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[Breaking] Investors band together to file class action lawsuit against Zillow

(CORPORATE NEWS) Zillow stocks plummeted after they announced they would be negotiating a settlement deal with the federal government over their “Premier Agent” program; investors are suing Z for their losses.

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Filing for class action status

It seems inevitable that investors would be unhappy with the recent (and steep) downturn in Zillow stock value. According to court documents, they’re “Class Action” unhappy.

Today in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, the Vargosko v. Zillow Group, Inc. et al suit seeks Class Action status for alleged damages inflicted by the August 08 announcement that Zillow would immediately attempt to negotiate a settlement with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Two years ending in settlement talks

The CFPB spent two years investigating Zillow’s “Premier Agent” program and whether or not the co-marketing advertising for mortgage and real estate companies violates the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA).

The Zillow stock took a nearly 15 percent nosedive at the news of the impending negotiations and investors reacted immediately.

zillow stock

Long-asked questions about the program

Columnist Ken Harney writes, “Consumers likely are in the dark about the lender’s financial relationship with the realty agent unless they know to click on a question mark icon after the promotional words ‘ask these lenders about financing,'” thus the crux of the CFPB’s involvement and subsequent investigation.

Over a year before the CFPB even launched their investigation, The Real Daily questioned the lawfulness of the practice, concluding that it’s questionable. All along, Zillow’s Terms of Service has indicated that it is the responsibility of each agent and lender to ensure their own compliance with laws and regulations, RESPA included (leaving it in users’ hands).

The investors suing are unlikely impressed.

It will be a long process

Hiring the Rosen Law Firm in Los Angeles, California, the investors allege that they have “suffered damages,” according to Noel Chandonnet, Jr., Director at the firm. They are seeking Class Action status given the scope of the losses alleged, although court documents do not reveal how much they’re seeking in damages.

Chandonnet says they’ll be “in discovery phase for some time,” so we don’t anticipate resolution anytime soon. It is worth noting that although the lawsuit was filed today, no judge has granted Class Action status to the case yet.

The CFPB has not yet responded to our requests for comment on the Class Action lawsuit and the lawfulness of the “Premier Agent” program.

UPDATE: Zillow declines to comment on the pending litigation, but Zillow spokeswoman, Emily Heffter tells us, “we believe our co-marketing program is lawful and allows agents and lenders to advertise in a way that complies with RESPA.”

#ClassAction

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Real Estate Corporate

The pending demise of iBuying real estate brokerages

The iBuying model is under speculation from regulatory bodies, and how they represent themselves to the public could be their undoing.

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In my view, the iBuying model is fatally flawed and may only provide Consumers enhanced benefits in specific market conditions. Furthermore, there appears to be a “revenue at all costs” model to appease investors, providing the inference that a company is growing at the detriment to net profits as most homes are flipped at a net loss. 

It is my understanding that iBuyers record revenue as the sale price of the home. Recording the sale price of the house has increased iBuyer revenue exponentially, which increased stock values to all-time highs, however now there is an expectation of continuing revenue growth, which may pressure iBuyers to buy less favorable homes to maintain revenue volume.

Zillow’s recent announcement that they are “pausing” iBuying resulted in a significant drop in stock value and analyst downgrades. 

The Fallacy That Combining Brokerage, Mortgage & Escrow Services Enhances Consumer Experiences

My brokerage refers clients to third-party firms we have vetted and have a history of transacting. To gain our trust, third-party companies must exhibit excellent customer service with reasonable rates.

iBuyer agents may provide referrals because they share a cubical with the respective service provider. 

Navigating Down Markets

Sales are simple in an appreciating market, and profitability is enhanced (or losses softened). Conversely, transacting in a flat or price-correcting environment may disproportionally impact iBuyers as they are glorified home flippers who might rely on appreciation.

In a study by Mike DelPrete, arguably the preeminent residential real estate analyst, states, In Q2 2021, home price appreciation accounted for 70 percent of Opendoor’s gross profit margin.”

