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Pilot program could put realtor.com on the rentals map [Exclusive first look]

Doorsteps, owned by realtor.com, has quietly launched a pilot program to see how renters will react to a “hyperlocal content-rich experience,” which we believe will succeed and go national.

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If you’ve ever been to Austin, you know that the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” is around for a reason, and that the enthusiasm about living in the city is palpable. There’s this quiet, giddy smile on local faces as part of an unspoken bond that unites residents like a web. It’s oddly kumbaya-ish as gun totin’ rednecks, inked up art snobs, university students, and philanthropists can sit in any restaurant together, happily eating tacos and chatting about their favorite local swimming holes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 110 new people move to the Austin area every single day, and the growth spurt that started in the 80s continues to rapidly accelerate.

So what better place to test a new rental listings program than a diverse city with an influx population, and a very, very, very healthy rental market? And who better to write about such a mysterious pilot program than a native Austinite who also happens to be a renter who might use the site, and also happens to be a real estate writer that will offer an unfiltered first look and the raw product?

Introducing Doorsteps Rent

Introducing Doorsteps Rent, powered by realtor.com. They’re testing what they’re calling a “rental experience,” starting with Austin as the pilot city, and they’re offering a “hyperlocal, content-rich experience” with editorial content alongside listings. You can learn about the flavor of a neighborhood, why the market is so hot (ahem: increasingly expensive), and it’s all original.

If this had existed a decade ago, it would have negated endless content generation real estate professionals have had to do to explain the rich history and current feel of specific neighborhoods.

Take a gander at the screenshots we’ve nabbed, and note that the design is clean, modern, has an urban feel, and is overly simple to use (a win for smartphone-using renters on the prowl):
[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][gallery_post_embed gallery=”4412″]

So where does all the data come from?

One of the challenges of multi-family rentals is that the software they’ve been using for nearly two decades, adjusts prices by the hour based on supply. If there are two 3-bedroom units left on the property and one leases, the price on the remaining unit instantly goes up. If four 2-bedroom units skip in the first week of the month, the glut pushes the pricing down to move them. This makes it nearly impossible for rental search to be accurate, which is why the industry continues to post price ranges instead of unit prices.

This makes the data flow complicated – imagine if prices of homes for sale went up and down every hour based on a computer algorithm.

Where does all of the data come from? The company tells us that they have the same MLS feeds that are syndicated to realtor.com (so real listings uploaded by real realtors), direct feeds from apartment communities, and data feed agreements with third parties that include apartment communities and single units (for example, we immediately saw listings flowing through Appfolio).

They note that in most cases, their listings are updated every 15 minutes, and they tell us that they are “working towards real time unit level availability and pricing, collaborating with property management software providers on those integrations.” Bingo.

Is Doorsteps going away?

A lot has changed at Doorsteps since its inception three and a half years ago – in 2013, the small company that provided a knowledge base for home buyers was acquired by Move, Inc. (operator of realtor.com, which itself was acquired by News Corp. in 2014), to much fanfare, they launched Doorsteps Swipe, the beautiful app that reminded everyone of Tinder but for real estate.

This summer, founder Michele Sero left to pursue other opportunities, but her team remained and have been hard at work on the company’s evolution, all under the continued theme of humanizing real estate search by educating consumers.

The company tells us that Doorsteps has always been an educational vehicle for homebuyers, but they’re “exploring the extension of that relationship to serve the needs of renters today.”

Why Realtors should care about the pilot

Doorsteps says the idea behind the product is not only to extend that relationship, but to offer a more targeted search experience and better understanding of neighborhoods as a means of yielding better rental leads.

Christie Farrell, Director of Corporate Communications at Move, Inc. tells us, “the rental market is a huge opportunity for Move to do what our vision is – connect realtors and consumers, and to provide consumers with the best possible and most consistent and reliable experience online.”

We translate that to mean that this is one more way to keep consumers focused on the realtor brand and fill the pipeline earlier on in the process.

How long will the pilot last?

The company does not have a set date for the pilot program to either end or blossom into a national offering, but we were assured that it would be months, not years.

