Redfin has hired Bloomberg LP vet Nela Richardson as its first chief economist, helping the Seattle-based brokerage and referral site take another step toward the national spotlight.

The hiring comes on the heels of a massive national expansion rollout, a “mezzanine” $50 million funding round and murmurs of an impending initial public offering for Redfin, which operates in close to 30 markets across the U.S.

Richardson, who most recently served as senior economist at Bloomberg’s federal government-focused wing, Bloomberg Government, will guide a Redfin team of economists and data scientists who will use both Redfin’s data and agents’ knowledge to provide homebuying and selling insights for consumers.

Nela Richardson

Nela Richardson

Before joining Bloomberg in 2011, Richardson served nearly two years at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission as a research economist and for one year as a researcher at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. From 2005 to 2008, she served at Freddie Mac as a senior economist, according to her LinkedIn profile.

With the addition of a chief economist, Redfin is entering a spotlight currently held by Zillow and Trulia, who brought on chief economists in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

With the approval of the National Association of Realtors, operator Move Inc. is currently on the hunt for its own chief economist. NAR, who previously barred Move from establishing the position, has its own chief economist, Lawrence Yun, who helps agents and brokers interpret housing data for their clients.

Zillow’s chief economist, Stan Humphries, and Trulia’s Jed Kolko, along with their teams, interpret the firms’ housing data for consumers with research shared in blogs and white papers, in discussions with the press, and, in Zillow’s case, public policy discussions.

Richardson, who will be based in Washington, D.C., says she will do much the same for Redfin.

“So much of the housing market is done by word of mouth with the asymmetry of information between the Realtor and the client or mortgage company and clients, but we have the insights to bring clarity to the process,” Richardson told Inman News. “Redfin’s technology can illuminate the market for consumers.”

Redfin, however, will have a slightly different offering from its third-party counterparts, Richardson told Inman News.

Unlike Zillow and Trulia, Redfin, as a licensed brokerage, has access to multiple listing service data and stats in the markets where it represents buyers and sellers and refers deals to partner agents, Richardson said.

As a brokerage, Redfin also has access to insights from its more than 1,000 agents, she said.

“Having agents gives us an advantage,” Richardson said. Being so close to the action on a daily basis, they hear about trends in housing first, which will help inform what research her data team can put out.

Richardson, who has extensive experience working with the federal government, will, like Zillow, make an effort to bring Redfin’s housing insights to government.

Even without widespread national coverage or national advertising, Redfin has built a prominent brand with consumers throughout the U.S. based on a fast, streamlined home search platform, high-rated mobile apps, and access to additional multiple listing service data as a virtual office website.

In April, Redfin attracted 5.8 million unique visitors to its site, the sixth most of any real estate network that month, according to digital analytics firm comScore. It was the fifth most visited real estate network from mobile devices (including mobile apps).

With the addition of Richardson, Redfin might be the only U.S. brokerage with a chief economist.

Large markets where Redfin operates

Market Date Redfin entered market
Austin, Texas October 2010
Atlanta December 2009
Baltimore, Md. July 2007
Boston April 2007
Charlotte, N.C. February 2013
Chicago July 2008
Dallas December 2010
Denver January 2011
Hampton Roads, Va. April 2014
Houston March 2013
Lake Tahoe (California side) July 2013
Las Vegas October 2010
Los Angeles area February 2007
Minneapolis December 2013
New York (the Bronx, Long Island, Queens, Westchester County) April 2009
Orlando-Tampa, Fla. April 2014
Philadelphia March 2012
Phoenix March 2010
Portland, Ore. February 2010
Providence, R.I. April 2014
Raleigh-Durham, N.C. February 2013
Sacramento, Calif. April 2009
San Antonio, Texas July 2013
San Diego February 2007
San Francisco Bay Area May 2006
Seattle February 2006
South Florida February 2013
Tucson, Ariz. March 2014
Washington, D.C. July 2007

Source: Redfin

Redfin does not have agents on the ground on the California side of Lake Tahoe, or in San Antonio or Tucson, from the list above, but refers deals to vetted agents from other firms known as “partner agents.”

By referring deals to agents at other firms off of a website with a listing feed restricted to that market’s brokerages, Redfin is operating as a “paper brokerage” in those markets and a handful of others where it hasn’t announced its presence yet like Santa Barbara, California.

Coinciding with criticism of this model, Redfin announced earlier this month it would no longer operate as a referral-only site in markets it’s expanding to.

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman insists that Redfin is “overwhelmingly a brokerage.”

The expansion model Redfin used in a handful of its expansion markets just let the firm build its brand and Web traffic while it found the right agents to bring on board, Kelman said.

Emphasizing that the referral-only model was just a placeholder in new markets the firm expands to, Kelman says Redfin generates just a small slice (approximately 5 percent) of its revenue from referral deals.

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