Comps sharing, fees, trainees, and AVMs

A message from our Founder, Dave Biggers

It’s been a while since I’ve reached out to you about something as important as what we’re discussing today.  In fact, I’d say today’s topic is on par with the efforts we put into stemming the HVCC debacle and debunking all the crazy myths about what you needed to do to comply with Collateral Underwriter.  And not surprisingly, it involves bits and pieces of both of those issues. 

The difference, however, is that this time it’s actually good news.  It’s been a long time since that’s been true in this industry. 

Bear with me, as this gets detailed and therefore kind of long.  But I think you’ll agree it’s worth reading. 

Since HVCC, you’ve had to be on the defensive in nearly every aspect of your business.  Requirements have increased, and post-HVCC fees plummeted.  AMCs flourished, took a larger part of your fees, and hired inexperienced “checklist kiddos” to harass you on an almost hourly basis.  Some software companies told you that you were a dinosaur and faced extinction unless you knelt at the altar of Big Data – and bought their regression tools.  Your appraisal data has been harvested from millions of your reports, shoved into databases, and used to build supposedly all-knowing AVMs and “review tools.”  (And yet Zillow, the darling of the housing media, still can’t even get the value of its own CEO’s house right.) 

More work, less pay, all the blame, and everything being used against you – that’s been the unifying theme for the last decade.  Until now. 

Stop typing comps.  Stop re-formatting MLS data.  Stop dreading consistency checks. Pre-enroll in the SmartExchange program

It will be free at first.  And as a thank you for pre-enrolling, you'll get SmartExchange absolutely free for the first full year after we start charging. 

Thanks for pre-enrolling!

Keep an eye on your inbox over the next few weeks for instructions on next steps. 

By signing up early, you've guaranteed that you won't pay anything for the first year that it's not free.  Plus, you've upped your chances of being in one of the first locations to go live. 

On that note, please tell your peers about the program.  Encourage them to pre-enroll here.  The more interest we get in your area, the better it is for you. 

Thanks again! 

Your friends at a la mode

Taking control of your data:  For you, by you

As the Collateral Underwriter hysteria unfolded a couple of years ago, we talked about a hidden yet significant problem:  Everyone has access to all your appraisal data, except you.  They use it to make review checklists, to second-guess your entries, to “suggest” comps for you, and to develop AVMs.  In other words, they use it to make your life harder and your appraisals take longer.  Yet it’s your own data, and you don’t have it.  That’s crazy. 

We said then that we’d build a platform to share your data with your peers, to use “crowdsourcing” to make appraisals faster, and to reduce the time you spend typing.  That day is finally here.  And it’s free if you sign up now.  (Click here to pre-enroll.) 

Crowdsourcing leads to “typing magic”

Our new feature is called SmartExchange™, and it allows you to transparently share your comps grid data with your peers – and get access to theirs – in a way that’s so simple and quick that it’s actually hard to demonstrate.  The best way to describe it is “typing magic”:  You type an address in the grid exactly like you do now, and suddenly you see the rest of the grid for that comp filled out.  Instantly. 

No clunky MLS importing.  No retyping of messy data.  No expensive third-party tools guessing at the data or formatting either.  It not only saves hours per report in typing time, but also saved time in reviews – because your comps then match your peers, and you don’t get flagged for being inconsistent. 

How’s it all possible?  Well, with so many appraisers out there using our software, and everyone typing in many comps per report, it means that nearly every recent property in your market has been entered into a grid by one or more appraisers before you got to it. 

Why retype it if someone else already has entered it for you?  That’s the whole value of crowdsourcing – using the magic of large numbers of people so that it lightens the load on any one person.  Simply put, our goal is that no two appraisers should ever have to type up the same comp.  The only time you should ever have to manually type in a comp is if you’re the very first appraiser to ever use it in your market.  And that’s rare. 

Stop typing comps.  Stop re-formatting MLS data.  Stop dreading consistency checks. Pre-enroll in the SmartExchange program

It will be free at first.  And as a thank you for pre-enrolling, you'll get SmartExchange absolutely free for the first full year after we start charging. 

