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My neighbor’s house won’t sell. Virtual staging would help

My neighbor’s house won’t sell. Virtual staging would help

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The house next to me isn’t selling. It’s surpassed 100 days on market, above the 63-day median, and the price has already “been improved” once by $100,000!

There’s no need to mention the specific brokerage or agent listing the home, but suffice it to say that despite a strong local reputation, I don’t think they’re doing a very good job.

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There’s no telling what my neighbor has authorized them to do in terms of marketing, but it’s clear she wants it sold, evident by months of internal improvements prior to listing and by her recent visits to tidy up the landscaping.

The home is empty and barren of decor. It also doesn’t boast a particularly intriguing floorplan. This is a byproduct of our town’s older inventory and it not being legally incorporated until the early 1990s, which meant that owners could do what they wanted with a home, and many did.

The region’s boom as a mountain resort market eventually impacted homeowners’ concern for property values and created unrealistic expectations for out-of-town buyers who expected every home to be “mountain modern” and ski-town chic.

Good or bad, agents need to do what they can to make the home meet these expectations.

Thankfully, even when a home doesn’t meet buyers’ hopes, there are a number of virtual staging companies that can at least give aspiring buyers an idea of what the house could be.

8 virtual staging companies that can help get the deal done

Virtual staging is becoming an increasingly easy and affordable way to market a stale listing. Here are a number of software companies that excel in making empty homes meet market expectations.

Box Brownie

These guys have been at it for a long time now, and established the rapid turn-around model for property image enhancement, inside and out. They can do decluttering (the last thing this house needs), 3D tours, exterior enhancements and new construction renderings.

SnapSnapSnap, the company’s mobile photography enhancer, is impressive, and it could do a lot for my neighbor.

Virtual Staging AI

Relatively new to the scene, this company does exactly what its name suggests — uses AI to craft a virtual interior.

The user only needs to upload a high-quality image and choose the room type from a drop-down list, such as a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room, and so on. Images are rendered as you wait, and they can be redone if the first iteration isn’t what you’re looking for. The style defaults to mid-century modern, but new interior design themes are being regularly added.

HomeKynd

This service stands out for its enterprise-level brokerage integration. It offers several different styles to select from, meaning team leaders and marketing staff can ensure agents don’t use the same items from house to house, for example.

They can also better report on what homes sell faster because of being staged and even what furnishing brand gets the best results. Remember, staging is a marketing asset; use what it gives you. The listing page integration is a super-smart way to engage buyers directly with the listing and even suggests that, when posting the home, it can be beneficial to leave a couple of rooms vacant to entice the home shopper to start designing.

Matterport

The industry standard-setter for digital twins (the house in question has one) partnered with SketchFab in 2022 to begin integrating virtual interior improvements.

Objects from Sketchfab can be still or animated, and like all other aspects of a Matterport tour, they can be “walked by” and considered from different angles. The company is known for working with a number of prominent consumer goods manufacturers in the creation and publishing of 3D renderings for marketing, sales and product configuration.

Bella Staging

Bella Staging uses actual graphic artists to edit, renovate, declutter and basically make your seller’s home look like the best on the block. Most projects are returned in 48 hours and include unlimited revisions.

Bella asks, with good reason, for high-quality images from which to initiate its editing process. This shouldn’t be a big ask, but unfortunately, far too many agents still don’t understand the importance of a good kitchen photo.

Bella Staging is as good as I’ve seen in this category, and there’s no doubt its bespoke handling of each project is a big reason for its top-of-category quality.

VSH Media

One particular standout is the in-image notes tool. Users can tap on a place in the photo to attach instructions to the editors before uploading. Use it to instruct creators on where you want couches placed or to indicate you want stools placed around the breakfast bar.

Speaking of decor, VSH Media comes with a library of home styles, such as Farmhouse, Contemporary, Hamptons, Urban, Traditional or combinations of each. There’s also item removal available, and “enhanced” images provide basically the same bracketing/image fusion tech that other apps in this space use to make window exteriors look good from inside.

