Friday Flash: The high ground

“The Consumer” is a term imbued with high moral power in our industry.

We all want to support The Consumer, to delight The Consumer, to be at all times guided by what The Consumer needs and wants so we can solve the problems we believe they have.  

We really love The Consumer, all of us, but sometimes we fight about who loves them the most. 

Redfin’s mission is to “Redefine real estate in the consumer’s favor.” This, of course, presumes that real estate as currently defined disfavors the consumer. 

The mantra that has animated Rich Barton’s career and led him to create Zillow is “power to the people”  — the people, here, being in need of elevation from a state of disempowerment.

Pretty much every agent and broker I know expresses their commitment, sometimes quite passionately, to helping The Consumer achieve their dreams. 

I believe all of them. I believe Zillow. I believe Redfin. There are many ways to do right by the human beings who sell, buy and own homes. 

I’ve never believed there was only one path to righteousness on this issue. I say this because not only do I recognize that people need and want different things, at different times, for different reasons, but because I have seen every way of trying to serve buyers and sellers work well and also fail miserably. 

I make judgments here all the time. I think the MLS is a good thing worth defending, all things considered. I think the NAR is dis-serving its members and abetting its own decline by not raising professional standards. I think the rise of institutional investors in the single-family market is a bridge too far. 

But on the question of who really has The Consumer’s back I am a committed relativist. What I see and hear all the time makes it impossible for me not to be. 

Consider these three anecdotes, all of which come from just the past couple weeks:

An agent I know recently walked into a Redfin listing on broker tour and started chatting up the Redfin listing agent, who said to him, “I just got transferred up from LA and don’t even know what neighborhood we’re in here. What’s it like?


A home across the street from me just sold for $2.4 million. There were 29 offers. The listing agent, a newbie affiliated with a “traditional” brand, listed it at $1,095,000. He freely told agents that he had “no idea” how to price it, so would “let the market decide.” The “SOLD FOR 130% OVER ASKING PRICE!” direct mail campaign is coming, believe me. Is this pro-consumer? Was it even a win for this agent’s seller, really?

A cousin of mine recently got an offer from a well-known iBuyer. The “instant” offer looked great, but the repair concessions that followed made them feel bait-and-switched. They backed out and listed with an agent. 

My point? I don’t think anyone has the moral high ground when it comes to being pro-consumer, and every model, even those that are touted as faster/better/cheaper, frequently fail to measure up.  

Before you cast a stone, consider the crowd from which you throw it.