Thanks for pre-enrolling!

Keep an eye on your inbox over the next few weeks for instructions on next steps. 

By signing up early, you've guaranteed that you won't pay anything for the first year that it's not free.  Plus, you've upped your chances of being in one of the first locations to go live. 

On that note, please tell your peers about the program.  Encourage them to pre-enroll here.  The more interest we get in your area, the better it is for you. 

Thanks again! 

Your friends at a la mode

Nothing new to learn

Best of all, you don’t have to change anything you do currently.  You still go to your MLS and search, because it’s the best real-time indicator of sales and listings.  (Any system which tells you to skip searching the MLS, or which uses public records instead, is doomed to failure.)  There’s no separate “comps database” that you have to go check either.  You do exactly what you do now. 

But when you start typing in the grid, the magic happens – any comp address that someone else has typed in before you pulls in instantly and automatically.  No delay.  No tweaking.  And every row is there. 

If there’s more than one example of that comp from multiple appraisers, you can see them all and choose the one you like.  Or you can edit bits and pieces here and there if you think otherwise.  Or don’t use any at all.  It’s your choice. 

But will it work in my area? 

Yes.  Because it draws from you and your local peers, it doesn’t rely on area-by-area MLS configuration.  Unlike products dependent upon MLS integration, there’s nowhere SmartExchange “doesn’t work yet”.  It always works everywhere.  The largest cities and the most rural counties benefit equally and instantly. 

That’s rarely been true, but because comps tend to have a longer shelf life in less-active rural and ex-urban areas, it actually works even better in those areas.  What had been a weakness of low population density and low transaction volume is now a strength.  Those areas without satisfactory MLSs – and which may never get one – benefit even more by sharing through SmartExchange. 

Shockingly, it doesn’t take a lot of appraisers in the system to provide massive benefits.  In fact, having just 30% of our appraisers in any one area is sufficient to have the vast majority of the comps automatically in the database.  Of course, it gets better as you get a higher percentage of participants, but it doesn’t require everyone to sign up to provide massive benefits for those in the program. 

That’s important to keep in mind, because everyone knows there will be some appraisers who stubbornly refuse to participate.  That’s OK.  It’s not dependent on them.  Just a small percentage of you is all it takes for SmartExchange to eliminate the vast majority of your data entry drudgery.  Let the naysayers keep wasting their own time typing them manually, while you sail past them. 

Obviously, you don’t get the benefits unless you sign up for SmartExchange.  Like comps sharing systems that have existed locally for decades, you have to give in order to get.  Unlike those older systems however, once you sign up, there’s nothing else you have to do.  It automatically contributes your comps to the local pool as you do your work, and you automatically see them auto-populate when any comp address you enter is already in the pool. 

USPAP isn’t an issue

Some of you have already leaned back in your chair and said this is preposterous, because you’re not allowed to share data per USPAP.  Without even debating that (and we do), rest assured we aren’t treading into confidentiality territory at all.  This version of SmartExchange ignores all of your subject data, including in the grid, and only works with the comps slots (Comp #1 to #X) in the grids.  None of that comps-only data is assignment specific, nor is it client confidential.  So USPAP confidentiality isn’t even in play here. 

Future versions of SmartExchange will indeed expand into subject data, for all the obvious data quality reasons.  This first version doesn’t even touch it for good reason:  We want you to get the vast majority of the productivity benefits right now, without the USPAP debate. 

But in the future, can you imagine how nice it will be to know that the square footage, the basement layout, the sketch and more all came from the actual subject-inspecting appraiser – not an assessor, builder, or listing agent?  It’s the Holy Grail of appraisal quality. 

Aren’t you just going to build an AVM with our data? 

Beyond the pro-appraiser position which I’ve proven repeatedly over the years, there are just too many solid financial reasons why that would be insane.  First and foremost, you’d stop doing business with us and I’d go broke.  (And I wouldn’t blame you.)  Then, as soon as you stopped using our product, your appraisal data would dry up anyway.  We’d be twisting in the wind.  The business model just doesn’t work. 

