Redfin is no stranger to disrupting the traditional home-buying process. Its website features broker-listed homes for sale in an area, for-sale-by-owner properties that don’t pay brokers a commission and offers online tools that make the home-buying and selling process easier.
Redfin Direct, the company’s newest online tool, is a way to buy homes that, according to company spokeswoman Alina Ptaszynski, can help sellers save money. The program recently completed a pilot in Boston and will expand to Virginia in June and other cities in the coming year. As part of the program, on Redfin-listed homes in Boston, consumers are given two options: Buy with an agent or make an offer without an agent using Redfin software.
“We know from our experience selling homes that a subset of buyers want to purchase without help from an agent,” Ptaszynski said.
“The seller will pay a lower total commission when they don’t have to pay a buyer’s agent, which means more money in their pocket. With Redfin Direct, instead of paying that buyer’s agent commission, the seller would pay an additional transaction fee of 1 percent, saving the seller 1 to 2 percent in commissions.”
Offers from unrepresented buyers can be more competitive because sellers will be on the hook for a lower commission, but Ptaszynski said the vast majority of people will continue to buy homes using buyer’s agents since handling the offer, negotiations and closing process can be difficult without professional help.
The complicated nature of real estate negotiations is why many traditional real estate professionals take issue with Redfin Direct. Pat Cunningham, an agent with Compass Real Estate, said buyers are better off sharing the experience with an agent.
“There is a lot of information online about real estate, but it doesn’t make you an expert. Only experienced real estate professionals who deal with issues on a day-to-day basis can give the best advice to help a buyer avoid extremely costly pitfalls,” Cunningham said.
These pitfalls could be anything from a lack of knowledge of inventory of homes on the market, to not having an agent who can recommend reputable mortgage lenders and title companies, Cunningham said. Sometimes it comes down to the simple fact that agents are professionals who work on buying and selling homes every day.
“As a Realtor, I see 15 or more properties a month and know the best locations that could be the best long-term investment, can often spot red flags and have resources to help with any challenges that arise from those situations,” Cunningham said.
“Many buyers I’ve worked with don’t know or think to ask for items that can be negotiable. An experienced buyer’s agent can guide buyers to deal with . . . radon, asbestos, mold, faulty sewer lines, unsafe chimneys, flood insurance, easement issues and more.”
According to Redfin, the Direct software defines the terms and simplifies the process, and arms buyers with data that’s been collected from all the offers that Redfin buyers submitted in 2018. For example, Redfin Direct can tell a buyer that 71 percent of recent Boston-area Redfin client offers include an inspection contingency. The tool also has 55 questions users need to answer before getting to the offer, helping buyers understand the magnitude of the decision and covering every aspect of a sale.
Ultimately, it’s up to buyers to understand the options and make the choice that’s right for them. Ptaszynski said that many of those using Redfin Direct are people with some previous home-buying experience, although there have been some first-time home buyers, too. She expects that most people will continue to buy homes using buyers’ agents but is confident about how the tool will transform the home-buying and selling process.