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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

Google Maps will soon display traffic lights

(TECH NEWS) The addition of traffic light positions to Google Maps promises to boost navigation accuracy. Now you won’t run a light while looking at navigation.

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At over 150 million monthly users, Google Maps’ value is not to be understated. With a new feature that shows traffic light positions rolling out to select devices and locations soon, one can expect that trend to continue.

A common issue with navigation via an app–especially when navigating solo–is a lack of precision that can lead to confusion, missed exits, potentially dangerous driving, and, worst of all, spilled coffee. By adding the location of traffic lights, Google Maps will improve both landmark recognition and automated navigation by providing drivers with more accessible information.

It’s worth noting a couple of arguing points, the first of which is the assertion that Google is starting from scratch on this feature. They aren’t. In fact, Japan-based Google Maps users have had access to traffic light positioning for years; Google is simply expanding the feature to include a larger number of cities and population density.

In a similar vein, Google also isn’t the first company to implement an ease-of-access feature such as this. Apple Maps has incorporated traffic light recognition since the release of iOS 13, and while its use is hit-or-miss (my iPhone 11 fails to pick up most traffic lights in my admittedly rural town of residence), the option to have Siri direct users to the nearest traffic light rather than saying “in 213.7 feet, turn left” is helpful.

That said, Apple Maps is a service which sees a little over 20 million monthly users–a far cry from Google Maps’ monthly base. For Google, accuracy and speed of updates will be paramount for a successful, routinely helpful launch.

At the time of this writing, Google plans to release the traffic light feature in New York, San Francisco, and a few other United States cities. The feature will be available on Android devices–sorry for now, Apple users–and will ideally expand to encompass most of the country if the initial release is successful.

It will be interesting to see how comprehensive Google’s coverage is and how quick the company is to adjust positioning of lights as cities do what cities do best. For now, if you have an Android device, keep an eye on your Maps app–good things are coming your way.

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How Microsoft plans to upskill millions of workers during COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft is providing affordable and accessible resources to upskill workers during the COVID-19 economy.

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Microsoft helps

While the undeniable amount of job loss in the Unites States, thanks to COVID-19, may have lost some steam in the news, there are many people out of work and job searching. As of June 6, 2020, “Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 4.8 million in June, and the unemployment rate declined to 11.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.”

This means many Americans are quietly pondering their next move. Some are freaking out over what their next place or type of employment will be, while others are taking a minute to pause and re-design their life’s path. Both may be hopeful that their career is aligning with their ultimate goals or ways in which they would prefer to live their life via professional pursuits and family preferences. There may be an optimistic outlook as well if they have been able to score interviews and feel some excitement about new opportunities amongst the angst and uncertainty.

However, as you may likely know, after a job loss, the job seeker has some extra time to think and this can be scary for some. They may catch themselves with extra worry or spinning in the what ifs? What if I don’t have the skills for the jobs in demand? What if I’m too old? What if they are not looking to hire someone with my credentials? What if I am unable to replace my salary?

Let’s look at the data when we cannot get out of our heads. What are jobs that are in demand and will be growing? According to VentureBeat and Microsoft, here are the top 10 jobs that are in demand and likely to grow over the next decade:

  1. Software developer
  2. Sales representative
  3. Project manager
  4. IT administrator
  5. Customer service specialist
  6. Digital marketing specialist
  7. IT support / help desk
  8. Data analyst
  9. Financial analyst
  10. Graphic designer

In tandem, Microsoft is providing access to “learning paths” and resources for users to develop skills for these jobs, which will be available from today until the end of March 2021, and includes a series of videos to help jobseekers start off on the right foot for each role. Microsoft will also connect more technical roles with other resources and tools, including its bot-powered GitHub Learning Lab where budding coders can practice new skills. And feeding into this, Microsoft said that it will join the dots through to qualifications, by offering “low-cost access” to industry-recognized Microsoft certifications “based on exams that demonstrate proficiency in Microsoft technologies,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a separate blog post.”

Venture Beat goes on to say that “Microsoft has announced a slew of new initiatives designed to open up access to new digital skills, including cash grants, providing access to data, affordable certifications for Microsoft products, and a new learning app baked directly into Microsoft Teams.”

