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May 10 2021
How Pacaso Makes It Easier for More People to Own a Second Home
Austin Allison's love of real estate surfaced at age four or five when he would work with a hammer in hand alongside his dad, who was a carpenter.
He bought his first house at age 17 and began selling real estate at 18.
Now, Allison is CEO of Pacaso, a second home co-ownership platform he co-founded in 2020 along with dot.LA chairman and former Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff. Allison was also a Zillow executive.
The idea came to him when he and his wife dreamed of purchasing a second home, and found few options to do so.
"We were like most families who aspire to own a second home but could not afford it at the time," he said.
Allison saw an opportunity and a way to make second homes more affordable through a co-ownership model. He also believed that by consolidating multiple owners in one home, it would help the housing market in these communities by filling second homes year round.
Pacaso co-founder and CEO Austin Allison
The concept of co-ownership isn't new, but unlike "DIY" shared ownership arrangements among family members or friends, Pacaso manages all the details for potential home buyers. Pacaso purchases a home and creates a property-specific LLC. The home is listed through the MLS and on Pacaso's website, and potential buyers can then purchase the share of ownership they want, starting at one-eighth.
Each home has a maximum of eight owners. An owner with a one-eighth share can use their home at least 44 days throughout the year.
Once all shares have been sold, Pacaso transitions to handling ongoing maintenance, LLC oversight, bill payment and scheduling. Pacaso charges an initial service fee, which is a percentage of the home's sale price, and then charges a flat rate of $99/ month per share for its management services.
One of the benefits of buying a home through Pacaso is that buyers can purchase higher-end homes for only a fraction of the cost, making second home ownership more accessible. For example, someone can spend $500,000 to buy a share of a $4 million home. Allison calls this "right sizing" home ownership, because most owners don't need a whole home.
"It doesn't make sense to own 100% of something that you're only going to use 12% of the time, so why not just buy 12%," he said.
George, a Bay Area tech CEO and Pacaso owner in Napa, agrees.
"It was clear the team had really thought about what the shared economy looks like for vacation homes, and what it would look like for me and my wife who want to take advantage of a second home but are busy and active in our work lives," he said. "We're not retired or close to it, so I'm not going to be occupying a second home more than 15% tops. It's a perfect product for someone like me, and that helped us move forward quickly and become owners of a Pacaso home."
Lowering the price of entry for homes in desirable (and pricey) markets is opening up second home ownership to a broader buyer pool. Allison said many Pacaso owners are people in their 40s and 50s with children, and a quarter are non-white and/or part of the LGBTQ community.
Another benefit for owners, especially those who are still working full time or live far away, is not having to worry about the home when they aren't there. Pacaso is responsible for maintenance and management, simplifying the experience of second home ownership.
The model is common in commercial real estate, but not so much in the vacation home industry. It's different than the traditional timeshare structure, which is typically limited to hotels or resorts rather than single-family homes. Timeshare units are shared with up to 52 other people, rather than just seven other families.
Through Pacaso, the buyer owns their share of the property and can sell it on the open market. With a timeshare, residents typically own the right to use the property, not the property itself.
When it comes to wanting to sell the property, the process is similar to whole-home resale. It is listed on the MLS and the value tracks with the local market, which is a huge differentiator from timeshares, which typically lose value.
"One of the biggest hurdles for any buyer is understanding what Pacaso offers that's different from a timeshare. Seeing that there's value in ownership and you get to use it for what you need instead of feeling 'stuck in a timeshare' is hugely important," George said.
In addition to the benefits for buyers, Pacaso's model also helps the housing market at large by removing up to seven buyers from competition for each home. Demand for second homes increased 100% year-over-year in 2020, according to Redfin, as work became remote and people could work from anywhere. This spike in demand was felt in popular second home markets, where buyers were competing for the same homes needed by local residents. The net effect has been less inventory and higher prices.
Because most buyers of whole second homes only plan to use them several weeks out of the year, the homes sit empty most of the time. This means local businesses suffer, because more often than not, there's no one in the home to shop at local stores and patronize restaurants in the community.
Allison and his wife eventually used their savings and purchased a second home in Lake Tahoe in 2014. They became part of the Lake Tahoe community, meeting neighbors and making friends, shopping locally, frequenting restaurants and finding trails to run on.
He said, "It enriched our lives, which is how we came up with the mission of our company: to enrich lives by making second homeownership possible and enjoyable for more people."
