Guest Post: Redfin vs. Traditional Agent: A Tale Of Caution

Hi MSM Readers! I’m Lily, I’m a millennial money blogger at The Frugal Gene. It is a spectacular treat that the kind Mr. MSM has allowed me, a wee one, to guest post! Wee! O.K., so I was born in a seaside village in Southern China. My parents never finished high school and they did everything they could to immigrate to America so I get a better chance at life. Me & my husband are the ultimate millennial super savers. We scrimp, save, and work our bums off to save over $100,000/year in the grandest pursuit of financial freedom. Hubby & I live our lives car-free and debt free. We moonlight as your coffee pouring hosts on AirBnB. It’s a total dance party @ thefrugalgene.com

 

TV vs Reality

I love binge watching HGTV home shopping. But when it comes to a home purchase of my very own – it only concurs up bad memories of walking on hot pavement, rushing from property to property, and waiting on the gut wrenching offer review period. If you are in a competitive seller’s market like we are in Seattle, consider yourself lucky if you get only a month of sleeping on pins and needles.

 

The partial checklist for the mental anguish goes:

“will they respond to us or let our offer expire?”

“what if the appraisal goes for much lower?”

“what if the inspection fails to find something?”

 

You know on TV the couples sometimes bicker about what they differ on in terms of houses? It’s always something like location, price, size what have you but no one fights about how you should choose a real estate agent. A proper real estate agent can make or break your entire home shopping experience. The median purchase price for a house in our neck of the woods just hit $700,000. Trust me, home buying is not something you (and/or your spouse) would want to go through alone. But that is exactly what we did.

 

Background

A house is undoubtedly the most expensive purchase most American will make in their lifetime and me and my husband had the ‘good’ fortune of doing it twice! We bought two houses within a year of each other. Our first home is a modern 3 story townhouse in a sleepy suburban neighborhood. Our second property is a rental property. It is a small unassuming cottage near a gigantic pristine lake in one of Seattle’s most beloved neighborhoods.

 

Traditional Agent

On our first home purchase we went with a traditional full-stop real estate agent from a well known and well respected local firm. Let’s call her Ms. Traditional! Ms. Traditional was a no-nonsense realtor. She knew we were in a rush to buy since our apartment lease downtown was ending in 2 months. Ms. Traditional knew I detested looking at houses and being disappointed when none of the overly-shopped photos accurately depicted the size or maintenance of the actual properties. She zeroed in on our taste and we toured her recommendations.

 

Now Ms. Traditional Agent was far from the perfect real estate agent. Perhaps it’s her Nordic mannerisms that rubs off in her communications but whoa, she was so cold and so collected. It might just be because she’s just a Seattleite, born and raised. She rushed us through many of the houses and we felt like an inconvenience standing next to her. But to her credit, she knew what properties we liked and what we didn’t liked within minutes. Ms. Traditional had either a lot of experience or we’re stock characters that she has pin pointed down to a science but the important thing was…she knew.

 

I’m Done

Ms. Traditional conjured up a full list of houses for us to scope. Running around town was normal to her but exhausting for me and my husband who were regular 9 to 5 desk rabbits. We found and settled on our first ever house in 3 days. Yup, 3 days! I, honest to God, told Ms. Traditional – “this is good enough, I’ll take it. Please don’t make me look at anymore.”

 

The negotiation process was uneventful. How can high stake negotiations be uneventful?

 

Easy. Traditional agents earned a percentage of the total commission so Ms. Traditional didn’t exactly have incentive to fight tooth and nail for us. The seller’s agent also shared the same firm as Ms. Traditional. The seller’s agent and Ms. Traditional were actually friends and have worked together before! Hmmm… This was something that annoyed me. We didn’t feel like we got the best price but we were only off by $2,000 and the sellers covered at least $3,000 in repairs for us after the inspection. They even included a welcome home basket for us when we first moved in. And yes, we were under a 2 month time crunch so it was probably good that no one rocked the boat :-)!

