In our computer-oriented world, decisions driven by data and algorithms have become commonplace. This raises the question: Is there still a need for human input to get the right outcome?
It’s a question many are asking regarding home appraisals.
“With these [technological] advances, will computers inevitably replace appraisers when it comes to valuing homes?” asks John S. Brenan, director of appraisal issues for the Appraisal Foundation. He explored the idea in a recent Realtor Magazine article.
Computer models, called automated valuation models (AVMs), are used by websites like Zillow, tax assessors, lenders and others. Most experts agree that AVMs have their place in today’s world. For example, they are useful in situations where the appraisal isn’t critical.
Brenan offers the situation where a person owns a $2 million home free and clear and wants to take out a $50,000 line of credit. “I’d be irate” he notes, “…if I had to pay a large fee” for an appraisal. In this case, an AVM would work nicely and save the homeowner as much as $700 in appraisal fees.
Computer algorithms also work well when evaluating average homes with no special variations. But few homes are “cookie cutter.” AVM’s don’t consider whether the home is located on a busy street corner, if it has been updated or is in major disrepair, and so on.
As Brenan writes: “[C]omputers don’t buy houses; people do. An AVM does a great job of analyzing tangible features, such as a property’s age, number of bedrooms and baths, square footage and lot size. However, a property’s overall appeal is something that has been, at least to date, extremely difficult to quantify.”
Brenan notes that while AVMs can help appraisers in their valuations, the human element is still critical in most situations. “[U]nless and until AVMs can better emulate the human factor, an ethical and competent appraiser remains indispensable.”