What the “Opendoor” Model Means for Real Estate

What the “Opendoor” Model Means for Real Estate

Will the tech startup Opendoor end the need for open houses, or is it just the latest upstart?

Anyone who’s considered buying or selling a house this millennium is familiar with Zillow, the online real estate database that’s been around for about ten years.

Much less familiar is Opendoor, a startup that launched about two years ago and, if the model works, promises to change the way homes are bought and sold nationwide.

Opendoor is a company that purchases houses (sight unseen except for one inspection) for a flat price determined by a complex algorithm. The company pays cash and the seller is quickly able to move on with their life—literally.

The exchange happens entirely electronically, except for the inspection to verify the seller-provided information.

Currently, Opendoor operates in two markets: Phoenix, Ariz. and Dallas, Texas.  The company only deals in single-family homes, valued between $125,000 and $500,000, that were built after 1960.  No fixer-uppers, “has potential” or luxury properties are allowed.

How, exactly, does Opendoor work?

Eric Wu, the 34-year-old cofounder of Opendoor, says that he wants to lessen the pain of moving for both sellers and buyers. To that end he put together a team that built a platform to streamline the process for both sides.

For sellers, that means first contacting Opendoor via their website and providing details about the house to be sold. Opendoor then makes an offer, if interested. If the offer is accepted (and the company aims to make accurate and competitive offers) then an inspection is scheduled.

Sellers then have a 60-day window for a closing date. On the closing date, which is set by the seller, the seller is paid and Opendoor (which handles all the “paperwork” details) owns the home.

For buyers, the process is a big step up from viewing property listings online. In addition to being able to check out the available homes, buyers can be connected to financing options. Another bonus: the ability to tour the home anytime between 6AM and 9PM, daily.

Remember, the houses are empty. Want to schedule a visit on the run? Opendoor’s got an app for that. Offers can be made electronically and reviewed quickly. On top of it, they even have a 30-day, money back guarantee.

The Good, the Bad and the Unknown

The model certainly has financial potential, according to the founders and their investors. Forbes called it one of the next “Billion-Dollar Start-Ups” because it taps into “a market with $1.4 trillion in annual transaction volume that’s been largely undisturbed for decades.”

Opendoor makes money by charging an (on average) 8 percent transaction fee to sellers. That’s obviously good for Opendoor, and the ease of selling is certainly good for the sellers.

But, there’s a downside. Opendoor is faced with the task of turning properties over, just like any real estate agent. Sitting on properties, or selling houses for less than the purchase price, isn’t going to turn a profit for the company.

Then there are the parameters, geographically and otherwise, of the model.  Mid-sized markets, with new construction, like Phoenix and Las Vegas (where Opendoor is heading next) might work—but what about more established cities, like Boston, Mass.? Buyers in Boston like historic properties.

Buying into even larger markets, like New York, would also seem to be a non-starter. In 2015 the average price of a single-family home in Manhattan was $1.87 million. Of course, there’s always Queens where the average price was only $452,304.

Finally, while there is certainly a business and financial transaction happening, purchasing a home is an emotional decision as well. An “old fashioned” realtor knows this and can help guide buyers along the ups and downs of the journey.

So far, that’s something no online platform, even Opendoor, can realistically offer.

Food Trucks Going Digital in New York City

Food Trucks Going Digital in New York City

Digitally savvy equals success for trucks and foodies alike.

Hot dogs, pupusas, kebabs, bamboo rice sticky bowls, fried chicken, falafel, bulgogi, and tacos made from any and all of the above. That’s “Food Truck Food,” New York City style. Every type of ethnic, fusion and fabulous food, prepared fresh daily, in food trucks on every block and in every borough.

Officially there are 4,235 food vendors in New York City, but unofficial estimates (which include non-permitted vendors, as well as rented and black market licenses) are at least double that number.

Entrepreneurial, fun, and, with a rapidly growing market, food trucks are beyond popular. But, it’s also a competitive market so it takes more than wonderful waffles, like the Belgian awesomeness of Wafels & Dinges, to keep customers coming back and to turn a profit.

It takes technology—starting with the right dongle.

