May 26, 2018

Bucks Blog: Redfin Backs Off Some Agent Home-Sales Data

Just days after it introduced a tool that lets users search for real-estate agents by name and view their home-selling success statistics, the Web site Redfin backed out of some markets, after getting complaints from local multiple listing services about the use of some data.

Agents also identified some serious flaws in the tool’s information, which Redfin says it has corrected.

Since the “Scouting Report” tool went live last Thursday, two multiple listing services — one in Washington, D.C., and another in the East Bay area of San Francisco — have asked for a review of Redfin’s use of their data, said Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s chief executive. He says the company believes it is using the agent data in compliance with its licensing agreements with the multiple listing services, where agents list properties for sale. But Redfin has suspended offering information from those listing services while it sorts out the situation, Mr. Kelman said Monday.

“We knew this would raise a few eyebrows,” he said.

Also, according to a post on Redfin’s corporate blog, Redfin has discontinued the scouting tool in Sacramento, after determining that its offering did not comply with data-sharing rules there. It discontinued the tool in Atlanta, after determining that the effort there wasn’t ready. And it now requires users to register with the site in order to get access to information in certain markets, including Portland, Ore.

The site also had to correct some serious inaccuracies in its data, which some agents pointed out in angry posts to the site’s blog. In some instances, Mr. Kelman said, the tool showed an incorrect figure for the average length of time — known as “days on market” — that it took agents to sell some properties. (On the blog, Mr. Kelman conceded the mistake was “egregious” and apologized.)

In Phoenix and two other markets, the brokerage affiliations of about 10 percent of the agents were inaccurate. And in at least two markets — Denver and San Diego — the site initially said it was showing three years of data, but in fact just two years of data was available.

Agent Aquarium, a real estate Web site based in Austin, Tex., where Redfin is now offering its own scouting report, said it lets home buyers and sellers find active real estate agents in specific neighborhoods, but in a way that it says offers greater privacy for agents.

Agent Aquarium lets sellers and buyers search for agents by neighborhood or ZIP code and provides details of their sales records. But the agents remain anonymous — they are assigned an identification code — until the site makes an electronic introduction of a consumer and an agent. (The site will also request information from a specific agent, if a consumer requests it; the agent can decide if he or she wants to have the data released. If the information is provided, the consumer pays a $10 fee.)

“It’s the agent’s job and it’s their data, so we just feel it’s right to ask permission first to display their data,” Joe Molinelli, the site’s chief executive, said in an e-mail.

Agent Aquarium earns commissions from sales if the consumer chooses one of its own agents, and a referral fee — typically 25 percent of the agent’s commission — if the consumer chooses an agent who works for another firm, according to its Web site. The site currently is available in Austin and has plans to expand into other Texas markets.

“We don’t have animosity towards Realtors as an industry group,” said Tom Cunningham, Agent Aquarium’s chief operating officer, in a phone interview. “We’re simply trying to find a better way for consumers to vet their Realtors.”

In the case of Redfin, users must search by an agent’s name — they can’t yet search for agents by neighborhood. Mr. Kelman said such a feature is in the works.

Do you think it is fair for real estate agents’ sales histories to be publicly available?

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