home-buying class in your area, check out our schedule of upcoming classes.

(Photo credits: NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and our own Matt Goyer)

Discussion

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  • Pauline W

    It still amazes me that any buyer would choose to work with an agent who is compensated only when the deal goes through (and the higher the price, the better). I’m glad everyone was excited by Redfin’s much more sensible approach!

  • bryanhowell

    Thanks Pauline!

    I’m willing to bet that a lot of new home-buyers don’t realize they have a choice in the matter. We’re just starting to shake up the status quo. I’m looking forward to the day when the “old” way seems as wacky to everyone else as it does to us!