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Zillow hopes gov’t is dumb enough to grant them a patent on 30+ year old tech

(CORPORATE NEWS) Zillow continues to expand their offering, but can they succeed with all the patent lawsuits they’re in?

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Recently, Zillow quietly filed a patent for “automatically determining market rental rates for properties.”

The patent abstract says that it’s protecting “A facility for determining a market rental rate for a distinguished home located in a distinguished geographic area…”

It goes on to say that they receive attributes for the home, and runs it through a valuation model trained by rental listing prices and home attributes from recently-listed rental homes in the area, then reports the market rate that it comes up with.

If you’re familiar with Zillow, that probably means that you’re either a real estate professional, you’ve used it to find a home, or that you’re one of the people who idly flips through it ogling other peoples’ houses the same way that most people scroll through Twitter. But you’ll probably also recognize the service being described. It sounds like it’s basically a Zestimate, for rental properties.

A Zestimate is a home-value estimate that Zillow offers on its listings. It pulls pricing data from similar houses in the area, runs it all through an algorithm, spits out a rough estimate of what an appropriate price for that home might be. Better known as an AVM, which was developed in the 1990s.

It’s an interesting service. Though if you’ve ever played around on the site, you’ve probably noticed that the Zestimate can be way off. It’s not unreliable by any means, but it’s far from gospel about what a home is actually worth. The average Zestimate error for a house not currently on the market has been calculated to be around $18,000 as of July 2019.

It’s interesting that Zillow is going further down the Zestimate path. Earlier this month, they were sued by IBM for alleged infringement of seven patents. They claim that key Zillow features are built on unlicensed IBM patents, including tech that sounds an awful lot like what Zestimates would need.

IBM says that they’ve been trying to reach a patent licensing deal with Zillow for three years, which means that when Zillow filed suit against Compass for stealing Zillow’s intellectual property in April, they in turn were driving IBM to the end of its patience for not licensing theirs. (Does that mean that IBM should be suing Compass, too? Who knows!)

At any rate, it’s no surprise that Zillow’s considering a move deeper into the rental market. That kind of expansion has been a key part of their business plan for a long time now. While they’re certainly a leader in the “daydreaming about buying a house” space, they’re aiming to be involved with the entire home-purchasing process, from start to finish. From websites for Realtors, to instant homebuying and mortgage lending, Zillow’s dreaming of being the ultimate real estate service provider (even if they swore all along they never would practice real estate).

They’re not new to the rental space, either. Their current rental management system includes applications and tenant screening, as well as online rent payment. It’ll be interesting to see which of these expansions pay off for them in the long run.

Staff Writer, Garrett Steele is your friend. He writes lyrics, critique, and copy for ads, schools, health organizations, and more. He’s also a composer for film and video games, when he’s lucky. (One of his songs is an Xbox achievement!)

Real Estate Corporate

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.

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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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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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