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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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AI technology is using facial recognition to hire the “right” people

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has made its way into the hiring process and while the intentions are good, I vote we proceed with extreme caution.

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Artificial intelligence technology has made its way into the hiring process and while the intentions are good, I vote we proceed with extreme caution.

A UK based consumer goods giant, Unilever, is just one of several UK companies who have begun using AI technology to sort through initial job candidates. The goal of this technology is to increase the number of candidates whom a company can interview at the initial stages of the hiring process and to improve response time for those candidates.

The AI, developed by American company Hirevue, analyzes a candidate’s language, tone, and facial expression during a video interview. Hirevue insists that their product is different from traditional facial recognition technologies because it analyzes far more data points.

Hirevue’s chief technology officer, Loren Larsen, says, “We get about 25,000 data points from 15 minutes of video per candidate. The text, the audio and the video come together to give us a very clear analysis and rich data set of how someone is responding, the emotions and cognitions they go through.”
This data is then used to rank candidates on a scale of 1 to 100 against a database of traits identified in previously successful candidates.

There are two main flaws to this system. First, unless this AI technology is pulling from a huge diverse data pool it could be unintentionally discriminating against people without even being aware of it. Human bias is not as easy to remove from the equation as AI proponents would have you believe.

As an example, how does this AI handle people who are disabled or whose facial expressions that read differently than the general population, such as people with Down Syndrome or those who have survived traumatic facial injuries?

Second, seeking to hire someone who possess the same qualities as the person who was previously successful at a role is shortsighted. There are many ways to accomplish the same task with above average results. Companies who adopt this low-risk mentality could be missing out on great opportunities long-term. You will never know what actually works best if you don’t try.

The big question here is whether or not AI technology is ready to influence the job market on this scale.

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The ‘move fast and break things’ trend is finally over

(TECH NEWS) Time is running out for this decade — and for a popular Big Tech phrase responsible for a lot of collateral damage. What’s next?

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Time is running out for the decade. With less than 20 days left, it’s got us reflecting on the journeys of different economic sectors in the United States. And no industry has had a more tumultuous time of it than Big Tech.

A lot has changed in ten years. For starters, Americans have become increasingly disillusioned with Silicon Valley. The Pew Research Center found that only 50 percent of Americans believe technology firms have a positive effect on the country. That statistic is not too bad on its own, but that’s down 21 percent from only four years ago. Gallup found in 2019 that 48 percent of Americans also want more regulations on Big Tech. And The New York Times called the 2010s as “the decade Big Tech lost its way”.

Maybe that’s why big wigs at these tech firms have been quietly ditching a concept that was their Golden Rule in the early part of the decade: Move Fast and Break Things.

This concept is a modern take on the adage “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” For most of these firms, any innovation justified some of the collateral damage within its wake. And this scrappy “build it now and worry about it later” philosophy was a favorite of not just Facebook and Twitter, but also of many venture capital firms too.

But not anymore. Outlets from Forbes to HBR are saying this doesn’t work for Big Tech in the 2020s. Here are some reasons why it’s over.

Stability

The Move Fast and Break Things manta encouraged devs to push their coding changes to go live and let the chips fall where they may. But bugs pile up. Enter technical debt.

“Technical debt happens every time you do things that might get you closer to your goal now but create problems that you’ll have to fix later,” said The Quantified VC in an article on Medium. “As you move fast and break things, you will certainly accumulate technical debt.”

If enough technical debt comes into play, any new line of code could be the thing that topples a firm like a house of cards. And now that the consumer is used to tech in their daily routines, interruptions in service are extremely bad news for everyone.

As Mark Zuckerburg himself said it: “When you build something that you don’t have to fix 10 times, you can move forward on top of what you’ve built.”

Trust

To get back some of the trust that has ebbed from Big Tech over the years, firms can’t just keep with the Move Fast and Break Things status quo.

“The public will continue to grow weary of perceived abuses by tech companies, and will favor businesses that address economic, social, and environmental problems,” said Hemant Taneja in his article for Harvard Business Review. “Minimum viable products must be replaced by minimum virtuous products that … build in guards against potential harms.”

It’s not about chasing the bottom dollar at the cost of the consumer. Losing trust will hurt any company if left unchecked for long.

Innovation

There’s a cap on advancement in our current technological state. It’s called Moore’s Law. And we’re rapidly approaching the theoretical limits of it.

“When you understand the fundamental technology that underlies a product or service, you can move quickly, trying out nearly endless permutations until you arrive at an optimized solution. That’s often far more effective than a more planned, deliberate approach,” said Greg Satell in his article for HBR.

Soon enough, Big Tech will be in relatively new waters with quantum computing, biofeedback and AI. There’s no way to move as fast as these technology firms have in the past. And even if they could, should they?

Big Tech has experienced major growing pains since the dawn of our new Millenium. And now that some firms are entering their 20s, there’s a choice to be made. Continue to grow up or keep using an idea that’s worn out it’s welcome with the consumer and that has no guarantee will work with future technologies.

Maybe that’s why Facebook’s motto is now “Move Fast with Stable Infrastructure.”

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Tech News

Computer vision helps AI create a recipe from just a photo

(TECH NEWS) It’s so hard to find the right recipe for that beautiful meal you saw on tv or online. Well computer vision helps AI recreate it from a picture!

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Ever seen at a photo of a delicious looking meal on Instagram and wondered how the heck to make that? Now there’s an AI for that, kind of.

Facebook’s AI research lab has been developing a system that can analyze a photo of food and then create a recipe. So, is Facebook trying to take on all the food bloggers of the world now too?

Well, not exactly, the AI is part of an ongoing effort to teach AI how to see and then understand the visual world. Food is just a fun and challenging training exercise. They have been referring to it as “inverse cooking.”

According to Facebook, “The “inverse cooking” system uses computer vision, technology that extracts information from digital images and videos to give computers a high level of understanding of the visual world,”

The concept of computer vision isn’t new. Computer vision is the guiding force behind mobile apps that can identify something just by snapping a picture. If you’ve ever taken a photo of your credit card on an app instead of typing out all the numbers, then you’ve seen computer vision in action.

Facebook researchers insist that this is no ordinary computer vision because their system uses two networks to arrive at the solution, therefore increasing accuracy. According to Facebook research scientist Michal Drozdzal, the system works by dividing the problem into two parts. A neutral network works to identify ingredients that are visible in the image, while the second network pulls a recipe from a kind of database.

These two networks have been the key to researcher’s success with more complicated dishes where you can’t necessarily see every ingredient. Of course, the tech team hasn’t stepped foot in the kitchen yet, so the jury is still out.

This sounds neat and all, but why should you care if the computer is learning how to cook?

Research projects like this one carry AI technology a long way. As the AI gets smarter and expands its limits, researchers are able to conceptualize new ways to put the technology to use in our everyday lives. For now, AI like this is saving you the trouble of typing out your entire credit card number, but someday it could analyze images on a much grander scale.

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