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Entries Tagged as 'Glenn Kelman'

The Lessons Of Redfin, Part II: Targeting A Demographic Niche

December 16th, 2007 · 6 Comments

Lost in the ongoing discussion about Redfin’s recent appearance on the Today Show is the blatant Redfin geek-baiting of their “Redfin Scientist” marketing push.

Many Realtors have looked at this document with it’s “No, duh!” recommendations (stay engaged, don’t overprice your property, do advertise it on the web) and thought, “I don’t need any ’scientist’ or ‘research paper’ to tell me that!  It’s just obvious!!!”

It may be obvious or it may not be obvious, but here’s the stroke of genius on Redfin’s part:  one of their core target demographics — Gen  X and Y geeks living in high-priced markets — tend to not take our assertions as fact until they see the underlying data-driven proof.

As a Gen X geek myself, I completely relate.  When the old-timers in the business say, “This doesn’t feel like a normal Fall market”, I don’t take it on faith.  I download a data set from the MLS, crunch some numbers, and come to my own conclusion.  Far more often than not, the old-timers’ intuition is spot on…but I’m not comfortable with their assertions until I see them backed up with data.

If I had a nickel for every time a Realtor told a prospective client at a listing appointment “Don’t overprice your home” but provided no hard data to back up that assertion, I’d have retired a long time ago.  Many folks are comfortable with assertions, but “geeks” (which I define as data-driven technology lovers) for the most part want the numbers.

Redfin recognizes this and gives it to them.

Traditional real estate advertising targets a geographic niche, typically a town or neighborhood.  One of Redfin’s primary niches — perhaps their largest one — is a demographic niche:  the geek market, or, more precisely, geeks in high-priced markets.  And guess what?  Seattle and the Bay Area, their two primary markets are not only expensive but are also full of geeks!  I have no inside information about their sales numbers, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if 25% of their Seattle business consists of Google and Microsoft employees.

The lesson in all this?  Know thy customer.  If you’re Redfin and your customer is a geek, give him the numbers.  State the obvious, state the not-so-obvious…but back it up with numbers.  Future studies I’d like to see coming out of Redfin’s scientists (or heck, maybe I’ll do them myself) include:

  • Staging your home is a positive ROI investment.  Really?  Show me the numbers.  I suspect it’s true, but I’d love to see a study that compares the sales price of, say, $800K homes with and without staging.  Do the homeowners that invest $5,000 in staging really sell their home for at least $5000 more than the ones who don’t?
  • Taking more and better pictures of your home makes your home sell quicker and for more money.  I’ve seen the numbers that prove a listing with more and better pictures gets a lot more online views, but do those views translate into more open house visitors and eventually into a higher price?
  • Selling your home with a full-service broker will net you more than going with a discount broker.  Again, a common assertion.  Show me the data!  If, for instance, the average full-service commission in an area is 5.5% and the average discount commission in an area is 3.5%, are full-service brokers typically able to get a 2% or greater premium on the sales price?
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Tags: Glenn Kelman · Industry · Redfin

The Lessons Of Redfin, Part I: The Marketing Value Of The Obvious

December 15th, 2007 · 3 Comments

No one can doubt Redfin’s Glenn Kelman is a master of publicity; witness his latest publicity coup: getting on the Today Show to talk real estate with Meredith Vieira. The re.net was abuzz, from Joel Burslem’s neutral coverage to the Bloodhound’s  semi-excoriating review to a withering ActiveRain critique on the “obviousness” of what Kelman said.

The joke, I would say, is on us. To anybody who’s been in the business for any length of time, Kelman’s advice — don’t overprice the home, do advertise on Craigslist — is painfully second nature.

But here’s the point: Kelman is a master genius at generating publicity around knowledge that we take for granted. So it’s obvious to you as a professional Realtor that overpricing a home is the kiss of death? But you’ve never created any marketing buzz around that! You instinctively know to push for a price of $749,000 rather than $751,000? Glenn Kelman just beat you at getting the phone to ring by spinning that message in the right way!

A further irony: this is really nothing more than a repetition of the same mistake we’ve made for decades in this business: assuming that our intellectual assets have greatest value when we hide them from the public and use it as bait to get them to call.  For many years, we hoarded MLS information in book form and made the public come to us to get it.  When the Internet came along, we figured we could do the same thing.  Oops!  Companies like HomeGain figured out a way to use online MLS information to get their phones to ring, and forwarded the leads to us…for a fee.

