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Inside Real Estate (Aug 19th, 2019)

1. Mortgage company Better.com has expanded its Series C round from the $70 million announced in January to a total of $160 million. The company's funding is now up to $254 million and the valuation is over $600 million. As its name suggests, Better seeks to provide a more positive mortgage experience through the use of technology. The company is operational in over 30 states and has had over $5 billion in originations to date. Better uses a commission-free business model and its streamlined process promised to cut in half the time it takes to close a mortgage. — FORTUNE

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2. Facebook is the latest brand to experiment with cafes. The first Facebook cafes will open across the U.K. next month. The shops will offer free coffee for participating in a "privacy checkup." The concept is similar to what Capital One has done with its Capital One cafes in the U.S., and if they become popular, may provide another answer to what to do with unused retail space. While direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker and Everlane started online-only, they have started to see the value in having physical spaces. It may be that Facebook is also seeing the idea of physical space as a way to humanize the brand and be part of the offline conversation.— FAST COMPANY

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3. Mansion Monday: The Glen Roy estate is the most expensive home in Richmond, Virginia, at $9.98 million. The estate on 261 acres overlooks the James River and has a pool, smokehouse, tennis courts, and an airplane hangar. The property has a boat dock and ramp with access to the river. The gardens were designed by the widely acclaimed landscape architect, Charles Gillette.

It was most recently owned by the late T. Fleetwood Garner, an aviation executive who owned flight schools. The original owner was H. Watt Ellerson, a president of Albemarle Paper Co., now Ethyl Corp. who built the 11,300-square-feet Georgian colonial in 1927. The home was designed by architect W. Duncan Lee and has eight bedrooms. A dramatic curving staircase defines the home's entrance, and it also has grand formal rooms and a solarium. The Garner family is marketing the home as a family compound but developers have expressed interest. — RICHMOND BIZ SENSE

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4. A major project in Boston's Back Bay has been canceled. Weiner Ventures had planned to build a 33-story condo tower and a 17-story apartment building above the Massachusetts Turnpike but has decided to scrap the project, which would have been the first air-rights project in Boston since the 1980s. A second project that would also use air rights above the Turnpike recently received planning approval. That project would include an office tower and a hotel or apartments. — BOSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

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5. A real estate agent who used Christian messaging in her email has filed a lawsuit against the Virginia State Real Estate Board. The board filed a complaint against Hassadah Carter saying that her use of Bible verses on her website and email violated fair housing laws and could make people feel discriminated against. In return, a Christian conservative group, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed a lawsuit on Carter's behalf saying that her rights of free speech were violated. The real estate board dropped its complaint but required the broker to monitor her use of religious messaging. She later resigned. — RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH

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6. Modular home creator Blokable has raised another $23 million in funding. Vulcan Capital led the Series A round, and other investors included Salesforce's Marc Benioff, and Inside founder Jason Calacanis' LAUNCH. Blokable is planning a new factory in Sacramento. Blokable creates individual units have steel frames and can be stacked as high as three stories. The units incorporate a smart home monitoring system. It is currently at work on a project in Edmonds, Washington that uses units built in its factory in Vancouver, Washington. — GEEKWIRE

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7. The founder and CEO of growing real estate franchise HomeSmart has an impressive side hustle: He has developed a method of secure online checks. ValidCheck is designed to protect against check fraud, a multi-billion problem for the real estate industry. The e-checks have a routing number, account number, and other details like a physical check. ValidCheck uses Positive Pay, a verification system that allows for immediate payment.ValidChecks can be purchased online. — AZ BIG MEDIA

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8. Airbnb booked 91 million nights during the first quarter of this year. The Wall Street Journal reported that booking value was up 31 percent from one year ago and revenue growth was up by 40 percent. Airbnb is planning for an initial public offering in 2020. The numbers are important because after Lyft and Uber's lackluster showings and the significant debt in WeWork's S-1 filing, investors are looking for reasons to be optimistic about upcoming IPOs. — REUTERS
 

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9. Actor Danny Glover, who has been a voice against gentrification in recent years, will be part of a rally on August 31 in Oakland to encourage the Oakland A's to stay at the Oakland Coliseum. The East Oakland Stadium Alliance is a coalition of local community, labor, and business leaders who want to redevelop the existing Coliseum site in East Oakland, replacing it with a new stadium surrounded by affordable housing and entertainment options. The A's are planning to build a new stadium at the Howard Terminal site near Jack London Square. — KPFA

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10. Jumbolair — a private aviation community with the largest private runway in the county — is up for sale for $10.5 million. The community is home to flying enthusiast John Travolta. The purchase price includes the 7,550-foot runway, seven aircraft hangars, and the five-bedroom Muriel Vanderbilt mansion as well as the entire Jumbolair Aviation Estates subdivision, a 38-lot private aviation residential development with deeded access to the runway. First owned by Muriel Vanderbilt Adams, the 550-acre property was bought by Arthur Jones, the creator of the Nautilus exercise brand. Jones built the runway. The neighboring Adena golf course is also for sale, and the two could be purchased together to create a new mega-development. — FORBES

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11. From the Forums: Kris Lindahl's advertising blitz. Minnesota real estate agent Kris Lindhahl has blanketed the Twin Cities with ads on billboards, light rail trains, and flying behind planes. The ads showing Lindahl with his arms outstretched have caused some to speculate just how big is ad budget is (answer: he's spent millions). Some locals to taken to Reddit to complain and while Lindahl has taken the controversy in stride, the backlash is growing. Lindahl's decision to fly ads over Allianz Field during Sunday's Minnesota United game just spawned a flurry of responses including a new hate account on Twitter. — BRING ME THE NEWS

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Written and curated by Deidre Woollard. Deidre has a background in real estate public relations and runs the largest Facebook group for real estate press opportunities. Tips welcome at deidre@inside.com.

Editor: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside).

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