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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

The top 10 most ridiculous job titles in tech

(TECHNOLOGY) The tech industry is an interesting sector – diverse, open-minded, beautifully nerdy, and sometimes trying too hard, especially when it comes to job titles.

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When it comes down to it, the Internet is all about memes and people constantly getting mad about one thing or another. I’m usually playing on the side of memes, but I joined the other group when I stumbled upon a CB list of the 25 Most Absurd Titles in Tech.

Absurd doesn’t even begin to cut it.

This list is a perpetual head-shaker and there’s clearly some stuff going on in the world of tech that needs to get a reality check.

All 25 of these titles are terrible, but I challenged myself to narrow it down to the 10 worst. Let’s work our way backwards.

10. Full Stack Magician – First of all, a small typo in the second word could really change your profession. Second of all, my concept of a Full Stack Magician is the guy walking around Denny’s playing card tricks for a few extra bucks on a Saturday night. How in the world am I supposed to know that “magician” is shorthand for “engineer”? Two very different things, friends.

9. Humbly Confident Product Designer – I don’t know about you, but humble and confident are often times two traits that don’t sit at the same table, let alone work together to describe a job title. As you might guess, it’s someone in product design who is self-assured. And humble about it. To me, this is something that should be determined in an interview personality test and a reason behind why one gets the job of product designer. It should just be included without having to be part of your LinkedIn title.

8. Chief Heart Officer – What comes to mind here is Dr. Webber on Grey’s Anatomy. This title was developed for Claude Silver of VaynerMedia in 2014. “Being Chief Heart Officer means being in touch with the heartbeat of every single person at this agency,” she later wrote. A nice concept, but, come on.

7. Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence – This one, developed by Microsoft (really, y’all?), has Star Trek written all over it. Apparently it was developed for Microsoft’s researcher, James Mickens, due to his personality. Should your personality really influence your job title? This Staff Writer votes “nope.”

6. Meme Librarian – I put this on here because I’m both jealous and confused. Getting paid to archive memes? Sign me up! But, also, what the hell? According to CB, this title was invented at Tumblr to describe the role occupied by Amanda Brennan, who researches fandoms and trends. The Tumblr team uses the data collected by Brennan’s team to better understand the unique communities, languages, and relationships that emerge on the platform.

5. Remote Funnel Marketing Ninja – Am I supposed to be going to work with this title or mastering a game on Super Nintendo? Responsibilities apparently include “architect[ing] funnels based on customer goals” and “creat[ing] & connect[ing] ActiveCampaign lists to Gravity Forms in landing pages.” Neat job description, but the job title is trying too hard.

4. Tax Wrangler – This is funny to me because I’m picturing getting audited by John Wayne. What it actually means, according to Automattic is, the in-house tax wrangler is in charge of “researching multi-state sales and use tax regulations” and working on “sales, property, excise and VAT taxes” for a company of 600+ people. Ok, sure.

3. Security Princess – Okay, but do I get to wear a beautiful gown and crown? Why the gendering of a role!? This title was designated to Parisa Tabriz at Google where she was formerly a security engineer. Her job was to find holes in the Chrome browser. I’m confused where Cinderella comes into play, but, whatever.

2. Weekend Happiness Concierge – In my travels, this title belongs to whoever owns the couch I’m crashing on any given weekend (I kid). This is simply a customer support agent, with concierge derived from the powerful role in 18th century European courts. To me, it just sounds like someone who brings you an extra pillow at a hotel.

1. SVG Badass – It was hard to pick number one, but I had to go with this. You mean to tell me that you’re going to walk into a networking event filled with other professionals and hand out business cards that say “badass”? In tech events, that will fly, but not outside of that bubble. Change the ‘bad’ to ‘dumb’ and we’ll be on the same page.

In order of #1-25, the original list consisted of: Innovation Evangelist, Dream Alchemist, Weekend Happiness Concierge, Happiness Engineer, SVG Badass, Time Ninja, Innovation Alchemist, Security Princess, Retail Jedi, Software Ninjaneer, Tax Wrangler, Remote Funnel Marketing Ninja, Content Hero, Meme Librarian, Happiness Manager, Conversion Optimization Wrangler, Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence, Innovation Sherpa, Digital Prophet, Chief Heart Officer, Brand Warrior, Wizard of Light Bulb Moments, Direct-Mail Demigod, Full Stack Magician, Humbly Confident Product Designer.

FFS.

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Tech News

Make it harder for Facebook to track you around the web

(TECH NEWS) Facebook remains in hot water, but you can make a simple choice that puts you in control of your data. Check it out.