Then we thought, “Ok, we’ll let the public have information about active listings, but as soon as a listing sells, we’ll hide it again.  Hee hee…this will force people to call us for that kind of information!”  Oops!  This now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t mentality opened up an opportunity for some very smart and deep-pocketed folks from Seattle to start a web site which, among other things, enabled the public to find out what homes sold for.  Zillow realized what we didn’t:  there is great marketing value in letting the world know what you know, rather than trying to hide it.  (See this article I wrote about a year ago on the gold buried in our MLS’s.)

Come on folks, when are we going to learn our lesson?   In the Internet age, you don’t win clients by giving only a sneak preview of your knowledge and data and then crossing your fingers that they will come to you in pursuit of the rest of it.  The game now is transparency — I know, an overused term perhaps, but true nonetheless.  You develop a followership by demonstrating your value, and you do that partly by showing what you know.

What “obvious” thing do you know that may have marketing value for your business?

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Tags: Glenn Kelman · Industry · Redfin

Redfin on the Today Show Tomorrow

December 13th, 2007 · 2 Comments

I know, confusing headline.  But that’s what you get when you combine a show with Today in the title, and an event that’s happening one day in the future.

I’ve been sworn to secrecy by Redfin’s PR maven Cynthia Pang until 9:01pm PST tonight (under pain of death, I’m told — though Redfin’s own Matt Goyer apparently broke the embargo early.)  It will, of course, be a live event, so we’ll see how Glenn Kelman holds up under the klieg lights.  (Fortunately for him, Kris Berg is not, as far as I know, conducting the interview.)

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Tags: Consumer · Glenn Kelman · Industry · Redfin

3 Oceans Honored On Inman’s List Of “Top 25 Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers Of 2007″

October 3rd, 2007 · 8 Comments

Inman News today announced their list of 2007’s “Most Influential Bloggers.” (May soon  disappear behind a pay firewall)  Yours truly was honored and humbled to make the cut.

A number of equally and more well-deserving folks unfortunately didn’t make the cut, including most prominently — in my opinion — the incomparable Kris Berg, Brian “Puke All Over The Internet” Brady, and Athol “Sock Puppet” Kay.

A number of good friends and colleagues of mine made the list, including (warning to my civilian readers:  corny inside jokes galore ahead…)

The others I don’t know well enough to bestow a nickname, but here they are:

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Tags: Glenn Kelman · Industry · Inman

How Come Redfin’s P&L Looks Distinctly Unlike That Of A Traditional Real Estate Brokerage? Because Redfin Is Actually A Brokerage, Not A Landlord!

October 1st, 2007 · 8 Comments

Tipped off by another insightful Greg Swann piece (Greg — do you ever sleep?) I just read through Glenn Kelman’s fascinating soul-baring finances-revealing post over on Guy Kawasaki’s blog. As a serial entrepreneur — and quite a successful one at that — Glenn has certainly done more than his fair share of financial modeling, and his post is rich in advice for the prospective entrepreneur.

What is particularly fascinating is how Redfin’s financial modeling is thoroughly and utterly unlike that of a traditional broker. That makes sense, of course, since Redfin is, well, not a traditional broker. In particular, unlike traditional brokers, Redfin makes its money through the act of wait for it — brokerage — that is, representing buyers and sellers of homes.

Traditional brokerages — Coldwell Banker, Prudential, ReMax, Keller Williams, Alain Pinel — on the other hand, most emphatically do not make money through brokerage activities — they leave that work to their agent work force, usually a collection of independent contractors. Traditional brokerages, you see, make their money through landlording.
They provide agents with office space, training, mentoring, branding, open house opportunities, telephone lines, etc. and then charge these agents twofold: first, a portion of their commissions (starting at 50% or more for new agents, going down to perhaps 5% or 10% for the top agents, averaging perhaps around 25%) and secondly, a rather long laundry list of fees, including tech fees, desk fees, legal fees, and a myriad of others.

Much of what remains in the agent’s pocket after the broker’s share is divvied up among countless vendors, including the local MLS, newspapers, cell phone carriers, web site vendors, and Lexus dealers.

Here’s a picture of the money trail:Redfin is a brokerage; traditional brokerages are landlords; P&L helps to show the difference

…and here’s one of them new-fangled Sketchcasts…

Further commentary from others:

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Tags: Alain Pinel · Coldwell Banker · Glenn Kelman · Industry · Keller Williams · ReMax · Redfin

The Innovator’s Dilemma In Real Estate: Beware Of That Redfin Swimming Just Below You

August 1st, 2007 · 21 Comments

Redfin is the company everybody in the traditional real estate industry loves to hate. “They’ll go bankrupt just like all discount firms do when the market turns bad.” “Can you believe how they force listing agents to do all the work?” “Their agents don’t have a clue about the market!”