Asteroom

Like a number of mobile applications in this space, Asteroom uses a rotating phone mount timed to pivot and shoot to capture a room. The rotating mount turns your phone into a 360-degree camera and pairs automatically with your device via Bluetooth (BLE 4.0). A single tap of the “capture” command in the app starts the process. The device will stop turning once all the way around, and the user moves on to the next room.

The app allows for an array of text designs, links, information tags, floating still images (for detail shots like appliance close-ups or a view through a window), and even logos to be presented for interaction within the app. You can also add 3D objects to virtually stage an empty space.

InsideMaps

Another veteran of interior home data marketing, InsideMaps built its reputation on tours like Matterport but has evolved to become a valuable insights tool for all things real estate.

Virtual staging is merely one of its many capabilities, and it may not be the best match for my neighbor’s home because of its pedestrian and sub-1,500-square-foot size. Still, the company’s expertise and many added value propositions make it a worthwhile consideration for freeing a stuck listing.

Curb appeal counts, too

Curb appeal matters, and it’s another component of this house’s lengthy time on the market. There is no design or formal plan for what surrounds the home, merely an old set of steps, a lot of weeds, random stones and some short sections of garden hose lying about. It needs a total overhaul, and thankfully, most of the companies listed here can do exterior renderings, too.

Computer vision AI company Restb.ai has the numbers that show homes with high-end exterior photography, especially twilight edits, spend less time on the market. Given that we overlook a river and a ski resort, I can’t help but think some enhanced shots of the exterior would go a long way toward enticing a buyer.

It wouldn’t hurt for the agent to engage in video marketing, either. An engaging walk-through that better explains the home’s potential and its location would absolutely help, and it could be repurposed for social and web.

I know the market’s weird right now, and in small, expensive markets, it can be even harder to sell. But when so much more can clearly be done and isn’t, the market will only continue to suffer.

Email Craig Rowe

DOJ inquiry delays settlement-related document rollout at CAR

DOJ inquiry delays settlement-related document rollout at CAR

The California Association of Realtors postponed the release of 21 forms this week after receiving feedback from members — and an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice.

At Inman Connect Las Vegas, July 30-Aug. 1, 2024, the noise and misinformation will be banished, all your big questions will be answered, and new business opportunities will be revealed. Join us.

The California Association of Realtors (CAR) this week delayed the rollout of nearly two dozen new forms dealing with the NAR commission suit settlement after getting an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Golden State trade group confirmed the delay to Inman Friday, with CAR General Counsel Brian Manson saying in an email that each June the organization “updates its standard forms to reflect the latest legal requirements and best practices in real estate transactions. This year, CAR prepared 67 new and revised forms for release next week.”

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“Out of an abundance of caution, CAR is postponing the release of 21 of those forms, which are associated with the changes in business practices required by the NAR settlement,” Manson continued. “CAR has received an inquiry from the [U.S. Department of Justice] regarding these forms as well as extensive feedback from our members. We believe it is prudent to take additional time to consider the concerns comprehensively.”

CAR did not provide additional details about the forms, nor did it described the nature of the DOJ’s inquiry. The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to Inman’s request for comment. Real estate strategist Rob Hahn first posted about the forms and DOJ inquiry on Twitter Friday.

Though details about what happened are scarce, the DOJ inquiry and document rollout delay come at a significant moment. The real estate industry is currently grappling with how to implement new rules such as a prohibition on sellers’ agents making offers of compensation to buyers’ agents in MLSs affiliated with the National Association of Realtors. Such rules were the result of a major antitrust settlement the National Association of Realtors negotiated earlier this year.

The settlement-prompted rules are set to go into effect in August, and the industry has spent much of the spring trying to figure out what exactly will allowed and how the practice of buying and selling homes might have to evolve.

