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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

Power up your daily checklists and task organization with Macro

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) Got a lot of tasks and lists to organize? Macro lets you streamline your repetitive tasks and checklists with its “powerful checklists”.

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Front web page for Macro, super powered checklists, supercharges your team's processes.

If repetitive tasks and checklists are part of your daily workflows, there’s a new tool, which says it can “supercharge your team’s processes.” Macro is a product that lets you create checklists to document workflows, assign tasks to team members, and automate common actions.

Macro checklists are designed to let you complete various tasks in a single tab. Once you’re signed up, you can view and create all your checklists in the “Library” section. To create a new checklist, you simply select the “Create New” button on the top right.

In the Checklist Editor, you can configure your checklist to fit the process that best works for you. You can build a comprehensive workflow by adding a task-type menu, form, or file upload field.

Macro checklists let you use variables to set up custom fields that will be filled out by anyone who runs your checklist. This helps enable templated actions you can use over and over again. For instance, you can create a variable called “Name”. If you’re sending out a Welcome email for your subscription service, you can add the “Name” variable to it, and the name of the new subscribers will then automatically appear in the email.

After your checklist is ready, you can hit save and start adding automation to your checklist by defining a trigger and its action. For example, you can pre-define which tasks are assigned to a certain team member. So, when a checklist is run, it will automatically be assigned to that person. You can even specify dependencies for each task. If Task A and Task B need to be completed before Task C can begin, they will remain inactive until the dependent tasks are marked as complete.

When your checklist is polished and ready, you can invite people to view or edit it. And, after you start running your first checklist, you can use Macro’s built-in reporting to keep track of your progress and view metrics in the Tracking section. From there, you can see what tasks are completed and which ones are pending. If needed, you can also set deadlines for each checklist and reminders for each task.

Macro also offers templates for common use cases, such as employee and customer onboarding, podcast workflow, and new candidate on-site process. Right now, it is still in public beta so it’s free to use. On the company’s website, it says Macro “will always offer a free version.” However, what features the “free plan” will include aren’t clear, but enterprise plans will be announced soon.

Overall, Macro is easy to use, and it packs a lot of punch in a neat little tool. If you’d like to give it a test drive, you can sign up on the company’s website.

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Real Estate Technology

What you need to know about no-code vs low-code (and what it means)

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) The no-code movement is putting more power in the hands of folks with zero programming skills. So what makes it different from low-coding, and what choice is right for your business goals?

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An overhead look at a person working on a no-code website on a laptop on a desk.

It is tricky to grasp the distinction between no-code and low-code. The two terms are often lumped together, but considering the disrupting influence these ideas have had in the tech world, the modern marketing professional ought to understand the difference if they want to explore this movement for themselves.

Both styles of programming are about expediting the app creation process, and enable the creation of surprisingly sophisticated code for your business without requiring any coding expertise.

Rather than focus on what these two styles are, they are more clearly distinguished by who they are for.

Jason Bloomberg of Forbes put it succinctly: “In the No-Code corner are the ‘citizen developers’ – business users who can build functional but generally limited apps without having to write a line of code. The Low-Code corner, in contrast, centers on professional developers, streamlining and simplifying their work – delivering enterprise-class applications with little or no hand-coding.”

Low-code refers to more complex tools that rely on the user having some understanding of programming to utilize. Stripe, a payment software, is an example of a low-code program, and seamlessly integrates with third party tools. Excel could even be considered low-code, considering how certain actions can be easily automated with some coding and math knowledge. But getting the most out of these programs is a challenge for programming outsiders and newcomers.

Enter no-code – much like Google Translate can help you communicate in a foreign language, the no-code movement is bridging the gap for innovators who have ideas but little to no coding experience.

As the name suggests, no-coders don’t have to learn a language in order to get started building automated processes. With tools like Zapier, creating a program relies on a simple graphic interface rather than written lines of text (which means no typing!)

That simplicity comes with tradeoffs, though. No-code expedites the process of writing more basic apps, and its offerings are fairly industry-specific.

(And just to add another layer of confusion, there are also “hybrids” like that sit somewhere in the middle between no- and low-code.)

You aren’t going to instantly turn into an expert hacker or anything, but if you want to build simple functions, like automated sequences based on incoming emails, no-code is a perfect choice.

All this to say, there are plentiful options in the codeless world for curious people of all skill levels. Yet ironically professional developers may stand to benefit the most from the no-code movement. Having these tools be widely available means potential clients are also able to explore, on their own, how their ideas translate to the app environment.

Or, as creator of MakerPad, Ben Tossell, puts it: “[No-code means that developers] won’t be wasting their time on projects that don’t work. People should have more conviction around the thing they’re trying to build before they speak to the developer.”

The potential for this technology still has yet to be fully unlocked but as it matures and becomes more well known, it’s sure to keep changing the tech game. If you’ve ever been curious about the power of code but are hesitant to spend months studying a programming language, there has never been a better time to dive in.

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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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