Plus, because the big real estate data companies, AMCs, and lenders pool and share your comps already, the wonderful guys and girls who build AVMs already have your data.  They just don’t share it with you. 

Once again, it’s an example of how your data has only been used against you, and never for you.  SmartExchange flips that around.  It levels the playing field. 

You’re not in this industry as a hobby; neither am I.  a la mode is a profit-making venture, pure and simple.  When you make more money, I make more money.  Always staying faithful to that simple creed is what’s powered us to the number one slot in appraisal technology, and it’s why we’ve held that position for decades.  Selling you out by selling your data would destroy all of that.  It would be stupid.  (People have called me lots of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.) 

Speaking of money, SmartExchange is actually free for now

While we may charge for SmartExchange in the future, we don’t even know yet how we’d do that.  Would we charge a flat fee for unlimited use per year?  That makes it too cheap for the big shops and penalizes small mom-and-pop users.  Or would it be better to do a per-report fee?  That raises issues of when to actually bill you, and how to handle volume discounting. 

Ultimately, we decided that can wait.  Instead, we’d rather get it in your hands now for free.  Then we’ll get your feedback, refine it and add to it, and give you a long time to digest its value before we even consider how to charge for it. 

It could be quite a while before we start charging, but if you’re one of the users who pre-enrolls right now, you won’t pay anything for the first full year even after we do start charging.  There’s no downside.  All you have to do is pre-enroll by clicking here

Pre-enrollment doesn’t “do anything” yet to your system.  It’s just to gauge what regions show the most interest and to help us find the best test pilot areas for rolling it out.  (So sign up now, and your area might be the first location to go “live”.) 

We’ve been building it for a very long time, have tens of thousands of man-hours spent on the code already, and it’s running and in alpha testing right now – so that time is very near.  It’ll be deployed to our beta tester appraisers within days.  After they give their thumbs up, we’ll pick the best pilot areas and roll it out to those of you who pre-enroll.  Then we’ll turn it on nationwide in the first quarter of next year. 

Applying the SmartExchange time savings to your business in general

It’s easy to see how SmartExchange saves up to an hour per report, which translates into potentially hundreds of hours per year.  The time savings far outweigh nearly every other feature we’ve ever added.  It’s on par with digital photos and digital maps in terms of productivity – and those transformed the industry. 

But obviously, SmartExchange wasn’t created in a vacuum.  We’ve built it because you’re under pressure on turn times, fees, oversight, and even the structural makeup of the industry.  All of those things pose challenges, and it’s essential that you book as much profit as possible to offset them, and that you gaze a little farther over the horizon.  By saving time and headaches, SmartExchange frees you up to focus on those longer-term challenges. 

Here’s a short list of four things which worry me, and on which I hope you’ll be able to take action using the hours freed up over the next year: 

  • First, get ready for the push to move to appraisal trainees – aka, “inspectors”.  The narrative being pushed by some lenders and AMCs is that there’s a shortage of licensed appraisers, and their proposed solution is to alter the oversight rules so that “trainees” can perform onsite inspections without a supervisor.  When they say trainees, realize that what they really envision is lightly-trained inspectors – think BPO mills – with you signing off on their conclusions after spending at most 10 minutes browsing the inspector’s report from the comfort of your desk. 

    Let’s look at the false premise first.  There isn’t an appraiser shortage, no matter what you’ve been told.  There’s actually an appraisal fee problem, not an appraiser headcount problem. 

    If I wanted to buy a house, and I continually offered 75% of the going rate for houses in my area, I’d probably declare a housing shortage because nobody would sell me anything.  Likewise, even though there’s an oversupply of lawyers today, I bet there’s a shortage of lawyers who take cases in Manhattan at $40 an hour.  I’m positively certain there’s a shortage of 1% fee buyer’s agents, and I know from firsthand experience there’s a critical shortage of minimum wage software developers.  They just don’t exist. 

    And so, yes, using that twisted logic, there’s also a shortage of the appraisers that lenders and AMCs are seeking – you know, the ones charging $200 for a luxury home on an acreage with a 48 hour turn time.  Is that a real shortage?  Absolutely not. 

