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$60M lawsuit alleges Zillow listings can be hijacked

(REAL ESTATE) Zillow has long been a data powerhouse, but a lawsuit about a $150M listing offers a look into listings claims.

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Once called “the most expensive house in the US,” 924 Bel Air Road is a California jewel, crafted by famed homebuilder, Bruce Makowsky. And it’s currently on the market for a cool $150 million.

The only problem is, that according to Zillow, on February 04, it sold for $110M, there was an open house on February 08 that never existed, and although the errors were corrected by Zillow, the listing again was marked as sold on February 09 for $90.5M, corrected, and sold again the very next day for $94.3M.

The property owner is currently suing Zillow for $60M, alleging that the company “admittedly published false information, through its own website,” and “is disseminating misleading, false, and inaccurate information that has a large prominence because of Zillow’s market power.”

Further, the Plaintiff offers email evidence wherein Zillow acknowledged that they were “aware of the issue,” complaining that the false data was not immediately removed, rather took a week.

How did all of this happen?

A false claim of ownership.

Initially, a Chinese IP address with the email 910028863@qq.com (and a phone number whose area code does not exist) claimed the listing, and although Zillow requires a verification process, the lawsuit alleges that anyone that attempts to claim the property enough times can anticipate the questions “and be able to figure out what information they need to verify their identity.”

Later, on February 14th, “andersgraff@icloud.com” attempted to alter sales information. It is not immediately clear to us if this email address is associated with the previous claim, faked, or if multiple individuals have attempted to claim the address. Zillow’s policy is to notify the original party claiming a listing if there is a dispute, so “andersgraff” could be the original user’s second attempt. Or not.

They allege that Zillow does not have any safeguards in place, and that they “knew or should have known that trolls, criminals, and persons illegally claiming ownership of property and falsely contending it was sold that could easily bypass their standard questions to ‘claim a home’ and post false information.”

“It was reasonably foreseeable that this would happen,” the lawsuit alleges. “Yet, the Defendants have done nothing about it and simply do not care about the homeowners they hurt in the process.”

That last bit is a little floral, but their point is taken.

So what is the solution here?

Zillow has always allowed homeowners to claim their address, update information to improve accuracy of the data, and correct any information; it has been part of the differentiator between them and their competitors.

Zillow Corporate Counsel, Kim Nielsen emailed the Plaintiff’s attorney, Ronald Richards on February 14th, “Unfortunately, if someone is able to provide responses to the verification questions, they are able to claim the home. As I mentioned, we do not manually check each time someone attempts to claim a home. One suggestion would be for the listing agent or company selling the home to go in and claim the home until it is sold. This will at least prevent someone else from being able to fraudulently claim ownership of the home.”

Couldn’t that in itself be seen as a fraudulent claim of ownership if the agent claims the property as their own?

This lawsuit highlights a massive challenge to Zillow’s data, revealing that it can, in fact, be manipulated. With a fake email address and Chinese IP address. Can any user game the system to impact local markets?

For the lawsuit, read here; for the exhibits, read here.

Real Estate Corporate

Zillow hit with double whammy discrimination allegations

(CORPORATE) Zillow is facing new allegations of discrimination between employees based on their gender and how unequally they were treated during a crisis.

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Zillow discrimination suit

We can all agree that violating the Americans with Disabilities Act makes you a capital D D-bag, right?

When a company (or CITY – looking at you, every tilted, rampless sidewalk in Austin) refuses to build accessibility, accommodations, and human GD dignity into their physical, corporate, and digital infrastructure, not only are they breaking the law, they’re being a bunch of unwiped butts.

Today, it looks as though my favoritest real estate site, Zillow, stands accused of being among that skidmark-leaving number.

Now because I’m too cute for defamation suits, I need to be 100%, crystal clear, like clear enough for a bird to fly into it, that Zillow has not been found guilty of anything. We’re going to report on the allegations and the suit brought against the company, but until Zillow gets their day in court, neither this esteemed publication nor I myself can say what definitely did or didn’t happen.

Said allegations are being brought against Zillow by Mr. Michael Cerce, and they’re as such:

Jane Doe at Zillow had her phone stolen, and was being harassed by someone awful, who also made mention of Mr. Cerce in their threats. Zillow stepped up and offered her protection with a security detail, all the days off she needed and… asking Mr. Cerce to step into danger for her.

Mr. Cerce further alleges that while Jane Doe rightly got paid days off to deal with her trauma, he wasn’t afforded the same resources, having his time off requests to take care of his mental health denied, having his concerns about company security dismissed, and not being afforded his commission payments during a leave of absence related to the stalking.

It might actually behoove me to say “the assumed stalking” though, as Mr. Cerce has come to believe he may have been collateral or intentional damage in a hoax perpetrated by Jane Doe.

So. Allegedly. Mr. Cerce was, I repeat ALLEGEDLY, discriminated against on the basis of disability as he was diagnosed with PTSD during counseling related to these allegations, as well as on the basis of sex as he claims a female employee was treated with more respect during similar travails.

To paraphrase the kids these days,  that’s effed up if true.

It should be obvious, but because I know it’s not, I’ll say it anyway. Someone’s being a man doesn’t mean that said someone comes automatically equipped to shrug off being stalked, threatened, harassed, and denied opportunities for healing from an ordeal.

Furthermore, not all disabilities are easily visible, though according to witnesses named in the suit, Mr. Cerce was noticeably distressed for days at a time.

If the allegations are found to be true in a court of law, then Zillow’s got a pretty serious deal on its hands, and we’ll have more as the story develops.

No matter how things shake out in court, ideally, public spotlight of the case will lead more folks of the gentlemanly persuasion to continue standing up against ACTUAL unfair treatment regarding their physical safety and mental health.

Fingers crossed (and Covid triple washed) for justice.

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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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