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Firefox has long been an industry leader in security, which is why it’s no surprise that they’re the first large browser to roll out an anti-tracking add-on geared toward making life difficult for everyone’s favorite social media platform: Facebook.

Facebook Container is a deceptively powerful add-on, allowing you to prevent Facebook from tracking and analyzing your browsing behavior while you navigate around the Internet. After installing it in Firefox like any other add-on, you log into your Facebook account inside of the container; from that point on, any Facebook tracking will be confined to the Container tab in which you’re using FB.

The primary purpose of the add-on is, of course, to limit the amount of information that Facebook can extrapolate from your browsing history. There’s still plenty of information that you can give to Facebook simply by scrolling through your News Feed page, but at least they won’t know what size of underwear you’re buying.

Another obvious ramification of using Facebook Container is its ad-blocking capabilities. Unlike a traditional ad-blocker, it won’t force-hide ads; instead, it will hide your activity, meaning you’ll see fewer targeted ads based on your browsing activity and habits. This is likely to cut down on frustration from users who feel inappropriately targeted or singled out by the social media giant’s often-invasive ads.

In addition to its numerous qualities, it also comes with a few downsides—though for the privacy-minded, they’ll probably not feel like game-changers. The main issue is that sharing buttons and those cute little “Like” buttons you see all over the Internet won’t work when you use the add-on since you’ll be logged out of FB everywhere else in Firefox.

Naturally, using the social media buttons outside of the Firefox add-on kind of defeats the purpose of using the add-on to begin with, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem.

You also won’t be able to log into websites that use your FB login information as a credential automatically, which—as Mozilla puts it on the product page—is “to be expected.”

If you’re the kind of person who says “I’d delete my social media accounts, but I need it to stay in contact with so-and-so,” at least once a week, this add-on for Firefox may be for you—and, even if you aren’t a Firefox user, their browser updates over the past six months make switching worth a try.

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Tech News

Anti-surveillance mask – creepy, ingenious, or potentially illegal?

(TECHNOLOGY) Advances in surveillance tech have impressed the masses, but as our cultures consider the risk and reward, some are preparing to protect themselves from overreaching technologies and governments.

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anti-surveillance prosthetic

How many surveillance cameras do you pass when you walk down the street? Most of us don’t know and prefer not to think about it. We know that public and private entities, from social media sites like Facebook, to law enforcement agencies, are using facial recognition software. In most cases, we haven’t actively consented to this surveillance, and we don’t know what will be done with information – but it also seems like there’s not much we can do about it.

Enter artist Leo Selvaggio, who is interested in “increasing the amount of public discourse about surveillance and how it affects our behavior in public space.” Selvaggio has launched a venture called URME Surveillance, whose focus is “protecting the public from surveillance and creating a safe space to explore our digital identities.”

URME is doing this is in an unusual, and admittedly kind of unnerving way. The site provides masks, in the likeness of Selvaggio’s face, that you can wear in public to protect your own mug from ending up on file. These “Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetics” are sold at cost – Selvaggio isn’t in it for the profits. There’s a $200 resin prosthetic, a set of 2D paper masks for large groups (protestors?), and a downloadable PDF paper mask that fits together like a 3D puzzle, giving the mask more dimension than the flat, 2D version.

paper anti-surveillance

“Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub,” explains the URME website. “We don’t believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn’t have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public.”

Is this product a genuine solution to non-consensual surveillance? Or is it simply an artist’s attempt to make a statement? The 3D resin mask is fairly realistic, but with the wearer’s eyes peeking out of the mask’s holes, it’s creepy, to say the least.

anti-surveillance face

While the mask may thwart surveillance cameras, it will probably attract attention from other people nearby – so perhaps anonymity isn’t the goal.

It’s more about making sure that your face doesn’t end up in a databank; or at the very least, inspiring conversation about the topic of public surveillance. Potential customers should also be advised that many states and cities have laws against wearing masks in public.

Regardless of the ultimate intention, the fact that Selvaggio is willing to sacrifice his own likeness to Big Brother means that he takes the issue seriously. Cameras linked to facial recognition software will identify and track Selvaggio, regardless of who is under the mask. URME has actually tested the product using Facebook’s “sophisticated” facial recognition software.

Selvaggio even acknowledges that people could use the mask to commit crimes, which could land him in hot water. However, he has “come to the conclusion that it is worth the risk if it creates public discourse around surveillance practices and how it affects us all.”

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