Deride Redfin if you want, be skeptical of its business model, take potshots at Glenn Kelman all you want…but whatever you do, don’t dismiss Redfin out of hand, at least not before hearing what this man has to say.


Clayton Christensen is a professor at Harvard Business School who has become well-known for his research into how technology disrupts industries. His theory, put forth in his books The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution posits that new entrants into an industry often take advantage of a disruptive technology to enter the marketplace at the lower end, catering to the low-margin customers that the established players aren’t that interested in serving. He gives examples in many industries, including financial services (Charles Schwab came into the brokerage business catering for the budget stock investor), steel manufacturing (mini-mill technology), and hard drives.

While Redfin is by no means the first entrant in the discount brokerage space, it is arguably the one that has generated the most attention. Redfin’s technology — its slick real estate search site, its semi-automated offer-writing system — may not appear too disruptive, but its technology and associated business model have struck a chord with a growing market segment that is disenchanted with the traditional real estate industry, and, not coincidentally, the industry has returned the favor. That market segment — initially diehard do-it-yourself’ers who just don’t see the value of schlepping around town with a real estate agent — is one the traditional industry isn’t too fond of catering for, on the assumption that if we let clients out on their own, they might discover it’s not that difficult to plan an afternoon’s home-shopping around an open house schedule, and then they might question our overall value. For the most part, the traditionalists aren’t too sad to see this type of client defect to Redfin. “They think they know everything, they don’t see the value of a Realtor, and then they want part of my commission!”

What is common about the customers of these new lower-end entrants in any industry is that they’re not interested in a gold-plated product or service — they want something “good enough” and cheap.

If the new entrant succeeds, it starts to take market share from the incumbents, who finally wake up — often too late — and discover that the “cheap, undesirable” part of the market is both larger and more lucrative than they previously thought.

Even more interesting is that as the new entrant grows, its clients’ needs often change over time — to the point where the new entrant now also provides more of a “traditional” experience. Think back to Charles Schwab: its early customers were drawn in by the prospect of significantly less expensive stock brokerage services. The Charles Schwab of today still provides that, but also provides a higher-touch, higher-cost service, akin to that of the Merrill Lynches.

Might this happen to Redfin? Nobody knows…but if they are successful in what they’re doing, don’t be surprised if five years from now Redfin offers not only a discount real estate experience, but also a full-service one.

How can established companies lessen the risk of a low-cost competitor coming in at the lower end, then working its up the value chain? One of Christensen’s suggestions is as audacious as it is — for most companies — implausible: spin off a separate lower-cost business unit to learn about the lower end of the market.

So, how about a “Coldwell Banker Lite” offering? Want a full-service, full-fee experience? You can use the Coldwell Banker you’ve always known. Thinking of using a discount service, but unsure about Redfin’s brand? Then you can go to the Coldwell Banker Lite offering. Either way, Coldwell Banker can serve you. From the company’s point of view, they’ve retained a client; sure, it’s a low-margin client — for now. But five years down the road, the customer’s good experience may lead him back to the Coldwell Banker name, and perhaps this time using the full-service, high-margin option.

Skeptical of Redfin? That’s fine — but just don’t write them off until you look at the uncanny resemblances between our industry today and the industries Christensen describes in his books.

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Tags: Alternative business models · Clayton Christensen · Coldwell Banker · Glenn Kelman · Redfin · The Innovator's Dilemma · The Innovator's Solution

Redfin Goes On A $12M Spending Spree

July 18th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Fresh from a successful round of meetings with VC’s over on Sand Hill Road, Redfin just announced closing a successful fund-raising round of $12M, led by none other than Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

The coverage of this event has been predictable: Techcruch claims that Redfin’s goal is to “completely remove real estate agents and brokers from at least half of a home sale” (in which case they would immediately go bankrupt, since in most states you can only claim compensation for representing somebody in a real estate transaction if you’re a licensed agent.) The Bloodhound notes that this brings investors’ stake in the company to around $40,000 per transaction, while the indefatigable Kris Berg compares Glenn Kelman to those infamous Internet scammers (”419′ers” being the technical term) promising untold riches.

While both Kris and I have met Glenn Kelman, we clearly have different opinions about him. Say what you will about Redfin’s disruptions of our staid industry, but I’m thinking their business model may just have fins — er, legs — and that we castigate them to our own potential future peril. Besides, even if he tries, Glenn Kelman doesn’t have nearly the right accent to be a true 419′er. I, on the other hand…(ask me at Inman.)