They’re currently looking to measure the impact and effectiveness of Doorsteps Rent and see if the hyperlocal content resonates with renters – this process doesn’t take place overnight.

Monetization of the product

Based on who owns it, Doorsteps is officially a media company, which means they bank on advertisers. There are no current ad products on the site, and the company has not finalized their offering, but here is where it gets sticky.

The big pink blowup elephant in the room is multifamily budgets – rents have gone way up nationally, and especially in Austin, so the properties must be rolling in extra cash, right? Not really – they’re actually reinvesting that money into remodeling units, building new amenities, and improving the property. Our sources tell us that marketing budgets have changed very little in the last decade, despite increased profit margins.

Why does it matter if Doorsteps Rent is another line item on a budget sheet for a property manager? Because Austin is this rare little town where thousands of apartment locators (many of whom are licensed realtors) live on this same marketing budget. The rental market is so hot here, that many properties have already cut locator commissions simply because they don’t need them. It’s already a struggle.

If properties’ marketing budgets are gobbled up by Doorsteps Rent, so are the incomes of locators, and we can’t imagine that a realtor-branded product would ever intend on damaging their constituents.

So if the advertiser isn’t the property, then who is the advertiser? Realtors and apartment locators that want to have their headshot posted up next to rental listings? Or will featured listings be the bread and butter? Perhaps banner ads will hit the sweet spot. All Move models are free to consumers, so the end user won’t be the one padding the coffers, but the direction they head with the monetization will dictate whether or not the real estate practitioner backs it.

The product speaks to the greater good

If you’ve searched for rentals on the big portals, you’ve already seen that there are some serious accuracy problems. Spend five minutes searching sites that don’t rely on MLS data, and within that time span, you’ll find listings that aren’t real, or are straight up scams. Trust me, it only takes five minutes.

This has done a lot of damage to the rental industry – portals allowing bad listing data to be uploaded has abused the consumer and destroyed the trust between real estate practitioner, consumer, and even search portals.

If a consumer spends time on Doorsteps Rent and finds the data to be accurate (and we hope it is, even though unnamed third parties will be feeding data to the site), this could play into the national campaign between realtor.com and the National Association of Realtors to re-establish trust and faith in the industry.

What we hope the future holds

There are three things we hope the future of Doorsteps holds: Swipe update, UGC, and AI. Let me explain.

First, if Doorsteps Rent does not lead to a Swipe product for rentals, I will literally lose my mind. If you aren’t familiar with Swipe, go spend five minutes on it and tell me you’re not hooked and suddenly in the market for a house .

Second, it would make sense for this to finally be the place where some user-generated content (UGC) is opened up. It can’t exactly be done on realtor.com, because a random consumer adding comments to a listing could be extremely tricky, given how highly regulated it is. But, I imagine Doorsteps Rent could very easily be the Yelp of neighborhoods, with consumers adding pictures of what they’re up to in the area, the newest fish taco place (eww, but whatever), or how the new highway development is impacting commutes, and so forth. I doubt there will be any star ratings, but I predict that consumers will be invited to participate in the process not only for the added benefit of unfettered content, but because their creating a login to do just that means one more contact opportunity for realtor.com and the incubation of consumers much earlier in the sales cycle.

Lastly, I should note that this pilot marks the first step in personalization for renters, an often overlooked segment of the population. After this step comes geo-targeting and maybe the acquisition of a company like Nextdoor, a private social network that enables members to communicate with neighbors. After that, I hope the ultimate evolution of Doorsteps Rent will include more predictive search that understands a consumer’s desires based on their past rental experiences, but that’s like hoping for the site to be complete with artificial intelligence. A girl can dream.

The final verdict

Doorsteps Rent is an important piece in the puzzle. For years, the image of real estate practitioners in the rental field has been tarnished by the bad behavior and greed of non-MLS search portals, and consumers have been left to use subpar sites with subpar information.

Personalizing the process with this gorgeous, urban design, brings future homebuyers into the fold much earlier, which is a huge win for realtors.