No, a dongle isn’t a type of donut fusion with some exotic glaze. It’s the small credit card reader that attaches to phones, tablets and laptops so people can pay using a card.

Square has been the popular choice for this task since at least 2011, according to an article in Mashable. It, and digital tools like it, “make running a mobile business much easier and more efficient, since you don’t have to waste time counting cash or getting change from the bank.”

Square also has services to track sales, set up price lists (including specials!) and manage inventory. Square charges, on average, about 2.75 to 3.5 percent of the sale which makes them affordable on a lean budget. Other, similar, merchant vendor devices and services are offered by PayPal.

Once a food truck has the ability to accept payment in all forms, the next step (a daily step!) is to let customers know they’re open and ready for business.

This requires social media, including Twitter and Facebook, as well as membership with a mapping and food truck-tracking website and app.

Why the need to have multiple, facile, platforms and apps?  

The most obvious reason: food trucks are mobile. With traffic, construction, protests and parades trucks need to be able to adapt to ever-changing landscape of city—yet still let people know where to find the food.

Social media lets food-truck-fans follow digitally so that following the path of favorite trucks literally is easier. Also, in order to make ends meet many trucks offer catering and delivery—usually via-online-ordering.

That’s where joining up with a site like RoamingHunger really comes into play. The company has been around since 2009 and has maps of multiple cities where all the best food trucks are listed, mapped (with time as well as place!) and tracked.

Based on the site’s list of popular trucks, including Korilla BBQ which won the Rookie of the Year Vendy in 2011 and is still going strong, connecting to a website like RoamingHunger is mandatory for mobile eateries. It effectively gets the word out and brings customers in.

For those on the other side of the counter, the food-truck-foodies, technology makes finding new options and old favorites easy. In addition to RoamingHunger, FoodTrucksIn offer location and contact information for food trucks (if the truck has “checked in”) as well as a sort feature for hungry foodies to look for the exact type of food in which they’re interested.

Of course, for calorie-free enjoyment there’s always Pinterest and Instagram. Many food truck vendors use these sites to highlight their really “wow” menu items.

Though you may still be uncertain which food trucks to visit for lunch as the weather gets warmer, one thing is for sure: food trucks and technology may both be mobile, but as a pairing they aren’t going anywhere.

An Age Old Tale: Ads vs Art in New York City

An Age Old Tale: Ads vs Art in New York City

New York City is a city with many reputations, not all of which fit neatly in a box. The restless metropolis is both a financial and artistic capital, known as much for Time Square’s neon ad-space as it is a canvas for renowned creators from poet EE Cummings to muralist Banksy.

Walk down a street and you’ll see a flashy Apple billboard on one side and street art on the other. Jump on the Q train, and you’ll see a Seamless campaign on the wall alongside a poem by Walt Whitman. New York has managed to allow ads and art to share space, even when the former is not as financially viable. How can this be, and can there be harmony between the two—and just as importantly, those behind them?

It’s important to begin by prefacing that ads and art have a lot in common. Overlap exists in the skills used to create them, and in their impact: catching the eye, heart, or mind’s attention, or eliciting a certain emotion. The difference is all in the intent: art isn’t selling anything, except itself or an idea from time to time.

New York City’s history as an artistic hub is well-known. To this day artists flock to New York City for its vibrant art scene, though the barrier to entry—not to mention the rent—has gone up since the days of beat poets and starving artists. Home to some of the world’s best art museums, like the MoMA and the MET, New York City is an artistic mecca in all fields: music, theater, writing, painting, you name it. And why not? With a rich history, diverse populace, and colorful culture, the streets are steeped in inspiration from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

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Still, as much as artists are drawn to its lights like moths to a flame, New York has always been about the money first: think Wall Street, Upper West Side mansions and TriBeca penthouses. A beacon of hope in theory, the city of opportunity is also incredibly cut-throat. These days, “making it” means making money. And one way to do that? Go commercial.

Advertising is far from the only field that has commercialized art, but it’s certainly notable from an aesthetics perspective. The site of the hit AMC show Mad Men and the real life ad scene that inspired it, New York has also been an international hub for advertising for over a century. Among others, New York is home to the Omnicom Group, the second largest ad agency in the world with an annual revenue of over $15 billion.  