"More people should have access to this dream," Allison added. "It shouldn't just be a privilege that's limited to the top 1%. Many tens of millions of additional people should be able to realize the dream. That's why we created the company, and that's what we plan to do across the globe."
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Dec 09 2022
It took me 48 hours to realize Lensa might have a problem.
“Is that my left arm or my boob?” I asked my boyfriend, which is not what I’d consider a GREAT question to have to ask when using photo editing software.
“Huh,” my boyfriend said. “Well, it has a nipple.”
I had already spent an embarrassing amount of money downloading nearly 1,000 high-definition images of myself generated by AI through an app called Lensa as part of its new “Magical Avatar” feature. There are many reasons to cock an eyebrow at the results, some of which have been covered extensively in the last few days in a mounting moral panic as Lensa has shot itself to the #1 slot in the app store.
The way it works is users upload 10-20 photos of themselves from their camera roll. There are a few suggestions for best results: the pictures should show different angles, different outfits, different expressions. They shouldn’t all be from the same day. (“No photoshoots.”) Only one person in the frame, so the system doesn’t confuse you for someone else.
Lensa runs on Stable Diffusion, a deep-learning mathematical method that can generate images based on text or picture prompts, in this case taking your selfies and ‘smoothing’ them into composites that use elements from every photo. That composite can then be used to make the second generation of images, so you get hundreds of variations with no identical pictures that hit somewhere between the Uncanny Valley and one of those magic mirrors Snow White’s stepmother had. The tech has been around since 2019 and can be found on other AI image generators, of which Dall-E is the most famous example. Using its latent diffusion model and a 400 million image dataset called CLIP, Lensa can spit back 200 photos across 10 different art styles.
Though the tech has been around a few years, the rise in its use over the last several days may have you feeling caught off guard for a singularity that suddenly appears to have been bumped up to sometime before Christmas. ChatGPT made headlines this week for its ability to maybe write your term papers, but that’s the least it can do. It can program code, break down complex concepts and equations to explain to a second grader, generate fake news and prevent its dissemination.
It seems insane that when confronted with the Asminovian reality we’ve been waiting for with either excitement, dread or a mixture of both, the first thing we do is use it for selfies and homework. Yet here I was, filling up almost an entire phone’s worth of pictures of me as fairy princesses, anime characters, metallic cyborgs, Lara Croftian figures, and cosmic goddesses.
And in the span of Friday night to Sunday morning, I watched new sets reveal more and more of me. Suddenly the addition of a nipple went from a Cronenbergian anomaly to the standard, with almost every photo showing me with revealing cleavage or completely topless, even though I’d never submitted a topless photo. This was as true for the male-identified photos as the ones where I listed myself as a woman (Lensa also offers an “other” option, which I haven’t tried.)
When I changed my selected gender from female to male: boom, suddenly, I got to go to space and look like Elon Musk’s Twitter profile, where he’s sort of dressed like Tony Stark. But no matter which photos I entered or how I self-identified, one thing was becoming more evident as the weekend went on: Lensa imagined me without my clothes on. And it was getting better at it.
Was it disconcerting? A little. The arm-boob fusion was more hilarious than anything else, but as someone with a larger chest, it would be weirder if the AI had missed that detail completely. But some of the images had cropped my head off entirely to focus just on my chest, which…why?
According to AI expert Sabri Sansoy, the problem isn’t with Lensa’s tech but most likely with human fallibility.
“I guarantee you a lot of that stuff is mislabeled,” said Sansoy, a robotics and machine learning consultant based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sansoy has worked in AI since 2015 and claims that human error can lead to some wonky results. “Pretty much 80% of any data science project or AI project is all about labeling the data. When you’re talking in the billions (of photos), people get tired, they get bored, they mislabel things and then the machine doesn’t work correctly.”
Sansoy gave the example of a liquor client who wanted software that could automatically identify their brand in a photo; to train the program to do the task, the consultant had first to hire human production assistants to comb through images of bars and draw boxes around all the bottles of whiskey. But eventually, the mind-numbing work led to mistakes as the assistants got tired or distracted, resulting in the AI learning from bad data and mislabeled images. When the program confuses a cat for a bottle of whiskey, it’s not because it was broken. It’s because someone accidentally circled a cat.
So maybe someone forgot to circle the nudes when programming Stable Diffusion’s neural net used by Lensa. That’s a very generous interpretation that would explain a baseline amount of cleavage shots. But it doesn’t explain what I and many others were witnessing, which was an evolution from cute profile pics to Brassier thumbnails.