 

Redfin Agent

Our second purchase was through Redfin, the well known nontraditional online realtor. I love the Redfin mobile app. We have tried apps like Zillow (inaccurate since they’re not an actual MLS), Trulia (owned by Zillow), and Realtor (decent). Redfin has a home estimator that it is dead-on. Since we were consistently using it as a home shopping tool and more than impressed by the accuracy, we thought we would give a real Redfin agent a try with our second property. Plus, that Redfin commission rebate sounded sweet! After our first property, we assumed we had garner enough experience and knowledge to know what we were doing. We could forgo a full-stop agent for some extra green in our pocket, right?

 

This is where our troubles began…

 

Choosing Redfin

On the Redfin website, after you have chosen a Redfin agent you would like to work with, it’s only natural to assume you would be working the most with that person right? Nope.

 

We saw our actual agent, let’s call her Ms. Redfin, a total of 3 times in a span of an entire month. She was never, ever available on any of the weekends and her 3-day weekends “trips” were frequent. We were bounced back and forth by her support team.

 

Touring

There is no consistent right of contact. Every time you want to see a property, it’s automated to a touring agent whom you most likely have never met and knows nothing about you. Bad idea.

 

We found one awesome Redfin touring agent who was upfront with us and showed up how much he care by staying late and talking to us about the property. I was charmed! I wanted to tour with him and only him! My husband and I kept contacting Redfin to set us up again with that specific touring agent but he was never, ever available. We never saw him again! 🙁

 

On all the other home tours, we were stuck with touring agents who were simply there to unlock the door. They didn’t give us any insight beyond the superficial. None of the touring agents were experts in any of the neighborhoods we saw.

 

Usually a traditional agent picks you up and go from house to house but at Redfin there is no buddy-ing up. You need to drive separately to the same destination over and over, which is super impersonal. This is a cost cutting measure, I suppose, due to the liability associated with carrying passengers.

 

Oversights

Ms. Redfin was not really involved until we already submitted an offer. If you request your Redfin agent to do anything more and it’s the busy season – forget about it. There is no supervision. You’re on your own.

 

She rushed on the paperwork. We had to contact her constantly. I’m counting 8-9 times there were big obvious mistake like date, our names, price, date to respond etc. These are super important things on a super important document! How can you screw up that many times and still call yourself an agent? What is Redfin’s hiring process?!

 

We caught all but one mistake the final time. She forgot to change the old date to the new date so when our mortgage lender saw the old date, he thought we were in a rush to close. Our lender charged us a $250 fee for rushed service that we didn’t need. Thanks a lot Ms. Redfin.

 

I wish Redfin was upfront about services they do provide and don’t provide. I recall one day I asked Ms. Redfin, “Okay, so what service do you guys have and what are we supposed to do? What is a reasonable thing to request of Redfin compare to a traditional agent?”

 

Her: “Uhh…

She didn’t even know.

What.

The.

Hello Kitty.

 

Negotiation

Redfin agents who not work off a percentage of the home sale. I thought this concept was brilliant! My incentive was for there to be no incentive in real estate negotiations! Except…it was like Ms. Redfin was afraid of giving me an actual recommendation. She kept saying “what do you think?” and “it’s up to you.” So at that point I’m thinking…well what am I hiring her for? How about giving me some more recent neighborhood comps? How about scoping the sellers and seller’s agent on the situation? Does Redfin offer that or is that part of the cost cutting?

 

First time home buyers will probably lose more money with Redfin.

 

This is a HUGE purchase and negotiations are critical. Fortunately for me, I did my own research and I was also able to feel confidence in driving the price down after stalking researching the sellers in depth. They were over leveraged and I wanted to play hard ball. I talked the price down quite a bit and the seller’s agent was very curt with us afterwards.

 

Had I mellowed out like Ms. Redfin, we would have had to pay almost $5,000 dollars more on the house. Our Redfin rebate was only $3,500 dollars. That could have been a $1,500 mistake going with Ms. Redfin!

 

Neighborhood

Our seller’s agent was spectacularly difficult. He was so passive aggressive and I learned after we closed that his industry reputation was not an earnest one. Professional integrity anyone? A traditional agent with detailed neighborhood knowledge would have known our seller agent’s reputation. A traditional agent with neighborhood experience may have advised us to be more careful around a ‘snake oil salesman’ disguised as a realtor.

