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Applying for a home? Robots and automation may decide your fate

(BROKERAGE) The next background check you have run may not be in the hands of another human being. Is this automation helpful or harmful?

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Man signing application may only be seen by automation

Leasing approval for your next apartment may not reside in the hands of a human being.

Automation has become an integral part of the decision process for landlords when it comes to deciding who to accept as tenants. Screening tools such as ScorePLUS from CoreLogic use a “statistical lease screening model” that calculates a score and determines a potential tenant’s overall risk. CrimCHECK, another product from CoreLogic, can be used by landlords to search a database of more than 80 million booking and incarceration records across 2,000 facilities. This type of software helps landlords and large apartment complexes streamline their processes and reduce manual reviews of leasing applications.

Housing advocates, however, view such automation as more of a problem than a solution. According to advocates when screening tools bypass human “judgment calls”, those decisions fail to take into account critical details and attempt to solve complex choices with a simple pass/fail algorithm. Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, says that nuance is lost when landlords solely rely on automated screening tools and don’t always capture extenuating circumstances around a possible tenant’s record.

Large automated systems often have inaccuracies as well. Monica Webly, the deputy director of litigation at the Legal Action Center, has said that such checks are “notoriously” inaccurate. For example, a record might end up including information from someone with a similar name, leading to a denial in a renting application for a tenant.

“I’ve looked at more criminal records reports than I could count, and I would say that well over half the ones I’ve looked at had some kind of inaccuracy,” Dunns said.

Companies like CoreLogic have faced lawsuits over such inaccuracies. In 2015, a South Carolina man sued the company after he was flagged by a CoreLogic tool as a registered sex offender due to someone with a similar name. While the man was eventually able to resolve the issue, the process took weeks and cost him the apartment he was applying for as a result.

As automation increasingly becomes a part of our everyday lives, scenarios like the above will become more common. Although software like CoreLogic can help landlords process information faster and reduce human error, it comes with its own set of downsides. How to strike the right balance for things such as leasing applications, is the million-dollar question.

At least not all automation has such drawbacks.

Patrick Auger is a management consultant and entrepreneur who resides in Austin, Texas. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Western Illinois University, and is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Auger Consulting Group, LLC. When he's not writing for The American Genius, he's writing about the business of Mixed Martial Arts for The Body Lock or learning how to cook, one burnt recipe at a time.

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Is this the end of the Great American Commercial Office Building?

(REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE) Dell is the latest to join a trending game of commercial real estate hot potato by selling off 35 acres of prime real estate in Round Rock to Switch.

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Tall glass windowed office buildings, a part of commercial real estate

With people and companies realizing how viable remote work is across several industries, companies are re-evaluating the role of the in-office worker. Many large companies, including Dell Technologies, are starting to ditch their expensive investments, those big, shiny office buildings and, in some cases, even office compounds. The American Genius has learned from a Dell source that they’re lightening their commercial real estate load by selling off approximately 35-acres of their Dell Round Rock campus to Switch, who will build a 1.5 million sq. ft. building called “The Rock.” Additionally, they are leasing the third floor in another building to the Army Futures Command (AFC) for their Resource Operations Center. Dell seems to be making out well in these transactions, reducing their real estate holdings and repurposing the other space by leasing it.

Are these once-bustling business centers going the way of abandoned shopping malls and all those condos in Miami? Not exactly, but we are seeing a trend for businesses to rethink the space they need and what they should sell (or lease). “‘Remote work is really going to stay here,’ says Frank Steemers, senior economist for the Conference Board, in USA Today. “It’s probably going to be one of the main organizational legacies of the pandemic.’” It seems unlikely, although it’s unclear what this means for commercial real estate.

Dell did well, as the market in Austin is still healthy and is expected to stay that was. Other cities may not be faring as well. While some people want to go back to their offices for various reasons, few actually want to return to full-time cubicle or office life. Employers are making these decisions to move more employees to full time working from home status and to expand the job candidate pool by hiring more remote workers.

REI sold their brand new headquarters in Bellevue, Washington to Facebook in August 2020, before ever having moved in. They had to deal with layoffs last year, plus their office employees have been working remotely already. For months at the start of the pandemic, we saw businesses holding onto their real estate, expecting a return to business as usual sooner rather than later. When that didn’t happen, companies opted to make more permanent arrangements for remote workers. Selling off their office spaces means less overhead for the businesses with fewer day-to-day expenses.

Things started shifting when the tech giant Google said it would consider allowing employees to keep working from home until well into summer 2022, and predicted a hybrid work model in the future. Facebook and Twitter have indicated something similar, and regional offices of Ford (Michigan), Target (Minnesota), and Salesforce in California have all indicated they will be “giving up significant office space because of their changing workplace practices,” according to the NY Times in a recent article on the trend.

Businesses are off-loading their commercial real estate holdings, because with offices at half-capacity or less in many of these massive compounds, it doesn’t make sense to hold onto the properties. The basic cost of running and operating these behemoths, not to mention the abandoned meditation rooms and ping pong tables, doesn’t make too much sense now. It’s just paying for wasted space. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this trend as some workers return to their offices.

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Don’t settle for mediocrity: How to be a better leader

(BROKERAGE NEWS) There tends to be two camps of leaders, those who lead from strength and those from weakness. But who says you can’t do both?

