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Vital questions about Sunroom’s on-demand rental tours

(BROKERAGE NEWS) As Favor’s founders launch Sunroom, we have unanswered questions that will reveal the company’s intentions once answered.

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sunroom rentals on demand

Popular delivery startup, Favor, was acquired by Texas grocer HEB in February for an undisclosed sum, freeing up the founders Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais up for their next venture. Enter Sunroom which makes property rental tours on-demand.

Sunroom seeks to improve the property rentals process – renters can search available properties, select the addresses they’d like to tour, and then order a “tour guide,” which is a licensed Sunroom agent that is paid an average of $20 per hour, kind of like Uber for property rentals.

The company currently serves Austin but has expressed publicly that they intend to expand.

Property managers pay Sunroom if a qualified tenant is placed, and renters never pay for the app (just like apartment locators, a common practice in Texas). At launch, the company differentiated itself as a tech contender with a $1.5M round of seed funding from heavy hitters like Tim Draper of Draper Associates, and Joshua Baer of Capital Factory.

Maurais told AustinInno, “We knew we wanted to do something inside of the rental market because it’s so massive and affects a lot of people. I’ve had bad landlords in the past and have been renting for the past decade. So I understand first hand.”

He also said that renters can keep application info saved in the app for their next rental experience, “almost like you’re building out your renter’s resume.” Perhaps the long game is building an alternative credit rating for renters? Now that would actually be interesting.

Technologists are inquisitive by nature – put a bunch in a room for a weekend hackathon and with technology, they’ve solved a problem that they hadn’t even thought about prior to the weekend. Thus, the industry is prone to inherently believe they have the answers to everything, and they’re accustomed to make decisions quickly and move nimbly which is something I personally admire.

But if you go to any tech meetup (we’ve hosted one monthly for 10+ years), and mention real estate, their beautiful brains flip into action mode, and there is an instinct that they can fix real estate. As a whole. What sucks about real estate? Not sure, but they know it sucks, and they can fix it.

That combination doesn’t mean they’re stupid or evil, just that they’re fixers. But it also means that endless attempts at “disruption” come from technologists rather than industry insiders with technology experience. And most efforts inevitably fail. Or they pivot into a modified version of the traditional model they sought to innovate in the first place (like Redfin).

Speaking of Redfin, that’s what first comes to mind when we see Sunroom (regarding how they potentially pay agents). But what also comes to mind is the model the founders created with Favor (compete with a national brand locally where they have a soft spot, seek acquisition by a large company to suit their tech needs).

So the future of Sunroom relies heavily on the answers to the following questions that we have sent to them multiple times, without answer:

  1. The 8 agents you have licensed under your broker, are they the only agents on demand?
  2. Who gets the commission on the rental, and what is the split for the $20/hr agent that showed the property?
  3. Do consumers sign any locator representation agreement with you?
  4. Are the agents on salary, hourly, or commission with a bonus of hourly pay for touring properties?
  5. Ben and Zac are now licensed agents – do either of you intend on being the broker when eligible? How’d you find the current broker? What’s the plan there?
  6. Do you guys intend on expanding beyond Austin? Which cities are next, and what does the growth plan look like?
  7. Has Redfin’s model been of inspiration for your model?
  8. What am I missing in why you’re so disruptive?

Further, what does the fiduciary relationship look like? Does Sunroom represent the renter or the property manager, or are they attempting dual agency? Are the agents employees or do they remain independent contractors? See how things can get hairy?

We’ve seen a bajillion startups come and go where outsiders try to get a cut of a commission via a slick app that implies representation, and even more than that seeking to manage the contract portion of rentals, and even MORE that offer showings on demand, but where I see disruption is in the pay model for agents (and the potential to cut agents out of the rental market), but until Sunroom answers basic questions, we simply won’t know.

Stay tuned – they’re either the first exciting disruption to hit the real estate market in so many years, or they’re another group of technologists that see a profit opportunity.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Pocket listings: The key to success in hot housing market?

(REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE) Despite NAR’s attempts to shut the door on pocket listings, the reality is that premarket sales are almost a necessity for buyers in hot markets.

