Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of HAR

A recent lawsuit is rocking the residential real estate industry across the country. Home sellers whose properties were listed on one of 20 MLSs claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency. Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way.

Our next moves as a united industry in the wake of this lawsuit are critical. It is critical that we react positively. It is critical that we bring more value and transparency to our customers, and it is critical that we utilize the technology we now have at our hands to do so.

How is technology finding its way into real estate? Here are a few ways in the evolving world of home buying and selling has evolved over the past five years:

Online searching 

Everything can be done online. In most modern real estate transactions, the buyer has already found the house they want before they even contact an agent to begin the process. To put that into numbers, 95 percent of buyers are looking for their home online, and over half find it before they engage an agent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Despite the fact that this big chunk of the traditional real estate agent's job has been cut out, the commission is still the same and the buyer will have to pay it indirectly through a higher listing price on the home.

Evolving past commissions and working towards a focus on the customer experience is the only way to provide value and stay relevant in the world of apps and search bars.

Accurate valuations 

Algorithms and accuracy in information gathering are imperative to a successful real estate transaction. Traditional agents will often come to a potential seller client with high dollar signs, telling them they should list their home for a high price. This is a tactic used to earn the seller's business. Where is the data behind that hefty price? What kind of algorithm did the agent use to value the home?

Modern real estate brokerages should be utilizing advanced valuation algorithms to bring an accurate value of the home to the seller instead of wooing them with an unattainable price.

Targeted marketing

Due to the high dependency of the internet, mass marketing in physical publications aren't as effective as they once were — consumers have more options to find what they need faster. Fifty percent of people that will ever see a home that is advertised online will see it in the first seven days on the market. We all know the importance of target marketing, and here's where social media comes in.

Targeting the right people on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google will get a home sold faster than a newspaper or magazine can even be published. Effective agents will have built online audiences for each type of home to ensure a faster sale.

Simplifying and increasing visibility

Remember how important transparency is? Simplifying and streamlining the process is right up there with it on the priority list. Luckily, there's an easy way to solve both: custom portals. Clients love the fact that they can login and see their entire buying or selling experience in one neatly packaged, convenient tool.

The modern tools now at the hands of real estate brokerages should not diminish service, but rather enhance it. Acting as a specialized guide and using the technology to bring incredible value to clients should be the new norm when it comes to real estate transactions.

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Alex Doubet is the founder and CEO of Door, Inc. (Door.com), which is a residential real estate startup company based in Texas.

A new service from Zillow helps Houston sellers get cash fast. Photo courtesy of HAR

Houston homeowners first in Texas to showcase Zillow's new cash offer homebuying program

Selling solution

Local car owners looking to rid themselves of their ride know the no-hassle ease that CarMax and TrueAuto offer. But what about those looking to quickly unload their home? Fortunately, a new service has made it easier for homeowners to score some fast funds from their domiciles.

Houstonians can now use a new program from real estate marketplace Zillow to sell their home. With Zillow Offers, local sellers can request a free, no-obligation cash offer. Once the seller accepts, they can pick a close date that works best for them.

The idea is to give consumers more control and certainty in the home-selling process and allows sellers the opportunity to sell their house on their own timeline, according to a statement. Zillow notes that timing the sale of a home with the purchase of a new one is a top concern for sellers and that 61 percent of sellers are buying a new home at the same time, which adds significant stress and financial complexity to the process.

Houston is the first Texas market and the seventh market nationwide where Zillow directly buys homes, prepares them for showings, and quickly lists them for resale.

Zillow Offers is currently available in Phoenix; Las Vegas; Atlanta; Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Zillow Offers has also announced plans to launch in Dallas; Miami; Minneapolis; Orlando, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Riverside, California by fall 2019.

"Texas is home to some of the largest and most vibrant housing markets in the country, and we're thrilled to bring Zillow Offers to Houston today," says Zillow brand president, Jeremy Wacksman, in a statement. "In just nine months, Zillow Offers has already helped thousands of homeowners sell their home in a simple and stress-free way."

While direct-sell in theory, local real estate agents are still very much part of the Zillow Offers process. The service works with local agents and brokers on every transaction and pays commission to agents when it buys and sells each home, according a Zillow release.

"What we've overwhelmingly heard from these consumers is that they love the control we give them over the entire process," Wacksman says. "Starting today, Houston-area homeowners are able to use this innovative, consumer-first service for one of the largest financial transactions of their lives."

The program also gives local brokerages and premier agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home, according to Zillow. These motivated sellers who request a Zillow Offer, but opt instead sell their house traditionally with an agent or do not receive a Zillow Offer, will still be connected with a local brokerage or agent.

In a city where certain neighborhoods are moving a blistering pace, this new program could be an easy sell for savvy homeowners.

More and more real estate companies are using technology for the homebuying and selling process. Houston-based Entera uses machine learning, for instance, in the process, and Offerpad, an ibuyer, recently announced its expansion to Houston.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.