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Google invests $50M in Auction.com: good for Google, bad for consumers?

(Tech News) Auction.com has recently seen a fat cash infusion from Google, and both seek to revolutionize real estate. Again. But who really benefits from this investment, and is it at the cost of consumers?

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Google Capital Invests Big Bucks in Auction.com

The online real estate auction site, Auction.com, landed a monstrous investment from Google Capital. In a press release on the Auction.com website, the largest online auction site for buying a selling homes announced that Google Capital invested $50 million dollars in their Irvine, California-based company.

According to the Jeff Frieden, CEO and Co-Founder of Auction.com, “Google is the world’s greatest Internet company and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely with them. This will give us an opportunity to tap into their deep expertise in digital marketing and mobile, as well as in building world-class products.”

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In speaking about their decision to extend funding, Google Capital Partner David Lawee is equally enthusiastic. He states, “We think Auction.com can fundamentally change how real estate, and particularly commercial real estate, can be bought and sold, leveling the playing field for smaller investors.”

Since Google is widely recognized as a forward-thinking business leader, one might want to take stock in their decision to back such a company.

Real Estate Consumers and Professionals May Want to Take a Second Look

While this cash infusion may lead to some fundamental changes in how real estate is bought and sold, Auction.com currently has some noteworthy practices.

Nationstar Mortgage Short Sales

One of the largest contributors of properties to the Auction.com website is Nationstar Mortgage. Nationstar requires borrowers who want to sell their homes as short sales to auction those properties through the Auction.com website, and this process is not without its criticism.

For one, the Nationstar/Auction.com process is a little bit disjointed. A real estate agent lists a property, obtains an offer, and submits the paperwork (including the fully executed purchase contract) to Nationstar. Nationstar then requires the property to be listed on the Auction.com website, and the bidding on this property is now open to the public.

Many agents complain that this process completely ignores the existing purchase contract between buyer and seller. Given the fact that the seller (not the bank) is the rightful owner until the property, it is the seller who should determine the best purchase offer on the property. The existing contract should not be ignored.

Auction.com Surcharge

Another hot button issue for consumers is that Auction.com requires a surcharge when you purchase a property through their site. For some properties, the surcharge is $2500. But, for those short sale properties that came via Nationstar bank, the surcharge is 5 percent. So, if you bid $250,000 for a property listed on the site, your total purchase (excluding settlement fees) could be $262,500. In effect, homebuyers may end up overpaying for a property.

Possible Price Inflation

Most consumers have the impression that an “auction” begets a deal. In some instances, that may be the case. However, in an auction, people bid against one another and that raises the price, often even causing a buying frenzy, which clearly works to the benefit of the seller.

Elizabeth Story, a San Diego County Realtor® at Allison James Estates & Homes, points out the following unfair consumer practice: “Auction.com’s properties listed for sale have unpublished reserves that allow the seller to decline the transaction, even if you are the winning bidder. In order to encourage bidding up to the unpublished reserve, Auction.com will bid against buyers in its own auctions.” It’s true that Auction.com does not publish their reserve amounts on their site, unlike other sites (such as ebay) where the reserve is visible to the consumer.

But, unlike other auction sites, Auction.com does actually reserve the right to bid against the consumer. In their Reserve Auction Terms and Conditions, Auction.com states, “The starting bid is not the Reserve Price. Except where prohibited by law, during a live bidding event (online or otherwise) the Auctioneer may open bidding on any Property by placing a bid on behalf of the Seller and may further bid on behalf of the Seller up to the amount of the Reserve Price by placing successive or consecutive bids for a Property, or by placing bids in response to other bidders.”

Homebuyers need to understand that the Auctioneer may be bidding against them and, as a result, inflating the price paid to the property to their own benefit and the benefit of the seller.

Online Bidding May Benefit Sellers

The truth is that the online bidding process may also benefit those home sellers that list their homes for sale on the site. In situations of properties where there has been limited interest at the local level through common real estate advertising practices, sellers may be able to increase their buying pools. In the example of luxury homes valued in the millions of dollars, widening the buying pool could possibly lead to a quicker closing.

Thinking of buying a home on Auction.com? Think that if it’s good for Google, it’s good for me? “It’s important to know the facts,” Story says. “Buyers need to know that they are not shortchanging themselves.”

It’s true that the online real estate auction site may have some good features, but as always… caveat emptor!

Melissa Zavala is the Broker/Owner of Broadpoint Properties and Head Honcho of Short Sale Expeditor®, and Chief Executive Officer of Transaction 911. Before landing in real estate, she had careers in education and publishing. Most recently, she has been able to use her teaching and organizational skills while traveling the world over—dispelling myths about the distressed property market, engaging and motivating real estate agents, and sharing her passion for real estate. When she isn’t speaking or writing, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, walking the dog, and vacationing at beach resorts.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    March 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks Melissa, I tried to use it for myself for a condo in TN. I sat there and watched the bids go up. The scary part of your post is that they can bid up the price. There was a discussion on FB about this a few days ago and most folks said the paper work was horrendous. Makes me concerned for the consumers.