But we digress. From an inside source at Redfin, I hear the team is busy divvying up the spoils as we speak.

  1. Sick of their current digs, they’re about to make an offer — using Redfin direct — on this swank place.
  2. Media & PR person Cynthia Pang’s is changing her title to “Lady Pang, Public Relations Mogul” and buying these guys.
  3. Each Redfin’er is getting one of these. Oh, wait a minute — Redfin’s site doesn’t work with Safari. Scrap that idea.
  4. Glenn is pursuing his love of Mustangs by getting one of these.
  5. Newsflash: Offer on 1) above was rejected “out of hand” so now they’re hiring none other than the Grand Dame of Seattle real estate to represent them. Rumor has it she’s agreed to refund Redfin $25 of her commission.
  6. They’re making 1.3M DVD copies of this show and have asked these guys for their mailing list.
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Tags: Glenn Kelman · Real estate · Redfin

Redfin Launches Consumers’ Bill of Rights

April 2nd, 2007 · 13 Comments

Industry maverick Redfin today launched an initiative aimed at defining and protecting real estate consumers’ rights. (See Inman’s coverage here, unfortunately behind a subscription wall.) CEO Glenn Kelman gave myself and some others a preview of it yesterday and asked if we would be willing to put our name down in support of it. Knowing full well it could draw the ire of my fellow agents and re.net writers, I decided to do so.

Why did I do so?

Not because I am uncritically accepting of everything Redfin foes; quite the contrary, I have called them out on blurring the distinction between correlation and causation (see my articles Redfin Numbers Food Fight and Agents Who Take More Pictures are Better Negotiators), I have criticized their advertising as needless stick-it-in-the-eye tactics, and I have criticized Glenn for making reckless statements to the media that do nothing to endear him to the real estate community.

Not because I think Redfin’s business model will revolutionize the industry and change the way things are done forever. Quite the contrary, I remain skeptical that reimbursing 2/3rds of the commission on the revenue side, while spending heaps of money on the technology side, is a long-term recipe for success.

Why then am I supporting this initiative? Simply because I like the idea of somebody shaking up this industry and standing up for the consumer, and if that “somebody” happens to be a competitor, so be it. I have never doubted Glenn’s commitment to being firmly on the consumer’s side, and I have no problem with his company making money from it. I don’t even have a problem with Redfin getting positive publicity from it because I know that’s not the primary reason they’re launching this initiative.

As this conversation continues — which will no doubt become quite contentious, as befits many Redfin initiatives — we’ll get into the meat and potatoes of the Bill of Rights itself. I’m not in unanimous consent on all the issues — for instance, I think there are situations in which dual agency is not only needed, but is best for both clients — but overall I like what I see and I’m happy putting my name behind it.

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Tags: Alternative business models · Consumer · Glenn Kelman · Industry · Real estate · Redfin

Redfin Buys Move.com; Alan Dalton and Glenn Kelman Co-CEO’s of New Company RedfinMakeMeMove.com

April 1st, 2007 · 5 Comments

In a stunning move announced just hours ago, Seattle-based real estate startup Redfin.com announced it has purchased online real estate giant Move.com. With full details still to be announced, it appears that Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman dug deep into his warchest — and possibly tapped his Venture Capital investors to join in — and made a strategic acquisition.

“This acquisition just made darn good sense,” Kelman is quoted as saying. “Our main costs have been technology, in particular integrating our platform with local data feeds in our key markets. Since Move.com already has those data feeds in place on its own site, this reduces the costs of entering any new markets dramatically.”

Move.com’s CEO Alan Dalton, feisty as always, apparently vigorously fought against the deal over the last couple of days that negotiations were taking place. After Kelman sweet-talked the Move.com board into voting in favor of the takeover — a vote which is understood to have been nearly unanimous — Dalton reluctantly capitulated. “I wasn’t in favor of the deal at first,” he admitted in the joint press conference, “but in the end, the offer was just too good to turn down. Besides, we’re kind of sick of this whole online real estate thing anyways, and by turning the keys over to Redfin — a good and honorable bunch of folks, who have shown they are committed to the well-being of Realtors everywhere — we can get rid of what has been a huge personal headache for me.”

While the deal still has to be approved by Move.com’s shareholders, approval is all but guaranteed, as the offer was apparently several dollars per share higher than Friday’s closing price.

Much of the negotiation centered around what the name of the new company would be. Kelman: “We considered RedfinMove.com and MoveRedfin.com, but nobody liked how those names sounded. When somebody suggested RedfinMakeMeMove.com, almost as a joke, we all liked it. We figured we could capitalize on the buzz Zillow has been creating with its MakeMeMove concept.”

