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Zillow patent apps claim they invented AVMs, uploading home data via mobile

(CORPORATE) Zillow has applied for a handful of utility patents, and their invention claims will shock the real estate industry.

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It appears that online real estate search giant, Zillow, is applying for some pretty interesting utility patents. They currently have in four applications with the U.S. Patent Office, including automatically determining the current value for a home, the capture and use of a building interior data from mobile devices, and connecting and using building interior data acquired from mobile devices.

So, patents on AVMs and uploading data about a house via smartphone.

A claim that they invented both and should hold the patents.

First things first, what’s a utility patent?

Regarding inventions, U.S. Code defines a utility patent as “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Patents are instructions from inventors telling the public how to use their invention. 

There are two kinds of patents – utility and design. Design patents are less detailed requiring only drawings of one’s design and a very limited text explanation. Utility patents require drawings, diagrams and very detailed explanations of how the invention works.

Zillow has recently applied for four patents.

Two for separate patents for automatically determining a current value for a home. See here and here. Both of these include inventions that would have the ability to locate a home in a particular area as described by a user and thus offer the user the selling price and recently sold price through the evaluation of a home’s particular attributes.

The third is for the capture and use of a building’s interior data from mobile devices. This could mean using a phone’s camera to analyze the interior of a home to generate a representation of the home’s interior, for example.

The last patent is for connecting and using building interior data acquired from mobile devices which could mean automating the operations used to acquire images of a home’s interior such as using a phone to capture video for multiple views to put together a virtual representation of a home.

So, why is this important?

Utility patent applications are time intensive and super costly starting at around a few thousand dollars for simple inventions and leaping into the tens of thousands range for more complex ideas and technologies.

Considering the cost alone, one could assume that Zillow has something pretty big in store for the future or at the very least, some pretty lofty goals.

If granted, these patents would instantly put Zillow at odds with the majority of real estate tech companies and brokerages.

Could this have anything to do with rumors of their potentially being acquired in 2019?

Or could it having something to do with the expansion of Zillow Offers, the company’s direct home-buying and selling service?

Maybe Zillow’s just attempting to quash their competition?

Or maybe they’re looking to boost revenues with some good old fashioned patent trolling

Time will tell what Zillow’s patent rampage means, or if the Trademark Office will even grant these patents.

Meg Furey-Marquess is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. She has covered tech for The Metro Silicon Valley and The Bold Italic. She was named one of the Top 39 Writers on Medium in 2016.

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 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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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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