How does Redfin make money?

Steven Loeb · July 27, 2018 · Short URL:

The company makes its money from listing fees and commissions when a house is sold

The real estate tech space has never been hotter than it is right now, with investments in the space reaching record highs. There was a total of $12.6 billion invested into these companies in 2017, which tripled the $4.2 billion invested in 2016. It's a good time to be a real estate startup.

So why is one of the legacy companies in the space, Redfin, been struggling so far this year? The company has been seeing its stock dip nearly 20 percent to date, even as others in the same space, such as Zillow and RealPage, have seen their stocks soar in the same time frame.

The reason Redfin is struggling because of its business model, which is more closely tied to the whims of the real estate market than the other two companies, which rely on an advertising and a SaaS model, respectively. 

In the FAQ section of its website, Redfin says it makes money "by helping people buy and sell homes." That means that, since it's acting as the broker, Redfin gets a commission when customers make an offer on a home using the platform.

"We return a portion of our commission to the customer, and retain the remainder for our services," the company writes.

The company also makes money from customers listing their home on Redfin, for which it charges them a listing fee. The percentage, and the minimum commission, depends on the location of the home. For example, in Atlanta, the fee is 1.5 percent, with a minimum commission of $4,500. In Denver, it's 1 percent and a $3,000 minimum. In Orange County the minimum is $5,000. The listing fee also increases by 1% of sale price if the buyer is unrepresented.

In its S-1 filing with the SEC, Redfin also outlined two other sources of revenue.

The first is what it calls "partner revenue, which "consists of fees partner agents pay us when they close referred transactions, less the amount of any payments we make to customers. We recognize these fees as revenue on the closing of a transaction. Partner revenue is affected by the number of partner transactions closed, home sale prices, commission rates, and the amount we give to customers."

Redfin also makes money from "fees charged for title and settlement services, mortgage banking operations, marketing services provided to home builders by our builder services group, licensing and analytics fees from our Walk Score service, homes sold by Redfin Now, and other services. Revenue is recognized when the service is provided." Redfin Now is a service, introduced in 2017, where the company buys homes directly from home sellers through a wholly owned subsidiary and resell them to homebuyers

That translated into revenue of $370 million in 2017, of which $10.5 million came from Redfin Now. The company saw its revenue grow 38 percent year-to-year.

Despite that growth, its stock has sunk from $31.41 at the start of 2018 to $25.37 at the end of trading on Thursday, a decrease of 19.22 percent. Zillow, meanwhile, has seen its stock go from $40.50 to $62.69, up 54.7 percent.

That's because Zillow's business model depends on advertising, while Redfin's model depends on people listing and buying their homes. And right now the market is down; earlier this week, the National Association of Realtors released data showing that existing-home sales decreased for the third straight month in June. Sales are 2.2 percent below where they were at the same time a year ago.

In its second quarter earnings call, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman outlined three initiatives that he said will help the company to not totally depend on sales through its brokerage service. The first is Redfin Now; the second is Redfin Concierge Service, which the company introduced in November. Through the service, Redfin coordinates, supervises and pays for services such as deep cleaning, painting, staging and landscaping, all for a 2-percent listing fee.

Finally, there's Redfin Mortgage, which the company launched in January 2017.

"Already we made about 20 loans in the fourth quarter of 2017, and nearly 40 in the first quarter of 2018, with similar growth expected for the second quarter. We launched Redfin Mortgage in the first quarter of 2017 to issue loans to our home buying customers in Texas," Kelman said on the call.

"Our premise has been that integrating a lending operation with Redfin's brokerage and title businesses, all running of our own software, can ultimately lead to an entirely digital closing where Redfin borrowers compete like cash buyers."

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Redfin is the industry's first online brokerage for residential real estate. We believe that technology and a consumer-centered business model mean that we can get better results for our customers, at a completely different price.
How it Works: Buying a Home

Customers search for homes on our website, arrange home tours with Redfin and, when they've found a home they like, get started on an offer via our website. For each transaction, the same Redfin real estate agent handles the negotiations, contingencies and paperwork. The average customer saves more than $10,000 in commissions.
How it Works: Selling a Home

Customers use our website to tell us they'd like to sell a home, and then begin working with their Redfin team to get the home ready to sell and set the price. Once an offer comes in, Redfin negotiates on behalf of the customer and makes sure all the paperwork is taken care of. The average customer saves more than $10,000 in commissions.
Our Business Model

Our service is half on the Internet, half personal. Redfin's technology combines listings with objective data, including maps, property outlines, third-party appraisals and tax records. We base our service on data-driven best practices for buying and selling a home. Our business model focuses our personnel on customer service. We employ agents directly, and we compensate agents based on customer satisfaction. We believe this approach is not only more efficient, but leads to better service.

Our core value is consumer-driven innovation. We were the first to launch a map-driven search application in 2004, and the first to offer an online home-buying service in 2006. By January of 2008, we had refunded more than $10 million in commissions to home-buyers. According to MLS records, we were also able to negotiate a lower price for our customers than other brokerages could. We offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Redfin earns fees from buyers or sellers that we represent in a real estate transaction. In Seattle, we have begun an experimental program to provide a mortgage service, charging a flat fee to act as a mortgage broker. These are the only ways today that we generate revenue.
Our History

The company is led by technology entrepreneurs from Plumtree Software and Applied Discovery, and backed by Madrona Venture Group, the original investor in Other investors include Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Vulcan Capital, BEV Capital and The Hillman Company. We offer local service in Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Boston and Washington, DC; we are expanding nationwide over the next two years, moving next to Chicago.

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Donald DeSantis, Seattle
"After spending years at big name brokerages, I wanted something fresh. This company spearheads change and makes the industry perform better. I’m proud to be part of the team."

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Broker records show that Redfin agents and their customers negotiate a better price when buying a home.

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