Against that backdrop, however, many eyes have been on the DOJ, which has indicated it wants significant changes such as “decoupling” — meaning sellers’ agents do not preemptively offer compensation to buyers’ agents, as often happens today — to agent compensation. The DOJ has been a wildcard through the antitrust commission saga because it was unclear how aggressive the agency might be in pushing for change.

Though the DOJ remains something of a wildcard, the inquiry into CAR’s legal and business forms shows at least that, while questions remain, the agency is still busy behind the scenes looking closely at the real estate industry.

Email Jim Dalrymple II

Entrata buys Colleen AI in bid for property management autonomy

Entrata buys Colleen AI in bid for property management autonomy

Software company Entrata acquired its second company in a year with the acquisition of the rental industry’s Colleen, which provides artificial intelligence-based tenant communications and leasing operation support.

At Inman Connect Las Vegas, July 30-Aug. 1, 2024, the noise and misinformation will be banished, all your big questions will be answered, and new business opportunities will be revealed. Join us.

Software company Entrata has acquired Colleen AI, an artificial intelligence-based tenant communication tool, executives announced Thursday. Terms of the deal — Entrata’s second in the past 12 months — were not disclosed.

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Entrata plans to roll out what it calls “Autonomous Property Management,” which will make “workflows increasingly automated and portfolios more efficient while simultaneously delivering an elevated resident experience,” according to the announcement. Powering that vision will be what comes from the Colleen AI deal, a product called ELI+, or an enhanced version of Entrata Layered Intelligence.

Entrata CEO Adam Edmunds said the acquisition will augment the company’s Autonomous Property Management initiative, adding that it “significantly accelerates our vision.”

“Through this combination, operators can power end-to-end automated workflows and interactions,” Edmunds said in a statement. “This, in turn, will allow teams to concentrate on meaningful resident connection and high impact tasks to positively impact the resident experience and, ultimately, NOI.”

ELI+ will be layered in the existing solution’s many components to add pace, data accuracy and enterprise-wide connectivity by closing the distance between data gaps, enabling features to react faster and given human decisions better levels of clarity and justification.

“There are thousands of data variables within the Entrata OS, and ELI+ leverages all of them to automate and contextualize every interaction — a clear advantage over other, non-native AI solutions.” the release stated.

One such product example of how AI will better server property managers day-to-day will be evident in what’s called “Conversational Context Switching,” according to the company.

The process allows each tenant interaction to be immediately contextualized with the resident’s goal for reaching out, and then automatically leverage the resident’s occupancy history to address other potential discussion points, such as a problematic payment method or renewal interest. This kind of automation keeps the individual engaged, prevents fragmented communications and bolsters overall interaction quality.

“One of the key challenges to effective AI is high-quality and current data,” said Itamar Roth, CEO and co-founder of Colleen AI, in a statement. “By introducing Colleen AI as native technology to the Entrata OS, the efficacy will be unmatched in the multifamily industry, dramatically accelerating the possibilities for autonomy in many areas that don’t exist today. We are thrilled about the innovation potential this combination brings.”

Other products being shipped in conjunction with the acquisition include a new suite of property management tools focused on the resident experience called PMS, Homebody, a “a fully integrated resident financial services offering.” and a utilities component to streamline billing and maintenance activities.

In July 2023, Entrata acquired Rent Dynamics, a system for reporting on-time rent payment history to credit bureaus.

Colleen rolled out a voice AI for rent collection earlier in 2024, Inman previously reported. Colleen Voice is believed to be an industry first, a conversational experience originating from property management software that can contact tenants to inquire about late rent, fees, specific amounts and other critical lease terms.

Entrata states it serves more than 20,000 apartment communities and three million residents.

Email Craig Rowe

Fathom’s Verus Title subsidiary acquires LW Traveling Title

Fathom’s Verus Title subsidiary acquires LW Traveling Title

Fathom Holdings beefs up title coverage in three states with “strategic addition” to geographic footprint, acquiring nine-person title agency with offices in Utah, Colorado and Virginia.

