Redfin Brings Transparency to Title, Inspection, Mortgage in San Diego

Big news! Today, Redfin is launching a major expansion to our charter as a technology-powered real estate broker: Redfin Open Book, a local reviews site for lenders, inspectors and title companies, is now available in Southern California, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County.

Later this spring, we’ll add the stagers, landscapers and handymen used by sellers to get their home on the market.

Our goal is to ensure our customers get the best service at every step of a deal, by bringing together the best local team and holding that team accountable for the best result.

The Goal: Better Service
Unlike Angie’s List, Open Book is completely free. And unlike Yelp, it’s completely focused on the folks who serve our customers when buying or selling a home. And it’s better ‘policed’ than Yelp, because the reviewers are our customers, and we can vouch that they actually used the service they’re reviewing. It’s not the business owner’s college roommate or best friend’s uncle leaving the review.

There are no kickbacks from anyone we include or recommend. In fact, there’s no revenue model at all for Open Book; not now, nor in the foreseeable future.

The goal is simply better customer service. The best real estate agent in any market is good because of her own skills, but also because of her team, and her ability to hold that team’s feet to the fire when a loan or a listing is on the line.

As Redfin’s online traffic and transaction volume grows, our influence over all the folks who provide real estate services grows too. We want that influence to lead to better performance across the board for our customers.

This means that our focus is quality, not quantity. We don’t want to be the phone book, showing every lender or inspector in town. We want to be a reliable guide to the partners you should actually use, in any market we serve.

Today, people mostly take their agent’s recommendation for an inspector or a lender. But we think customer recommendations are important too, in finding an inspector who will tell you when to walk away from a crumbling house, or a lender who will steer you toward a cheaper loan, even if it pays him less.

This is crucial information, which is why Open Book, while intended for our own customers, is available to everyone browsing our site.

Our Advantage: Redfin-Certified Reviews
No one else could build such a reliable reviews site for real estate vendors.

Because we honcho a transaction the whole way through, hundreds of times a month, we know which inspectors and lenders our customers are using. Redfin’s online Deal Room, for tracking who is supposed to do what to close on time, stores information about thousands of vendors in a big database.

And we already survey every customer, deal or no deal, so it’s easy to ask each customer about his lender, inspector or stager. This means that we can validate every review, to avoid the bogus reviews from vendors’ friends and competitors that plague most review sites.

At some point, we’ll probably solicit reviews from the general public, but we’ll always highlight the reviews that came from actual customers, just because we can verify that the customer did in fact use the vendor she’s reviewing.

Our Investment: Redfin-Certified Partners
As with our brokerage, we aren’t just offering technology; we also offer a human touch. The inspectors, lenders and stagers who get the best reviews qualify for an additional level of certification, as Redfin partners.

Redfin has hired a team of former Redfin agents to interview potential partners, briefing each one on Redfin’s mission and our service expectations. We then monitor the partner’s performance. The ones that make the grade are certified as official Redfin partners. In Open Book, a tiny Redfin ribbon appears beside their profiles.

These are the folks our agents are most likely to recommend to our customers.

Over time, we’ll ask each certified partner to deliver premium service to our customers. This may entail attaching digital photos to an inspection report, or offering to refund the inspection fee if an unexpected repair crops up within 60 days of the closing.

We expect to drive plenty of customers toward our partners; if history is any guide, we’ll have to be careful to ensure no one gets overwhelmed.

And of course we’ll also be careful to strike a balance between ensuring our partners build a profitable business, and giving Redfin customers premium service. Inspectors, stagers and lenders who want to apply to be a certified partner can email us at openbook (at) redfin (dot) com.

Where We’re Starting: Washington DC, the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California
Right now, the reviews are available only in the Bay Area, Washington DC and Southern California.

To find Open Book, just click the “Buying” link at the top right of any page on Redfin.com, and choose “Open Book” from the menu. As we capture more reviews in the coming months, we’ll launch Open Book in more markets, for a wider range of services.