    Don’t get us wrong on the trainee issue though – whether there’s a real shortage or not, and whether trainees or inspectors solve anything, we do believe you should take advantage of any changes to oversight policies.  Get your own trainees, and use them to expand your business.  Use TOTAL for Mobile to get them in the field, Titan and TOTAL to collaborate with them in real time regardless of where they are, and XSellerate and XSites to market expanded services if you choose to offer them. 

  • Second, raise your fees.  Do it right now, and do it over and over every month.  A tiny amount of 1% a month is easy and almost unnoticeable. 

    Think about it – if you raised your fees by $5 per report per month, that’s $60 higher by the end of the year.  If you do the national average volume of about 250 appraisals a year, that’s an increase of $15,000 in annual volume after the first year.  And you get there $5 at a time.  You just have to set a reminder on your calendar for every month, and then actually do it. 

    The trainee issue will be used to put further fee pressure on you, so you have to fight that aspect of it as well.  The logic that lenders, GSEs, and everyone else will use is that by leveraging trainees, you’re more efficient, so you can charge less.  Don’t fall for it. 

    Have your medical bills gone down because hospitals are using nurses for things that doctors used to do?  Are your legal fees lower because senior lawyers have paralegals do much of the work?  Are banks charging less now that they’ve eliminated most tellers and service staff?  Of course not.  All of those have gone up, not down. 

    And remember, nobody is letting you off the liability hook when an appraiser trainee inspects a property and you do the valuation work sight unseen. 

    So, raise your fees.  Now.  Raise them a little at a time, not in big chunks, and make no apologies for it if asked.  Share your successful strategies with your friends too.  That’s not collusion.  That’s just networking. 

  • Third, even though it’s still busy, take the extra time saved with SmartExchange to market yourself to new types of clients over the next year. 

    Dropping marketing and advertising efforts during times of plenty is one of the most common mistakes made by small businesses of all kinds.  Marketing takes time to resonate with a target audience and has to be frequently repeated before it pays off at all.  If you wait until the market slows down, it’s too late.  By marketing to new clients well ahead of a slowdown – at higher fees – you have enough lead time to not only weather a downturn, but grow through it. 

    Remember to also diversify outside of just mortgage-related appraisals.  We have tools to help (XSellerate and XSites), but even if you don’t spend anything on them, at least put in the manual effort to find private clients.  And don’t trick yourself into thinking that non-mortgage work is just a small sideline; our stats indicate that the number of non-mortgage appraisals done last year was almost the same as the number of mortgage-related appraisals.  And they’re for higher-paying private clients, without AMCs, under much more reasonable deadlines.  No wonder there are many appraisers who do no mortgage work at all. 

    Regardless of how you define the market, eventually it will shrink.  Diversify now, and increase your marketing now, not after it’s too late.  You don’t need to “time the market” either – by always having an active advertising and growth campaign going, it doesn’t matter if a downturn occurs a month from now, a year from now, or a decade from now.  You’ll be ready. 

  • Fourth, start preparing for the impact of property inspection waivers (PIWs) from both Fannie and Freddie.  There’s a percentage of loans on which the GSEs say they have enough data to warrant skipping an appraisal and any sort of onsite verification altogether.  For that to happen, generally speaking, it needs to be a cookie cutter property for which there’s a plethora of data and ready comps. 

    According to our sources, about 5% of loans are offered PIWs right now.  (That doesn’t mean they all accept the offer, surprisingly.)  But taking that at face value, you should assume about 5% of mortgage appraisals are at risk of going away soon, and more if they expand the criteria for offering PIWs.  If you do a lot of those slam-dunk properties, your proportion of loss could be worse.  Be sure to look at your last year of business, estimate what percentage came from PIW-capable properties, and pretend it goes away – and then raise your fees by more than that to make up for it on the remaining properties. 