 

Neighborhood familiarity is important and even if Redfin claims their agent specialize in that neighborhood – it doesn’t matter! Your agent won’t be there with you or even tour with you. Their support team does the paperwork and you are on your own for the rest of it.

 

Redfin Inspectors

I find most Washington home inspectors are generally inexperienced. In the state of Washington for you to become an inspector all you need is a contracting background and a 8 hour training course.

 

Yup, 8 hours to review everything you need to know about a house. I don’t think so bub. Our Redfin home inspector was nice but he missed some big things. Just like our Redfin agent, he was superficial and impersonal. He didn’t tell us that our sink plumbing was illegal installed! He noted that the roof gasket was gnawed by a rodent but not the fact that the entire gasket was incorrectly installed!

 

If you want to be smart about your inspection: hire a general inspector, a structural engineer, a licensed electrician, a licensed plumber and (depending on your area) pest control specialists too. These degrees of specialization will cover the most expensive oopsie-daisies 🙂

 

Summary

Phew. I honestly thought I would hate writing this up but that was actually therapeutic. Gee…how I wanted my first guest post on Mustard Seed Money to be a positive piece, aw well 😉

 

In conclusion, I do not recommend Redfin because of their impersonal, touch-and-go business model. So I recommend most home buyers (especially first-time buyers) to go with a traditional realtor. It is best to establish a person who will understand your taste and provide you with a point of contact. Although I highly recommend the Redfin app – I would steer far, far away from Redfin as a real estate firm. A purchase this size is NOT something you should cost cut with an online firm like Redfin.

Mustard Seed Money

Welcome to the website. A mustard seed is a very small seed but astonishingly grows very large over time. My hope is that through your financial journey that your small investment in time, money and faith will grow beyond anything that you could ever imagine.

60 Comments

  1. Awesome guest post. Thanks for the honest write-up. I feel like so many bloggers only write about the good stuff so they can get all the referrals. At least you got therapy out of it 🙂 Sounds like a super stressful experience. I would have been losing my mind if they kept doing the paperwork wrong. I would keep thinking “what else are you messing up if you can’t get my name right?”

    We interviewed three agents before we picked one and we walked away very happy on our first house.
    Grant @ Life Prep Couple recently posted…Why I Use 5% Withdrawal for RetirementMy Profile

    • Thanks Grant! 🙂 That’s great advice Grant! I wish we interviewed more agents. The market is so crazy in Seattle that our “first choice” agent couldn’t even fit us in, both times for both houses!

    • I hope your experience selling with RedFin will be better than my experience. A good agent plays a bigger role in the experience than any RE firm.

    • RedFin doesn’t offer agent service everywhere but they are a legitimate MLS. I’ll a bit jealous of your home buying experience. Let’s trade!

  2. I didn’t realize how crazy things were over at Redfin. When my wife and I were Realtors, we worked for Keller Williams in Bucks County, PA. My wife was the lead agent and handled all the clients while I handled the backend and marketing. She was available to her clients almost 24/7. It drove me nuts at times, but it’s her customer that made her so successful. Eventually, she would just keep getting referrals because people enjoyed working with her so much. She’s a stay-at-home mother now (and has been for over a year) and still got a call recently.

    My advice to first-time buyers is interview a few agents. At least three. Meet with them, have them show you a few houses, and then chose the one you feel understands you.

    Plus, you need to quiz these people. Ask them about the market, ask about how resales are going in the area, and about how old things are like the roof or water heater. Before we were agents and we purchased our first home, my wife would quiz agents about the economy. Did they know or have an idea about interest rates … that sort of thing. Be proactive and don’t hold back.

    • Absolutely Dave! This is amazing advice and I 1,000% could not agree more. This purchase is too big to not be proactive! A dedicated agent is a good agent!

    • Dave – Great advice! We did interview 3 agents and we selected agents to interview based on the number of properties they had sold in our area in the last year. We had a list of questions we asked each agent and kind of rated the answers. Our home sale in Havertown (Dave you live near us!) went really well as a result.

