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This law-tech tool helps tenants navigate eviction notices

(TECHNOLOGY) Law-tech tool Hello Landlord helps struggling tenants meet the eviction moratorium’s rules, but it’s greatest benefit may lie in communication.

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Man seated in trunk of car, head in hands as he considers eviction. New tools may help.

For tenants behind on rent during the pandemic, being shielded from eviction for nonpayment requires strictly following rules in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium that began September 4 and runs through the end of 2020.

Now the makers of website Hello Landlord, which helps tenants give notices to their landlords, have updated their free tool to meet the CDC requirements.

At HelloLandlord.org, tenants submit their information and answer a series of questions, including their landlord’s name and how much money they owe. The site automatically generates a customized letter to the landlord that outlines the tenant’s circumstances and includes a promise to pay the back rent. Tenants also get a declaration document that follows the moratorium order.

In the declaration, tenants must swear they:

  • Earn no more than $99,000 annually (or $198,000 jointly).
  • Can’t pay their rent because of loss of work or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  • Have done their best to get available housing assistance;
  • Would become homeless or have to move into a home with many people, potentially spreading the COVID-19 virus;
  • Will try to make timely partial payments.

No documentation is required, and there are no official forms.

If renters don’t qualify for protection under the new order, the site will create a letter that asks the landlord for flexibility with making rent payments.

Relationships between landlords and renters often start going south because of communication issues. That’s something Hello Landlord’s letters might head off by helping tenants communicate effectively. The letters meet the legal requirements but also sound, well, human, despite being automated. The language is informal, even conciliatory. The tenant empathizes with the landlord – acknowledging that this time is financially hard on them, too – and pledges to work together.

Some sample language: “Although the CDC’s Order may prevent my eviction, I want you to know that I am willing to work with you moving forward during this challenging time.”

Hello Landlord debuted in 2019 and was originally created by SixFifty, a software subsidiary of technology law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. They collaborated with LawX, the legal design lab at Brigham Young University’s Law School, and the Innovation for Justice (i4J) Program at University of Arizona College of Law to research causes of and solutions to the eviction crisis.

A second tool, HelloLender.org, helps homeowners create letters to their mortgage lenders asking for accommodation in payments under the CARES Act stimulus program.

Lisa Wyatt Roe is an Austin writer and editor whose work has been featured on CNN.com/Travel, in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine and in the book “Seduced by Sound: Austin; 100 Musicians on Why They Make Music.” Travel and live music feed her soul. Volunteering with refugees feeds her sense of purpose. And making friends laugh feeds her deep (yet possibly sad) need to get all the laughing emojis on Facebook.

Real Estate Technology

Need a scheduling tool that can do it all? SavvyCal has you covered

(TECH NEWS) There’s new scheduling software tool that helps people schedule meetings with you and doesn’t put the burden completely on the recipient.

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Computer on a desk in open office with SavvyCal, a scheduling tool, open on the computer.

One of the worst parts of meetings is setting up the meeting itself. Figuring out who’s free and when can sometimes be a time suck. In the past, we’ve written about several scheduling tools that say they will make things better. Now, here is another new tool that says it can do more than what other meeting software tools had to offer.

Meet SavvyCal, an indie SaaS company whose “mission is to cut the friction and awkwardness out of scheduling time with people.” Founded by Derrick Reimer, a full-stack developer and co-founder of Drip, the company is solving the age-old problem of scheduling meetings.

“There are a hundred and one scheduling tools to help you avoid the awkward dance of finding a time to meet. While most of them are convenient for the person sending a link to book a time with them, are they actually convenient for the person receiving the link?” said Reimer.

Unlike other apps, the scheduling tool makes it easy for both the sender and the recipient to schedule meetings. It also has valuable features that other tools do not.

So, what features set SavvyCal apart from other scheduling software?

