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Real Estate Corporate

The beef between Zillow and Move Inc. is heating up more overtly

Zillow’s chief financial officer, Kathleen Phillips, said that the costs related to Zillow’s “necessary defense” against Move’s claims are projected to rise from $27.1 million in 2015 to $36 million in 2016 with those fees dragging down Zillow’s total financial results.

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First, some background information: Back in August 2015, after receiving permission from a Seattle judge, Zillow countersued Move Inc. and the National Association of REALTORS® for defamation.

The countersuit stemmed from an anonymous whistleblower letter Move and NAR received in April (later revealed to be authored by former Zillow Vice President Chris Crocker), which alleged that Zillow had stolen realtor.com® databases in its possession and was hiding stolen intellectual property in cloud storage accounts.

Crocker’s letter included allegations of how Zillow illegally accessed IDX listing data from its subsidiary, Diverse Solutions, and scraped data from realtor.com®, which is owned and operated by Move. Zillow says Move and NAR defamed the company by publicizing the letter without ascertaining the credibility of its assertions, according to court documents.

He said, she said

This has been a protracted argument. Zillow and NAR have been bickering back and forth as far back as 2014. And for sure Zillow was not thrilled with Realtor.com’s latest publicity stunt in Austin, TX.

Move, Inc has since countersued and Zillow is bracing for a fight – the outcome of which [for Zillow] does not look good. Vendoralley.com reports that Zillow’s chief financial officer, Kathleen Phillips, said that the costs related to Zillow’s “necessary defense” against Move’s claims are projected to rise from $27.1 million in 2015 to $36 million in 2016 with those fees dragging down Zillow’s total financial results.

So, whose data is this anyway?

The internet is rampant with MLS services that aggregate data. In fact many realtors, not just those affiliated with NAR have the attitude that Zillow, Trulia, and similar sites are “stealing our leads”. A bigger question is how do you control that? Certainly if you don’t syndicate your listings they can’t be taken from you but of course the reality is the seller will most likely hire another agent who takes full advantage of online marketing.

Zillow has been in the news quite a bit lately (I wrote about Zillow and NAR’s turbulent relationship here). How this plays out is anyone’s guess but the impact of online MLS sites is here to stay and will continue to impact the real estate industry.

Personally I would be more worried about Redfin and their rapid expansion. But I guess that’s a story for another time.

#ZillowVsMoveInc

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Real Estate Corporate

Zillow nixes iBuying program and cuts 25% of staff, consumers go wild

(REAL ESTATE) After Zillow hit pause on their iBuying program, they’ve now cut it altogether and laid off staff. Can Zillow haters gloat yet? Maybe not…

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Today, Zillow Group announced their plan to shut down the Zillow Offers program (known as their iBuying initiative), also announcing a cut in their workforce of roughly 25%.

With a backlog of over 9,800 homes (several thousand more than they reported just days ago) that need to be sold, and a current 8,200 under contract that they’re still moving forward with purchasing, the company can’t simply cite labor and raw materials challenges.

The rapid escalation of the program in the past quarter is part of the subsequent sunsetting wherein they’ll be eating a $304 million in losses, and another $240-$265 million expected additional losses on pending properties.

They’ve instantly become famous for using their algorithm to wildly overpay on a ton of product, then losing their shirts for it.

Zillow Co-Founder and former CEO said earlier this week that he assumed purchasing would resume in Q1, but fellow Co-Founder and current CEO, Rich Barton stated, “We’ve determined the unpredictability in forecasting home prices far exceeds what we anticipated and continuing to scale Zillow Offers would result in too much earnings and balance-sheet volatility.”

Barton added, “While we built and learned a tremendous amount operating Zillow Offers, it served only a small portion of our customers. Our core business and brand are strong, and we remain committed to creating an integrated and digital real estate transaction that solves the pain points of buyers and sellers while serving a wider audience.”

This combination of conditions has plenty of real estate professionals (that have long hated Zillow) gloating on social media.

We recently urged our readers to not get excited about their last announcement that they’d be pausing the iBuying program, and we stand by that today for several reasons:

  1. Fully 25% of their workforce got a pink slip today and that is nothing to celebrate – they’re people whose lives were just upended. But not Rich Barton’s, he’ll be just fine.
  2. This program is one of many for them and these losses don’t matter much in the bigger picture – it was a very small piece of their pie.
  3. Even if Zillow stopped getting every listings feed on the planet and every Realtor stopped giving them their money, they’ve created a scenario where they’ve applied for (and been granted by the federal government) nearly every conceivable generic patent on real estate online. Their evil genius will help leadership to survive any storm, like it or not.

Does the shutdown of this program spell doom for the iBuying model in general? It could be seen that way, or it could be seen that they moved far to quickly, or simply that economic conditions collided to make the perfect storm which wasn’t in their favor.

Either way, from our vantage point, the program has always felt like they were playing with Monopoly money, or like they were enjoying being WSB bros, and it’s now over and a lot of people are out of work today.

What will always remain consistent is real estate practitioners reminding each other that they’re who have fed the beast since day one, like this Realtor:

The only real downside for Zillow is the public relations hit they’re taking with consumers who are going wild about the news:

Stay tuned for what money moves Z makes next. This story isn’t over.

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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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financial cash flow iBuying

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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