Ultimately, the success of the pilot depends on the monetization strategy, a strict devotion to data accuracy, and quality content that resonates with renters.

We believe the pilot will succeed and anticipate that it will become a national offering. We predict that it will ultimately lead to a Doorsteps Rent Swipe product, future acquisitions to better connect neighborhoods, and the evolution of the site into a Yelp/Doorsteps hybrid.

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

Zillow’s patent game is strong – they just got 3 for IBM’s creations

(CORPORATE NEWS) This company was just granted not 1 patent but 3 on tech more than twice their age! What does it mean for you? Nothing good…

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Welp. They did it.

We’ve been watching Zillow for some time now, and in the midst of even the strongest of OP Eds saying how terrible an idea it is, Uncle Sam officially handed them multiple patent keys to tech they didn’t invent.

How big do you have to be before you can clout jack with this much impunity?

I’m used to seeing this with small artists. Forever21’s Etsy spies find a cute, simple design, maybe do the work to alter the pallate a smidgen and rely on the ‘Matilda’s Dad’ strategy of “I’m smart, you’re dumb, I’m big, you’re little, I’m right, you’re wrong, and our lawyers will argue the same, peasant’.

But with technology, you can literally trace the code back to a source. It’s not like using teeth as a motif, it’s real, it’s definite, and it’s definitely really shocking that the government signed off on this.

Zillow’s not exactly startup sized, they’ve been in business since 2004. They’re a big name. Their competition probably can’t muscle their way in and out like they can. Matter fact, a company you may have heard of fighting them on patents has only been doing their doings since…wait, since 1911. Must be a tiny outfit, that was in some other business for over a century right?

It’s IBM.

What le freaque?

We all need to be concerned about this level of government sanctioned patent jacking, no matter what field we’re in.

I’ve heard before that if you’re just starting out, and low on funds, paying for your inventory and manpower are more important than filing anything with the government. Now we’ve got fresh, bloody proof that that’s 100% not true.

Your or your company’s intellectual property can be deeded off with a factor no more elaborate than whether the patent office likes your face that day, regardless of what kind of trail you’ve left, and as far as being run into the ground or laid off goes, that’s hardly a non-factor.

This decision represents a higher financial barrier to entry for everyone from Amazon entrepreneurs to realtors daring to use tech as basic as texting in their business.

Yes, literally.

Zillow’s patents, condensed for readability, are on:

Taking panoramic images for 3D walkthroughs

Multi-criteria search engines

And superimposing images scaled for size onto an area of land

Do all of those sound familiar? They should. We’ve been using that tech for years. And Zillow’s no Microsoft.

As always, we’ll have to see how this plays out. But if your New Year’s resolution was to take more bold steps in your business, maybe see if you can patent the idea of putting your picture in your email signature?

Apparently it couldn’t hurt.

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Real Estate Corporate

Conductor buys their company back from WeWork (that’s a good thing)

(CORPORATE NEWS) In an effort to refocus, co-working giant, WeWork, is looking to offload many of its recently purchased assets which may work in the small companies favor.

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Once upon a time, WeWork, the popular, ever growing, co-working space giant, was valued at $47 Billion. But on August 14th, 2019, everything changed.

In August, WeWork submitted its first IPO paperwork for the company, not realizing it would almost immediately face incredible scrutiny from various entities, such as investors and the press, in regards to its finances. Although the company’s revenue doubled in 2018, Business Insider found that the company wasn’t actually earning any profit. In fact, reporter Rebecca Aydin reported on July 3rd that the company was losing $216, 000 every hour of every day.

But that’s not all. Since WeWork went public, the company has witnessed an incredible devaluation, from $47 billion, all the way down to $8 billion. Now, since we’re talking about billions of dollars here, the devaluation may not seem like a big deal for the future of the company, but I can assure you it is.

This devaluation resulted in Softbank, WeWorks’ biggest investor, taking over, and offering $1.6 billion to then CEO, Adam Neumann, in exchange for stepping down.