When I reached out for comment via email, a Lensa spokesperson responded not by directing us to a PR statement but actually took the time to address each point I’d raised. “It would not be entirely accurate to state that this matter is exclusive to female users,” said the Lensa spokesperson, “or that it is on the rise. Sporadic sexualization is observed across all gender categories, although in different ways. Please see attached examples.” Unfortunately, they were not for external use, but I can tell you they were of shirtless men who all had rippling six packs, hubba hubba.
“The stable Diffusion Model was trained on unfiltered Internet content, so it reflects the biases humans incorporate into the images they produce,” continued the response. Creators acknowledge the possibility of societal biases. So do we.” It reiterated the company was working on updating its NSFW filters.
As for my insight about any gender-specific styles, the spokesperson added: “The end results across all gender categories are generated in line with the same artistic principles. The following styles can be applied to all groups, regardless of their identity: Anime and Stylish.”
I found myself wondering if Lensa was also relying on AI to handle their PR, before surprising myself by not caring all that much. If I couldn’t tell, did it even matter? This is either a testament to how quickly our brains adapt and become numb to even the most incredible of circumstances; or the sorry state of hack-flack relationships, where the gold standard of communication is a streamlined transfer of information without things getting too personal.
As for the case of the strange AI-generated girlfriend? “Occasionally, users may encounter blurry silhouettes of figures in their generated images. These are just distorted versions of themselves that were ‘misread’ by the AI and included in the imagery in an awkward way.”
So: gender is a social construct that exists on the Internet; if you don’t like what you see, you can blame society. It’s Frankenstein’s monster, and we’ve created it after our own image.
Or, as the language processing AI model ChatGPT might put it: “Why do AI-generated images always seem so grotesque and unsettling? It's because we humans are monsters and our data reflects that. It's no wonder the AI produces such ghastly images - it's just a reflection of our own monstrous selves.”
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Dec 13 2022
Vinfast, the Vietnamese EV company with headquarters in Los Angeles, shipped its first order of vehicles to U.S. soil from Hai Phong, Vietnam on November 25th. The batch of 999 automobiles is due to arrive here in California on Thursday this week.
The VF8 SUVs on board will have the difficult task of convincing American buyers that an unknown, untested Vietnamese manufacturer can deliver on a new technology. And so far, the company appears to be off to a rocky start.
According to an email sent to reservation holders on November 29th, the VF8s in the initial shipment will be a special “City Edition” and have lower range advertised than the previously announced versions–just 180 miles in total. Over the weekend, Vinfast confirmed to dot.LA via Twitter that all of the vehicles in the first batch are the City Edition, and that the standard edition would be coming Q1 of 2023. Until this email, there had been little, if any mention of this new City Edition. The message to reservation holders offered no rationale as to why the company was choosing to ship this version of the car instead of the 260-292 mile-range VF8 it’s been advertising for months. Despite the lower range, however, the EVs will still carry a price tag of either $55,500 or $62,500, depending on trim–just $3,000 less than the previously-announced versions.
The VF8 Specs page from Vinfast’s site still bears no mention of a “City Edition,” but that’s what’s coming to America this month.
Vinfast is offering reservation holders an additional $3,000 off these City Edition variants (bringing the total to $6,000 less than the previously announced versions). But even at a discount, the vehicle’s $52,000 price tag is far from competitive with more established EV makers and raises questions about the brand’s strategy and value.
- The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 has 220 miles of range and starts at $42,745. Or 303 miles of range for $60,000.
- The base model Kia EV6 costs $49,795 and goes 206 miles on a full charge.
- The Mustang Mach E starts at 46,895 and reaches 224 miles.
And the list goes on. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a 2023 EV with a worse cost to range ratio than the VF8. Vinfast, which has been nearly impossible to reach on this matter despite numerous calls and emails, hasn’t explained why they chose to offer such a range-compromised version as their initial foray into the U.S. market, or why the cost remains so high.
The reaction to the news, especially on Reddit, has been largely negative, with users accusing the company of “springing” the City Edition on reservation holders. Others speculated that the company rushed out the first batch so it could drum up good press before its recently announced IPO. Whatever the reason, most redditors didn’t seem to be buying it, and with Vinfast so reluctant to comment, it’s hard to see the announcement in a light that bodes well for the company’s future. First impressions tend to last, and this doesn’t seem like a good one for the EV hopeful.
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