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Fathom Realty’s sister company, Verus Title, is beefing up its coverage in three states with parent company Fathom Holdings’ acquisition of Utah-based LW Traveling Title.

Real Estate Mergers & Acquisitions Co. facilitated the deal for both parties, on terms that were not disclosed. Based in American Fork, Traveling Title‘s nine team members also provide services out of offices in St. George, Utah; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Buena Vista, Virginia.

Marco Fregenal

“Utah, with its thriving real estate market, is a strategic addition to our geographic footprint,” Fathom Holdings CEO Marco Fregenal said in a statement. “With the addition of Traveling Title, Verus Title is poised to leverage its technology tools and exceptional service commitment to deliver unparalleled service in Utah, Colorado, and Virginia. This expansion underscores Fathom’s commitment to providing comprehensive and innovative real estate solutions.”

Paul Yurashevich

Verus Title President Paul Yurashevich said that with the technology tools Verus brings to the table, “we have a winning formula for best-in-class title products in the state.”

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Fathom Holdings generates more than 90 percent of its revenue through Fathom Realty, its real estate brokerage business, but also provides mortgages, title insurance, insurance and technology for agents.

After going public in 2020, Fathom acquired North Carolina-based Verus Title for $1.7 million — $700,000 in cash, and $1 million in Fathom stock.

Fathom’s 2021 $28.88 million acquisition of E4:9 Holdings and two other subsidiaries, Encompass Lending Group and Real Results, furthered the company’s goal of building an end-to-end real estate services platform.

Verus Title locations

Source: Verus Title.

A technology-focused title agency, Verus works with underwriters including Chicago Title, WFG, Fidelity, Old Republic and Stewart and has expanded its licensing footprint to 31 states and Washington, D.C.

Like many of its competitors, Fathom has seen a decline in revenue as elevated mortgage rates slow home sales, but has continued to add agents and trim its losses. Fathom Realty grew to nearly 12,000 agents during the first quarter, and parent company Fathom Holdings trimmed its net loss by 30 percent from Q4, to $5.9 million.

In April, Fathom launched a new joint venture, Verus Title Elite Texas LLC, with individual teams and top-producing Fathom agents throughout Texas. Fathom said it plans to have joint ventures in most of the 30 states where its Verus Title subsidiary operates by the end of 2025.

Fathom Holdings announced in May it had sold its insurance subsidiary, Dagley Insurance, back to founder Nathan Dagley for $15 million, and would the proceeds to strengthen the company’s financial position and support growth initiatives.

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Email Matt Carter

StackWrap makes sense of your tech-stack: Tech Review

StackWrap makes sense of your tech-stack: Tech Review

Indie broker Max Fitzgerald built this app to be the top layer of brokerage tech stack, enabling better organization, access and understanding of its most-used tools.

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StackWrap is software for consolidating access to a brokerage’s tech stack.

Platforms: Web
Ideal for: Tech-forward brokerages, teams

Top selling points:

  • Flexible user experience
  • Easy product/account integration
  • Granular admin controls
  • Highly scalable to brokerage size
  • Current partner product selection

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Top concerns:

This application may encounter integration issues as its growing user base suggests more complex and sophisticated linkages. I suspect some added controls and directives related to what can become part of the system will be necessary.

What you should know

StackWrap is productivity software that serves as a top layer to a brokerage’s tech stack, enabling better organization, access and understanding of a company’s most-used applications. The solution was built by Max Fitzgerald, who owns the independent brokerage Craft & Bauer.

Users can connect any number of common systems — Follow Up Boss, SkySlope, their MLS, etc. — to the StackWrap interface, giving them a single place to begin their workday. The primary dashboard offers a modern, smart layout with a simple navigation design that allows one-click access to what you need when.

