Fifty Agents Say So Long to Redfin

It isn’t easy building a network of high-quality real estate agents, even if you’re a real estate agent yourself.

Redfin just removed 50 partner agents from our tiny, exclusive partner program, most in the past few weeks. Forty two left because the customers we surveyed about their service so far had mixed reviews. Those are easy to take care of quickly, because we already have the customer’s email address for every referral, and we begin following up on each one within 24 hours of making the referral.

But we also survey an agent’s other customers, too. We start by pulling up the agent’s list of customers over the past 18 months from an agent-only database known as the Multiple Listing Service; we then ask the agent to provide an email address for every customer. Each customer gets a survey; if not enough customers respond, and respond with good reviews, the agent never joins our program.

But why can’t the applicant just fake the reviews, using fake email addresses? Well, the applicant can. But it turns out that potential fakes are pretty easy for us to detect, using software and customer follow-up too. When we spot a fake, we fire him, no questions asked, no second chances. Another eight agents just left our program for this reason.

We’re always surprised that anyone tries to get away with it. We interview every agent in our partner program, nearly all in person, accepting only 35% of all applicants. Even still, we later end up asking one in six partner agents to leave the program later.

Otherwise, we try very hard to be good partners. Since we’re agents ourselves, we know which customers are really ready to meet an agent, so a Redfin referral tends to be worthwhile. And since we don’t charge agents to appear on our site, instead splitting the proceeds from a successful transaction, most agents are eager to give Redfin a try. These agents often make a lot of money, building a reputation on Redfin that helps them get more and more business.

And we make money too. The partners only account for 5% of our business, but they help us cover far-flung areas, spikes in demand and obscure deal types that would be very expensive to support using our own employees, who keep pretty busy handling the other 95% of our revenues.

We hope that more agents who are ready to stand by their customer-service performance apply to our program, and that the rest just pony up for a pure no-questions-asked lead-generation site.


  • Jay

    Glenn, what about agents on your payroll?

    • GlennKelman

      The agents on our payroll exclusively get business via our website, so each customer is easy to survey directly. We survey every one, deal or no deal, and ask employees to leave who don't deliver good service. We haven't ever discovered an employee re-directing a survey email and filling out the response himself, but that would certainly lead to a departure.

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  • Fred Glick

    Drives me crazy…the quality of people that can easily get their real estate licenses and then “fake it.”

    The entire business needs to get to the next level a la the mortgage brokerage community that went through the SAFE Act.

    • GlennKelman

      Great point Fred. I'd love that kind of reform…

  • Chris Herbert

    Did this have anything to do with the recent SF office move?

    • GlennKelman

      No, not at all. We don't house any of our partner agents, and the new office is much bigger anyway…

  • Mikal

    50 out of how many affiliates? I'm curious because you seem to be struggling a bit to execute.

    I've read a good number of Yelp reviews for instance and there doesn't seem to be any middle ground, it seems to be a love or hate thing. I'm not sure how you can scale without using affiliates, but then I also don't know how you can control for some of the terrible experiences that some folks seem to be having while continuing to use a substantial number of affiliates.

    I do wish you success and certainly understand that some growing pains are inevitable, but at some point I start to wonder if something significant, something structural needs to change to address these types of issues.

    • GlennKelman

      Most of our Yelp reviews are 5-star reviews, for service from our own employees and our partners, but sometimes both Redfin employees and our partners make mistakes. We do more to monitor the quality of our own agents' service and our partners than anyone we know of, but undoubtedly have a long ways to go…

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  • Aginvestor4

    OT: Your software is excellent.