Times Square is the most obvious, visual representation of NYC’s ad status. As early as WWII, the area has been a major intersection and prime vision of ad-space since the late 1800s. The first electrified advertisements appeared in 1904 and grew significantly in the 1920s. Though it declined and rose with the city over the years, especially following the Great Depression, WWII, it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world to this day. This is stunning when you consider that people are traveling across the world to essentially see advertisements in bulk.

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It’s worth noting that Times Square isn’t a godless vacuum of cheap Elmos, naked Cowboys, and Coca-Cola ads: it’s also the heart of New York City’s theater district. Broadway has been a safe haven and love of artists for decades, but it’s also a multi-billion dollar industry, much like other forms of entertainment: music, movies, etc.

Is it surprising, then, that you can walk down the street in New York and still consume art for free? As Jordan Seiler, founder of the Public Ad Campaign,” told the New York Times, “Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.” New York has always valued art and will always have people in the public and private sector pushing to showcase it.

Seiler’s project, Public Ad Campaign, advocates for artists taking over public ad space. It also promotes an app called “No Ad” that uses augmented reality to transform ads into a “curated digital art experience” — among other partnerships, tools and exhibitions. The idea is for artists and art-lovers alike to resist ads in favor of artistic messages.

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This renegade approach may not be wholly necessary, because it appears that New York is already on board with not-for-profit ads; the two coexist and not compete. People who work or study advertising, for their part, often create their own art on the side (there’s a reason the industry attracts writers and illustrators). More importantly, public projects commissioning local artists to decorate subways and “beautify” neighborhoods are proliferating. Heck, the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” was even brought back by popular demand.

This just goes to show that people like art for art’s sake, and the city knows that. It’s in their best interest to keep this in mind in order to attract residents and keeping commuters happy. For this reason, we can expect to continue seeing artists given a seat at the table, even if they’re sharing elbow space with Don Draper.

Will Ride-Sharing Vanquish NYC’s Yellow Cabs?

Will Ride-Sharing Vanquish NYC’s Yellow Cabs?

The concept of ride-sharing, exemplified by popular services Uber, Lyft and their corresponding apps, is still a fairly fresh transportation trend. Unlike regular planes, trains, and automobiles, ride-sharing apps constitute startup business models that have the potential to disrupt entire transport ecosystems—especially in regards to the already robust taxi fleets in major cities like New York.

Will taxi fleets be a thing of the past, lost by the wayside like horse-drawn carriages? New research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that, if passengers get on board with the car-pooling elements of ride-sharing services, New York City’s transportation network could be supported with just a quarter of its current 14,000 yellow cabs. As few as 3,000 vehicles, researchers say, could service the entire metropolis.

Because the remaining vehicles could be Ubers, Lyfts, Junos, Vias, Getts, or other black car with an app attached, New York City could in theory pull a whopping 85% of its yellow cabs and still service 98% of commuter demand. This would come with huge consequences, both good and bad. As an obvious negative, thousands upon thousands of drivers would lose their jobs. As a positive, congestion could clear up significantly along with pollution.

Of course, these predictions are still largely speculative. They operate on the assumption, first of all, that commuters would be willing to use ride-sharing apps and, importantly, share their cars with other people. Since many people choose cabs to avoid sharing space with strangers, this assumption may be a stretch.

Researchers also factored the rise of autonomous vehicles into the equation. Their algorithms suit autonomous vehicles best, as this technology would in practice plan routes most efficiently. The whole point is that less traffic, smarter vehicles, and ride-sharing would make cab-hailing (and even driving) unnecessary. Without autonomous vehicles, you still get traffic and accidents, meaning more drag-time on the road.

It’s true nonetheless that autonomous technology is progressing rapidly, with investments in the field growing too. But the fact remains that most Americans are simply not interested in autonomous vehicles, and cite a lack of trust as a big reason.

