Appraisal technology reduces risk for appraisers and homebuyers in the midst of COVID-19

Appraisal technology reduces risk for appraisers and homebuyers in the midst of COVID-19
As the majority of the housing industry transitioned to working from home due to COVID-19 health concerns, many appraisers remained on the front lines. 

The Appraisal Institute and several other organizations rallied to deem appraisers essential workers so they would be exempt from stay-at-home orders, but that designation also put them in harm’s way.

The FHFA took action, relaxing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s appraisal standards in an effort to “to reduce the need for appraisers to inspect the interior of a home for eligible mortgages.”

This week the tech sector delivered another solution, as Black Knight released its property inspection app, SCOUT, which utilizes cloud-based technology for homeowners to safely collect data for the appraisal process. The fully remote app enables homeowners to compile the necessary property details and photos themselves – all without an appraiser ever stepping foot in their home.

Though the technology has arrived in a timely manner, as states continue to employ social distancing orders, SCOUT is the result of a six-year process at Black Knight. The app is the direct descendent of Black Knight’s REveal, their desktop version of an automated appraisal product.

“We had a long-term vision of modernizing the appraisal industry. To a large extent it’s really been operating in a very retro way, using forms that date back as long as 50 years, and techniques that really have not been made contemporary,” Michael Sklarz, Black Knight’s EVP and managing director said. “So, our vision had been with all the analytics – how could we help appraisers do their jobs more efficiently, more economically, and take advantage of all the data and information that’s out there?”

Once an AMC or lender orders a property inspection, an email is automatically sent to the borrower/homeowner with a SCOUT application link to facilitate the inspection and appraisal process. The app employs GPS technology to track the homeowner in the house, and instructs users on where to take the necessary photos.

Because the appraisal is in the hands of the homeowner, SCOUT implements various fraud measures such as pre-populated property information, location tracking with date/time stamps, direct input of photos to the application (no uploads) and finger signature certification by the homeowner.

Sklarz said SCOUT was in no way meant to replace existing appraisers, but rather enhance the productivity and speed at which appraisals occur.

“With a product like this, the existing appraisers can just do that many more appraisals per day than they would have trying to drive around and go inside of houses,” Sklarz said.

SCOUT arrived on the heels of several other technological advancements that are helping to shape the housing market amid the pandemic—including Zillow’s one-stop rental tool, Zillow Rentals and Redfin’s self-guided home tours, Direct Access. In addition, Built Technologies released limited access to their flagship CLA software to help lenders who have been impacted.

Right now, Black Knight is extending the free trial of SCOUT for AMCs and lenders to utilize through the duration of COVID-19.
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