  2. Nick Fisherman

    March 11, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I am a 26 year old bachelor with no kids. I have no current plans to buy a home. But, my philosophy has pretty much always been “if it’s Google, it’s better.” Apparently, that is no longer valid. Thank you so much for this enlightening article. I will stay away from Auction.com.

  3. Chris Wilkenson

    March 11, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    In theory, if the seller’s reserve is not met by the market, then the
    seller will not sell the property. That same concept holds true on ebay,
    where there is a reserve and if it’s not met then the product doesn’t
    sell. So what’s the difference is the seller bids up to the reserve or
    doesn’t? The same theoretical framework holds true. I feel this article
    is a misinformed, judgmental piece based on analogous insight that’s not
    actual validated through a conceptual framework. Stay away from
    publishing such opinion with such assertion and matter-of-fact
    confidence.

    • Kumar

      April 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      What if the buyer made the last bid (which was inflated by auction.com) and puts it over the reserve price?

  4. Maryann Little

    March 11, 2014 at 4:27 pm

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Tech News

Degree holders are shifting tech hubs and affordability

(TECH NEWS) Tech hubs are shifting as degree holders move, but it’s causing some other issues and raising some interesting questions about the future of jobs.

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Bloomberg recently announced their annual “Brain” Indexes. The indexes are an annual reckoning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs and degree holders. The “Brain Concentration Index” approximates the number of people working full time in computer, engineering, and science jobs (including math and architecture.) It measures the median earnings for people in those jobs. It also counts how many people have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, or an advanced degree of any kind. It blends those things together to determine how “brainy” a city is.

Since they started in 2016, Boulder, CO has been at the top of the list. This year it’s followed by San Jose, CA, which many people might expect to be at the top. Many of the more surprising cities, like Ann Arbor, MI, Ithaca, NY, and even Lawrence, KS, are bolstered by the presence of a strong university.

It’s an interesting methodology. It’s worth noting that anyone with an advanced degree, whether it’s an MBA, a law degree, or a Ph.D. in literature, contributes to which city is a “tech hub.” It’s also worth noting how expensive many of these places are to live.

If you follow this kind of national data collection at all, you may also know that Boulder is one of the least-affordable cities in the country. So is the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area, with a median home price of 1.25 million dollars and a median household income of $117,474. (That means that the average mortgage is more than half of the average paycheck). However many people tech hubs like San Jose and San Francisco attract, they’re also hemorrhaging talent. Every day, 8 Californians move to Austin. Of the people who stay, more than half are thinking of moving.

They aren’t doing that for fun. As much flak as Californians get for gentrifying places like Austin, they’re being megagentrified out of their own homes. As salaries rise and CEO gigs attract the wealthy (and turn them into the Uberwealthy), the people who wait on tables or teach their children can’t afford to stay there anymore.

Speaking of people leaving, Bloomberg also measured what they call “brain drain,” the flow of advanced degree holders out of cities. They pair that with a decline in white-collar jobs and a decline in STEM pay to come up with their annual list. It includes places like Lebanon, PA and Kahului, HI.

All in all, it’s interesting information. But there are other factors at work that it can’t speak to. What does wage stagnation in the U.S. mean for the flow of education workers? If San Jose and San Francisco can be tech hubs based on the number of people with degrees, but people are still fleeing, what does that say about rankings like these? What human stories get lost in the shuffle? And is “tech hub” even something a city wants to be if that means running out of teachers (or making them sleep in garages)? Where does the next generation of tech hub workers come from?

Knowing the people behind the numbers makes it clear just what a mixed bag this is. Maybe we need more tech hubs like Lawrence, Kansas. Or maybe we need rent control. Or maybe we need to embrace remote work. Maybe there are no answers. As interesting as data like this is, there’s something sort of wistful about it, too.

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New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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Tech News

Microsoft acquires powerful AI language processor GPT-3, to what end?

(TECH NEWS) This powerful AI language processor sounds surprisingly human, and Microsoft has acquired rights to the code. How much should we worry?

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Code on screen, powering AI technology

The newly-released GPT-3 is the most insane language model in the NLP (natural language processor) field of machine learning. Developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 can generate strikingly human-like text for a vast range of purposes like bots and advertising, to poetry and creative writing.

While GPT-3 is accessible to everyone, OpenAI has expressed concerns over using this AI tech for insidious purposes. For this reason, Microsoft’s new exclusive license on the GPT-3 language model may be a tad worrisome.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the NPL field, software engineer, and Youtuber, Aaron Jack, provides a detailed overview of GPT-3’s capabilities and why everyone should be paying attention.

Microsoft’s deal with OpenAI should come as little surprise since OpenAI uses the Azure cloud platform to access enough information to train their models.

Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott announced the deal on the company blog this week: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” said Scott.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI has assured that Microsoft’s exclusive license does not affect the general public’s access to the GPT-3 model. The difference is Microsoft will be able to use the source code to combine with their products.

While OpenAI needs Azure to train these models, handing over the source code to another party is, to put it mildly, tricky. With the earlier GPT-2 model, OpenAI initially refused publishing the research out of fear it could be used to generate fake news and propaganda.

Though the company found there was no evidence to suggest the GPT-2 was utilized this way and later released the information, handing the key of the exponentially more powerful iteration to one company will undoubtedly hold ramifications in the tech world.

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