Throughout their growth, WeWork acquired more than 20 businesses, such as Spacious, a small co-working space in Manhattan, New York. Spacious’ CEO prior to the acquisition was Preston Pesek, who launched the firm in 2016. Pesek had a background in real estate and founded the business to leverage and monetize abandoned buildings and restaurants.

Customers had easy access to these spaces for a nominal fee, but because of WeWork’s recent decisions with finances, it made the decision to offload quite a few of its previously acquired businesses, including Spacious. They’re also looking to liquidate Managed By Q, which was purchased by WeWork from founder, Dan Teran in April.

In light of this news, Pesek anounced that Spacious will close its doors at the end of the year, alluding to WeWork’s refocus on its core workspace business. But while Spacious is set to close, Teran has decided to fight to re-acquire his company. In a article on The Real Deal, writer Rich Bockmann states that Teran said he’s actively looking to buy back his company.

Conductor, another company WeWork purchased more than 2 years ago, has already been successful in purchasing its company back, and it looks like it may be a better setup for its employees than previously. Co-Founder, Seth Besmertnik, stated in an interview that, prior to the sale of Conductor, he actually only owned 10% of the company. But with the re-acquisition of the company, Besmertnik and his partners, investors, and employees will be in full control. He says that under the company’s restructuring, employees will have “more than four times what they did when we sold the company”, which is clearly a better deal than what they had before.

But WeWork isn’t just liquidating co-working assets they’ve acquired. They’ve also laid off 2,400 employees in an effort to cut costs. Additionally, they’re also considering selling and/or shutting down other ventures, such as Meetup.com, a web platform that makes meeting up with like-minded individuals as easy as possible (purchased in 2017 for $156 Million). WeGrow, an elementary school in Manhattan, is also on the chopping block.

At the end of the day, WeWork just wasn’t as strong as users, investors, business partners, and the general public thought they would be. At a current valuation of only $8 billion (again, down from $47 billion), and with a $9.5 billion bailout from Softbank, the company will have to get really smart with their remaining finances. It’s obvious that the company is still in a state of flux, reevaluating their options and their main focus, but the question remains – can they still be saved? Maybe even more importantly, are they worth being saved? Only time will tell.

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Real Estate Corporate

Redfin launches their Job Opportunity tool – gimmicky yet brilliant move

(REAL ESTATE) Redfin has launched a new tool that at first glance is a PR stunt, but at second glance is useful and pretty damn smart.

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According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of people searching for new homes will turn to the internet in their hunt. It’s why real estate sites like Zillow, Trulia and Redfin exist. With competition growing tighter every year, Redfin has created a new feature to stand out from the rest of the pack: a job opportunity tool.

No, this isn’t specifically for job hunting. You’re going to have to look for specific employment opportunities elsewhere.

Instead, Redfin has collected information from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US Census Bureau, and even the IRS in order to provide an informed look into the job climate for those looking to relocate.

Not only can users get an idea of how many jobs are available in an area, they can take a look at median salaries, and how these salaries add up against the cost of living.

Redfin’s tool calculates average housing, transportation, and tax prices, among other things, which can give people an idea of how far their salary will really go in a new home.

Plus, they’ve also created a tab for employers to research data regarding hiring prospects, expanding usage of the tool to those considering starting, expanding or moving a business.

On its own, the job opportunity tool is pretty neat. There are plenty of colorful visuals to make the information engaging and easy to digest. The tool also boasts a decent amount of variety, providing insight about jobs from bakers, floor sanders, midwives, and anything in between. It’s sure to provide interesting insights to anyone looking to relocate.

Primarily, it’s a smart business move on Redfin’s part.

The tool sets them apart from other real estate sites, giving them a traffic and brand boost with the markets they were already targeting. Many people looking to buy homes are, after all, making significant relocations. It also diversifies what Redfin offers, though, which might help them garner attention from other industries and break out of real estate in a creative way.

Above all, it’s a smart PR move for Redfin, to creatively present their data to news outlets and have their name in as many media mouths as possible.

Online real estate is still a budding industry despite being two decades old, and this is just one of many ways the industry is evolving. Still, kudos to Redfin for making something that is both an interesting gimmick and a useful tool for job and home hunters alike.

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