      I thought about trying RedFin and now I’m really glad I didn’t.
      Mr. Freaky Frugal recently posted…Freaky Frugal or Stupid Frugal?My Profile

  3. We had a great experience buying our first home. Our traditional realtor helped us every step of the way.

    I wish she had helped us set our price range but understand why she didn’t. The bank told us $100k more than we actually could afford. Luckily we figured out on our own and bought the right amount of house.
    Budget on a Stick recently posted…Allowance: The Anti-DeprivationMy Profile

    • Great job BoaS!!! Our traditional agent didn’t ask for our budget either! She asked us what was our desired price range casually and she went auto pilot from there.

  4. Thanks for the honest review. I’ve been debating if we ever move going one of these online routes. Especially after my experience here with our first house where I located the house (in Delaware you find the inspector and the lawyer separately so other then the tour the realtor did nothing). My second realtor was much better but was also emotionally invested as it was a family friend so I’m not sure I can consider that success. Still you’ve given me pause with this review. Thankfully I don’t plan on buying again for a while, but points to ponder.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Important Dates and Goal SettingMy Profile

  5. This is truly an amazing post and something I have been waiting for for a LONG time. Thank you so much, Mr. MSM and Lily, for making it happen!

    I love how Lily was so open and honest about her thoughts of the whole process. We went with a traditional agent for our first home. I was thinking about using a Redfin agent next time for a discount. But after reading this awesome post, I’m having second thoughts about it. >.<
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…5 Frugal Wins & 2 Frugal Fails – June 23My Profile

    • That was my thought too. “I know what I want, I did it before!” I do want to bring up that the *quality* of the R.E. agent plays a bigger role than the R.E. firm. Is the DC market still crazy competitive? That also effects things.

  6. Sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience with your real estate purchases and especially your agents. I am Realtor in Canada with some knowledge of the market down south. From what I am hearing, you worked with the wrong people, to put it bluntly. Here is my two cents for your future reference:

    – before hiring a real estate agent, create a list of skills that you want your agent to have and assess them based on those skills.
    – meet with at least three agents and you don’t have to settle if you are not satisfied with what you see.
    – if you are more knowledgeable and are required to do more research than your agent, it’s time to find one that work for you.
    – if your agent is not responding in a reasonable amount of time (a couple of hours) and are not available to serve you, it’s time to switch.
    – if an agent cannot draft a contract correctly, run and don’t look back.

    For those that are interested to learn more about real estate, I have a few posts on my blog that can assist you.
    Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com recently posted…Who’s The Real Leo T. Ly?My Profile

    • Thank you Leo. And yes you are right. I wish I can turn back time or fast forward time to read this message! We did screen a few realtors before but the market was so competitive we were being passed onto different agents because (my guess) the good agents were already being bombarded and we were not first priority.

  7. I’m glad you wrote this, Lily. Everything I’ve read about Redfin discusses their low fees, but they didn’t discuss actual customer experience.

    Have you thought about going rogue and doing everything yourself and only using a lawyer?
    The Grounded Engineer recently posted…2017 mid-year goal check inMy Profile

    • Yes!! That was my first option for both purchases!!! I contacted the same firms twice! No one had availability, I got a few kind rejections. They were swamped. Kinda our fault for starting mid summer both times…

  8. Thanks for that review. I really like the Redfin site and always wanted to use their service to save on commission. When we bought our co-op (NYC) I considered using them but my aunt is a real estate agent and I felt some obligation to use her as she is family. You’re definitely right that someone who wasn’t prepared could lose money with a passive agent like you encountered. But when I bought, I knew the neighborhood well as we were renting in the area for a few years. I researched and did my own comps. It felt like agents only really just opened the door for us to the see the place anyway. Horrible that they messed up the paperwork. I hope you complained or left a bad Yelp review =) You don’t have to use their home inspectors right? I didn’t even know they had their own.

    • I did leave a bad Yelp review. I gave myself a year to cool off and if I still felt like RedFin stunk then I told myself I would write it. And here we are! You do not have to use a RedFin inspector but they highly recommended their guys (which mmm, now I don’t think is a good idea.)

