By now you've probably noticed the billboards.
There are several along Texas 71, strategically placed near the airport, and at least two on Lamar Boulevard.
They all say the same thing: "Ten-X" in large white letters and then the words "online real estate is here," accompanied by the South by Southwest Interactive logo.
A visit to the website offers a few more tantalizing tidbits. The company is an a "leading online real estate marketplace," the website told me, is also the owner of Auction.com -- and more information will be revealed at South by Southwest Interactive.
I couldn't wait that long.
So I reached out to the head of marketing for Ten-X on Wednesday to get the scoop. Despite the secrecy around their launch, Rick Sharga, chief marketing officer, was willing to lift the veil a bit on what the company does.
First, the name Ten-X is partly a way of re-branding what was once known as Auction.com. That company was founded in 2007 and specializes in selling distressed properties online -- typically properties in foreclosure or that are bank-owned.
"The reason we are branching out is, the word 'auction' in the real estate market is typically associated with distressed properties and we are increasingly moving further and further away from those properties," Sharga said. "We needed a name that wouldn't give people the impression that it was a distressed property site."
But it's more than just a new name, Sharga said. The Irvine, Calif.-based company is launching two non-auction online sales platforms at South by Southwest Interactive: Ten-X Homes and Ten-X Commercial.
The idea is to transform the way property is bought and sold online, making it easier for people buy and sell houses, with or without the assistance of a Realtor.
"We've designed this for the buyer and seller," Sharga said, but they also didn't want to "alienate" Realtors, given that most buyers and sellers prefer working with them.
Here's how it works: To list residential property with Ten-X, a seller pays $599, plus 1.5 percent of the sales price, though Sharga said the company is waiving that 1.5 percent during its introductory phase. (The company will waive all fees for Realtors during the launch, he said.) Although real estate commissions are always negotiable, this could be a substantial savings from the typical commission fee of 6 percent of the sales price, which is usually paid by the seller.
What do you get for that money? Access to your local MLS property listings database, and lots of advertising on other online listing sites like Zillow and Realtor.com. Sharga said the company spent $30 million to $40 million on advertising last year, and noted that investor Google Capital has helped them excel at "search engine optimization."
But what's up with the billboards, I asked Sharga, and why launch at South by Southwest? Though the festival is known for being a launching pad for startups, it can also be tough to stand out amid the noise.
SXSW Interactive made sense as a launching pad because Ten-X is "talking about disrupting the entire real estate marketplace" he said, and the festival gets a lot of national attention. The company -- which already has an Austin office -- will have a big presence at the trade show, he said, and the CEO is speaking on a Tuesday panel.
"Plus it's nice to go to Austin have some barbecue," he said. He noted Austin's hot real estate market as also being a plus, though a CNBC story on Ten-X says they will initially target four markets: Dallas, Phoenix, Miami and Denver.
As for the billboards, Sharga said, the company worked with a marketing agency that had done a lot of work at SXSW over the years. "They put together a media package that included billboards in key locations and bus wraps," he said. (I hadn't even noticed the buses.) So far, the effort seems to have paid off, he said. "We've seen our search traffic go up pretty significantly in Austin," he said, despite going for a decidedly low-tech marketing ploy.
"If we manage to capture people's attention, it is having exactly the desired effect," he said.
This story has been updated to more accurately describe the highway the billboards are near.