Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman walked into a bit of a lion’s den Monday morning, hosting a conference call with real estate professionals on Active Rain. Kelman discussed a wide range of topics on the popular online real estate network, speaking mostly about the failure of the company’s recent Scouting Report service.
But the most interesting part of the discussion were Kelman’s not-so-subtle attacks on “media sites” who he said are going to “enslave” real estate brokers if the industry doesn’t wake up to the changes going on in the industry.
And while Kelman didn’t name names during the remarks, the message was pretty clear that he was referring to the likes of Trulia, Zillow and other ad-supported businesses. Kelman’s remarks, however, weren’t so much directed at those fast-growing companies but were meant as a wake-up call to the real estate industry.
Near the conclusion of the talk, Active Rain’s Nikesh Parekh asked Kelman about his predictions for 2012. The question sparked this fascinating response from Kelman:
“I think we are at the crossroads where the media sites will enslave us, I know that is a colorful term, but if we outsource our brains to them, they are going to make all of the money, and we are going to do all of the work. Or, the brokerages can decide that we have gathered all of this information, we have provided all of the service and we should be the ones who offer the best online experience to our customers. And that’s really the big question. I don’t worry so much about whether Redfin can hire the best agents or continue to grow our business. I worry about whether the fundamental choice we made five years ago was the right choice, that if we played by the rules and used MLS data that we would be able to build a better Web site or a worse Web site. And, I think, the jury is still out there. But, I promise you, if brokers aren’t building the best Web sites for real estate consumers, we are headed for pain. Pain for the customer, pain for the broker.”
Parekh followed up those strong statements by asking Kelman if he’d advise brokers to remove their listings from Trulia and Zillow. Kelman responded:
“No. I wouldn’t advise anyone to pull listings just because it is in your customer’s best interest, the home owner’s best interest, to get as much exposure. I think the solution is to make sure that the rules that we abide by as brokers are not so restrictive that our Web sites are hamstrung. Belonging to the MLS should be an advantage, not a disadvantage. So, the collective action I am looking for is not a strike against a media site. The action I am looking for is all of us working together to make sure that our listings by the MLS show up on every social media site and that other data gets surfaced. And this isn’t just about Scouting Report. This is a larger question about who is going to have the relationship with customers online. If media sites are going to have that relationship, I think it is really hard for us to build a new business — not just Redfin –I mean all brokers.”
Earlier in the program, Kelman noted that the company had not given up on the Scouting Report service, which provided a scorecard of sorts for more than one million agents across the country. Redfin pulled the controversial product earlier this month after data problems and protests from Multiple Listing Services.
In his remarks Monday, Kelman said that they would consider rolling out Scouting Reports one market at a time. To Kelman, the offering is part of of a larger battle.
“I have no doubt that people wanted to see it,” said Kelman, adding that it was an immediate hit. “The point I’d like to make to the brokerage industry is that we can be the purveyor of information about our own performance, or we can let someone else build a directory of real estate agents. If someone else does that, we will be paying those people for the rest of our lives…. If Redfin has to pay a media site for traffic, we will not be able to make real estate better.”