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Zillow’s new patent: Determining regional rate of return on home improvements

(CORPORATE NEWS) Zillow has been granted dozens of patents of late, threatening any tech or real estate brand using the broad ideas they’ve laid claim to.

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Zillow is back on our radar after acquiring the latest in a long list of vague, over-reaching patents (that our government continues to grant to them). This time, they’re going after data – specifically regional rates of return on home improvements.

The patent in question describes a “facility” (later described as a “computer-readable hardware device”) that can estimate housing prices in a given geographic area, but the real crux of the patent is the home improvement feature. The aforementioned facility can be used to determine how much of a financial return will be present upon completion or categorization of work done on a specific property within that same geographic framework.

Sales estimates generated by this facility will also take into account “type[s]” of home improvement, thus further streamlining Zillow’s notorious “Zestimate” feature.

The way this process works is also mentioned in the patent. According to the abstract, the facility takes regional data regarding homes’ “attribute values” and then compares that data to any available home improvement information. An analysis involving that information along with the difference between the sale price of a property and Zillow’s automatic valuation generates an estimate of the rate of return on the home improvements in question.

As far as Zillow patent grabs go, it’s worth noting that this one has a high degree of specificity in its description – something that was missing from many of the other patent applications they’ve filed in the last decade or so – though some aspects of the patent lapse into Zillow’s aloof rambling of late.

For example, the background on the patent says that “…the facility may use a wide variety of modeling techniques, house attributes, and/or data sources. The facility may display or otherwise present its home improvement rates of return in a variety of ways.” That isn’t particularly specific to a style of data representation, freeing up the real estate giant to enforce this patent on a more general level.

And the problem with the remaining specificity is that it details everything from the natural flow of data and the process of comparison to the physical configuration of the hardware used to process that data – which may make it difficult for many technologists in the space to generate similar data without falling into the dangerous zone of violating the patent simply by using common sense.

This is the M.O. over at Zillow Group. Unfortunately, the patent was just granted, which means smaller real estate ventures will need to keep an eye on the way they process regional data pertaining to home improvement values.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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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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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Real Estate Corporate

This Zillow patent application is WILD, threatens entire real estate industry

(NEWS) Zillow has applied for another patent on their mission to outgun the entire real estate industry – will the government grant them yet another win?

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Zillow has added yet another crippling entry to their long list of patent grabs, this time focusing on a computation model that emphasizes 360-degree videos’ role in creating floor maps.

The patent, if granted, would give Zillow domain over the process of recording, analyzing, and presenting such videos in conjunction with real estate services.

The official title of the patent is “Generating Floor Maps For Buildings From Automated Analysis Of Visual Data Of The Buildings’ Interiors,” leaving little to the imagination: The respective processes of creating, analyzing, and sharing those floor maps all fall under the heading of the patent.

The patent also specifies “automated operations” in the abstract, implying that the method of capture all the way through analysis and sharing could be performed automatically via the aforementioned “computing devices.”

Zillow clearly intends to use the results of this process for both further development of their automation (“controlling navigation of devices”) and for customer use while viewing properties virtually (“display on client devices in corresponding GUIs”).

The videos themselves can be “continuous” in that they are recorded by a camera moving seamlessly through the house from room to room; similarly, the videos may be “acquired without obtaining any other information about a depth from the path to any surfaces in the house,” resulting in what one might identify as the modern equivalent of a virtual tour.

The end result of such a video, at least for clients, is the ability to view and control an uninterrupted sequence of movement through a property. At any given time, the client could theoretically pause and “look around” using the 360-degree controls; this process would, ultimately, simulate actual movement through the home.

Naturally, this patent is worrying for the same reason Zillow’s past patents have been problematic: It’s too broad.

360-degree video is an obvious choice for real estate services looking to create a virtual experience that is interchangeable with an in-person tour, and–between accessibility issues and social distancing protocols of the last year–it’s an increasingly necessary option for real estate providers who want to stay afloat.

If Zillow is able to secure this patent, competitors will have to find another way to create their virtual tours–one that, in the ever-tightening web of options not proprietary to Zillow, is sure to drive even the most loyal clients into Zillow’s patent-snatching arms.

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow’s overly generic patent application is further proof they could be suing you soon

(REAL ESTATE) Zillow has been on a patent rampage in recent years, and this most recent application is so wildly generic, we would laugh, but the government has a track record of approving their every wish, making all other real estate sites vulnerable to lawsuits.

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Zillow has, at this point, demonstrated an apt propensity for setting themselves up as future patent trolls and the U.S. Patent Office has been generous in granting their every last wish. It should come as no large surprise, then, that their latest endeavor to monopolize real estate searches comprises presentation of visual information by way of computation and other common factors – something that will further the real estate giant’s ubiquity in online markets.

The patent application itself describes, in detail, the practice of creating a three-dimensional model of a property, though a “2.5D representation” stipulation is also included in the patent.

The patent also mentions that the model may be “generated after the house is built” in order to display information about the inside of the property, and this generated model “may be displayed to a user of a client computing device in a displayed GUI with various user-selectable controls.”

Additionally, the patent describes the manner in which this model can be displayed, with references to a single, large pane that shows the interior of the house alongside smaller, “additional separate GUI pane(s)” that complement the information shown in the “first pane of the GUI.”

This attention to the use of “panes” and the order in which they are formatted has appeared in prior Zillow patents as well, the end result being a rapidly decreasing number of ways in which competing real estate sites can display similar information.

But the patent application doesn’t stop there.

The computational technology (referred to as “A system comprising: one or more hardware processors of one or more computing systems; and one or more memories with stored instructions”) is also mentioned, with explicit details regarding the process followed by the technology upon submission of a request by a user.

A key word in this section of the application is “automated” as it pertains to a search query.

Attempting to patent search engine automation does a better job of demonstrating just how generic this patent grab really is than perhaps anything else in the application.

Other key elements of the patent application include the ability to “navigate” through a property in a virtual model of the house or structure, simulated lighting as a part of the model, and more details about how this information is processed via mobile device.

Should Zillow manage to snag this patent, the results could be catastrophic for competing real estate sites, both search and brokerage.

Being able to show users an isometric model of a property while showcasing the floorplan is a highly convenient (and existing) feature of many real estate sites; by relegating it to Zillow and Zillow alone, those other sites will have to find new (and less-convenient) ways in which to showcase their properties, lest the Zillow patent troll sue them.

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