  9. Finally someone with some experience with RedFin. I have always wondered what this service was like. It always seemed more attractive to me as a seller instead of a buyer as the seller typically pays the commissions. This gives me pause to use them. Hopefully there will be a new player to disrupt the market (like Facebook did to My Space or Friendster…any one remember Friendster?).
    Dads Dollars Debts recently posted…Hump Day – June 21, 2017My Profile

    • Lol yes I remember Friendster!

      I really wanted to like RedFin, I did. I think the idea is brilliant and their app is superb. But they got some kinks to work out and it’s not the revolutionary everyone described.

  10. I was lucky to have someone I know who is a real estate agent in selling and buying my now current home. He hooked it up with a crazy discount in terms of commission. In terms of the house, we were able to get a good price and a couple of extra modifications because the builder made mistake that benefited us 🙂
    SMM recently posted…Simple Stock Comparison – KO & PEPMy Profile

  11. Great write up Lily! Sorry to hear you had such a poor experience with the rental house purchase. I’ve been fortunate to find a realtor who has handled 5 of my home purchase/selling transactions.

    Thanks for sharing your story and for the heads up on the Redfin app too!

  12. Redfin sounds bare bones and doesn’t seem to do much of what a traditional agent does, but that sorta makes sense. You can take out the middle man but not what he does.

    I have had bad experiences with traditional agents (lazy, incompetent, greedy, self-serving), but I’ve also had some good experiences with others. Their fees are high but good ones are worth it – the real problem is when you pay the high fee and get Redfin-like service.

    Thanks for the information!
    Paul recently posted…Cherish the MomentMy Profile

    • RedFin is very bared bones and for a $3500 refund, it’s not worth it IMO – and I’m frugal! The quality of the agent plays a huge role so everybody needs to shop around!

  13. Amen, sister! Being a GOOD Realtor is hard work. You not only have to know your clients and the area but be available to them at the drop of a hat. When buyers see something come available they want to see it NOW!! I did real estate for 8ish years and my main focus was first time buyers. I love the enthusiasm of first timers but there is a lot of educating that goes into it. Good thing you guys had the traditional Realtor first!! I always wondered how Redfin worked from the agent side. Thanks for giving me the low down!!
    Miss Mazuma recently posted…An Aha Moment… Reverse Engineering FIMy Profile

    • Yes!!! SO much this! Being a realtor is a lot more work that it seems. You have 1000 small tasks that need strong attention to detail. You have to deal with all kinds of people (that have no obligation to buy through you!) You have to wear so many “hats” as a realtor. First timers should definitely not go with RedFin. It’s going to be a bum ride!

  14. Thanks for this post! Now I know not to use Redfin =) I think, like anything, it’s important to align incentives. The person you’re working with needs to have something to “gain” by getting you the best deal. And something to “lose” if they cut corners. Sounds depressing, but it’s just how the world works =( And with something as big as a home purchase, where it’s so easy to lose many many thousands of dollars, all at one go, the stakes are fairly high!

    • The stakes are crazy. You can get a 30 day guarantee on a set of underpants from Amazon but you can’t with RE that cost 30,000 times that. Eeeesh, what a world!

  15. My wife and I bought our home (Bay Area) through Redfin, and were fortunate enough to have a much better experience than you did. I’m sorry the process didn’t work well in your case, and it sounds like Redfin needs to ensure their agents are more responsive and available. With all that said, I wouldn’t write off Redfin, because like I said, I can personally attest to having had an excellent, responsive agent who did a great job helping us negotiate a fair price.

    • I think it was the quality of my agent. A friend of ours used RedFin and had a great experience but when we contacted RedFin as follow up, that agent had already left RedFin to start his own firm! That brings me back to the talent pool issue. I’m so glad you have a better experience! I wouldn’t wish ours on anyone!

  16. Wow I would not have been able to keep my cool and use Redfin at all. Seriously would have lost it.

    Our traditional agent was amazing. After we put an offer on a house, she could tell we were settling. She made us go look at one more house. We fell in love with the second house and we were able to cancel our first offer to get the house we really wanted. All something it doesn’t sound like Redfin would do.