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Dark house at dusk, a possible pocket listing to be snatched up.

Hot housing markets are like the “Hunger Games” right now – and the odds are definitely not favoring home buyers.

In fiery markets like Austin, high demand and low inventory are juicing prices and sometimes bringing an unprecedented number of offers. A home in the desirable, centrally located neighborhood of Crestview recently drew 27 offers, says Lisa Boone, Realtor, GRI, with Waterloo Realty. “Everyone is fighting over the same properties.”

For some buyers, that competition makes tapping into the robust, but controversial, “pre-MLS” private-listing ecosystem feel almost like a necessity. “My job has gone from trying to get people a deal on a house to getting someone a house, period,” says Anna Uliassi, associate broker with Compass in Austin. “I’d say it’s gotten crazier in the last six months.”

That private, or pocket, listing ecosystem is shifting, too.

Well-connected agents who find or sell off-market properties through friendly phone calls to their networks and tapping into private online forums have been told to cut it out. In a bid to level the playing field, the National Association of Realtors has essentially banned pocket listings with its “MLS Clear Cooperation policy,” As of May 1, 2020, agents must list properties on MLS within one business day of “public marketing,” which includes phone calls, forum posts, and even the buzz-building “coming soon” signs.

“There are no more private listings, unless the listing is kept private within your own brokerage,” Romeo Manzanilla of Realty Austin told the Austin Business Journal in August. “It keeps the integrity of the MLS from the data perspective. It also allows all MLS participants to have access to the same listings and not necessarily have to go fish through, ‘What Facebook group am I supposed to join to get these under-the-radar listings?’ “

But there are rules… And there is reality.

With tight inventory and rising concerns about privacy, demand for off-market transactions simply is not going away. Especially when it comes to luxury properties listed on places like Austin Luxury Network.

Now savvy buyers want to check the pocket listings. They’ve read articles on how to head off competition with off-market homes. Or they’ve had their hearts broken too many times by losing out on too many properties.

Also, buyer wish lists are becoming more and more specific based on lifestyle changes, says Gray Adkins, Realtor, GRI, with Waterloo Realty. “As a buyer, if you’re looking for something really specific, you’re just waiting. You’re sitting on your hands checking MLS every morning wondering if it’s going to get listed. We’re only seeing a handful of things getting listed in each market area per week, so it can be a long, drawn out process.”

For sellers, the pandemic has added a new twist. Many want to avoid the showing frenzy’s disruption to their schedules. They’re working from home and helping their kids with virtual school, and the idea of COVID-status-unknown strangers walking through their house is not appealing.

Still, what might slow the use of pocket listings in Austin could come from the seller side rather than policy.

“It’s not really the best route for the seller unless that’s really what they want to do for personal reasons, because the market is so excited about every new listing that comes up, and that’s what tends to drive things into multiple offers,” Uliassi says. “So I’d say that finding off-market properties now is harder and harder.”

That tight inventory means Austin agents are working harder and harder just to find properties. Prospecting agents are calling, texting, emailing, mailing and even old-fashioned door knocking. Some are using companies offering “predictive analytics” to identify owners who are more likely to sell fairly soon.

They’re also looking at sources outside of MLS. “There are companies that are trying to compete with Zillow and MLS and have their own private listings,” Adkins says, as well as iBuyer programs uncovering homes. But there’s still no substitute for developing hyper-local expertise, keeping your ear to the ground and networking.

“If you’ve been in the business in Austin long enough – everybody knows everybody, and you can get a lot of information just by making a few phone calls,” Adkins says. “Word gets around, especially if you want it to.”

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Real Estate Brokerage

Customer satisfaction feedback comes best from your own service

(BROKERAGE) How you collect feedback can determine whether your service actually improves or not. #science

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Woman looking at laptop reading customer satisfaction surveys.

Every significant endeavor utilizes measurements and scorekeeping to record activities and progress. The most trivial of human pursuits often involves record keeping and statistical analysis. While the sales and production side of real estate services are measured in-depth, the service and customer satisfaction side of the business enjoys less measurement, scorekeeping, and analysis than one might find associated with the performance of a neighborhood Little League team.

