High-tech brokerage company Redfin has expanded its range of services and service costs as part of a retooling, the company announced today.

The new service offering includes free home tours to prospective buyers with no commitment to use Redfin as a broker.

High-tech brokerage company Redfin has elevated its level of services and pricing as part of a retooling, the company announced today.

The move represents a step toward more traditional real estate brokerage services by a company that has built a reputation for its streamlined online offerings and deep discounts.

"There is now no major personal service that a traditional agent offers that Redfin doesn’t," said Glenn Kelman, Redfin CEO, in a statement. "This is our shot at the mass-market. We’ve taken everything we’ve learned about what consumers want from online and personal service to create an offering that has more of both."

The new service offering includes free home tours to prospective buyers with no commitment to use Redfin as a broker. Previously, the company had charged a $250 fee for agent-led home tours after the first two free tours. The company had earlier tested out the beefed-up service offering in the Seattle market.

"We can offer a no-strings (touring) service because we’re confident that when customers tour freely, they’ll choose Redfin freely too," stated Scott Nagel, the company’s vice president of real estate operations.

Redfin last month announced the layoff of 20 percent of its workforce, including "senior agent" employees who represent clients in negotiations.

The company has expanded its contracting of "field agents" to accommodate this expansion of touring services, boosting the supply by 70 percent since March, and is seeking field agents to work on a contract basis in all of the markets the company is active in. Field agents do not represent clients in negotiations and are not regular employees with benefits.

The company’s revamped offerings will "feature slightly higher pricing" for the company’s buyer and seller clients, according to the announcement.

As a tradeoff for making tours free, the company has reduced its refund offered to buyer clients from 66 percent of the brokerage’s commission in a transaction side to 50 percent.

The company now offers professional photography at no charge as a part of its standard listing services.

Redfin is raising the cost of standard seller services from a flat fee of $4,000 to $5,000, and offers a premium listing service for a flat-fee of $7,000 that includes an in-home consultation on pricing and staging, two hosted open houses and a postcard-mailing campaign.

Those buyers who engaged a Redfin agent or toured properties through Redfin from July 1 to November 2005 "will get the new service with the old commission refund on any offer made by Jan. 31," the company reported. And the old pricing level is still available to registered users who have begun a tour request or a purchase offer but haven’t yet submitted it to the company.

Redfin’s redesigned Web site allows consumers to sign up for an office visit before choosing an agent, use the Web site to review agent profiles and select an agent, and offers improvements to its online purchase offer and tour-scheduling functions.

The company’s online agent profiles feature transaction history including dates, prices and addresses for recent deals; customer service ratings; online activity in Redfin forums and blogs; online videos; and biographical information.

Redfin reported that it conducted dozens of focus groups and usability sessions and surveyed visitors to its Web site. In a June 2008 company survey, 70 percent of participants identified unlimited home tours as the most important service an agent could offer, while 58 percent said being able to "talk to a Redfin agent before making an offer" would be the most important upgrade to its buyer services.

The company also announced an upgrade to its search tools to show a property listing’s entire history, including any changes in the for-sale status of the property such as cancellations and re-listings.

The feature addresses a controversial industry practice in which agents or brokers temporarily yank for-sale properties out of a multiple listing service and later re-list the properties to make them appear as newly listed properties in an effort to attract more prospective buyers.

"People want to know when a property is re-listed just to make it seem new, they want to exclude short sales and bank-owned properties, and they want to search specifically for listings that have dropped their price," Kelman said in a statement.

The site offers tracking of individual properties’ listing histories, including how long it has been for sale and at what prices. When searching for homes at the site, Redfin users can choose whether to include or exclude properties in which the seller is facing foreclosure, for example, and they can search specifically for properties with recent price reductions. The site does not require registration to access these functions.

Users can now also choose to view lists of for-sale waterfront or townhouse properties, properties with parking spaces or covered garages, and to view the most popular listings in a given neighborhood among the site’s users. Users can also jot, store and access online notes about individual property listings. The company has added multi-family buildings and vacant land to its inventory of for-sale properties, which already includes multiple listing service-listed homes, for-sale-by-owner homes and bank-owned homes.

In addition to the hire of field agents, Redfin officials report that the company is looking to bring aboard a quality assurance manager, a San Francisco Bay Area market manager, and a Long Island broker.

None of the openings was created as a result of last month’s layoffs, Kelman said, and at least one of the positions may be filled from within the company. Redfin had previously announced plans to expand into the Long Island market, he noted.

Redfin officials are changing the focus of the company’s Sweet Digs blogs from reviews of for-sale properties to discussions of market conditions based on the company’s internal data.

The blogs, which cover the Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. markets, will "focus on what Redfin does best: hard data, delivered in a freakishly compelling way," Kelman promised in a note to readers.

The more analytical blog posts will include insight based on Redfin’s broker-only data on transaction volume, median price and inventory trends, plus sale-to-list ratios, price-drop data by neighborhood, and trends in search traffic patterns.

After Redfin launched the first Sweet Digs blog at the end of 2006 in Seattle, the local multiple listing service, Northwest MLS, fined the company $50,000 for allegedly violating an MLS rule against advertising other brokers’ listings (see story).

In announcing the new focus for the Sweet Digs blogs, Kelman said that as a broker and an MLS member, Redfin was "not in an ideal position to be objective about other brokers’ properties."

Based in Seattle, Redfin has operations in the Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, San Francisco and Southern California areas.

Inman News reporter Matt Carter contributed to this article.


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