New technology hopes to help appraisers socially distance

by Kasi Johnston05 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic changed our world in an instant. Gone are the days of meeting a client over lunch or coffee, stopping in at the local realtor’s office, and industry conferences. The real estate and mortgage industry had to move particularly quickly to develop e-closing technology, virtual home tours, team building exercises over video conference.

Real estate appraisers were left in a pickle, with property walk-throughs now impossible. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced some exceptions to their appraisal guidelines in the wake of the pandemic, which temporarily allows exterior-only inspection appraisals or desktop appraisals with exhibits, until May 17.

 “When appraisers go into people’s homes, they can potentially pick up the virus and continue spreading it from home to home, as well as risk their own health. It occurred to me they were like bees pollinating an orchard,” said Jeff Bradford, CEO of Bradford Technologies, an appraisal software services provider. 

In just two weeks, Bradford Technologies created a working model for a platform to help best substitute an in-person walk-through. OnSight is a web-based application that enables appraisers to adhere to social distancing protocols while still collecting property data remotely with help from the homeowner. With the temporarily relaxed guidelines, OnSight is a platform where homeowners can connect to provide time-stamped, geocoded authenticated photos and information to the appraiser.

Using a unique link, the homeowner activates OnSight and is led through a series of questions about their property, such as when the home was last upgraded, the age of the roof, and the last time the house was painted. There are certain required photos, but a homeowner can take as many photos as needed to fully show the home’s features. The process is also protected by a two-factor authentication, where the homeowner needs to provide their name and order number to log in. Bradford Technologies is also offering OnSight to appraisers at no cost until June 1.

“The speed that we were able to put this together is amazing,” said Bradford. “Out of this crisis, there is this flurry of innovation to mitigate health hazards, which could possibly bring appraisers into the digital world. Until now, everything has been done in a legacy fashion.”

Bradford admits that some lenders have been skeptical and for good reason. There is simply no replacement for a traditional walk-through appraisal. However, OnSight is currently one of the only digital offerings that tick the boxes for GSE approval. That includes photos needing to be authenticated with timestamps and GPS, homeowner affidavit to authenticity, and privacy offered through two-factor authentication.

The application was designed to be appraiser-centric, which Bradford says is unique compared to some of the other tech solutions being introduced. While a virtual walkthrough over a video call may work, OnSight gives the appraiser a bit more control over how the information is recorded.

“Our technology provides the appraiser with not just videos and photos, but also the ability to turn those raw images into actionable data that can be converted into an appraisal report,” said Bradford.

As new technology like OnSight continues to improve and develop, he says the lender community will eventually become more open to a new way of doing valuations beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This could eventually open up markets for appraisers, especially for homes in rural settings where the only appraiser has to drive for hours to get to a property,” he said. “I’m not sure it will ever replace a traditional appraisal, but there’s certainly a place for it.”