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Redfin looks to eliminate agent commission refund

The brokerage also plans to advertise a 1% listing fee charged to "move-up" customers in select markets

The second quarter was a rough one for Redfin. In mid-June the brokerage laid off 470 employees as demand for housing dropped due to continued home price appreciation and rising mortgage rates.

Despite these struggles, the firm generated $606.9 million in revenue during the quarter, a year-over-year increase of 29%. However, the firm’s net loss rose from $27.9 million a year ago to $78.1 million.

“Redfin in the second quarter performed below the expectations we set in our last call,” Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s CEO told investors during the firm’s second-quarter earnings call Thursday evening. “The shortfall was due to the largest rate hike in 35 years, which in June curtailed the second quarter lending revenues of Bay Equity, the lender we acquired in April, by $15 million.”

Although rising mortgage rates hampered Bay Equity’s revenue, Redfin saw its mortgage attach rates rise from 6% in March to 11% in June and 15% in July, which is nearly twice as high as the firm’s previous monthly high of 8%.

“When rates stabilize and Bay Equity can raise prices on new loans, and also refinance many of our 2022 loans, we’ll have the potential to generate more profit from a customer than any other broker. This acquisition can change the fundamental physics of our business. Redfin has been a new source of sales for Bay Equity, but also a recruiting partner for building Bay Equity’s traditional business, of meeting homebuyers through agents at other brokerages,” Kelman said.

Redfin’s title sector also recorded an increase in its attach rate, rising from 12% a year ago to 32%. This growth led to a 72% increase in revenue for the firm’s title and closing services sector, which generated $6 million in revenue during the second quarter.

As Redfin looks to increase revenue and return a net profit, executives say they are building out a variety of strategies.

During the second quarter the firm’s markets share of existing home sales rose five basis points from a year prior to 0.82%. The firm also added 52 MLSs and its listing coverage has expanded to 94% of the U.S. population.

In addition to expanding its coverage, Redfin has also announced changes to its agent commission structure. In late July, the firm eliminated the commission refund it offered homebuyers in 22 markets, receiving “few objections from customers or agents.”

“If this pilot continues to be successful, we will eliminate the refund entirely as early as January 2023, improving full year gross margins in our core business by more than 500 basis points,” Kelman said. “In the nine small markets that already eliminated the refund in 2019, we kept taking share.”

Kelman also told investors that Redfin has again started advertising the 1% listing fee charged to “move-up customers” in certain markets. In these markets, Kelman said that new Redfin listings in July grew 10 points faster than the market overall. In comparison, in June, prior to the launch of the campaign, new Redfin listings were growing more slowly than the market.

“As we invest more in advertising this fee in 2023, we expect listing market share to accelerate,” Kelman said.

While the firm’s iBuying division, RedfinNow, has certainly been under scrutiny since the demise of Zillow Offers, Kelman maintains that an iBuying division is a boon for the brokerage.

“We have long believed that homeowners’ interest in immediate liquidity is here to stay, but that we wouldn’t know iBuying’s true margins until we weathered a downturn that lasted longer than the false starts of late 2018 and mid 2020,” Kelman said. “We’ve also believed that iBuying is only worthwhile as part of a brokerage that can serve homeowners even when market conditions make iBuying nearly cost-prohibitive. For every RedfinNow inquiry that led to an accepted offer in June, two more led to the homeowner hiring a Redfin agent to list the home instead. Driving brokerage share is the rationale not just for RedfinNow, but for every one of Redfin’s businesses.”

Reflecting the overall trend for iBuyers this past spring, RedfinNow recorded a 45% yearly increase in the number of homes it sold. In June and July, the brokerage reported that it sold more homes than it purchased. According to executives, the firm expects nearly all of the homes it purchased in the spring to be sold by the end of the year.

“This was a volatile quarter, and we’re being responsive to the changing macro environment and taking actions to manage toward profitability, including reducing the number of homes we purchase through our properties segment, laying off employees in our headquarters, real estate services and mortgage businesses, and limiting backfills for voluntary attrition,” Chris Nielsen, the firm’s chief financial officer said.