    The math is pretty simple:  Take the percentage of your business revenue at risk, divide it by the percentage that’s not, and the result is how much you need to raise fees on the remainder.  So, if you have a 10% slam dunk revenue mix at risk of a PIW, and 90% isn’t, raise your fees by 10/90, or 11.1%.  And that’s just to break even, remember – keep raising them every month to improve your margins. 

I only covered four of the most pressing national issues here.  You’ll undoubtedly see more, especially on a local basis.  It doesn’t matter if you agree or if you see other issues – what does matter is that you act on what you see.  I hope you use SmartExchange to free up some time for those efforts. 

Stay pragmatic, and avoid the “visionary” boondoggle

This industry has had its share of visionaries – and of course, many take the form of snake oil salesmen, ready to play the advantage of fear to sell you a solution.  We’ve seen it many times lately, with the Collateral Underwriter rollout a great example of predatory techno-behavior run amok.  (How much money have you made since Collateral Underwriter on statistical regression software?  Exactly.  And you aren’t alone.) 

The coming years of change will require you to be prudent, just like the past:  Open to new ideas and techniques but still pragmatic in applying them.  Take steps to proactively adapt without throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Stay positive as much as possible, even in the face of absurdities.  Take chances, learn new tricks, look for opportunities anywhere they present themselves – but don’t bet the farm on massive transformation. 

Appraisers have been told they’re going away, repeatedly, because of various databases and initiatives, some with the backing of national appraisal organizations who drank the technobabble Kool-Aid.  The fact is, real estate isn’t being “disintermediated” any time soon.  Agents, lenders, title companies, inspectors, surveyors, and yes, even real estate appraisers, serve valuable roles.  The industry is driven by the interaction of unpredictable and imperfect humans – those pesky buyers and sellers – and so it logically remains one in which other humans are employed to guide them through the biggest investment (and risk) of their lives. 

It’s logical that some of the simple, highly predictable appraisal assignments currently out there will be automated by PIWs and similar programs.  They should be, and we shouldn’t be surprised, nor angry.  But it’s naïve to believe that appraisers will go away completely, or that there’s nothing you can do to make things better – and more profitable – in the meantime. 

Thanks, and don’t forget to sign up! 

Without such a large number of you using our software, services like SmartExchange would be impossible.  This is an ecosystem of data requiring a critical mass, and that in turn requires a good sized crowd.  Thanks once again for being a part of ours. 

Now, don’t forget to sign up here

Sincerely,
Dave Biggers
Founder
a la mode

SmartExchange questions and answers

Does this work with Aurora, or just TOTAL? 

SmartExchange is only being built for TOTAL, and also for Titan as it rolls out.  Since the migration from Aurora to TOTAL is so simple and provides so many other benefits, we recommend that you switch to TOTAL to get SmartExchange. 

Isn’t this a USPAP violation? 

No.  This version of SmartExchange skips all of your subject data from the report, including in the grid, and only works with the comps slots (Comp #1 to #X).  None of that comps-only data is assignment specific, nor is it client confidential.  USPAP confidentiality isn’t even in play here. 

Why are you working on this when I need practical day to day stuff? 

SmartExchange is absolutely practical – perhaps the biggest time saver in decades.  It shaves off up to an hour per report, and potentially hundreds of hours per year (the average appraiser does around 250 reports annually).  So the time savings far outweigh nearly every other feature we’ve ever added.  This is on par with digital photos and digital maps in terms of productivity – and those transformed the industry. 

Isn’t this project just delaying Titan even further? 

Quite the contrary – it’s part of Titan’s core too.  We even considered just naming it Titan Comps as a matter of fact; it’s all web-based behind the scenes, using Titan’s infrastructure.  TOTAL just wraps its own interface around it. 

And it actually speeds up Titan’s full release, because now we don’t have to spend time developing any sort of comps database inside Titan.  Why would we, or why would you waste time in a comps database at all, when any address you type from your MLS search is automatically matched up against hundreds of millions of potential property records in the SmartExchange database, with no extra effort whatsoever? 

If the Internet is down, or I’m offline, am I dead in the water? 

