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Real Estate Technology

Zillow may be on its way to becoming a patent troll

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Zillow was granted yet ANOTHER pretty vague new utility patent last month, which leaves us wondering: what are they planning?

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We’ve got our eyes on you, Zillow.

The real estate listing website has been nabbing utility patents left and right. Their most recent one, awarded last month, is for the “automated control of image acquisition via use of acquisition device sensors.”

Basically, they claim to have invented a technique for automatically mapping a space in 3D using imaging sensors in real time, all controlled by an app on a phone or another device. This technology might even have applications like quickly building virtual reality environments using real life references. While Zillow filed for this patent in late 2018, it could prove to be a useful tool for them to have in their back pocket during the COVID age.

But looking at the whole picture, Zillow must be gearing up for something major. They’ve had 17 successful patents in the last ten years, all for inventions that seem a bit extraneous for the humble real estate listing page. Either they’re planning to start punching above their weight very soon, or they’re just well on their way to patent trolling with the best of them.

Quick refresh: A patent troll is a company that secures patents they do not need or use with the primary goal of suing “competitors” that unknowingly reproduce their copyrighted works. This behavior effectively creates a minefield for small businesses that are engaging in good faith product development.

As an aside, Zillow is currently involved in a drawn out drama where accusations of trolling have abounded in both directions. IBM recently filed a lawsuit in response to seven of Zillow’s patents, claiming that they are the original inventors and that Zillow has cost them billions of dollars in losses (note that this is small potatoes for IBM. They have over 110,000 patents, and the US Patent and Trademark Office has given them more patents than they’ve given to any other company in the world). Clearly, they see Zillow as an important rival to keep in check.

However you look at it, the takeaway here is clear: Don’t underestimate Zillow. Even though they’re not an IBM-sized giant right now, they’re still making serious moves with serious implications.

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

Real Estate Technology

This asynchronous meeting tool centralizes your meeting notes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Hugo integrates calendars and note taking with over 20 work apps to keep virtual teams organized during meetings.

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Hugo is a hub for meetings that allows users to collaborate on agendas, meeting notes, and tasks in real-time. It integrates with Slack, Salesforce, Asana and over 20 other work apps.

Started by native Australian co-founders, Josh Lowy (CEO) and Darren Chait (COO), Hugo is described as a way to become deeply aligned and more efficient through centralizing meeting notes, sharing them and integrating them into a tech stack.

Lowy stated, “The inspiration for Hugo struck while building another app. Like so many teams, we were massively distributed. Our team was partly remote, and my co-founder and I were out of the office all the time.” He described the challenge of building a transparent team while working asynchronously across time zones and how Hugo addresses the obstacles remote teams face. Lowy said that with the software’s prompts to set meeting agendas, take notes, and share through Slack, “the team was in sync and already full of ideas. We were on to something. Plus, by linking meeting notes to the calendar, we didn’t have to organize anything anymore.”

The way it works is to start by clicking on a template appropriate for a user’s meeting type. During a meeting, users can collaborate directly with internal and external teams, allowing everyone to be on the same page. Tasks and notes can be synced with integrated tools directly from Hugo. After the meeting, notes are automatically indexed based on participants, company name, meeting name, tags, and note content. Notes can be shared publicly or with a private log-in.

The key features of this product are: Notes are automatically categorized by meetings and attendees, integrations to create tasks/tickets in project management apps directly from user notes, auto-sync notes to CRM records that match the meeting, post notes to Slack channels and DMs, collaborative agendas and notes for the whole team, free agenda template library for best practices, and @ mentions to notify teammates. Hugo claims that Nike, Dropbox, iHeartMedia, Twitter, and Shopify are among their current clients.

There is a free version for up to 40 users, Pro version for a flat $399 a month for up to 100 users, and custom pricing for 101 users or more. A video intro to Hugo is available here.

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Real Estate Technology

Rate your meetings and create more efficient work teams

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) SurveySparrow has a plugin that allows you to rate meetings. It could help you and your team evaluate and improve future meetings.

