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Redfin.com’s CEO Glenn Kelman: “What if the parasites had to eat the parasites?”

It’s been a Redfin week for us. Kris Berg recorded her podcast with Glenn Kelman last week and I spent much of my spare time this week dealing with it. Allen Butler dealt with the audio quality, and then Cathleen and I went through the recording, pulling out apposite quotes for my own post.

I think we did the BloodhoundBlog idea credit, though: Kris demonstrated that an informed insider can ask much more pertinent questions, digging much deeper, than can mainstream journalists.

I’d like to cite another Redfin post as the first-ever recipient of the Odysseus Medal. Marlow Harris of 360 Digest gave us “Thank you, Mr. Kelman” yesterday, and I think it is a particularly good example of the real estate weblogger’s art.

Marlow has been on top of Redfin from the very beginning. Some of my first links from BloodhoundBlog were to Marlow’s Redfin posts. But all that notwithstanding, yesterday’s post was excellent irrespective of content: Rich in detail, peppered with links, written in an engaging, can’t put it down style. This is a level of quality unsurpassed on the RE.net.

And the winner of this week’s Cheez-Whiz Prize is… Redfin.com. I have never bought Kelman’s charm offensive, and events since Kris Berg’s interview seem to bear me out. (As a side note, Cynthia Pang, Redfin’s PR maven, was nothing but sweet and painstakingly efficient throughout this process.)

First, to claim to have reformed is easy, it’s the actual reforming that’s hard. We are what we do, not what we say we do. A common dodge of recidivist miscreants is the insistence that their behavior is not bad, it is your own misunderstanding of the good intentions motivating that behavior that is at fault. If you listen to the podcast, you will hear Kelman resort to that defense again and again.

Can you hear Eric Burden singing? “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” The song is about a wife-beater. It’s worth your while to remember that style of rationalization for egregious behavior.

Abandoning whatever hope he might have had to extend an olive branch to the rest of the real estate industry, in The Los Angeles Times Kelman said: “Regular folks resent what agents charge. Soon the industry will be seen as bad as Big Oil or the tobacco companies.”

Having listened to the podcast, Steve Berg, Kris’ husband and business partner, came up with his own list of very cogent questions for Redfin. These Kelman dismissed as “talking trash”. This is the fallacy ad hominem, of course. “Trash talk” is white noise, where Berg’s post was devastatingly serious. It is reasonable to surmise that Kelman hopes to dismiss Berg’s questions because he cannot answer them.

By posting Days on Market, Redfin.com is already violating the rules of the nine Southern California MLS systems it just joined. Kelman speculated yesterday about crafting a further violation of MLS rules.

Oh, Lord! Please don’t let him be misunderstood. Redfin.com is less a business than a malicious prank. It cannot exist unless the rules it routinely violates are routinely upheld by everyone else. As an example, how long would Redfin last as a listing brokerage if every buyer’s agent insisted that buyers interested in Redfin listings contact the listing agent directly for a showing? As with every sort of criminal, Redfin’s crimes are only made possible by the nearly-universal honesty and good faith of everyone else. As Kelman himself asked in Kris Berg’s interview: “What if the parasites had to eat the parasites?”

Arguably, this week’s award is really a Sleaze-Whiz Prize. Redfin.com qualifies for the more benign Cheez-Whiz Prize because, at bottom, its business model is absurd. Real estate brokerage is a difficult business even when conducted by people who understand it. Redfin.com is the perfect geek disaster in the making: The hubris of a near-infinite ignorance presuming to reinvent a wheel it never bothered to understand in the first place. Sic semper scelestis…

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Related posts:
  • Redfin.com’s Glenn Kelman issues a non-apology apology: This is what it sounds like when pigs fly . . .
  • Glenn Kelman at Inman – He Hits a Home Run
  • When will the National Association of Realtors stop sucking away the lifeblood of American taxpayers? Like all parasites, when it kills the host.

  • 13 comments

    13 Comments so far

    1. Elizabeth Weintraub February 10th, 2007 10:12 am

      Gregg: So often you take what I am thinking, you extract those thoughts pinging around in my brain and bouncing off each other, and you put them together in a thoughtful, engaging, intelligent and cohesive manner. Which is something I find very difficult to master.

      I may not post here very often, but I do read this blog every week.

      Kris, loved your podcast!

    2. Greg Swann February 10th, 2007 10:53 am

      > I may not post here very often, but I do read this blog every week.

      Bless you. Thank you. You’re very sweet.

    3. Kevin Boer February 10th, 2007 11:51 am

      The ironic thing is that many of Glenn’s criticisms of the industry are a) valid and b) shared by many of us.

      See, for instance, his rebuttal to a previous post of mine.

      He cites, for instance, the following, which many of us agree with:

      a) MLS rules that limit information sharing.
      b) Lack of stringent training

      It’s the solutions to these problems that many of us don’t agree with, not the actual problems themselves.

    4. [...] And the quiet and shy Greg Swann, pretty much kept to himself… wait a second… [...]

    5. Norm Fisher February 10th, 2007 3:17 pm

      Kelman sounds like a man on the ropes.

      His comment, “I don’t want to promise anyone this is going to be raging success. I just thought it was worth a shot” really says it all.

      Greg, your cast seems to be busted. I can’t get beyond 20 minutes.

    6. Drew Nichols February 11th, 2007 9:08 am

      Norm I made it all the way through. The cast is fine.

    7. Norm Fisher February 11th, 2007 9:14 am

      Thanks Drew. I must have been trying at a busy time and I have since got through it as well.

    8. Marlow Harris February 11th, 2007 11:26 am

      Right back at you, baby.

    9. Kris Berg February 12th, 2007 9:19 am

      Steve’s post at SDHB elicited a lengthy rebuttal from a Brett Hewitt (of Redfin?) that was so fraught with “material” that we didn’t know where to start with our counter-comment. Before Steve could respond, Glenn posted his own disarming (dismissive) comment explaining once again how Redfin is so-darn-full-service it hurts. At this point, I had to throw my arms in the air and let it go. I have always reminded my children that you can’t use an argument of logic with the illogical, and you can’t reason with the unreasonable.

      Elizabeth – Thank you! Kevin – You are right, but his bedside manner with those he wants to work and play amongst is pretty stinky right now. Blue Collar Agents – Anti-climatic means climateless, and allot, while a valid word, does not mean “a bunch of”.

    10. Cynthia Pang February 12th, 2007 2:04 pm

      Hi Kris – Bret Hewett doesn’t work at Redfin, but he makes some good points in rebuttal and is pretty knowledgeable about our business model, so it sounds like he could! FYI – Redfin employees always try to identify themselves so you know who you are chatting with.

      BTW – Disneyland in the rain doesn’t sound that bad to me :)

    11. Late Night Austin Real Estate Blog January 26th, 2008 6:20 am

      Personally it seems redfins business model has always relied on agents to show the houses. I know people that love redfin always say real estate agents are pointless. But once we go away it seems it will be pretty difficult for them to do business.

    12. Charles in Las Vegas January 29th, 2008 4:36 pm

      Its funny how some people want two sets of rules, one for them and one for everyone else. Then when called on it, come up with every excuse under the sun…

    13. Wayne Long April 23rd, 2008 5:24 am

      I am absolutely for sharing info in a transparent way but I am also in favor of us following the rules of the organizations we are a member of.

      If we want the rules changed then we need to work to do so. Until then, we have to abide by them.