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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

Could your office benefit from an open floor plan?

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating / bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open offices have floor plans that put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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Real Estate Technology

Google’s project management tool organizes and automates your tasks

(TECH NEWS) The beta is out for Tables, a project management tool that uses automation and a well-rounded user interface to organize teams and productivity.

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Google Tables graphic, Google's new project management tool

Keeping track of different documents and tasks to manage a project can take a lot of time because everything isn’t easily accessible in one place. Hunting down notes from different meetings and emails to keep all this documentation up to date is exhausting. And, there’s always someone who doesn’t have their ducks in a row so you’re having to make sure they are updating their parts, too. The project management aspect takes up more time than many tend to expect.

Google’s Area 120, the company’s in-house incubator for experimental projects, has come up with a very neat tool that should, hopefully, remove a lot of these problems. Tables “helps teams track work and automate tasks to save time and supercharge collaboration—without any coding required,” wrote Tim Gleason, the general manager for Tables, in a blog post.

When you first open Tables, you will land on the homepage. From there, you can access your most recent tables and workspaces. If you want to create a new blank workspace or table, you can do so by clicking the “New” icon. You can also import already created Sheets and .CSV files as custom templates. Also, there are blank templates to help you get started working quickly. Templates for things like managing data, tracking projects, and employee recruiting are among those included.

Tables are made of columns and rows that use structured data. Each column has a defined data type, which enforces the “relationships on data contained in the rows.” Easily displayed icons at the top of each column let you take a “quick glance” of what information is contained in each section. If you double-click on a column, you can make changes to the “structured objects” and changes will be automatically reflected everywhere else on the table.

Plus, Tables lets you build automated actions and triggers by using Bots. With the Bots, teams can schedule recurring email reminders. This means you can nudge that one team member who is always running behind on their projects. Team members can send messages in chat rooms to let everyone know when a new form submission was received, or move and assign a task to another team member when the status on a task has changed.

Because Tables uses structured data, you can configure the data into different layouts. This means you can switch from a grid layout to a Kanban layout view. And, you can also create Forms that let you collect data from people anywhere. Questions in the Forms are directly tied to the existing table columns so setup is easy. And, of course, Tables can integrate easily with other Google products like Google Sheets and Google Groups.

“Tables is like a spreadsheet and a database had a baby and gave it special powers,” said Sam Dresser, VP of education at School of Rock in a video. The performance-based music education school is one of the companies that has already started using Tables. Sam says the school is very collaborative and uses a lot of spreadsheets. Because Tables work well with other G-Suite products, the tool allows them to “jump in and start collaborating and start working right away” on their projects.

Tables is a work-tracking tool that does look very user-friendly. Just by looking at it, you can see the familiar clean and tidy feel that all Google pages have. The idea of being able to have all your notes in one place that can be updated automatically without all the manual work is worth checking it out. Currently, Tables is in beta in the U.S. The free plan gives you 100 tables, 1,000 rows, 1GB for attachments, and 50 bot actions. If you need more wiggle room, you can get 1,000 tables, 10,000 rows, 10GB for attachments, and 500 bot actions for $10 per month. So, do you think it works as good as it sounds?

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Real Estate Technology

Freelancers, easily sort out your admin tasks with new pack of Notion goodies

(TECH NEWS) Notion is one of the favored tools for freelancers, and with this new pack made by Ben Issenmann, it’s even easier to sort out your administrative work.

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Notion Pack advertisement image, showing features for freelancers.

Time is a valuable thing, and it’s one of the most important things for freelancers. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many things you can get done in each 60-minute window. Being self-employed is rewarding because you get to work on the things you love. (At least, I hope you do.) However, this also means all those boring administrative duties fall into your laps. So, time needs to be set aside for the not so fun paperwork duties.

But, freelancers, fret no more! Ben Issenmann, founder of Supercreative, has created a pretty neat template pack that will help save you time. His company provides tools, ideas, and courses for professional designers. And, his new product is Notion Pack, a pack for freelancers that want to collaborate with their clients.

In a recorded interview, Ben shared how Notion came about when he had a conversation with his friends. Because of that conversation, he wrote an article explaining how his designer and freelancer friends were using Notion to collaborate with their clients. He received a great number of responses from people who wanted to use his product. Excitedly, Ben said, “And I was like, okay. There’s definitely something I can do with this!” A few weeks later, Notion Pack was born.

According to his website, the pack has “all the freelance documents you need.” It comes with 20 different templates. The pack contains templates for quotes, invoices, sales proposals, contracts, etc. “It’s going to save freelancers a lot of hours spent on admin, time they can use on creative activities instead,” wrote Ben on Notion Pack’s Product Hunt page.

And every hour saved means more time to work on new projects that put more money in your pockets. Yay to that!

Notion Pack is divided into two parts. The Template Generator gives you access to the 20 templates. By clicking on a template, you can generate a new Notion page. Each page is color-coded. Yellow highlights the fields that you need to change for every client. While red highlights the things you need to configure beforehand when you set up each pack.

The Freelance Workspace has an out-of-the-box structure. When you press “Create new client”, it will generate all the templates in the correct order. From there, you can collaborate with your clients directly in Notion or export a PDF. To add a personal touch, you can add a video to say a quick hello to your client. Also, instead of having to share 10 different pages, the workspace will capture everything you need in one organized shareable page.

Another cool thing about Notion is the ability for clients to schedule time with you. Powered by Calendly, an online appointment scheduling software, a collaborator can book a time to follow-up with you straight through their workspace. I like the idea of that!

The Notion Pack is available in English and French. But according to a comment on their Product Hunt page, it might eventually be available in more languages.

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