But assume that autonomous cars do catch on in a big way. PBS speculates that this would simply lead to more congestion and emissions, as people would choose go about their professional or personal activities enroute. If people are willing to work, eat, and sleep on the road, this is certainly a possibility. So the question becomes, are New Yorkers more likely to get comfortable in a driverless car for a grueling but hands-free commute, or rub up against strangers for a fast one?

Whatever the case, New York City’s taxi drivers appear to be bracing themselves for change, whatever magnitude it may be and however soon. Though researchers claim that limiting fleet number would be an improvement—the same amount of money for shorter shifts—not everyone is convinced.

The shift is well underway, and taxi drivers are feeling it. According to the New York Times, taxi medallions are going for half of the $1.3 million recorded just three years ago, and the average number of daily taxi trips has been reduced by 100,000 in comparison to six years ago. As more people grow comfortable using apps to catch rides, the decline of yellow cabs isn’t just inevitable. It’s already happening.

In a way, the vanishing of taxis, if and when the time comes, will be the end of an era. Yellow cabs have become synonymous with New York life: a quintessential flash of color in a sometimes gloomy cityscape. It’s hard to imagine the city without them. But nostalgia can’t erase the fact that ride-sharing is cheaper, easier, and more efficient than sticking your hand into the street and hoping to catch a car at random.

If taxis become obsolete, is transport system run by ride-sharing startups ideal? Judging by the recent backlash against the Uber, perhaps not. Ride-sharing companies, still only about decade old, have a lot of kinks to work out in order to prove that they are in the drivers’, employees’ and customers’ best interest. Given the fierce competition, we’ll likely see adjustments in the market to meet the demands and preferences of the public. If the result is black instead of yellow, so be it.

7 Unconventional Date Ideas for Offbeat New Yorkers

7 Unconventional Date Ideas for Offbeat New Yorkers

As anyone on the planning end of a date knows, breaking away from the typical dinner-and-a-movie narrative can be a bit overwhelming. In a city like New York, where urbanites can find almost any activity available in some corner of the city or boroughs, how do you choose the right activity and set the tone for an impressive date that shows off your offbeat interests? If you’re out of ideas, check out the list below for some novel date excursions for you and your special someone.

For sports lovers

For an unusual venue and unconventional sport, check out the Royal Palms Shuffleboard club in Gowanus. You don’t have to book a cruise to get your deck game kicks: this Brooklyn hotspot features 10 shuffleboard courts, DJs, board games, in-house food trucks, and–of course–bars. If you don’t know how to play, court time comes with a free lesson.

For movie lovers

For an old-timey movie date, buy tickets to Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. Thanks to its own legislative lobbying, Nitehawk Cinema legally serves food and a wide selection of alcohol–including handcrafted cocktails and local beers–during performances. Short of a drive-in, this may be the most romantic dinner and a movie you can find in the city.

For magic lovers

For a delightful dining experience, book two tickets to A Taste of Magic at Gossip restaurant. Roving magicians entertain diners between courses with sleight of hand and magic tricks.

For meditative lovers

For a truly thoughtful and energizing experience amidst a tumultuous time, take your significant other to meditate at MNDFL Mindful Meditation. Mediation can reduce stress, induce calm, and improve your outlook. Together you and your partner can form a new healthy habit and resolve to live more consciously in the new year.

For dance lovers

For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, head on down to Jebon Sushi in the East Village. The St. Marks establishment is home to a weekly show hosted by Kaeshi of Bellyqueen, a professional belly dancing troupe. Along with drinks and food, take in the Arabic, Turkish, and Flamenco fusion jams, enjoy the performers, and show off your own dance skills on the open floor!

For history lovers

For a look at love out of time and an appreciation of how matchmaking and meeting people has changed, take a trip down to the Lower East side. The Tenement Museum offers a peek into early twentieth century courting rituals and the love stories of boarders at 97 Orchard Street in its Love at the Tenement tours on February 10.

For animals lovers

In a truly unique romantic gesture, the Bronx Zoo lets you name a Madagascar hissing cockroach after your special someone, whether an entomophile or an ex. You can also add on chocolate and a plush cockroach for bonus points. The experience of meeting their unlikely namesake on a trip to the zoo is something your significant other won’t forget anytime soon.