Redfin looks to experiment with a new brokerage compensation model

By Housing News

Redfin was in the red yet again in the second quarter, but its losses are narrowing and it’s tweaking its unique brokerage model to court more experienced agents in pricey coastal areas.

Redfin’s financials

Revenues at Redfin fell 21% year-over-year to $275.6 million, down from $606.9 million a year earlier. The brokerage and portal’s real estate services division, its principle source of revenue, dropped to $180.6 million, a 28% decline. In all, Redfin registered a $27 million net loss for the quarter, a 64.9% year-over-year decline from the $78.1 million loss in the second quarter of 2022.

Redfin’s mortgage revenue was $38.4 million, down 28% year-over-year. Its attach rate was 19%, down from the 20% last quarter.

In an earnings call with analysts on Thursday, Redfin founder and CEO Glenn Kelman said high mortgage rates and a frozen existing-home sales market resulted in a slowdown for Redfin’s salaried agents and it will likely continue for a few more quarters.

“Sales volume is near rock bottom,” he said.

The company expects to break-even on an adjusted-EBITDA basis over the next 12 months, rather than reach that goal by the end of 2023, which Kelman described as “a setback.” He did note that company expects to improve its adjusted EBITDA this year by more than $140 million.

Redfin’s market share in the second quarter of 2023 declined nearly 10% on an annualized basis to 0.75%. Revenue per transaction dropped 2.88% year over year to $10,224, the company said.

Kelman told analysts that agent layoffs forced the company to reassign about a third of its active customers, and the closure of ibuying arm RedfinNow eliminated 12% of its listing demand.

On a positive note, Kelman said the portal’s visitor gains increased 9% annually in the second quarter of 2023. Without naming the rivals, he said Zillow and declined in visitors. He also spoke of an improving the user experience with artificial intelligence and the promise of its burgeoning rental platform.

A more ‘traditional’ approach to brokerage

Perhaps the most interesting talking point on the call was Redfin’s embrace of what could only be described as a more traditional real estate brokerage model.

Redfin is eschewing junior agents and its high-fixed cost, salaried approach in targeted coastal markets. Instead, it’s looking to hire more experienced agents in high-priced areas, and Kelman said the brokerage is targeting the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets for a pilot program.

“In the San Francisco Bay Area, our share is below 2%, but the share of people who bought a home and who had earlier contacted our agents for service is nearly 30%. It’s even higher for purchases above $1 million,” Kelman said, adding that “anyone launching a brokerage today with that much demand would have a massive advantage in recruiting and retaining the best agents.”

Starting in 2024, Redfin plans to give agents in the L.A. and San Francisco “the lion’s share of the commission” on self-sourced sales “while keeping for ourselves the high margins on Redfin-sourced sales,” Kelman said.

Redfin’s goal, he said, is “to hire and keep agents who can deliver better service and higher close rates for Redfin-sourced customers buying homes above $1 million and incremental profits from their own sales, too.”

If the pilot is a success, it will be rolled out to additional coastal markets.

“This is just a more traditional salesperson who wants to augment his or her income with Redfin-sourced sales and we’re switching our existing agents in those pilot markets to this pay plan,” he said.

“So, usually, the trade-off at Redfin when we approach agents is you’ll get more Redfin customers, but at a lower split. So, you have to close more sales to make the same amount of income or more income. Now, we’re trying to offer agents the best of both worlds where we allow agents to close sales from their personal network at a split with Redfin.

“That’s similar to what they would get at a traditional broker while retaining the high margins on Redfin-sourced sales. So, let’s say an agent has closed 10, 15 sales in California above $1 million, they could come over to Redfin and earn about the same income, but we could help them meet customers to close another 10 or 15 sales. And that would be incremental, and that would be at the Redfin margin. This is what our competitors fear we would do.”


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