Prospective homebuyers can now let themselves into homes to tour properties in select U.S. cities through a new partnership between discount real estate brokerage Redfin and security system provider ADT.
Seattle-based Redfin said its direct access program, which lets buyers tour empty homes on their own, is now available in 22 cities including Boston, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The service is not yet available in New York. The program is available for properties that have been vacated, such as foreclosures, estate sales and homes where the owners are living elsewhere.
Redfin said a pilot of the program showed homes that allowed the self-guided tours received double the number of visitors compared with other vacant properties for sale.
"That’s twice as many opportunities," said Bridget Frey, Redfin’s chief technology officer. "It gives you the opportunity to sell your home faster and for more money, if you have more competition."
"I’d love to get to Long Island with this product," she added. The company could also expand to owner-occupied homes in the future.
Redfin verifies the identity of buyers and said it would cover up to $100,000 for theft or damages incurred by sellers that result from the program. Redfin doesn't charge buyers or sellers for the service.
For buyers, there is no longer a need to plan a visit around an agent’s schedule. "Many buyers prefer going on their own because they don’t need to keep a dialogue going with the agent while touring the home," Frey said.
The partnership with ADT aims to win over wary sellers. ADT is providing smart locks, motion detectors and door sensors to monitor when buyers enter and exit the property. The security company is throwing in those devices, which are valued at $899, for anyone who buys a home through the direct access program. Homeowners would still need to pay for ADT’s security monitoring.
Even with the added security measures, Nick Sakalis, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker American Homes in Syosset, doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
"I think it is setting yourself up for a major liability," he said.
Sellers miss out on an opportunity for agents to point out valuable features of the home, he said. Buyers, especially first-timers, could benefit from the expertise of an agent to identify a property that meets their needs.
"If you’re selling your home, does this entice you? Having strangers walking around without representation at any time?" Sakalis said.
Technology has become infused across the homebuying process from lending to selling. Redfin uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to recommend homes to buyers and prices to sellers. The ability to take pictures of visitors and unlock doors is another example of automation, with the goal of lowering sellers’ costs. Redfin charges lower commissions than traditional brokerages.
"We see it as part of a larger vision of how machine learning and artificial intelligence can transform real estate," Frey said.
Redfin’s approach has attracted scrutiny from fair housing groups in the past. A coalition, including the National Fair Housing Alliance and Long Island Housing Services in Bohemia, filed a federal lawsuit last year accusing the company of "digital redlining" because it disproportionately excluded homes in minority areas from its services. The company said at the time that it relied on expected sales prices to determine which homes qualified for its services.
How it works
- Buyers download the Redfin app.
- They search for the address of the home they're interested in touring, filtering the search for homes that allow self-tours.
- They tap the "self-tour" button any time between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and verify their ID and location to unlock the home, which is protected by an ADT security system. Redfin says it will cover up to $100,000 in damages.
- After they leave, the door locks behind them after 60 seconds.