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Where Do You Draw the Line?

Two questions for my colleagues in real estate!

#1: How much information about yourself do you share with prospective clients? I have to ask only because Redfin has lately been working with clients who want us to publish detailed statistics on each agent, and have wondered how far we should go. Today, we publish each transaction and, if the client has responded to our survey,  the agent’s rating on that transaction.

But especially in our bulletin boards — why doesn’t Bloodhound have online discussions (it could be a great consumer resource)? — folks ask detailed questions about our business model. They want to make sure our agents aren’t too busy, our houses sell for a good price, our files are locked, our clients are happy, our lawyers are idle, our — dozens of questions! The questions have been pretty good so we have tried to answer them all, but I wonder sometimes if we’re setting a precedent that will be hard to keep up.

As the general counsel at my last job used to say in answer to almost any question (Am I going to get fired? or where’s the bathroom?): “Answering that question now would obligate me to answer it in the future…” So, when someone unknown to you starts asking plenty of good questions, where do you draw the line?

#2: how do you protect the safety of an agent visiting a prospective client in a home the client wants to sell? We had our annual company meeting Friday, and this was one question we had to defer until we could consult others. Safety has always been a concern in real estate, but since prospective clients only communicate with us online before asking for an in-home consultation, it seems like the usual precautions may not be enough.

Any help would be much appreciated!

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  • 12 comments

    12 Comments so far

    1. Brian Brady September 21st, 2008 6:04 pm

      Glenn,

      I think you answered the question in your second paragraph. While the value proposition of Redfin is transparency, information overload can lead to incorrect conclusions.

      Bill, the Redfin agent in Pleasantville, is a very effecetive agent (he must be too busy to handle MY special needs).

      Susan, the Redfin agent in Spartanville, screwed up the last transaction (in fact, it was the Bank of Spartanville that made Susan’s buyer representation look bad)

      etc, etc.

      Does that make sense?

    2. J Boyer Summit NJ September 21st, 2008 7:01 pm

      I think your going a little to far. Why does the public need to know just how busy a REALTOR is, or that some other client was not happy with their service? Possibly this agent is a very hard worker and able to handle much more than they already are, or in the second case, maybe the client was a unpleasable nut job, and we all know there are that type out there.

      I think your going to far with what should just be, here is the glowing feedback a happy client gave me.

    3. Sue September 21st, 2008 9:21 pm

      Glenn, I am sorry..I don’t understand #2 part of the question. Protect safety of an agent??? Please try to clarify for me. Thanks. Sue

    4. Glenn Kelman September 22nd, 2008 7:29 am

      Messrs. Brady & Boyer, thanks for the feedback! Hopefully the public understands that there are always a few tough cases. What’s hard is just how much time we take answering questions…

      And Sue, what we were getting at in the second question was that some of our agents are a little nervous about meeting any random person, in his house, after normal business hours, alone.

    5. Greg Swann September 22nd, 2008 8:49 am

      1. Questions are buying signs, so we tend to turn them into copy for our web sites. That is, we answer the question, but we also try to work out how to deal with that issue pre-emptively. For all of me, the FAQ, handled right, is a killer marketing too.

      2. God didn’t make all men equal, Colonel Colt did. If you fear for your safety, arm yourself. Easier to do in Arizona than elsewhere, but pepper spray, at least, is lawful even in Massachusetts.

    6. Bob in San Diego September 22nd, 2008 9:06 am

      Glen, you created a brokerage centric model as opposed to an agent centric one, so you are basically having to answer the same questions I do, but on a different scale.

    7. leanne finlay September 22nd, 2008 9:12 am

      Glenn, safety is a real concern. It still gives me the creeps to think about the young agent in Victoria, CA who was murdered at a vacant house last year.

      If an agent is meeting a seller at their home, there is no way to know if the online or voice on the phone is actually who they say they are. If it feels creepy, agents should get out of the house, fast. It’s not a bad idea to take someone with them. Perhaps if the person only contacts you online, you should ask for a copy of their drivers licesnse faxed or emailed to you.

      If it is a buyer an agent is meeting, then by all means, have that buyer first meet at your office, get the license plate number of their car, a copy of their drivers license.

      I know several Seattle/Eastside agents who have had wallets or purses stolen by a ‘client’, and one who was locked inside a vacant house at night, with a creepy guy. She did get out, left him at the house, and drove away. She called 911, they arrested him, and he had a long history of attacking women, all of the victims looked like my friend.

    8. St George Rental September 22nd, 2008 9:45 am

      I think people know how much they can realistically ask and get a response. For example people should know that they cannot ask about other clients as that would break confidentiality. People know this and I think anything that would harm other clients should not be a question to entertain.

    9. Jim Dolanch September 22nd, 2008 9:55 am

      In question #2 you bring up a good point, I look forward to reading the responses!

    10. Glenn Kelman September 22nd, 2008 12:39 pm

      Greg, your answer slays me. And Leanne, I like your suggestion too; we’ll be sure to ask for a driver’s license.

    11. Marlow Harris September 22nd, 2008 11:14 pm

      Glenn, you question about your agents safety is disingenuous. On your Redfin blog, you took great joy in humiliating other brokerage agents who refused to meet strangers at a vacant house by putting them in your Hall of Shame. Now your worried about your agents safety. Yet on your website you still urge your Buyers to call up listing agents and try to get them to show your buyers the house, when the sales agent has no way of knowing who the person is on the other end of the line.

      Why on earth would anyone agree to meet a perfect stranger in a vacant home, alone?

      I’m glad you’re finally realizing the dangers of meeting strangers in strange places. Better to meet someone first at the office, pre-qualify them and make sure they’re ready, willing and able buyers, and make sure they are who they say they are. Quit urging your buyers to call listing agents to view homes and take the time to check out these people first yourself. Sellers are relying on us to only allow qualified buyers into their home for a private tour, for both their safety and ours.

    12. Glenn Kelman September 23rd, 2008 7:07 am

      Marlow,

      I have already apologized to the real estate community for the Hall of Shame, but the only person in our Hall of Shame is an agent who agreed to show Redfin users a property and who then told them he would make sure an offer from Redfin would not be accepted. He repeated this statement several times to the couple, and no one has denied he said it. In a Wall Street Journal interview on the topic, he did however deny being a real estate agent at all, despite having several listings active on the market at that time. He is still an agent, for the same brokerage.

      As you know, Redfin now offers tours to all our clients. You may also remember that when you have raised the issue of agent safety, I immediately agreed that it is a valid concern. It is one reason we changed our tours policy.