No.  If there’s no Internet for SmartExchange to work, then you’re simply at the same spot you are right now.  You’d have to type in the comps.  But if you’re offline, you wouldn’t be able to search the MLS in the first place, or public records, or anything else – so it’s hard to imagine how you’d rationally expect to complete the data gathering phase of the comps when your primary data gathering tool, the Internet, isn’t available. 

What about hackers? 

Your data is pushed up to Amazon’s secure private cloud, and no “back door” is opened into your local PC anyway.  No data is on your PC at all. 

And think about what “the data” is in the first place; it’s just the comps grid info.  Nobody cares.  No hacker wakes up in the morning thinking that today might be the day that they finally get into a juicy comps database.  It has no economic value whatsoever to them, and it’s nicely protected – so they move on to other much shinier, much more lucrative, digital objects.  It’s like a criminal seeing a Pinto on the street with an alarm on it, parked next to a Mercedes with the keys in the seat and the door unlocked.  The Pinto isn’t going to be stolen. 

Can I choose to exclude certain appraisers? 

No.  And there are good reasons for that – some legal, some practical.  And we think after seeing how well it works, you won’t want to restrict it anyway. 

On the legal side, it’s problematic to enable a group of businesses to exclude another business from a source of data solely on the basis of arbitrarily discriminatory criteria, potentially impacting their income or operations.  NAR has faced this exact same problem on Broker Reciprocity (IDX) features in multiple MLSs, and has been sued by the Justice Department for it.  To avoid being a target of such an action, we will not allow selective sharing.  When you join SmartExchange, you share with everyone else in your area on SmartExchange. 

In some cases, it’s the flip side that appraisers have asked us about – “Can I hide another appraiser’s data from my own feed?”.  The immediate answer is no, just for simplicity.  Adding that exclusion dramatically increases the complexity, and we want the learning curve to be zero.  You’ll appreciate it when you use it. 

But we really don’t see it as necessary anyway.  The biggest reason is that over the long haul, you’ll only encounter any given appraiser’s data when that appraiser is the very first person to have typed in a specific comp.  So, if there are 2 appraisers you don’t like out of a group of 100 locally, then only 2 out of 100 comps probably come from them.  Is that worth the exclusion complexity headache?  Another reason is that you’re not relying on their valuation skills – the thing you probably dislike about them – but rather just on their typing skills.  (You’re using them for free data entry, basically.)  Plus, their comps data winds up in every system that reviews you anyway, and your comps are judged using their data already.  Better to see it first, and potentially use it if you like it, instead of only having it be used as a negative against you. 

Bottom line:  It’s better to see everything and then decide comp-by-comp if you want to use any given version, regardless of who it’s from.  Use it, ignore it, combine it with another, overtype only certain parts – it’s up to you.  And no matter what, it’s better than starting from zero. 

Can’t AMCs and AVM providers just use TOTAL and get all our data for free? 

No.  There’s no database for them to search and harvest data from in the first place. 

SmartExchange works simply by matching an address you typed into the grid against the full list of properties.  It can only pull one address at a time, and only manually.  An unscrupulous company would have to individually type millions of addresses one at a time to build a meaningful database, and we’d shut that activity level down long beforehand.  We track usage, and detect and stop unusual activity. 

How does it really work? 

SmartExchange allows you to transparently share your comps grid data with your peers – and get access to theirs – in a way that’s so simple, so quick, that it’s actually hard to demonstrate.  The best way to describe it is “typing magic”:  You type an address in the grid exactly like you do now, and suddenly you see the rest of the grid for that comp filled out.  Instantly. 

No clunky MLS importing.  No retyping of messy data.  No expensive third-party tools guessing at it either.  How’s it all possible?  Well, with so many appraisers out there using our software, and everyone typing in many comps per report, it means that nearly every comp in your market has been entered into a grid by one or more appraisers before you got to it.  Why retype it if someone else has already done so the first time?  That’s the whole value of crowdsourcing – using the magic of large numbers of people so that it lightens the load on any one person.  Simply put, our goal is that no two appraisers should ever again have to do duplicate data entry for any one comp address. 