Need to check-in on an agreement signature? Click your DocuSign link. Did a new lead sign up for a newsletter? Hop into Mailchimp or SendGrid to see what’s what.

There are feature panels that list notifications, tasks, transactions and a daily calendar, all fueled by the respective product.

Beyond StackWrap’s inherent administrative flexibility, each panel can be resized, moved around and altered as needed to design as efficient a physical space as an operational one.

Admins can add products with a few clicks, require the product’s API code and decide in what category it should live. Savvy agents can set up hierarchies, such as “Productivity,” “Marketing,” “Communications” and “Internal,” for example. It can do what you want it to.

The intent of StackWrap is to make sense of all the disparate logins and domains an agent must interact with to function.

Through my own reporting, and backed by Fitzgerald’s impetus for creating the product, we know that agents are often given too many products to work with or eschew. This can make recruiting pitches from your competitors all the more attractive because of how a wooing brokerage may handle their technology.

In short, technology tools can all be too much for agents at times, which contributes to a lack of adoption or, worse, a general apathy toward tech.

A valuable byproduct of this software is that it can help brokerages better monitor what products get the most use and reveal product redundancies.

Because the admin can impersonate agent users, it becomes easy to oversee what software agents use (and for what) or to measure login frequency, for example. This is great data for deciding if licenses should be renewed or if account levels can be reduced in some way.

Think of StackWrap as your software foyer or receiving area. The entryway to your tech stack.

It has its own features, too. It can be arranged by teams or across offices, and again, the admin flexibility is impressive, even if most brokers will pass off such roles to marketing staff or ops executives, which is fine.

As I told Fitzgerald in our demo, I’m always happy to look at products that are trying to find ways to internalize efficiency. He’s not necessarily adding to the proptech noise; he’s offering a way to control its volume.

Have a technology product you would like to discuss? Email Craig Rowe

Craig C. Rowe started in commercial real estate at the dawn of the dot-com boom, helping an array of commercial real estate companies fortify their online presence and analyze internal software decisions. He now helps agents with technology decisions and marketing through reviewing software and tech for Inman.

Median home sale price in US rises to record high as transactions dip

Median home sale price in US rises to record high as transactions dip

The median sale price for an existing home in the U.S. has grown to a whopping $419,300 — the highest since NAR began tracking the metric — following 11-consecutive months of price gains.

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Existing-home sales shouldered a modest drop in May while the median sale price climbed to a new all-time high, according to data released Friday by the National Association of Realtors.

Sales of existing homes slid 0.7 percent between April and May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.11 million, the third-consecutive month of decreasing sales, data shows. Transactions also fell 2.8 percent on an annual basis.

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“Eventually, more inventory will help boost home sales and tame home price gains in the upcoming months,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “Increased housing supply spells good news for consumers who want to see more properties before making purchasing decisions.”

The median existing-home sale price grew 5.7 percent from May 2023 to a whopping $419,300 — the highest price recorded by NAR since it began tracking the metric in 1999 — following 11-straight months of price gains. The record-smashing price increase threatens to create further barriers to entry for aspiring home buyers already dealing with elevated mortgage rates, Yun suggested.

“Home prices reaching new highs are creating a wider divide between those owning properties and those who wish to be first-time buyers,” Yun said. “The mortgage payment for a typical home today is more than double that of homes purchased before 2020. Still, first-time buyers in the market understand the long-term benefits of owning.”

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 6.87 percent as of June 20, according to Freddie Mac, a decrease from the 6.95 percent average recorded the prior week but up from 6.67 percent a year earlier.

While mortgage rates dipped modestly in May, sales dipped with them, illustrating how much of an issue affordability is to buyers according to Zillow Senior Economist Orphe Divounguy.

“The decrease in sales is a stark reminder that affordability is still a challenge,” Divounguy said, “even as month-to-month improvements in inventory and interest rates emerge.”

Email Ben Verde