Questions about the deal have flying around the re.net all day. Rudy and Joe of Sellsius, a leading real estate blog, were skeptical about the prospect of Dalton and Kelman working closely together. “They’re both strong personalities, and we saw some sparks flying in their last encounter at Inman.”

“It’s all about transparency,” says Pat Kitano of TransparentRe.com. “Move.com has been translucent, perhaps even opaque, in its dealings. Shining the RE.net light on the company will definitely make it more transparent.”

Teresa Boardman of StPaul (Not Minneapolis) RealEstateBlog was also succinct. “Redfin? You’ve got to be kidding. We’re in flyover country here, with real estate prices stuck in the five digit range. Redfin doesn’t know we exist.”

Asked about the prospect of working together, Dalton was caught rolling his eyes before responding amicably, “I have no problem with Glenn. He’s an honorable man. A decent and honorable man. I look forward to working together.”

Kelman, the glow of victory all around him, is rumored to have muttered under his breath, “This’ll teach that old dude to respect me some more” before making a more conciliatory public statement, “I know Alan and I have had our differences. But at the end of the day, it’s all about helping the consumer, which this deal will definitely do.”

Dustin Luther, uber-blogger of RainCityGuide.com and also a Move.com employee, confirmed speculation about his role in the new company. “It’s like pulling teeth getting Realtors to blog on Move.com. Redfin’s idea of cutting out Realtor bloggers and replacing them with paid civilians is sheer genius. I look forward to taking over and re-branding Redfin’s Sweet Digs blogging series.”

Asked to comment on the rumor that any agent wanting an enhanced listing on the new site would have to first contribute 20 quality blog posts, Luther was non-commital.

The final piece of still unresolved negotiation is where the new company’s headquarters will be. With Redfin currently located in Seattle, and with Move.com’s headquarters in LA suburb Westlake Village, it is rumored that Bay Area realtor Kevin Boer has suggested splitting the difference and moving to the Bay Area. “Heck, I’ll find them a good building. I’ll even rebate them 2/3rd’s of the commission!”


Brought to you by the 2007 re.net April Fool’s commission.

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Tags: Alan Dalton · Glenn Kelman · Industry · Move.com · RE April Fools · Real estate · Redfin

Another Media Coup for Glenn Kelman and Redfin

March 18th, 2007 · 1 Comment

The Seattle guys are on a roll…a post in today’s Redfin blog alerted me to today’s San Francisco Chronicle, which has a feature article on Redfin and Glenn Kelman.

While much of it is stuff we’ve all heard before — Glenn didn’t set out to become an industry maverick, the Redfin model isn’t new, blah blah blah — two specific items stood out for me.

First, it appears Redfin agents are paid “$60,000 or more [emphasis mine] based on their performance, which is tied to customer service rather than the number of sales completed.” For Rosemary Vo and the other agents, I can only hope that the “or more” bit is “a lot more.” I’m assuming this means a base salary of $60,000 a year, plus performance-based bonuses. If these bonuses equal a full 100%, that would mean a total compensation package of $120,000 — not enough to live a comfortable middle class life in the Bay Area, but certainly more than most agents net after paying their broker cut and other expenses.

[3/20 update:  Just received an anonymous email tip that my estimates for Redfin agent pay are waaaaay off.  My source says the base is $50K and the bonus is $20K.  Not knowing who this person is, or their affiliation — if any — with Redfin, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these numbers.  Anybody else have an idea?]


At the same time, his company also must play by the industry’s rules or risk losing access to the vital database of home listings that is the heart of Redfin’s service.

“It’s our third rail,” Kelman said. “We have no backup. If we lose access to the feed, game over.”

Many of us agree that the protectionist rules of most MLS’s are antiquated, but breaking these rules is indeed playing with fire. I personally crossed the line once while conducting a several-month-long experiment with Google Base, but when I got caught, I got caught good. Ouch.

Redfin was displaying information on sold content well before our local MLS changed the rules and made that legal, and it’s still against the MLS rules to display the days on market of a property — which is exactly what Redfin does. Well, not exactly…technically what Redfin displays is something like “Days on Site” — ie the number of days which a property has been displayed on the Redfin site. And hey, if that number by complete coincidence happens to be the same as the days on market number 99.9% of the time, who’s complaining?
Stupid rules lead to creative interpretation.

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Tags: Alternative business models · Glenn Kelman · Industry · Real estate · Redfin · San Francisco Chronicle