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Real Estate Technology

How OpenDoor became a unicorn (a company valued at over $1B)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Good news for direct home sales and fans of adorable mythical quadrupeds – OpenDoor is a unicorn. What does its billion dollar valuation mean for the modern real estate market?

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Online direct home sales is officially a thing. That was probably inevitable, given increasing automation of sales (robots are coming for your jobs – not that they can do them yet!), an ongoing Disrupt All The Things mentality amongst entrepreneurs, and sellers’ frankly understandable desire for a smoother, easier way to get rid of their people boxes.

Seriously, the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Index puts selling a home above quitting freaking smoking in terms of medically significant stress. People are understandably interested in making that suck less.

Enter OpenDoor.

The OpenDoor offer is direct online sales. TL;DR – OpenDoor gets information from the customer, then sets a price for the property being sold, sight unseen. On top of that price, OpenDoor charges a risk fee, a flat 6.7 percent on top of the stated value, to guard against depreciation. In exchange, OpenDoor takes over the selling process, spiffs up the house and sells at a profit. As CB Insights says in its excellent analysis of OpenDoor, it’s basically high tech house flipping.

The OpenDoor pitch is that their system benefits both seller and buyer. They’re impressively honest about the math: They say their flat 6.7 percent is pretty much comparable with the costs and fees associated with traditional real estate sales, which is true. The advantage comes in, says OpenDoor, because the property is then out of the seller’s hands, no muss, no fuss.

That spares them from the hassle of home sales, but it’s also easier on the prospective buyer than the usual peer-to-peer approach. No need to balance two mortgages, no deals contingent on the house selling at a certain price. The house has already been sold at a certain price. Pony up and it’s yours.

We could argue pros and cons all day, but that’s not the point. The point is that, on a small but growing scale, the OpenDoor offer is working. OpenDoor currently operates in and around Atlanta, Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, and my own fair hometown of DFW. OpenDoor focuses on second-tier real estate markets, avoiding the fluctuations and complex variables of Realty Madness as it is to be found in NYC, the Bay Area and so on.

In those cities, since its start as a spindly little startup in 2014, OpenDoor has served better than 10,757 total customers.

Per the CEO, it currently accounts for 3 percent of home sales in Phoenix and Dallas. Chump change that ain’t.

They’re already thinking expansion. San Antonio and Charlotte are the next towns slated for Missy Elliot treatment. For those of you who missed the 90s, Missy Elliot treatment is of course “put the thing down, flip it, and reverse it.” Surprisingly apt! Seriously, OpenDoor’s missing a trick if they don’t license that one.

Catchy but unpronounceable hooks aside, OpenDoor is taking a fair amount of risk along with their more than fair amount of money. In particular, focused as they are on moving up in the world, OpenDoor is carrying a lot of debt. As of fall 2017 they had borrowed on the order of $600 million to fund home purchases.

At their current 7.4 percent average gross margin on home sales, that’s sustainable, but it’s a whole lot of money to gamble on a new thing continuing to work. A housing downturn or even a comparatively minor shift in value could easily throw that balance out of whack, and while OpenDoor executives state that the debt would still be supportable in a downturn with an increase in risk fee, there’s always the possibility of chilling an already shaky market with too big a jump.

To state the obvious, avoiding that kind of risk is literally why there are Realtors, and why the real estate market in general works the way it does.

Distributing the risk between bank and homeowners, rather than having one organization take it all, minimizes the possibility of failure. OpenDoor has decided to take that risk, and is confident its model will be enough to ameliorate it. Whether that’s the case or not is an open question.

Most unicorns are just shiny horses standing under the right branch. But if OpenDoor can sustainably deliver on its core offer, then score one for the mythical horsebeast.

This editorial was originally published January 9, 2018.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

New tool translates your phone calls into 29 languages – LIVE

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) There’s no need for a language to language dictionary any longer. A lingvanex tool allows for real-time translation on phone calls in different languages.

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lingvanex translates in real time

If you’ve read a few things that I’ve written on here, you know that I often marvel at how far remote work has come. The fact that I write this as my dog sits beside me is no small feat.

What teams can accomplish in a virtual setting is pretty impressive, and tools like Slack and Trello are very helpful in this regard. However, remote workers still utilize the tried and true phone call as it remains a tool of efficiency.

This can be especially helpful if you’re working with team members or clients in other countries when a translator may need to be involved. This concept was the inspiration behind the Lingvanex Phone Call Translator.

The new tool translates voice calls into 29 different languages in real time. Working on both mobile phones and landlines, users can call countries all around the world (150 countries in total are available through the app).

This option is cheaper than roaming calls, starting at 18 cents per minute through use of VoIP. The conversation is then transcribed in real time with the details of the conversation being available only to the user, as Lingvanex does not store conversation data.

