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relates to A Progressive Real Estate Firm Faces Accusations of Discrimination

Illustration: Michael Kennedy for Bloomberg Businessweek

A Progressive Real Estate Firm Faces Accusations of Discrimination

Redfin has staked its reputation on making a racist industry more equitable. Critics say it has been denying services to Black homebuyers and sellers.

To understand how inequities in real estate persist in the U.S., consider two homes in Chicago. The first is a brick bungalow with five bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms on the city’s predominantly Black South Side. The home has more than 2,000 square feet and sits on a pretty, tree-lined street, a short walk from a Nigerian restaurant. The second property is an 800-square foot, two-bedroom condominium unit in Glencoe, a mostly White suburb.

The South Side house is worth $187,000, about $20,000 more than the Glencoe condo, according to a recent visit to the website of Redfin Corp., the real estate technology company. Based in Seattle, Redfin provides home listings and valuation estimates to buyers and sellers. The company also operates one of the country’s largest real estate brokerages—but it doesn’t provide its services to just anyone. On its page describing the more expensive house in an overwhelmingly Black part of the city, Redfin’s site noted that “customer demand is through the roof right now,” so it couldn’t provide one of its real estate agents to help broker a sale. It offered a referral to another company instead. For the less expensive apartment in the overwhelmingly White suburb, Redfin promised a lot more. “We’ll handcraft your analysis,” the site said, offering a call from an agent and comprehensive market data within two days.