Buying a Home with Redfin vs. Full Service Agent

When we were purchasing our “forever home” a couple years ago, we did a lot of the searching on Redfin.com but made the purchase with a full service agent.

Redfin.com is a real estate search site that has full-service agents on staff to help you close on a home.

I would do all of my searches with Redfin.com, go to open houses, and otherwise use the service like my own personal home search engine. At the same time, we had a full service agent who was willing to continue scouring the MLS (multiple listing service, the real estate registration service used by brokers in our geographic area) knowing what we were looking for.

We would eventually find our home through very creative legwork on the part of agent, which I’ll explain below.

In using this dual system, I became familiar with the advantages of both methods (Redfin vs. full service agent).

Advantages of Redfin

The number one advantage of Redfin is in cost savings. The standard brokerage commission on a home sale is 6%, with 3% going to the buyer’s agent and 3% going to the seller’s agent. When you buy with Redfin, they get their 3% Buyers’ Agent commission and splits a portion of that with you. The amount is based on a sliding scale and that amount is shown on each listing on Redfin.

I just peeked at a listing for a $397,000 townhome nearby and the commission refund was $2,780 (0.7% of the purchase price).

Redfin is able to do this because they pay their agents on a flat rate, rather than a percentage commission.

Redfin’s other advantage, which you get even if you don’t buy through them, is one of the most well-designed real estate search engines available. I’ve looked on some of the local and national real estate brokerages and their searches are abysmal. While you don’t get the up to the minute results like with the MLS, it’s good enough in a market like this one.

Another advantage in the data each of the listings pull in. If you’ve ever seen a standard real estate listing, it doesn’t have much outside of the specifications of the property. Redfin pulls in from various data sources to include a lot of local pricing data, schools, and even notes from other agents who have visited. It just speeds up the research process.

Advantages of a Full Service Agent

Hands on attention and a better understanding of the area you’re looking in. A full service agent, in helping you buy a home, will be vested in trying to get you into your ideal home as soon as possible and should spend the time to understand your needs. They don’t get paid when you look at houses so they’ll only want to show you the ones they know you’ll like.

They will also get creative. When we purchased our second home, our agent knew we liked a certain area and scoured the unsold listings from the last few years and contacted the listing agents. We found a home we loved, arranged a visit, and ultimately purchased the home. You will only get that from a full service agent.

Real estate agents are like anyone other service provider, quality will vary. If you get a really good one, like we did, and it’s fantastic. If you get an unresponsive one, someone who isn’t as committed or interested in your success, then none of these advantages matter.

What’s the big difference?

It comes down to this — Redfin pays you to do more work and helps you with some tools.

A rock-solid full service agent cannot be beat. Someone who is hungry, attentive, and knowledgeable will beat out every single time.

The problem is when you get a full service agent who doesn’t give you full service. To avoid that, I’d ask for references or look up transactions they were involved in to learn more about their process and techniques. Do your research because there’s a world of difference between a good and bad agent.

Besides the specific agent you get, one big difference is that Redfin will never require you to sign a contract to start looking at houses. Some agents will.

I’ve heard horror stories where an agent required a buyer sign a contract for a year before the agent would show them any houses. The buyer, not knowing any better, did and then found a new construction they loved which didn’t require or need them to have a buyer’s agent. They had to either pay off the agent or wait for the year to expire before buying a home! (and you can imagine it was not a pleasant experience)

I understand why an agent would want a buyer to sign a contract. Showing homes is time consuming but I believe that cost is part of the business.

In the end, you get what you pay for. I’ve never used Redfin to buy or sell a home but folks who have tell me it’s very transactional. If you’re a DIY type, it’s perfect for you. If you need guidance or you’d like someone to search for you, then it’s not as hands on as a good full service agent might be. Then again, a bad full service agent is not worth the extra so it comes down to finding a solid agent.

This article supports our Buying Your First Home Guide.

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Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Edward Robinson says

    Most agents will be sure to ask you to let them accompany the buyer to any new construction so they can register as their agent. Clients understand that upfront before going into a transaction through the buyers representation agreement, i.e. the client engagement letter.