    I like the idea of disrupting the real estate industry and their commission structure. Can lead to some shady practices. Overall I still prefer paying for the help and value of a great Realtor.

    Thanks for sharing this story!
    Save Splurge Deny Debt – Cameron recently posted…Minimalism-ish Update #1: Four Big Challenges and Small WinsMy Profile

    • Thanks Cameron! Great to hear your experience and yes I think good traditional agents just has more experience, “it’s like I’ve been doing this for so long I just know” kinda thing 🙂

  17. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to handle the situation you had to deal with. I would have high tailed it after the first set of mistakes.
    I have to say our recent home purchase using a traditional agent went well and would take the same road again in the future.
    Sometimes in our frugal ways we need to step back and see if there is true value in paying for certain services.
    FIbythecommonguy recently posted…Dollars and cents behind the moveMy Profile

  18. Thanks for sharing this info on Redfin. For the vast majority of people a house will be the largest purchase they ever make. Unless you are a skilled real estate investor, you are better off with a traditional real estate agent. As you said, that seems like prudent advice for a first time home buyer because it can be overwhelming.
    Dave recently posted…Knoebels Amusement ResortMy Profile

    • I wanted to stress that the individual agent will be much more important than the firm. But having a good resource and talent pool to choose from is also important. I would recommend interviewing a bunch of agents and find the “Cinderella” for your family. If I could do it again, that’s what I would do. It sets the tone for the rest of buying experience!

    • Lol thanks JT, you are an observant cookie aren’t ya :D! I asked MSM if it was OK I post a not-so-great (honest) review as a guest post (I didn’t want him caught in between) but Mr. MSM had no qualms at all. I’m so glad I could tell my side of the story!

  19. Very well written! I agree with JT, it’s rare to see a post where the author doesn’t recommend a service – thanks for the honesty. I’ll be a first time home buyer in the next year or two, so I’m glad I read this before going through the hassle of a service like Redfin. Also, $100,000 a year is an amazing savings amount! Probably the highest I’ve seen. Keep it up, Lily!
    Matt @ Profitable Matters recently posted…Sticking To Your Principles When It Means Sticking OutMy Profile

    • Thank you Matt!! I think the other commenters here provided great advice which is to choose your agent thoroughly and carefully because that will set the tone for the rest of the experience. I was too scared to reject anyone (that was my mistake) and I wish now I had more of a backbone about it.

  20. That sounds like a terrible experience Lily when home buying isn’t exactly stress free in the first place. We’ve only ever gone with the traditional options and had no complaints. Thanks for the warning that it’s worth having a good hard think about whether new players in the market are actually worth it. I hope any future purchases you make go smoothly.
    Eliza recently posted…Essential Guide to Better Money HabitsMy Profile

  21. Awful, awful, awful, awful! So sorry to hear your terrible experience. I’m actually a Realtor myself and I’ll tell you, not many “traditional” agents are much better. I’m constantly baffled at the customer service of other people. I get clients who choose me simply based on NOT having a bad review.

    A good agent is a rate commodity these days. Some tips to find a good one: check out their resources. Ask them who they use for an inspector, contractor, handyman, etc. If they don’t know their resources off the top of their head, it means they don’t “fix” problems. If I’m going to earn a 3% commission you can darn sure be believed I won’t call you with a problem unless I have a solution.

    Ask them about the local area. I’ll be honest, I don’t know every neighborhood (there are no less than a bajillion in my neck of the woods). However, I can tell you the average price per square foot of most areas near me. They gives you a basic “rough-shod” idea for any given area. They should also be able to tell you “standard” upgrades for a given area. It’s MLS research that they should be conducting.

    Hope that helps for future ventures! But at least you have a house now, right?
    Cash Flow Celt recently posted…How Tulips Broke the Market: A Case StudyMy Profile

  22. Wow, this post was such an eye-opener! My frugal self was set on using Redfin because #allthesavings but yikes! Maybe we’re better off using a traditional realtor who has their shit together. Like you mentioned, this is a HUGE purchase, so the possibility of spending a bit more for the realtor’s help might be worth it in the long run.

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