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We love data. We are in a data driven world. We like giving our feedback via customer reviews, social media comments, surveys, and Twitter (yes, Bob, everyone knows your flight was delayed). Tell us what the data says. Well, it might be a great time to finally get some data on all those meetings you’ve been having.

Many people are sick of meetings; we sit in a lot of them that then need follow ups because either we didn’t have an agenda, or we didn’t get through the agenda. There also may be additional meetings because no one really knows what is going on, or people are unable to have a solid plan in place (thanks to the global pandemic) and require more frequent check-ins/status updates.

Perhaps we’d all dread meetings less if they could be improved and justified as a much better use of time. G suite just made available a free plugin, by SurveySparrow, that could possibly help your company improve your meetings:

RateTheMeeting helps you improve meetings by collecting feedback to understand what works and what doesn’t for your teams, divisions, or company. With this data (feedback), it might be possible to stick to agendas and the purpose of the meeting, prevent topics that require a separate discussion, and make sure that everyone’s time is well spent. It syncs to your calendar and automatically follows up with attendees to collect feedback after each meeting. You can see how it works on YouTube here.

While this seems like a helpful tool, the biggest hurdle may come from management first. They may not want feedback on meetings if they feel that meetings are necessary and the most valuable way to communicate for their teams. It also might be one more data set that they have to sort and mine.

Next, employees may not want to rate each meeting on top of their already busy schedules. They likely would only want to do this if it would make real change within the meeting culture of the organization. Either way, it might be nice to just offer a thumbs up or thumbs down for each meeting (for funsies?).

It’s always hard to please everyone, so you’ll just have to decide if adding this function is more trouble than it’s worth.

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Real Estate Technology

New real estate search engine reveals “the truth” about properties

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Is Localize changing the house hunting game or are they just fooling themselves?

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When I heard Localize describe itself as “Netflix but for houses,” I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow (is anyone else exhausted with the X but for Y techie trend, or is it just me?).

That tagline is not just tired, it’s also confused. Judging by its description on producthunt.com, this new NYC-based startup is much more like Carfax-meets-Nextdoor than Netflix.

Localize is a real estate search engine for house hunters. Their claim to fame is how they record complaints about the properties and neighborhoods in their listings, as well as providing details like nearby transportation, construction, crime rates, and demographic stats for the area.

They are currently only operating within New York and Chicago, with plans to expand to other US cities and Canada.

Localize does sound promising – it tries to give users an impression of what it might be like to live somewhere long before they decide to move in. I could see this service encouraging more direct lines of accountability between property managers and potential (or even past) residents. Listing accessibility concerns like elevator functionality within apartment complexes is a great move too, since that can be a make-or-break factor for disabled and aging people.

A few aspects of Localize give me pause, though. For one, it has a strange fixation on emphasizing that they will provide users with “the truth” in their marketing language. Yes, their goal is to improve transparency in the process of searching for housing, but it’s also like they’re trying to imply that their competitors are lying, and that’s a pretty cheap trick.

Huge real estate players like RE/MAX and sites like realtor.com all rely on local Multiple Listing Service (or MLS) information, which comes straight from individual realtors – who are, by the way, legally obligated to disclose “the truth” about their properties.

Plus, there’s something kind of tone deaf about Localize’s model. There are lots of issues with trying to find housing in cities like New York and Chicago: They are expensive and competitive markets, and right now lots of New Yorkers and Chicagoans are housing insecure because of the economic impact of COVID-19.

On their blog, Localize highlights how it conveniently lets users browse detailed listings while staying quarantined.

But I admit that I have serious doubts that this does anything to really address the needs that the majority of their target demographic currently faces. Sure, Localize could help folks find their dream home, but is that really a viable business plan for the present moment? Especially with so many people struggling to just keep a roof over their head?

I’ll give them this: there’s little doubt that Localize’s mission is sincere – plenty of attempts to “disrupt” an industry are. But sincerity and naivety are by no means mutually exclusive.

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