Personalized Links
SavvyCal says it’s an alternative to Calendly because it’s picking up where the pioneer left off. While Calendly lets you schedule appointments, it doesn’t offer the personalization that SavvyCal does. SavvyCal prioritizes personalization by letting you create individual scheduling links for your recipients. For instance, instead of having a string of numbers that don’t offer much information, you can add names to the link titles to create custom URLs.

Overlay Calendar
The scheduling tool quickly lets you find a time that works for everyone, and the company says it does more than what Doodle can do for you. Doodle is great for group scheduling, but it falls short when scheduling 1:1 meetings. SavvyCal improves upon Doodle by allowing your recipients to overlay their calendar over yours so a mutual availability slot is easily found.

Multiple Calendars
SavvyCal says it wasn’t just made for internal meetings, like scheduling software Woven. With Woven, you can keep track of your digital calendar by tagging and labeling events. However, all the events live in the same calendar, and it doesn’t take into consideration external meetings. SavvyCal solves Woven’s problem by having multiple calendars that can be cross-checked for conflicts.

Ranked Availability and Limit Scheduling Frequency
With the tool, you can set preferred times and rank them in a certain order so people are encouraged to pick a time that you secretly want them to choose. And, the tool protects you from having a “meeting overload” by letting you set booking limits. For instance, you can set limits on the number of meetings that can be booked per day, week, or month.

In addition, SavvyCal offers more features like availability presets, multiple meeting durations, and customizing availability on the fly.

Overall, the company says the scheduling tool makes “scheduling collaborative instead of a nuisance.” It’s a good alternative to start getting people to schedule meetings with you while not placing all the burden on the recipient.

So far, it’s getting good reviews. If you’d like to check it out, the interactive demo on their website is a good start.

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Real Estate Technology

Realtors and agents, take advantage of your proptech

(TECH NEWS) As the pandemic makes proptech even hotter, savvy real estate pros need to know what tech tools can do for their business.

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Realtor outlining a home using Proptech to potential homebuyers.

Real estate industry experts have a message for Realtors and agents: Get with the proptech program.

Yes, the industry reacted to the pandemic-fueled market crash in the spring by jumping on video conferencing platforms and ramping up virtual tours, but there’s a lot more tech that real estate pros could be taking advantage of.

“Videoconferencing technology isn’t new, but we’re slower to adopt technologies than we’d like to admit,” Nick Bailey, chief customer officer for RE/MAX, LLC, said during this week’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. “The reason is that we don’t want to see or hear ourselves. We have to get over that and use it.” (Pro tip for Zoom users: If you don’t want to see yourself, use the Hide Myself feature. Then you won’t be distracted by any pandemic weight gain.)

The pandemic has made a couple of things sparkling clear. As panelists in the “COVID-19 – Transforming How Realtors® Do Business” session agreed, technology was a huge driver in the industry’s V-shaped recovery after lockdowns. They also said trends spurred by COVID-19 aren’t going away.

Consumers love the efficiency and flexibility of being able to virtually tour 10 homes and visit only 3 or 4 top candidates. Also, many people will likely be uncomfortable touring houses for quite awhile.

Now the pandemic has helped demonstrate the value of proptech tools for Realtors and agents, who can use them for keeping in touch with clients, as well as for marketing and prospecting.

“If every agent can take away two pieces of technology to be more efficient, it will improve their business,” Bailey said.

Just a sample of the panel’s recommended tools:

It’s remote online notarization (RON) integrated with e-signatures that could be the biggest efficiency game-changer. However, there are few hurdles, which the Texas Land Title Association outlined in April: Many lenders and county clerks will not yet accept documents notarized online; there are a limited number of RON vendors and registered e-notaries; and consumers as well as industry professionals simply don’t understand how it works.

Still, integrating a tech ecosystem to create seamless, fully-digital transactions appears to be where the industry is headed. “Embracing title companies and lenders who have that ability for full electronic signings and closings will be important,” said Andy Ambrose, practice lead at DocuSign Notary.