What does this truly say then about the importance many brokers, owners or managers place on service delivery, customer satisfaction, consistency, and service performance?

It’s true that a few organizations do attempt to measure service performance by means of a customer satisfaction survey. Most of these programs are produced and administered internally. The surveys are sent under the company banner and the company tabulates the results.

First, when a customer is asked directly by the professional or the company for performance/satisfaction feedback, that feedback is always more positive than what is obtained by an independent, third-party asking the same questions.

This is known as the halo effect. Consumers are more diplomatic in their response to the person or company that provided the service.

Second, internal service/satisfaction assessment programs typically develop standards and objectives to validate the belief that good service is already being delivered. Thus this positively biased feedback data suits the objectives of the internal program just fine.

It’s just that measurement of those areas of service performance that sellers and buyers feel are important is not taking place.

For those more serious about customer service satisfaction and service performance assessment, there is recognition that the halo effect lessens the value of the data for internal use, and that keeping score of one’s own results has less credibility externally.

Instead, they seek the objectivity and credibility that third party validation of service assessment can provide.

Ironically, even without expert resources and objectivity the attention that measurement brings to the organization will effect positive results and performance improvement. This phenomenon is known as the Hawthorne effect.

The effect was first noticed in the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. Production increased not as a consequence of actual changes in working conditions introduced by the plant’s management, but because management demonstrated interest in such improvements.

Unfortunately, this phase of initial improvement is not sustainable. Sustaining improvement requires more than measurement and leadership interest. Action steps that result in the actual improvement of the situation must follow collection of data.

Measuring service results and satisfaction in the real estate organization is an important first step. It will certainly gain the attention of the organization and send a serious signal.

Sustaining organizational interest and performance improvement requires more.

It requires systematic and timely feedback, objectivity, systems and service delivery processes, coaching and recognition/awards. But it really all does start by keeping score.

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Real Estate Brokerage

7 red flags that could scare off potential home buyers

(BROKERAGE) While houses are selling quickly right now, there are some things that will almost definitely turn a home buyer off.

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Open home and kitchen that home buyers will be considering.

The process of buying a home is incredibly overwhelming – as is the process of selling a house. There are so many aspects that potential home buyers are investigating when they enter a spot that’s for sale.

Without realizing it, many sellers can be hurting their chances of selling by overlooking simple things. The Ascent recently determined seven things that scare away potential buyers. Let’s dive in.

We all know the market is hot right now and houses are selling like crazy, but there are certain things that just cannot be ignored.

  1. Listing an unrealistic price: Be realistic about what your house is worth and don’t be misleading. People can easily search the worth of the houses around yours and do some digging to find out if what you’re listing is representative of what the house is worth.
  2. Skipping the deep clean: This is never a good idea – especially this year. The cleanliness of your house is akin in the buyer’s mind to the overall upkeep and maintenance of the house. They assume that if you don’t clean, you don’t care.
  3. Personalization: Since you’re moving, try and pack up some of your family photos and leave up less “personal” items (or color choices) to better help the potential buyer envision themselves living there.
  4. Expecting payment for features that are high maintenance: Things like pools and hot tubs don’t always return their value. Many home buyers aren’t interested in keeping up with that maintenance and it’s unreasonable to charge them for the assumption that they’ll keep up with it.
  5. Believing “It’s okay if this doesn’t work”: If your shower head is broken, the A/C is messed up, or a ceiling is cracked, you should do all you can to replace or repair it before listing your house. If you can’t, don’t expect anyone to pay the full listing price.
  6. Being nose-blind: Like those Febreeze commercials tell us, it’s common that we go nose-blind to our surroundings simply because we’re so used to them (i.e. a smoker doesn’t notice their house or clothes smell like smoke). Go back and check off deep cleaning, and then ask someone you really trust to come in and tell you how the house smells to an outsider. Trust me, this will be one of the first things a buyer notices.
  7. Leaving pets home during showings: Due to the unpredictability with strangers – or the potential allergies the strangers may have – it’s best to make arrangements for your pets to be elsewhere during showings.

At the end of the day, you have to look at your house from an outsider’s perspective. Getting feedback and opinions from friends and family can help this process.

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