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Zillow continues to build their patent collection – looking back, is anyone surprised?

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATIONS) The real estate giant Zillow continues the trend of the last decade and even adds another four patents to their ever growing patent collection.

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Overhead of farm home on Zillow, where a patent may be held.

In 2006 Zillow, the online real estate marketplace company, hit the world scene. Little did we know that this little website would explode over the last 15 years into the massive business venture it is now. Total assets in 2019 reached up to $6.1 billion. The founders, Rich Barton & Lloyd Frink, have been building this company from the ground up, pulling in new acquisitions and pursuing new avenues of revenue. Always adventuring into the next frontier of real-estate, and taking a patent or four along the way.

In a new move that surprised real-estate moguls around the country, Zillow Mobile was developed and they began creating mobile applications (listed below). However, I don’t think anyone expected what this would lead to in 2018.

  • April 29th, 2009 – iPhone Application
  • March 18th, 2010 – Android Application
  • April 2nd, 2010 – iPad Application
  • March 31st, 2011 – Blackberry Application
  • July 13th, 2012 – Windows Phone Application
  • November 27th, 2013 – Windows 8.1 Application
  • November 2015 – Apple TV Application

Once these apps were in place Zillow announced some news that would rock the real-estate world, Zillow Offers. The app provides a unique position for the company to directly purchase a seller’s home from them and do all the work to sell. Completely eliminating the go between aspect of the job. In the first year of this and leading into 2020, the company took a massive hit to their revenue because of the front end of purchasing all of this property.

Zillow 2.0 is still holding strong however. The current CEO Rich Barton is not worried about the downswing. He has been molded in the world of business over the years, having learned about the benefits of “risk that is tempered” while he founded/co-founded Expedia and Glassdoor. This business guru is a force to be reckoned with.

These highly aggressive tactics don’t just stop at the purchasing arena either. Over the last 15 years the business has acquired 21 patents. The patents in recent years are starting hedge competitors into a tight spot. Listed below are some of the more recent patents that have been cleared.

1. “Automated Control of Image Acquisition Via Use of Mobile Device User Interface” – Filing Date 8/21/2020

  • Techniques are described for using computing devices to perform automated operations to control acquisition of images in a defined area, including obtaining and using data from one or more hardware sensors on a mobile device that is acquiring the images, analyzing the sensor data (e.g., in a real-time manner) to determine the geometric orientation of the mobile device in three-dimensional (3D) space, and using that determined orientation to control the acquisition of further images by the mobile device. In some situations, the determined orientation information may be used in part to automatically generate and display a corresponding GUI (graphical user interface) that is overlaid on and augments displayed images of the environment surrounding the mobile device during the image acquisition process, so as to control the mobile device’s geometric orientation in 3D space.

2. “Estimating the value of property in a manner sensitive to nearby value-affecting geographic features” – Filing Date 7/7/2014

  • A facility for determining an estimated value of a home is described. The facility applies a first valuation model that is insensitive to value-affecting geographic features near the home to obtain a first valuation. The facility applies a second valuation model that is sensitive to value-affecting geographic features near the home to obtain a second valuation. The facility combines the first and second valuations to obtain an estimated value of the home.

3. “Automatically determining a current value for a real estate property, such as a home, that is tailored to input from a human user, such as its owner Utility Patent Grant (B2)” – Filing Date 9/4/2015

  • A facility procuring information about a distinguished property from a user knowledgeable about the distinguished property that is usable to refine an automatic valuation of the distinguished property is described. The facility displays information about the distinguished property used in the automatic valuation of the distinguished property. The facility obtains user input from of the user adjusting at least one aspect of information about the distinguished property used in the automatic valuation of the distinguished property. On a later the day, facility displays to the user a refined valuation of the distinguished property that is based on the adjustment of the obtained user input.

4. Providing Simulated Lighting Information for 3D Building Models – Filed Date 4/6/2020

  • Techniques are described for using computing devices to perform automated operations related to, with respect to a computer model of a house or other building’s interior, generating and displaying simulated lighting information in the model based on sunlight or other external light that is estimated to enter the building and be visible in particular rooms of the interior under specified conditions, such as using ambient occlusion and light transport matrix calculations. The computer model may be a 3D (three-dimensional) or 2.5D representation that is generated after the house is built and that shows physical components of the actual house’s interior (e.g., walls), and may be displayed to a user of a client computing device in a displayed GUI (graphical user interface) via which the user specifies conditions for which the simulated lighting display is generated.

But what do these patents do to the market? They are cornering their position as THE online real estate company. The stranglehold on any competitors is going to be hard to fight. The numerous patents typically tend to revolve around automated or multi-faceted searching and pricing on people homes. One of the newest ones actually takes images and translates into pricing.

This patent trolling technique is definitely something to take into account for other companies. This way, businesses hold their top place is to sue people into the ground with scrupulous patent lawsuits based on patent law. They throw red tape and paper on top of new competitors to drown them in fees before they can actually become competitive. Personally, I find it disgusting but from what I’ve learned, that’s capitalism at its finest. Beat them down with paper so you can stay on top.

Robert Raney is a geoscientist whose been writing and painting for years to get his creative fix in. While working on his thesis in theoretical planetary physics he was also creating fantastical worlds on paper for fun. He's an at home Texan Houstonite who currently works slinging drinks at a local LGBTQ+ bar in the gayborhood, when not fielding oil & gas jobs that have taken him around the world.

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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Real Estate Corporate

Viva – the startup that gives renters equity as they rent

(TECHNOLOGY) Viva launched as a pretty brilliant model – give renters back equity as they rent, foster future buyers, and build a property portfolio.

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viva equity fund

Renting often feels like a necessary evil, one which is compounded by the fact that renters are unable to build equity – through no fault of their own. A company called Viva thinks they have a solution for this systemic issue: third-party equity.

Viva is a startup with the main goal of allowing renters to earn a certain amount of equity per month.

The process itself is fairly straightforward: Renters in Viva-managed properties have the opportunity to earn up to eight percent of their rent back in equity per month. This equity is stored in the form of a rebate that can be reclaimed once the renter’s lease is up.

I say “up to” eight percent because, according to Viva, certain tasks–mild, “unskilled” maintenance and general upkeep of the property–are assumed to be the renter’s responsibility (unless otherwise dictated elsewhere); failure to maintain a presentable property can result in a lower percentage of rent going to your equity.

While that sounds like it opens the door for picky landlords to dock renters for arbitrary issues, Viva assures them that they “expect the vast majority of all tenants to earn the full 8% every month.”

That equity can be tracked via Viva’s online portal and payment receipts from each month of rent.

Once a renter’s lease expires, they can request their equity in the form of a rebate; it can also come in the form of a housing credit should the renter want to put it toward their next property.

On the landlord side, Viva charges a relatively high 16 percent for management: eight percent for renter equity, and eight percent for general management fees.

While this sum is higher than the average 10 percent cited on Viva’s FAQ, they point out that their eight percent covers more things (maintenance and “community engagement”) than a usual maintenance fee.

Viva also posits that people who live in properties they manage will be more dedicated to maintaining those properties, thus cutting down on long-term costs.

Viva’s goal of creating a third viable option that nestles between renting and buying couldn’t come at a better time in terms of the housing market. Both renters and landlords will want to keep an eye on this venture as they develop.

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