For all that tech can do to save time and money, panelists agreed that nothing can replace the value of personal relationships for consumers – and for agents.

“For many real estate professionals, the pandemic reminded them about how much they love working with people and not just to sell real estate, but to check on their customers and families,” said Marilyn Wilson, managing partner of WAV Group and president of RETechnology.com.

For Bailey, the proptech surge has one really bright spot: “It has reminded every agent that they are the most important part of the real estate transaction, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

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Real Estate Technology

No sympathy for cancelled app encouraging ‘rebellious’ pandemic parties

(TECH NEWS) Apple and TikTok cancel Vybe Together’s accounts to prevent the secret party organizing app from promoting pandemic parties, while its founder cries foul and backpedals mightily.

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Group of people celebrating and cheers-ing with beverages, an example of unsafe pandemic parties.

Where can you find a fun secret party during COVID-19 restrictions?

Vybe Together: We’ve got you, party people! Check out these videos of wild, private bacchanalia you can join or throw! Be a rebel.

Apple and TikTok: Not on our watch.

Vybe Together: Waaah. So unfair, jk, we were talking about small, intimate get-togethers that are totally COVID-safe.

Vybe Together, an app promising to help people find secret parties in their area, in the era when parties are a bad idea, had the proverbial rug pulled out from under them when both Apple and TikTok put the kibosh on Vybe Together. Apple pulled the app off of its platform, and TikTok banned their channel. They cited that it goes against their community guidelines and COVID-19 regulations in several cities. Founder Alexander Dimcevski and the official Vybe Together Instagram account and website are currently backpedaling to beat the ban.

Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times tweeted the app into greater public awareness on Dec. 29, reporting the large secret pandemic parties they were promoting for New Year’s Eve. Alas, the tweet and likely numerous reports of the party app going against community and recommended COVID-19 guidelines, led Apple and TikTok to ditch Vybe Together before New Year’s Eve.

Despite Vybe Together’s founder’s cries of poor, pitiful me, and the app’s claim to the contrary, the intention to help people find and attend large scale private/secret parties was what they seemed to be showcasing. For example, on TikTok, the account showed videos of unmasked partygoers, attracting more of what the founder deemed, in an LA Times article, “the coolest people in the city.”

The official word on the Vybe Together website is that they are sorely misunderstood and innocent of any wrongdoing. Vybe Together’s current Instagram account hints at what the LA Times called “its outlaw intention” with its tagline “Get your rebel on. Get your party on.” According to various sources, the TikTok account featured videos of unmasked partygoers. The mere fact that app users had to submit their social media profiles and photos of them partying to vet appears to indicate they were trying to make their partygoers prove they wouldn’t report the illegal (or at least ill-advised) parties.

The official website now claims that it was merely an error in branding, and nothing more, and that of course they were only promoting small gatherings in people’s own homes. However, they had already promoted a rooftop party for NYU students prior to getting hit by the big Apple and TikTok ban hammer. This particular party was cross-promoted on Eventbrite (another platform notoriously promoting pandemic parties).

Dimcevski claims in the LA Times that he was “canceled by the liberal media.” The word from the app’s team seems to be a mix of feeling sorry for themselves, backpedaling because they got caught out, yet still promising to come back soon. In any case, it’s a mixed message and an unwelcome one, when cases and deaths are still surging in both New York City and Miami, where the app was promoting these private parties.

Apple and TikTok are privately owned companies with some responsibility to keep potentially illegal activity off their sites, a massive and ungratifying task. Are Apple and TikTok making an example of the app? Perhaps. Is Vybe Together the only platform out there promoting pandemic parties with the potential to be super spreader events? Certainly not.

However, their flaunting and promoting parties seems reckless, callous, and dangerous in the face of CDC guidelines. With thousands of doctors, healthcare workers, local officials, and infectious disease experts worldwide pleading with the public to avoid gatherings with people outside their own household, even small ones, it’s difficult to muster sympathy for the app’s founder or team.

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