Federal Investigations Into iBuyer Representations | Per OpenDoor’s SEC Disclosure

“Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) sent a civil investigative demand (“CID”) to Opendoor seeking documents and information relating primarily to statements in Opendoor’s advertising and website comparing selling homes to Opendoor with selling homes in a traditional manner using an agent and relating to statements that Opendoor’s offers reflect or are based on market prices. Thereafter, Opendoor responded cooperatively to the CID and related follow-up requests from the FTC.” 

“On December 23, 2020, the FTC notified the Company that they intend to recommend that the agency pursue an enforcement action against the Company and certain of its officers if we are unable to reach a negotiated settlement acceptable to all parties. The FTC has indicated that they believe certain of Opendoor’s advertising claims relating to the amount of its offers, the repair costs charged to home sellers, and the amount of net proceeds a seller may receive from selling to Opendoor versus selling in the traditional manner were inaccurate and/or inadequately substantiated.”

When previously visiting Opendoor, in what appears to be a four-point font, OpenDoor discloses the following: 

“* Beginning on September 30, 2020, for new offers, Opendoor’s service charge will be no more than 5%. Service charge is subject to change, and has historically been as high as 14%.”

OfferPad appears to match the 5% cap, so we may witness a “race to zero” in the iBuying market. If a firm has difficulty achieving net profit when fees have “historically been as high as 14%,” profiting with a 5% cap may prove to be impossible. 

Acquiring Via Special Purpose Entities | Reminiscent Of Enron | Complex Financial Reporting The Average Investor May Not Understand

OpenDoor’s SEC 8K States: 

“The Company utilizes inventory financing facilities consisting of asset-backed senior credit facilities and asset-backed mezzanine term debt facilities to provide financing for the Company’s real estate inventory purchases and renovation. The credit facilities are secured by the assets and equity of one or more SPEs. Each SPE is a consolidated subsidiary of Opendoor and a separate legal entity. Neither the assets nor credit of any such SPE are generally available to satisfy the debts and other obligations of any other Opendoor entities, except to the extent other Opendoor entities are also a party to the financing arrangements.

These facilities are non-recourse to Opendoor and, with limited exceptions, non-recourse to other Opendoor subsidiaries. These SPEs are variable interest entities and Opendoor is determined to be the primary beneficiary based on its power to direct the activities that most significantly impact the economic outcomes of the entities through its role in designing the entities and managing the real estate inventory purchased and sold by the entities. The Company has potentially significant variable interest in the entities based upon the equity interest the Company holds in the VIEs.”

Understood?

Even OpenDoor is having difficulty with accounting/reporting as they disclosed the following: 

“We have identified material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting and may identify additional material weaknesses in the future or fail to maintain an effective system of internal control over financial reporting, which may result in material misstatements of our consolidated financial statements or cause us to fail to meet our periodic reporting obligations. We have identified material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting. A material weakness is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of our annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis.”

Generally speaking, it is time for all PropTech firms to reevaluate the accuracy of public representations as FTC complaints are filed and class-action law firms are evaluating claims.

The days of misleading consumers while denigrating Realtors are over. 

Ask Jack Ryan and REX Homes. 

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow stops their home buying, but you shouldn’t get excited about it

(CORPORATE) Zillow has put the kibosh on their home buying program, and real estate practitioners are buzzing, but no one should get excited…

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Zillow has halted purchases of homes for their iBuyer home buying program, and many real estate practitioners are buzzing on social networks to gloat and analysts are saying the company is on the rocks, but that sentiment is missing the forest for the trees.

In Q2 of last year, they only bought 86 homes to flip. Their purchase rates then rose to 808 in Q3, then 1789 in Q4, and 1856 in the first quarter of this year. Fast forward to Q2 of 2021 and they invested in 3805 properties.

That’s one serious surge in inventory they’ve invested in, which means a major upswing in their backlog to get through.

The reason for the purchasing pace change is unclear, but no one is currently immune to the supply chain crisis which is making raw materials expensive or impossible to obtain, while labor shortages in the industry are creating a scenario where hiring to finish this many flips is extremely difficult.

