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In the first week of April 2020, Glenn Kelman made a bad decision that was still on his mind 15 months later, because, he told me, “I get paid a lot of money to make good decisions.” Like so many bad decisions, this one seemed at first like a good decision — perhaps even the only decision. COVID-19 was surging, home sales appeared to be plummeting, and Kelman, the CEO of the online real-estate brokerage Redfin, decided to gut his staff, laying off hundreds of workers and furloughing 41 percent of his agents. He figured: Who buys a house during a pandemic?

Before the month was out, new housing data showed how badly he’d misread the market. “I remember the analysts saying, ‘I’m not sure you want to hear this …’ — because once you’ve prepared the paperwork for a thousand people to go on furlough and set aside the severance money, you can’t really turn back,” Kelman said. His layoffs left Redfin in a weaker position to capitalize on the feverish demand for houses across America, and for the first time since its 2002 founding, the company started losing market share.