  2. Jim Cheney says

    No experienced successful real estate agent or broker would work for RedFin for a flat fee. You’re going to get some newbie who doesn’t value their own worth and is willing to take Redfin leads for less money. If you’re a buyer, find an experienced agent who knows your community and can give you good advice. Remember, finding a home is only part of the story. You still have a very important contract that needs to run its course, and when something goes sideways, you don’t want a new agent trying to straighten it out. Trulia, Zillow, and Redfin have all been trying to find a way into the real estate market. Congrats to Redfin for finally getting into the biz but I don’t think it will last.

  3. JudithSL says

    Have you actually read the contacts instead of just judging Redfin based on their ads?
    It’s not the deal you think it is and you never know what agent you’re working with on any given day. You may never meet the actual agent that writes the contract and earns the commission.

  4. Neal C. says

    Very interesting article and comments. First off, I am a Redfin agent, so I just want to put that out there in full disclosure. I have been licensed for five years and in the business for four – all with Redfin. I am one of the top 5-10 agents representing buyers in my market out of several thousand agents, having sold $25+M in real estate the past few years running. So claims that you get someone who is inexperienced are false. You have the same chances of getting someone who is inexperienced regardless of brokerage. And, unlike many brokerages, we are a very transparent company and each and every agent’s sales are online for everyone to see. This allows our clients to do their own research and come to their own conclusions concerning experience, including experience in a particular area or neighborhood. Along with these sales stats are unedited reviews of each client we represent, including those clients who wrote offers with us and were not successful getting their offers accepted. What other brokerage does this? I’d wait for an answer, but don’t have that kind of time.

    I love working for Redfin because we are truly trying to offer more to our clients. And not having to prospect for new clients allows me to provide 100% of my attention on the clients I already have. I also don’t have to pay for health care, advertising, professional dues, marketing, millage, my cell phone, computer, etc. and am offered very good compensation, including stock options. I have been offered a significant amount of money and other incentives to go to a “traditional brokerage,” though know that this is the place for me. I came into real estate to practice real estate – not to cold call, send out mailers, etc., which is not practicing real estate and is not helping your current clients.

    There is a brokerage for every agent and an agent for every client. It’s all about freedom of choice and I’m sincerely happy everyone has that choice. There are also good and bad agents at every brokerage. This is the reality of the real estate world.

  5. John Paul says

    150 successful transactions in 3 years. Thats what I’ve achieved since begining my deal writing career as an Agent at Redfin on both the Buy and the Listing side. And with that has come an INCREDIBLE education in the business with ALL sorts of situations, negotiations, inspection issues and more. And I’ve had amazing mentors and team members t lean on and get advice from, always striving to improve, always keeping the customer satisfaction at the center of the experience.

    Like Jim points out, there are some very “hungry” and talented traditional agents out there…and I believe that within Redfin the same is actually true as well…that some agents are more skilled or driven than others. So, what it boils down to is doing your homework no matter what. Meet your agent, read the reviews (all Redfin reviews are unedited and public on the Redfin.com website) and do your due diligence. Redfin is a compelling option out of many different options out there.

    One important note, a key difference using Redfin on the Buyside is the quick access to touring homes. Using the app, a Buyer can just request the time that best works for them and not have to wait for their deal writing agents schedule to match up. And if they want their deal writing agents opinion on the home, they can definitely ask for them to see it. In a competitive market, that speed and ease of touring is CRITICAL to success. I haven’t seen anyone comment on that other than some complaints about how the showing agents can be confusing to some listing agents.

  6. Chris says

    Redfin agents are full service agents. They give you a refund because their technology and team structure make them more efficient and they do enough deals they don’t have to be greedy. Redfin agents on average do 3-4x more deals a year then regular agents. This experience makes them experts in their area and they can’t be beat. Another huge advantage is when my redfin agent is busy with another client they always have another agent to show me any home I want to see that way I’m not missing deals because of a busy agent. I’ve closed 4 deals with Redfin over the last 5 years and 3 deals before redfin with traditional agents. I save more and get way better service with Redfin then I have ever had with traditional agents.

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