Remote home appraisal software options proliferate amid coronavirus

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"'Don't ever let a good crisis go by without benefiting from it.' I can't remember who said it but I think this is one of those times," said Tony Pistilli, SVP and chief appraiser at Computershare Property Solutions, referring to recent innovations in the home appraisal industry.

The profession had been going the way of the dodo even before the coronavirus pandemic instituted the need for social distancing. The number of people employed as appraisers has steadily declined over the last several years, while machine learning technologies are increasingly capable of doing some aspects of an appraiser's job.

As home sellers express concern over allowing appraisers into their homes today, companies are developing ways to revolutionize the remote appraisal process.

The traditional method of evaluating a home without entering it was largely imperfect since it relied heavily on drive-by inspections, a few captured photos and broker price opinions. The data collected is incomplete without every aspect of the house being seen.

Black Knight's recently launched cloud-based app SCOUT enables homeowners to collect pictures and data to share with appraisers remotely. The appraisers then do their usual analysis and deliver valuations. The app has its own security measures, like finger signature certification, GPS tracking with time stamps and direct photo input to boost accuracy and curb fraud.

Cape Analytics is pushing the bounds of geospatial property intelligence by cataloguing external housing characteristics on a large scale. It leverages a network of partners to capture high-resolution imagery from fixed-wing aircrafts, satellites and drones multiple times a year.

Company reps say the technology is better able to observe roof conditions and other features like solar panels or pools, which are difficult to assess during in-person appraisals. Previous to this, remote assessments were commonly done using Google Earth or downloads of outdated property data.

With millions of buildings in its repository, Cape's artificial intelligence analyzes properties to make "observed truths."

"Plugging information into our computer vision model creates objective observations on every house it looks at, forming observed truths," Raj Dosaj, head of real estate markets at Cape Analytics, said in an interview. "It would be like the same inspector evaluating every house in the country. The output is much more usable and we are able to test that against actual data."

If mass appraisal information becomes readily available, it could make the housing market more efficient. Most borrowers need to line up the sale of their current home before buying their next due to lack of liquidity. With improved property information and better understanding around home values, homes turn into more liquid assets, Dosaj said.

"Consumers benefit from having more certainty around transaction timing and leaving less money on the table by understanding the money they paid for the house is the right price," he added.

These new concepts brought to the forefront by COVID-19 help mortgage lenders as well. By giving more confidence in the collateral values and improving borrower experience, loan officers can bolster their business volume.

Appraisers, by-and-large, have stubbornly refused to adopt technologies used for assessing and inspecting houses in the past, according to Pistilli. They met alternative measures with tremendous backlash because they viewed it as detrimental to their careers.

However, these advances can augment their roles, Pistilli said. If appraisers use the tech to their benefit, they can make themselves valued commodities. If they resist and become irrelevant, they stand to fall to the wayside.

The appraiser community can look to the relationship between dentists and dental hygienists as a way ahead, Pistilli added.

"The hygienist will spend 30 minutes cleaning your mouth and then the dentist comes in and really just makes sure everything was done right," Pistilli said. "Their expertise affords them that opportunity and pays the big bucks. If appraisers viewed themselves as subject matter experts and utilized technology as a means of doing the time-consuming, less technical stuff it'd make them more efficient."

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Appraisals Fintech Artificial intelligence Mortgage technology Coronavirus Digital mortgages Digital Mortgage 2020