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Opinion Editorials

Blocksy – Real estate’s next big thing or next big bust?

(Editorial) Blocksy is an interesting new startup serving the Big Apple – could they finally innovate the real estate space that has struggled to modernize for decades?

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blocksy edge

blocksy edge

Exhibit one: real estate

We are living in an exciting era where products, services and industries are being innovated at warp speed. The next generation of “it” comes faster and faster. With improved speed, function, and experience comes with it some seriously increased customer expectations, and there are some verticals that can’t seem to keep up. Exhibit one: real estate.

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For the last decade, dozens (if not hundreds) of start-ups have announced big plans to revolutionize the inefficiencies in real estate. Their promises have been to clean up the data, improve the agent-client relationship, open up the information and democratize the industry, save money on commissions, and more.

Looking back over the last ten years, can anyone honestly say that the process of buying or renting a home has dramatically improved? For perspective, take a moment to think back to ten years ago in other areas. What where mobile devices like in 2004? Video game graphics? The TV viewing experience? Mapping/GPS? Bank ATM machines? Even the experience at your dentist? Internet connections? Most people would freak out if they had to go back to products and services of a decade ago. When will real estate finally break through and see this kind of innovation and improvement? Will it ever?

Exhibit two: Blocksy

Will they provide the breakthrough that we haven’t seen in almost a decade (when Zillow was born)? Blocksy is a New York City start-up that promises better content, a cleaner website, more accurate information, and exclusive listings to help people have a much better experience buying or renting a home in NYC.

Have you heard this mission statement before? Me too.

So how is this effort different from its predecessors? For starters, they charge users $15 per month for a premium level of service and content. But let’s dig deeper…

Blocksy is currently focusing only on New York City. NYC is a totally different real estate market versus all other cities and towns across America. It’s part wild west (example: no formal MLS) and part oligarchy (example: a few huge RE brands control the market and seem to make their own rules). So the specific market definitely needs to be factored in any evaluation. Moving on, let’s look at Blocksy’s promises:

  • Better Website. I agree. The site is clean, easy to use and makes it easy to digest data and information. It is easy to search for listings and content.
  • Saving money. A testimonial on their front-page quotes a buyer who says she saved $200k by finding a unit in her desired building that only Blocksy had listed. I’m fairly certain that a halfway decent buyers agent would have done the same. I don’t believe you can count this as “Blocksy saving me $200k.”
  • Exclusive listings. Right in the same testimonial from above, Blocksy is implying they have exclusive listings. Hmm. I have no idea how this can be true. If they do – maybe this is valuable in some rare situations. If they have exclusives on truly great buildings and/or properties, this would have some value. I just don’t believe they do or that they will in the future. If they some how accomplish this, I don’t believe it makes much of a difference for most all users anyway.
  • Better content. They have some good data, especially for the sales market. They could use more information and detail, especially for the rental market (note that NYC is one of the few cities where the rental business can be very lucrative for agents/brokers). The information and charts are modestly better than I am used to for NYC, but it isn’t a dramatic leap forward.
  • More frequent updates (hourly). I’m not sure that hourly updates make a big difference given the reality of the real estate market, but it certainly can’t hurt. This is more of a PR win versus a customer experience improvement, though.
  • Better and more accurate listings and information. When I search the website, I see the same fuzzy, misaligned, and non-standard pictures, and I see the usual occasional typos, missing info, and bad data. If Blocksy can fix these issues it would be enormously valuable. They haven’t yet, though, and doing so will require a monumental paradigm shift. I don’t know how they can do it but I hope they prove me wrong.
  • And finally, the pay-for-service model. Blocksy does offer free use of the site. The premium fee is apparently for faster service and exclusive content. I did not sign up for the premium service, so I cannot evaluate it. I can comment on the model itself, though. When people pay for something, it creates an implied value of that thing (be it a product or service). Perhaps, like a placebo, this will create a user base that values Blocksy more than other RE sites. When one gets past this nuance, though, this start-up is asking users to pay for something that they can get for free in lots of others places. This is a tough sell and I don’t like it.