Looks like those software developers aren’t going away and you can hate on sales all you want, but those are needed for companies to keep their doors open and sell their products or services.

It seems apparent that the tech giant is looking to make a positive impact and help upskill workers to be able to explore and gain the skills they need to pursue these available and growing job opportunities. They are utilizing the data available within the LinkedIn platform to provide insights on job postings, as well as pledged to support access to learning and non-profit organizations. Microsoft is also making smart moves to grow and expand in an area where they see some major growth opportunities (within the LinkedIn Learning platform and MS Teams). Microsoft CEO mentioned that we have seen a 2-year digital shift in about two months due to COVID-19.

However, this does pose a question – how long will it take for hiring managers to catch up on reviewing resumes of those that had to make a job switch and may not have the previous experience they typically look for when hiring? There is fair room for a discussion that those reviewing resumes will also need to be informed of the career shifts of candidates due to COVID-19 and may need to spend a little bit more time making sure they are not dismissed for looking to make a switch after their upskill experience.

There may also be some questions from employees if they do not feel they resonate with any of those jobs listed as growing over the next decade. We may see a spike in entrepreneurial activity and people setting out to create and design their own work-life harmony – especially if the remote work opportunities are only going to grow exponentially.

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Study finds 1,000 phrases that accidentally activate smart speakers

(TECH GADGETS) Don’t worry about accidentally activating your nosy smart speakers… unless, of course, you utter one of these 1,000 innocuous phrases.

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It’s safe to say that privacy concerns, especially in today’s digital era, are unquestionably valid. With new video recording technology making it easier to identify people at a glance (whether they like it or not) and concerns that your smart speakers are eavesdropping on you, it may feel like you’re bordering on slightly paranoid around modern technology.

After all, even though there have been cases of smart speakers picking up on intimate conversations, there’s absolutely no risk of them overhearing private things without your consent, right? Even though it’s been documented that these devices — including Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Google Home — have listened in relationship spats, criminal activity, and even HIPAA-protected data, you’re totally in the clear.

Oh yeah. The thing is, everything that gets broadcast into your smart speaker? There’s a completely random chance that someone back at headquarters may decide to sift through it in order to improve AI learning.

And while most of the time these conversations are totally benign, it doesn’t change the fact that a complete stranger is getting an earful of your private life. In fact, these transmissions? Are actually completely admissible in court, as several murder cases have already demonstrated. Their key evidence was none other than poor Alexa herself.

But wait, wait. These smart speakers can only get your information if you activate them, and that requires you to clearly enunciate their names. Right? Um. Not exactly. Even though you may think that you need to speak crisply into the speaker to activate it, it turns out that these devices are highly sensitive to any suggestion that you might be talking to them. It’s almost like your dog when you even remotely glance at his bag of doggie treats in the corner: one crinkle and Fido comes running, begging for some kibble and ready to serve you.

It’s the same for your smart speakers. As it turns out, there are over a thousand words or phrases that can trigger your device and invite it to start recording your voice. These can range from the perfectly reasonable (Cortana hearing “Montana” and springing to attention) to the downright absurd (Alexa raising her hackles over the words “election” and “unacceptable”). Well, crap. Now what?

It’s no secret that someone is listening in on your conversations. That’s been clearly documented, researched, dissected, and even accepted at this point. However, if you thought that they’d only listen to it if you gave them implicit permission by activating your device (which, to be fair, should not even count as permission in the first place), you were wrong.

So what’s a privacy-loving person to do? Just suck it up and try to choose between the lesser of two evils? On one hand, yes, these smart speakers are super convenient and can make your life easier. On the other?

Well, if you’re a fan of your privacy, then perhaps these devices aren’t meant for you. At this point, you’ve got little recourse. These companies will continue to use your data, and there’s nothing stopping them from spying on you. That is, unless you prevent them from doing it in the first place.

If you want to keep your private conversations private, either unplug your smart speaker when you’re not using it, or don’t get one in the first place. Otherwise, you’ll continue to give your implied consent that you’re totes cool with them butting in on your personal life, and they’ll continue to be equally totes cool with using it without your permission.

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