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sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way.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 growing digital home sales platform has moved into town. Courtesy photo

Digital home buying and selling tool expands to Houston market

Real estate tech

A Phoenix-based real estate company has expanded to the Houston market and opened a new office in town.

First launched in 2015, Offerpad is a tech-enabled home buying and selling solution. As of October, Offerpad had expanded to 534 cities with access to an estimated 6.7 million home-owning households.

The company is what's known as an iBuyer — a type of investor that uses automated valuation models, or AVMs, and other technology to quickly turn around offers on homes to sellers and then resell them to home buyers. The process tends to be quicker and higher tech than the normal home selling and buying process.

Offerpad previously had expanded into Dallas before launching in Houston on January 15. It's the first expansion in 2019 — a year that's poised to be full of growth for the company, the press release says.

"The company has a very concentrated vision to bring our real estate solutions to millions more people this year," Trent Capps, Offerpad's regional market director focused on Texas, says in the release. "Our start in Texas, with Dallas-Fort Worth, has far and away exceeded our expectations and we anticipate the same for our other Texas markets. In Houston, we began receiving home offer requests weeks ago, so we foresee huge success there, as well as in San Antonio later in the quarter."

The new local office is located in The Woodlands and serves 86 cities within the Houston area including Bellaire, Pearland, Sugar Land, Seabrook, and Friendswood. San Antonio is the next Texas market Offerpad is headed for.

"Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are all cities we've had intentions of offering our service in," Founder and CEO Brian Bair says in the release. "I'm confident that Texans are going to value the solutions we've developed to the once complicated and stressful process of selling a home."

Graphic courtesy of Offerpad

Door is changing the way Houstonians buy their homes. Courtesy photo

How this Texas real estate startup is saving homebuyers and sellers thousands of dollars

Knock, knock

Alex Doubet has a plan to shake up Texas real estate. The innovative businessman is taking his disruptive brokerage company statewide. Door, now has imprints in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. And that, he says, is great news for homebuyers and sellers.

"The average homebuyer is paying 6 percent in commission," he says. "And that adds up. Our service, on average, is saving people $12,000 when they buy a house."

When the Dallas-based Door launched in 2015, it shifted the real estate paradigm. Gone was the idea that a homebuyer or seller had to pay a commission to a real estate agent. Gone was the idea that a homebuyer even needed a real estate agent.

"Ninety-five percent of people who are buying a house look online," says Doubet. "They're not necessarily calling a real estate agent and having that agent find houses for them."

The key to Door: Simplicity
So, Doubet took that kind of DIY approach and tweaked it. Every one of his agents is an employee, not an independent contractor. For each sale, the buyer and seller pay a flat, $5,000 fee. Doubet's idea was to be a one-stop shop, where homebuyers could not only find and purchase a home, but also have assistance with mortgage lending and home titles.

"My plan was always to save people money and give them the best experience," he says.

Having now expanded across the Lone Star State, Doubet says that he's ready to share his company's expertise with customers in Houston. Because they're employees, Doubet's agents are focused on providing a high-quality, tailored experience for consumers — not pushing them toward properties that might net a fat commission.

Door has harnessed technology, too, recognizing that most people today transact business in the online world.

"It's something of a brave new world," he says. "But we're using technology to deliver better outcomes for our buyers and sellers."

Buyers will find Door agents are able to work with them to identify properties, schedule home tours, coordinate offers, and assist with the closing. Meanwhile, sellers' agents deliver market analysis, meet the seller at his or her home to do an evaluation, and set up stagings and photo shoots for the listing. Door agents work with their buyers and sellers, as well as with each other, sharing resources and expertise, and making certain that their clients feel like individuals.

Real hot
Clearly, the company is making an impact. Door has a 4.9 star rating on Zillow. And recent news reports from the DFW area indicate the company's processes are hot with millennials, who are known for their own tech savviness and preference for quick, online transactions. Every one of the company's agents is a licensed real estate agent and Door is a member of MLS.

"People are starting to realize there is an alternative to how we buy and sell real estate today," says Doubet. "And we're making sure our clients have a stress-free, easy, cost-efficient experience."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.