Real estate start-up Redfin surges over 44% in IPO: 'We are the Apple of real estate,' CEO says

Key Points
  • Redfin specializes in buying and selling homes and uses a mobile app for tasks such as scheduling home tours and suggesting listings.
  • The stock was listed on the Nasdaq under the symbol "RDFN."
Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman: We're the Lyft or Uber of real estate
Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman: We're the Lyft or Uber of real estate

Shares of online real estate broker Redfin hit the public market on Friday in a $138.5 million IPO.

The stock popped 44.7 percent headed on its first trading day.

The stock was listed on the Nasdaq under the symbol "RDFN." The 9.23 million share offering priced at $15 a share, above the expected price range of $12 to $14 apiece.

Redfin specializes in buying and selling homes and uses a mobile app to do tasks like schedule home tours and suggest listings.

Redfin IPO at the Nasdaq market site in New York, July 28, 2017.
Source: Nasdaq

In its prospectus, Redfin differentiates itself from other tech companies that use only the internet and mobile apps to connect consumers with businesses. It also has a tool to estimate home values similar to Zillow's "Zestimate." Redfin tracks home sales, prices, inventory, buyer demand and luxury transactions among other metrics in monthly reports.

CEO Glenn Kelman compared Redfin's home visualization platform to Google's Street View for inside a home.

Revenue in 2016 jumped 43 percent to $267.2 million from $187.3 million a year earlier. The company's net loss narrowed to $22.5 million from $30.2 million. Redfin calls itself a "technology-powered real estate broker."

Technology investors like Madrona Ventures, Greylock Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and T. Rowe Price backed Redfin, which was created in 2004. Goldman Sachs led the IPO.

"I am so proud of the company right now," Kelman told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Friday.

'We have to move that much faster'

While Redfin is an online brokerage, Kelman has long seen the company as a burgeoning technology play. Kelman helped found Plumtree Software in 2002 before coming to Redfin. He said he got into real estate after a frustrating experience buying a house.

He said he wants the company to feel like "the Apple of real estate" in a world of Radio Shacks. He also compared the company to Uber or Lyft, as a platform that helps consumers connect with realtors instantly.

In a 2013 interview, Kelman first touted Redfin as a brokerage with agents who are "really on your side." Redfin agents are not paid traditional commissions, but a regular salary plus a bonus for customer satisfaction. It's also the human element that leads to a gross margin of 31 percent, much lower than most big internet companies.

"We don't have a problem recruiting agents because they earn twice the industry average," Kelman said on Friday.

In discussing the company's future growth, however, Kelman centered more on integrating technology and information into the platform.

Opening Bell, July 28, 2017
Opening Bell, July 28, 2017

"Our big project is to combine all the things we're doing online with all the things we're doing offline. The real point of attack is when they're looking at a house on their mobile phone and want to see it right away, how the agent is getting people into properties faster," said Kelman. "That's another big change that's happened in the market is that it just moves so much more quickly and some of it is a competitive dynamic, some of it is now the phone buzzes and new listings sell in hours not days. We have to move that much faster."

In an interview this year, Kelman did not hide his angst over the inventory shortage currently plaguing the U.S. housing market.

"It's freaking us out, it's affecting our business, it's limiting our sales. We're going to be fine in terms of market share but I think the overall industry for the first time is seeing sales volume really limited by the inventory crunch," he said.

Despite Kelman's unique exuberance when envisioning the company's future, Redfin still has a tiny market share compared with other brokerages, like The Long and Foster Companies and HomeServices of America. In its IPO, it reported just about a half a percent share of U.S. existing home sales by dollar volume this year.

Still, when asked on Friday, Kelman is confident that Redfin will change the real estate sales model: "We are baby, we are," Kelman said.

"You trade a stock every day and when someone screws up, it isn't the end of the world. But when people buy and sell houses they are risk-adverse," Kelman said. "It's the biggest transaction of their lives, and sometimes they don't do it maybe once every ten years. But nonetheless, if you offer better service for less money .... you're going to take share."