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House-Flipping Algorithms are Coming to Your Neighborhood


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Does the arrival of Silicon Valley tech point to a better future for housing, or an industry disruption to fear?

Credit: Cameron Davidson

For years, Michael Maxson spent more nights in hotels than his own bed, working on speaker systems for the titans of heavy rock on global tours. When Maxson decided to settle down with his wife and their two dogs, they chose the city where stadium rock spectacles took him more often than any other: Las Vegas.

After renting for several years, in 2021 he found a home he wanted to buy in Clark County—a place within easy reach of Vegas's headline venues yet also quiet, an airy single-­story stucco house on Dancing Avenue, which backs onto a 2,000-acre park. He dreamed of waking up each morning to look out across lakes and parkland. "It was a beautiful home," says Maxson. "I mean, the fact you could see the mountains and the sun set and rise. Man."

But Maxson's house hunt was unexpectedly chaotic. House prices in Las Vegas leaped up 25% that year, and the market was awash with cheap mortgages and wolfish investors. 

His dream home was not owned by a person but by a tech company. Zillow, the US's largest real estate listings site, had begun buying up homes in 2018, predicting it could create a "one-click nirvana" for purchasing real estate. It estimated returns of $20 billion a year. Zillow Offers, its "instant buying" business, followed startups like Opendoor and Offerpad, which had pioneered "iBuying," the so-called "high-tech flipping" model, which uses data systems to price houses and investor cash to buy them before fixing them up and selling them.

 

From MIT Technology Review


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