What about photos? 

It includes the photo used in the grid of each appraiser who used the comp as either a listing or a sale.  Not only will you see what each appraiser typed, but you’ll be able to see how each one’s photo changed over time, and even attach an addendum showing the photos by time period for each comp.  That’s pretty useful, because the typical comp is used an average of 13 times in the entire appraisal community over a two year period.  That’s 13 more visual data points than you have now. 

Think of when you’re taking a pic of a comp in January, but it originally sold in June.  Was there landscaping that affected the curb appeal and the price when it originally sold?  Is there something you’d like to see about the roof but it’s currently buried under a foot of snow?  The photos taken by each appraiser who used it before will show up, with dates, so you have – quite literally – the full picture of the property. 

It also allows us to give you a friendly reminder about re-using a photo.  If the photo you include is the same as anyone else’s in the past (i.e., the MLS photo), we can warn you that you need to go take a unique pic of the property. 

Does it include the sales history and public records data? 

Yes.  Every line item in the original comps grid is included. 

Can I see prior adjustments from other appraisers? 

No.  Adjustments aren’t facts about the property, and depending on context, they could be considered assignment-specific and therefore confidential. 

When will it work in my area? 

Right now.  Because it draws from you and your local peers, it doesn’t rely on area-by-area MLS configuration.  There’s nowhere that it “doesn’t work yet”.  It works everywhere, as long as you and a few of your colleagues get on board.  In fact, because comps tend to have a longer shelf life in less-active rural and ex-urban areas, it actually works even better in those areas.  What had been a weakness of low population density and transaction volume is now a strength. 

Obviously, you don’t get the benefits unless you sign up for SmartExchange.  Like comps sharing systems that have existed locally for decades, you have to give in order to get.  Unlike those older systems however, once you sign up, there’s nothing else you have to do.  It automatically contributes your comps to the local pool as you do your work, and you automatically see them auto-populate when any comp address you enter is already in the pool. 

Where do I search for comps in SmartExchange? 

You never “search” anything related to this at all.  You don’t have to change anything you do currently.  You still go to your MLS and do your search there, because it’s the best real-time indicator of sales and listings.  (Any system which tells you to skip searching the MLS, or which uses public records instead, is doomed to failure.) 

But when you start typing the comps you found on the MLS into the grid, the magic happens – any comp address that someone else has typed in before you is automatic.  That means there’s no separate “comps database” that you have to go check.  You do exactly what you do now. 

And if there’s more than one example of that comp from multiple appraisers, you can see them all and choose the one you like.  Or you can edit bits and pieces here and there if you think otherwise.  Or don’t use any at all.  It’s your choice. 

Aren’t you just going to build an AVM with our data? 

No.  There are just too many solid financial reasons why that would be insane.  First and foremost, you’d stop using our products.  Plus, as soon as you stopped using our product, that data would dry up anyway.  The business model just doesn’t work. 

And here’s a news flash that rarely makes the headlines – those AVM companies aren’t very profitable.  We make more money right now than we would by trying to become yet another pennies-at-a-time AVM provider.  It’s a crowded and brutally low-margin business that we have no desire to enter. 

Here’s another news flash – it wouldn’t do any good anyway.  The guys and girls who build AVMs already have your data.  Do you really think the big real estate data companies, AMCs, and lenders don’t pool and share your comps already?  Of course they do.  They have it right now.  They just don’t share it with you. 

When you make more money, we make more money.  It’s what’s powered us to the number one slot in appraisal technology and it’s why we’ve held that position for decades.  Selling you out by selling your data would destroy all of that.  It would be stupid. 

How much does it cost? 

It’s free for the foreseeable future.  It could be a while before we charge, but if you’re one of the users who pre-enrolls right now, you won’t pay anything for the first full year that it’s no longer free.  All you have to do is pre-enroll by clicking here

Pre-enrollment doesn’t “do anything” yet on your system.  It’s just to gauge what regions show the most interest and to help us find the best test pilot areas for rolling it out.  (So sign up now, and your area might be the first location to go live.) 

Frequently asked questions