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Redfin’s evil genius – the real reason behind their ‘breakup’ with NAR

glenn kelman redfin

Redfin’s sweeping dramatic proclamation

This morning, email inboxes lit up in the real estate industry all across America with headlines like “Redfin leaves NAR,” and “Redfin will require employees to cut ties as well.”

In an open letter penned by Redfin CEO, Glenn Kelman and his leadership team, wherein tidy phrases were tossed around like a room filled with clever PR graduate students looking for extra credit.

“We’ve tried to love NAR. But enough is enough,” Kelman concludes as if holding back almost believable tears.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) was recently in the spotlight over the behavior of a now-resigned elected President whose (alleged) sexual harassment spread like wildfire, now likely influencing who the next CEO will be, as current leader Bob Goldberg had already announced his retirement months prior.

Redfin’s red herring

Although Kelman was classy about not immediately using this moment of chaos to his benefit, he inevitably showed up anyhow.

What caught our attention was the fact that the letter casually slides in the real reason Redfin is “leaving” NAR…

Did you notice it?

The primary reason for this public relations move was almost missed by many since the salaciousness of sexual harassment overshadowed the other reason cited – they claim that NAR has a policy that agents must pay a fee for representing buyers in every listing transaction. That claim is bunk, as all commissions are negotiable. Kelman also notes that Redfin agents have collectively paid millions in annual membership dues over the years.

Ah, there’s the red herring – it’s all about the benjamins, baby!

Can they even leave if they actually wanted to?

What we love about Kelman’s evil genius is that he doesn’t hide that a NAR divorce isn’t even really possible.

Per his letter, “In about half the U.S., including in cities like Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Long Island, Minneapolis, Nashville, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, we can’t quit NAR individually or en masse, because NAR membership is required for agents to access listing databases, lockboxes, and industry-standard contracts. It’s impossible to be an agent if you can’t see which homes are for sale, or unlock the door to those homes, or even write an offer.”

Sure he continues to offer a “solution” by again asserting that NAR should be divorced from the MLS process.

A fun throwback to the 60 Minutes days

For anyone new to real estate, you might not remember Kelman’s 2007 bombshell, but here’s a quick primer from a 2009 editorial from our founder, Benn Rosales:

On May 13, 2007 CBS NEWS aired “Chipping Away At Realtors’ Six Percent” and reporter Lesley Stahl featured Seattle venture Redfin on 60 Minutes. Suddenly, offline agents not paying attention to the online war between traditional and non-traditional real estate were thrust into the middle by questioning (sometimes outraged) consumers. Online blogs lit up with angry consumers and with Realtors defending themselves and their brands. The National Association of Realtors caught off guard simply responded with talking points and very little guidance, still reeling from the fall of David Lereah. Local and State boards were inept to respond as their means of communication were still traditional in nature- help would be far away, or none at all. Disruption was winning, as the online fight was one sided- few agents blogged, or even knew what a blog was, but for the next year, blogs and national media would be the battle ground while those offline (therefore uninformed) would be the most impacted.

Most notable of the companies set on traditional brand destruction as a paradigm in real estate were Craigslist, Redfin, Zillow, and now defunct Iggy’s House also known as Buyside Realty.

Who is the real winner here?

In 2007, Kelman was an evil genius who ended up practicing real estate just like everyone else in the industry. He’s always been a brilliant public relations manipulator (and I say that with all due respect, seriously) – today is nothing different. And Kelman knows that.

So who is the real winner here? “Consumers,” the slick Kelman would likely say.

But you and I both know better – it’s Kelman.

Consumers don’t care and won’t care since the issue is so extremely nuanced, and Kelman knows that. Even a huge number of practitioners don’t or won’t care either (sadly, and for the same reason), and Kelman knows that.

But they’ll remember the headline “Redfin leaves NAR,” and how radical that sounds, and while Redfin’s still just a brokerage and always will be, Kelman gets to play Disruptive Punk yet again, and ultimately, very little will change.

And Kelman knows that.

Note: All art of Kelman was created with artificial intelligence tools based on his public headshot.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.


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