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Leader in a meeting

A lot of leadership literature has become “strength’s focused” – using inventories like StrengthsFinder (developed by Gallup). The logic in many ways, is sound. Capitalizing on your strengths as a leader and those of your team is significantly more effective than attempts to cover perceived flaws or weaknesses.

The business world has been cited for being too focused on weaknesses (and now parents are too). This a natural inclination for people. For leaders however, we should be bringing our strengths (and the strengths of our teams) to work and making “it” happen.

However, an over focus on strengths isn’t without its own challenges. Tony Schwartz writes for Harvard Business Review, a “well-rounded leader” has a greater opportunity to be more effective. As we seek to leverage our “strengths” let us not forget the complexity of our skill set and how those negatives we see about ourselves can become assets – resources – that we use to manage ourselves and our teams.

Metaphors are common in leadership articles, so I won’t break tradition.

Much like in physical exercise, poor form often causes the overuse of a muscle versus a group of muscles. Poor leadership form, while doing the lifting, leads to an overuse or over-reliance on what is good and comfortable for us.

A pragmatic leader may find themselves unable to make dynamic change move forward. Today’s leaders have to deal with a more complex environment in terms of technology, skills, and demographics. One style of leading will simply not be enough.

The big lesson here is to workout things you don’t think are your best strengths. What are ways you can take those weaknesses and utilize them? How do your rebranded weaknesses make you a good leader for a project or a team? Create opportunities to use your “positive opposites” – those weaknesses that you have rebranded.

PRO TIP: Find a mentor, find a coach, or keep reading about leadership.

You may never be able to develop those skills as strong as your primary, but you will have more leadership muscle to work with. You’ll be delivering a better leader to serve, build, and develop yourself or the organization.

Schwartz discusses the role of choices. We make a lot of choices as leaders – resources, people, what risks, what resources, what costs. When we make those choices working with clients or employees we are always using our mental tool kits.

It doesn’t hurt us to have more tools, most of the time, to allow us to handle situations.

SIDEBAR: It is important to recognize that we only have a limited amount of time. You’re still going to benefit more from developing your strengths – but don’t forget to work out those rebranded weaknesses (the triceps of leadership!). I love an 80/20 perspective – spend 80% of your learning time focused on building up those strengths, spend the other 20% on flexing those rebranded weakness.

A well-balanced leader is not a one-trick pony – they are leaders who can take an organization through many life cycles. If you seek to be some kind of leader, take some time to appreciate your own mix of strengths and weaknesses, and the unique qualities that you bring to a complex world of complex organizations.

Leadership is a whole person endeavor, and don’t skip those weaknesses (just like leg day!).

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Entrepreneurs and techies, need motivation? Weekend Club is here to help

(REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE) Weekend Club gives you access to a support network of techies and entrepreneurs every Saturday to keep you motivated on your personal projects.

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Freelancers and entrepreneurs working together in a meeting room, two men and two women, discussing over a laptop.

If you want your personal project to succeed, you’ve got to work on it constantly. Jerry Seinfeld says to not break the chain, while Stephen King says to write every day. Getting better at something requires the motivation and discipline to put in a bit of work every day – to persevere through every setback.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Tech projects are especially notorious about this – the complexity of a new app’s design and code might hit a blocker at any moment, and that can quickly make someone walk away. There’s hundreds of dozens of little pieces all scattered around that require attention, and any single one of them might trip everything up.

It’s exhausting. Finding a solution might mean hours of Google and Stackoverflow searches, watching tutorials in hopes that someone ran into the same issue, or possibly tracking down someone to help. It could be days before you get past a specific hurdle, and even then, who knows how quickly a solution can be implemented.

This is where Weekend Club steps in. Every Saturday, techies and entrepreneurs gather in Zoom and Slack to offer up advice and guidance to anyone working on a personal project. With a group of entrepreneurs that includes startup founders, veteran coders, designers, and everything in between, Weekend Club works to provide a place of answers, help, and encouragement.

Much like a standard tech shop, each day begins with a standup, has office hours, and an end-day retrospective to cover your progress. There’s also access to a wealth of digital assets, including discounts on popular products such as Stripe and Notion.

The overall idea is to provide a place where entrepreneurs can flourish by surrounding themselves with knowledgeable and experienced veterans – people who have been in the same situation before, and can deliver their wisdom quickly. Of course, knowing that you’ll be using a part of your week to push forward on your project is meant to foster a sense of determination to get it done, which in turn can help fuel aspirations and get things completed.

A subscription is $49/month and grants you access to a wealth of useful resources, and there is a free 30 days trial as well. A quick glance at the testimonial page shows that this weekly meeting has been a savior for numerous people as they work to get their ideas into motion. By taking away the loneliness of a personal project and instead replacing it with a supportive group of like-minded individuals, Weekend Club provides a way to remain devoted and productive.

As one person mentions on Weekend Club’s Product Hunt Page, “Best thing about Weekend Club is that it gently keeps you accountable and aligned with your goals.”

In the end, if diligence is the key, then giving yourself access to a team of mentors and colleagues is an excellent way to continue your journey. Weekend Club might only be meeting once a week, but this could change in the future. And besides, at least one focused day is better than none at all, and that motivation can carry through an entire week.

It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you got to do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.

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