Nela Richardson understands that buying a house can be driven by emotions. But Redfin’s chief economist urges buyers to shop with their head, as well as their heart — particularly in super hot markets like the Seattle area.
“Before you fall in love you should be informed,” Richardson said. “Otherwise you might go for the wrong house.”
Richardson, who was hired in 2014 as Redfin’s first top economist, leads a team of researchers who drill into housing data collected by the Seattle-based online real estate company and other sources. They look for housing trends, forecasts and other useful information to educate buyers. She has a particular interest in social justice, the lack of affordable housing and efforts to address these challenges.
“Tech and research in general can just highlight where the best use of capital is and how we can solve these issues,” Richardson said. In the Puget Sound area, a key component is an investment in more mass transit — namely light rail — and zoning for dense, lower-cost housing along Seattle’s transit lines.
“The city is really on the cutting edge. There are not very many cities as committed to these issues as Seattle,” she said. “I’m confident that Seattle can get there.”
Richardson would like for her team’s work to help inform the discussion.
“We are constantly looking for ways to use data science tools and machine learning at Redfin to help consumers make better, faster decisions, and we’d like to extend that research to mayors’ offices and cities,” she said. “All entities can benefit from advanced data science and machine learning to solve problems at the family level or the city level.”
We caught up with Richardson for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: New York City
Computer types: MacBook Air
Mobile devices: iPhone 8
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music, SQL, Bloomberg Terminal, Dropbox for big files, long pdfs and family pictures. I also like Grubhub because I travel a lot and it helps me find new restaurants in cities quickly. When it comes to software, I prefer Stata, which was created for economists by economists, and Matlab. But I’m learning to embrace R and Python since they are the language of data science.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “I work in New York’s Financial District across the street from the Word Trade Center. The office has an amazing view of lower Manhattan, which is the highlight of the space. My desk is pretty Spartan. I like feeling like I have a blank slate to do my work every day.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Make a list. Preparing a visual list of everything I have to do in a day helps me organize my time more efficiently. Also, try to find moments of fun. It’s easy to get caught up in our to-do lists. It’s okay to sometimes go off script and be spontaneous. Enjoying life is the key to life.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. I use it to engage in social conversations about housing, economics and policy. Twitter is great for that. But the lifespan of a tweet (unless you’re a certain president) is only three seconds so I don’t like to spend too much time on it.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “My inbox has 27,240 unread messages but most of them (hopefully!) are spam.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week: “This week is a little unusual since I’m attending a Tech Economics Conference focused on Machine Learning, AI and big data. Generally, I have about 12-to-15 appointments and meetings a week.”
How do you run meetings? “I really like brainstorming during meetings. It’s easy to fall into a trap of simply using meetings to pass along information or give updates. For me, meetings are a time to think collectively about how to do something hard in a new way.”
Everyday work uniform? “I do a lot of broadcast and media interviews in my work as Redfin’s chief economist. So often I need to be “camera-ready.” But I also work in a very casual office. I love wearing dresses because I can look professional and be comfortable at the same time.”
How do you make time for family? “I am married with two school-age boys. I don’t ever try to achieve a ‘work-life balance.’ The key for me is to be in the moment. If I’m with my kids, I’m all in with them, and I am not thinking of work. If I’m working I’m focused on that.
In the modern work world we have devices that keep us constantly connected to our jobs. The flipside of this constant connection is that we can have much more flexibility in our workday than workers did a generation ago. I value this flexibility a lot. I’ve trained myself to work after my kids’ bedtime and before we start getting them ready for school. That way, I can focus on them during the evenings and on weekends. And it helps a lot that I have an amazing and supportive husband who keeps everything together at home while I travel.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Hanging out with my two boys is the best stress reliever. They are turning into really funny and interesting human beings and we have a great time together. Recently, I‘ve started doing power yoga several times a week. It helps me stay focused and relaxed at the same time. I also like taking long walks to clear my head. I know nature hikes are popular in Seattle, but one of my favorite things to do is walk in cities, especially New York City, where I work. I love seeing all the people, performers, bodegas, architecture, chaos and crowds. I love how alive the city is. It energizes me.”
What are you listening to? “’90s hip-hop and neo-soul music are my go to. I also recently started listening to Kane Brown, a new country music singer, who also happens to be a big advocate for affordable rental housing, a cause I care a lot about.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I use my morning commute on the train to catch up on business news. Each morning I read The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Project Syndicate, an economist blog. I also read The New Yorker weekly because I like the writing so much. I read local papers sporadically to see what’s making news at the local or regional level. You can tell a lot about the state of a local housing market by what runs on the front page of its newspaper.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “I still subscribe to magazines and my nightstand is stacked with them. Right now I have Fortune, Fast Company, The Atlantic, Vice, Vanity Fair and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I’m also reading “The Stone Sky,” which is the final installment of a three-part dystopian sci-fi novel by N.K. Jemisin.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “Depends on the day. Sometimes both. I don’t really have a regular pattern. I can function with very little sleep if I have to, but I also highly value a good night’s sleep.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Good ideas are like love, they happen when you’re not searching for them. I tend to be most creative while engaging in routine tasks that allow my mind to wander, like cooking, doing laundry or washing dishes.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “At the end of the day, my job is to help provide the best data and information to Redfin’s customers, who are making the biggest emotional and financial investments of their lives: buying a home. I always want to be mindful of the consumer. That means connecting the dots for them by being both logical and linear while also being emotional and expressive. That style is what humanizes our data and makes it accessible to the people who need it the most.”