“We are happy to represent you the Phone Call Translator – a real-time voice translator, which was created to help in solving questions in travel situations and urgent business problems with foreigners or help in communicating with friends abroad,” says Lingvanex. “You can speak your native language when you call through the app. Your partner and you will hear the translation of both callers during the call, the original speech and translation will also be duplicated on the phone screen.”

The app works in a few simple steps: first, download to your device (works on both Android and iOS). Next, register and create application account – during this, you’ll select your default language. Then, you will select the language of the person you are calling. Make the call by dialing the phone number with the country code. Finally, chat it up walkie-talkie style.

Say what you need to say, then Phone Call Translator takes your words and transcribes them for the person on the other end. This could be very helpful as it gives you an extra moment to think about what to say next!

Do you think this will be helpful for you? Let us know below!

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Real Estate Technology

Should digital assistants have empathy? Big investors say yes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Bonding with your digital assistant might be more likely than you expect with ElliQ. The rising numbers of AI assistants have created unique interactions.

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ElliQ assistant

It sounds crazy to think that you could form an actual bond with something like Siri or Alexa, but actually, humans are pretty dang good at forming emotional connections to machines. For instance, a Canadian company threw an entire retirement party for five mail delivery bots. People will use Roombas as a substitute for companionship, not unlike a cat or dog. Humans just seem to enjoy connection – even if it’s with a lifeless robot.

Intuition Robotics is taking this desire for emotional connection a step further by working to create digital assistants that can more easily bond with their human companions. At the moment, their biggest product is ElliQ, a robotic digital assistant designed to bond with eldery users. In fact, according to Intuition Robotics, their average demographic falls between ages 78 – 97.

And ElliQ seems to be doing its job. The company reports that customers interact with ElliQ regularly throughout the day, even holding conversations with the machine, and are more likely to listen to ElliQ’s suggestions, which often include proactive behavior like getting outdoors or eating more vegetables.

By working to create a more empathetic and emotional digital AI, Intuition Robotics has started to discover a whole world of new possibilities. And they’re just getting started, having recently raised another $36 million to continue research.

One of their plans? Combining these empathetic digital assistants with the automotive industry.

Imagine an assistant that could suggest you pull over when it senses you’re getting drowsy, or provide something to talk to during longer drives. Plus, unlike ElliQ, which stays put while you move around, you and the assistant will be together in a car, making it easier for the AI to learn your preferences and habits.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Intuition Robotics, which has recently majorly expanded its workforce. A digital assistant that can provide a better emotional connection to humans has a world of possible applications, from nursing homes to elementary schools.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about a more empathetic AI – the marketing capabilities alone are something I’m side-eyeing. That said, humans have been befriending vacuum cleaners and we’ve turned out alright, so for now, let’s focus on the positive possibilities that could come with tech from companies like Intuition Robotics.

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Real Estate Technology

Moving just got a lot easier with this NAR invested app

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Worried about moving? There’s an app for that, updater, and NAR has taken notice. They want to help their customers from beginning to end.

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updater app

Moving isn’t exactly a walk in the park. There’s coordinating movers, finding boxes, cancelling services, changing your mailing address on, well, everything, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! With so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed but good news: turns out, there’s an app for that. And it’s promising enough that the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) have invested in it.

The app in question is Updater, which serves as a one-stop shop for everything you’d need for a move. Not only can the app help you craft your moving “to-do” list, but with its connection to all sorts of businesses involved in the moving process (from moving truck companies to cable services) you can keep all your prep in one place. Essentially, Updater is designed to make moving as stress-free as possible.

Updater’s current successes have drawn Second Century Ventures, the venture capital section of NAR, to invest in Updater. Which is cool, but why would a company focused on realtors want to help a company that focuses on what happens after a realtor has done their job?

“Updater’s platform delivers unique value to Realtors®, property managers and consumers alike,” said Mark Birschbach, senior VP of Strategic Business at NAR, “This investment is well aligned with SCV’s mission to support and advance technologies throughout the entire real estate ecosystem.”

Plus, Updater is a great tool for realtors to have in their back pocket. If a client seems nervous about moving or overwhelmed, Updater is a great recommendation. Not only does it help the mover, but it shows that the realtor cares about their client’s well-being, even after the deed is signed.

So, what’s next for Updater? Growth. Recently, Updater acquired Bridgevine, a company that works with home subscription services like cable and internet. This merger will allow Updater to offer more options to users while also increasing their reach. This is the first in what will likely be many growth initiatives for Updater.

David Greenberg, founder and CEO of Updater, is also looking forward to the partnership with NAR. “We’re excited to deepen our great relationship with SCV and NAR by investing heavily in the real estate industry and by enabling Realtors® and property managers to deliver an unrivaled moving experience.”

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