Current market conditions are such that housing starts and permits have slipped a bit as the nation faces the same challenges as Zillow must now endure.

Further, with their average purchase price in the second quarter hitting $322,432, average renovations, holding, and selling costs reaching $26,334, their average return is $19,636. That’s a decent return on a flip, but professional flippers can reap larger returns than $20k – but not at the scale Zillow is accomplishing.

Spencer Rascoff, Zillow co-founder and former CEO told CNBC he suspects buying will resume early next year. That seems like a reasonable supposition.

On the note of what they’re accomplishing, Nevada Realtor, Sean Gotcher, posted a wildly viral video last month on social media about Zillow manipulating the housing market and consumers finally realized the possibilities of what a power like Zillow could accomplish. Whether they do the evil thing or not is yet to be seen.

Real estate practitioners have spent the last 24 hours proclaiming the death of Zillow, which is wildly off. The company simply has a backlog and is struggling with labor and materials like everyone else in America.

And even if their iBuyer program shuts down and they stopped getting every listings feed on the planet, they’ve created a scenario where they’ve basically applied for (and yuck, been granted by the federal government) every conceivable generic patent on real estate online.

Instead of reading a headline and gloating on Facebook, practitioners need to start paying attention to the possibility of Zillow patent trolling the world – the rest is all just chump change. They really are evil geniuses, and they’re definitely going to survive this small iBuyer blip.

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Real Estate Corporate

REX Homes has second round of layoffs, closes NY and CHI markets, plans to join MLSs

(CORPORATE) REX Homes has just concluded a second round of layoffs and has indicated they will be joining MLSs as part of their restructure.

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REX Homes

REX Homes yesterday initiated a second round of layoffs in the past two months, has now shut down operations in Chicago and all of New York as part of a company restructuring, and intends on testing out joining local MLSs.

Layoffs are a common part of startup life, and REX Co-Founder, President, and COO, Lynley Sides assured remaining employees in a company-wide call that they are “done with downsizing efforts,” which they say they did their best to do “respectfully,” and the new goal is to move forward, focusing on the customer experience, on profitable markets, and on “winning” now that the company has “the right plan.”

The first round of layoffs was in late August and eliminated roughly 60 positions (a number which has not yet been verified by REX). No severance was paid, but the company offered resume coaching and allowed impacted staff to retain all company technology as a “creative” move, Sides said on the call.

The company has earned several rounds of private equity funding and is not publicly traded. They had not closed their Series D round of funding in August, but did shortly thereafter.

The second round of layoffs was Thursday, October 7th and impacted 34 employees who did receive severance and were also allowed to keep company technology.

Because of the timing of the Series D closing, Sides told staff on the call that they would be revisiting severance with employees cut in the first round.

She also noted that they would have preferred one round of layoffs and had hoped that would suffice, but instead took measures to cut “all costs,” including reducing marketing spends “notably,” addressing overhead, negotiating with vendors, and even subleasing some of their space to “reduce the impact of the second wave.”

It is unclear what markets they continue to serve as their website still allows users to select New York, but not Chicago, and several past and current staff say the number of areas they service have been drastically reduced in this calendar year but none agree on the actual number. Sides noted a shift toward focusing exclusively on the most profitable markets.

Sides also said on the call that REX would be “trying to join a few MLSs which is the right thing to do for our business and our customers” as they focus on the “customer experience.”

The pilot test is notable given the company’s lawsuit against NAR and Zillow, alleging a cartel surrounding MLSs and commission structures. Although a recent court ruling urged the company to not use the term ‘cartel,” the lawsuit stands.

Also fascinating is that the real estate tech startup was able to avoid all news coverage of the layoffs, market closings, or a shift toward joining any MLS.

Regardless, Sides concluded her portion of the call by assuring her teams that she remains “incredibly optimistic about REX’s future,” a sentiment others on the call echoed.

We have reached out to REX Homes for comment, as we don’t know the precise number of employees dismissed in August, the size or date of their Series D round of funding, or what markets they still serve.

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