My (early) verdicts

Consumer perspective: I will give the free version of Blocksy a try, along with a few other leading sites, if/when I need a new NYC home. I would even give the 1-day free trial for the premium service a test drive. I hope these guys are better at this stuff than others, but I’m skeptical.

Real estate agent perspective: If I were an agent, I would focus on already proven websites and strategies for lead generation and client servicing. If Blocksy gets traction and starts to prove itself, I would jump on board.

Investor perspective: If approached I will stay far, far away from Blocksy.

Good luck, Blocksy. I hope that you finally create breakthrough innovation for the real estate industry. But I bet you fall well short. As so does the next one of your kind.

Hoyt David Morgan is an entrepreneur, angel investor and business strategy leader. He is an investor and/or adviser to a handful of exciting and high growth companies, and has been a part of several high-value exits. He is passionate about customer experience, smart business and helping innovative companies grow... and sailing.

Opinion Editorials

Facebook fights falsehoods (it’s a false flag)

(EDITORIAL) Facebook has chosen Reuters to monitor its site for false information, but what can one company really do, and why would Facebook only pick one?

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Reuters checks facebook

So Facebook has finally taken a step to making sure fake news doesn’t get spread on it’s platform. Like many a decision from them though, they haven’t been thorough with their venture.

I am a scientifically driven person, I want facts, figures, and evidence to determine what is reality. Technology is a double edged sword in this arena; sure having a camera on every device any person can hold makes it easy to film events, but deepfakes have made even video more questionable.

Many social media platforms have tried to ban deepfakes but others have actually encouraged it. “I’ll believe it when I see it” was the rally cry for the skeptical, but now it doesn’t mean anything. Altering video in realistic ways has destroyed the credibility of the medium, we have to question even what we see with our eyes.

The expansion of the internet has created a tighter communication net for all of humanity to share, but when specific groups want to sway everyone else there isn’t a lot stopping them if they shout louder than the rest.

With the use of bots, and knowing the specifics of a group you want to sway, it’s easy to spread a lie as truth. Considering how much information is known about almost any user on any social media platform, it’s easy to pick targets that don’t question what they see online.

Facebook has been the worst offender in knowing consumer data and what they do with that data. Even if you never post anything political, they know what your affiliation is. If you want to delete that information, it’s hidden in advertising customization.

Part of me is thrilled that Facebook has decided to try and stand against this spread of misinformation, but how they pursued this goal is anything but complete and foolproof.

Reuters is the news organization that Facebook has chosen to fact check the massive amount of posts, photos, and videos that show up on their platform everyday. It makes sense to grab a news organization to verify facts compared to “alternative facts”.

A big problem I have with this is that Reuters is a company, companies exist to make money. Lies sell better than truths. Ask 2007 banks how well lies sell, ask Enron how that business plan worked out, ask the actors from Game of Thrones about that last season.

Since Reuters is a company, some other bigger company could come along, buy them, and change everything, or put in people who let things slide. Even Captain America recognizes this process. “It’s run by people with agendas, and agendas change.” This could either begin pushing falsehoods into Facebook, or destroy Reuters credibility, and bite Facebook in the ass.

If some large group wants to spread misinformation, but can’t do it themselves, why wouldn’t they go after the number one place that people share information?

I really question if Reuters can handle the amount of information flowing through Facebook, remember almost a 3rd of the whole world uses Facebook. 2.45 Billion people will be checked by 25,800 employees at Reuters? I can appreciate their effort, but they will fail.

Why did Facebook only tag one company to handle this monumental task? If you know that many people are using your platform, and such a limited number of people work for the company you tasked with guarding the users, why wouldn’t you tag a dozen companies to tackle that nigh insurmountable number of users?

I think it’s because Facebook just needs that first headline “Facebook fights falsehoods”. That one line gets spread around but the rest of the story is ignored, or not thought about at all. If there is anything Facebook has learned about the spread of fake information on their platform, it’s how to spread it better.

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Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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shopping bags

In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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