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What’s Driving Innovations in Real Estate Auctions?

DS News sat down with Jason Allnutt, General Manager of Auction.com, to discuss the most important lessons he has learned as a veteran of the mortgage industry, the challenges and opportunities in the market today, and more.

Allnutt, a 20-year veteran of the mortgage industry, oversees business development, operations, marketing, and product strategy for Auction.com, which has sold over 244,000 properties – over $41 billion in sales.

Prior to joining the company in 2009, Allnutt served as the executive in charge of credit operations for Fannie Mae, where his responsibilities included servicing, REO management, and forensic underwriting. He also previously served as VP of Default Administration for GMAC ResCap’s Homecomings servicing platform. 

You’ve spent a long time in this business. As you look back on your career, what have you learned and what are you most proud of?

I’m extremely proud of what we’re doing here at Auction.com right now, particularly with regard to how we’ve been able to improve real estate sales execution for our clients, while elevating customer service and operational efficiency. The time I spent at ResCap and then Fannie Mae–where I had oversight of over 1,400 servicers–informed my industry view in significant and very relevant ways. The most important lessons I learned from those experiences are now driving the innovation and benefits we try to deliver to our clients at Auction.com. Ultimately there are four core beliefs that drive all of our programs: 

First, that people and communities are affected by our programs and should be a central consideration in everything we do. By shortening the time between foreclosure and homeownership, we try to help stabilize the experience for all. Nothing is worse for struggling neighborhoods than vacant and dilapidated homes.

Second, that whether you are trying to minimize the credit losses associated with a foreclosure, or you are trying to maximize the return on a real estate portfolio investment, the calculus always comes down to optimizing the balance between the asset’s sales price with the avoidance of holding expenses. 

Third, that an understanding of the market is critical to the disposition strategy. Sellers who make big capital investments in a home that will ultimately be sold to an investor create a suboptimal outcome, as investors prefer to make their own renovations. At the same time, not repairing a home that will likely sell to owner occupants–who prefer move-in ready properties–will lead to its own suboptimal outcome. Having a model which allows our clients to optimize their strategy on every home in every market is a huge part of the Auction.com advantage.

And finally, that the power of technology, and the internet is a game changer, and something we’ve leveraged in a way that has allowed our clients to begin to optimize their disposition strategies long before the foreclosure sale. Historically we were limited in how we could access buyers, kind of like garage sales before eBay existed. Today, the power of the internet and the innovative ways that we utilize mobile applications, database marketing, email, social media and search engine marketing create awareness and demand that benefits our clients. 

What interesting challenges are you seeing in the market right now?

We have been very focused on the massive transfer of servicing rights and NPL sales from our traditional clients to up-and-coming investors and servicers. This is a very dynamic and exciting opportunity. Showing the flexibility of our marketplace, and how it can be used by an increasingly diverse set of players with complex goals has been very energizing. Helping our new partners understand the power of the internet, and how it can serve their goals has the same underlying market dynamics: Having the right strategy for the right home, beginning that strategic thinking before the foreclosure sale, creating mass awareness, and demand for that home, and then executing in an efficient, and customer-centric way.

How significantly do you think technology is changing the business of real estate?

Technology is at the very core of everything we do. Even the live foreclosure auction events that we do at the courthouse steps use an enormous amount of technology in the behind-the-scenes processes, online marketing, and communications with both sellers and buyers. For example, in the past, a buyer needed to show up at the courthouse step to learn that a sale had been postponed or cancelled, or to learn that a seller had decided to bid at total debt and take the asset into their REO portfolio. Today, our buyers get this information digitally and in a timely manner through their computer, or mobile device. They know if a home is intended to sell at a reasonable price, they can review title reports and property condition assessments all from the convenience of their home or office, and they can even place a bid remotely through our proxy services. All of these advantages have come together to form a true marketplace where one did not exist previously, and this is all the result of the evolving and growing power of technology.

In partnership with our clients, and investors like Google Capital, we believe that this innovation, and the benefits it is creating in our industry are only just beginning. As I think about what’s next, I’m reminded of the central consideration in these programs, the family living in the home. In the next year, we plan to launch an industry-changing program where we will be able to harness our marketplace to not only match buyers with a home, but expand that interaction to include the occupants as potential and certified renters. Imagine a time when a seller could avoid an eviction by transitioning ownership of a foreclosed home to a buyer who would benefit from a tenant in place. Stay tuned, it’s just around the corner.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of DS News.

About Author: Kendall Baer

Kendall Baer is a Baylor University graduate with a degree in news editorial journalism and a minor in marketing. She is fluent in both English and Italian, and studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Apart from her work as a journalist, she has also managed professional associations such as Association of Corporate Counsel, Commercial Real Estate Women, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Project Management Institute for Association Management Consultants in Houston, Texas. Born and raised in Texas, Baer now works as the online editor for DS News.
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