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The Nation's Housing

Appraisal Database Coming Soon to a PC Near You

September 13, 1998|KENNETH R. HARNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — The first comprehensive national database of professional appraisal information covering millions of American homes--probably including yours--is set to become available on the World Wide Web.

Under a joint venture soon to be announced by the largest American appraisal society--the 20,000-member Appraisal Institute--and FNC Inc., an Internet software company, detailed appraisal information will be available via the Web to home buyers, sellers, Realtors, mortgage lenders, Wall Street investors, marketing firms and others with interests in real estate.

Currently, professional appraisers may share their property data electronically with other appraisers or with regional real estate information firms. But little of that proprietary data is accessible on a nationwide basis, and virtually none of it is available to the public via the Internet.

Home-value estimate data on the Internet today is based primarily on publicly recorded sales prices and market trend analyses.

Essentially, the new venture will hook up thousands of appraisers' in-house property files with the Internet via interface technology created by FNC. When operational some time next year, the Web site will allow you to check out homes--and entire neighborhoods--anywhere in the country for from $5 to $10 per property.

The most detailed--and valuable--information on individual homes via the new service will come from the first page of the "Uniform Residential Appraisal Report," which appraisers nationwide use to value a home.

That information starts with the legal description of the house, current tax assessment and the sale price. It then describes the neighborhood in detail: price ranges of single-family homes, whether the homes are predominantly owner-occupied or rental, the types of commercial or other land uses in the neighborhood and market trend patterns, including realty listings and sales.

Database Offers Details

The descriptions of individual houses will be especially detailed: square footage of the lot and the interior living space, topography of the lot, utilities information, age and architectural style, type of foundation, roof, windows, basement, drainage, number of rooms and layout, kitchen equipment, heating and air-conditioning systems, insulation, etc., plus general evaluations of the condition of each of these features.

As envisioned by the two sponsors, the new service will open appraisers' professional expertise to a far wider group of users than is possible currently.

Visitors to the still-unnamed Web site will enter search criteria--price range, number of bedrooms, neighborhood--and will receive "comparable" residential home sales and prices from the database.

"Comparables," as they're called in the realty trade, are the bread and butter of professional appraisers. With three to five of them in hand, you can come up with an accurate estimate of any given home's market value, based on recently closed transactions of similar properties in the immediate vicinity.

Individual consumers will pay for the information with a credit card. High-volume users like mortgage and real estate companies, researchers and marketers will sign up for wholesale contracts.

The new service should be particularly helpful to families moving from one part of the country to another. Before even contacting a real estate broker, they'll be able to head to the Web, get a good idea of what their current house is worth and a good idea of prevailing values for the specific type of house they'll be seeking in one or more neighborhoods of their new city.

They'll be able to obtain comparables with almost the same precision that professional appraisers are required to obtain. They won't be searching just for what a three-bedroom house goes for in a given neighborhood.

They'll be able to search instead for comparables on a three-bedroom, gas-heated house with a two-car garage, finished basement and slate roof on three-quarters of an acre, etc., etc.--down to minute detail.

Fraction of Cost

The projected $5 to $10 cost per search to the individual consumer will be a fraction of what existing online value-estimate systems charge. These services typically charge around $25 for an "automated valuation" estimate, based on property sale recordations and market trend factors, but no direct appraisal data.

The head of FNC, William B. Rayburn, says that use of the new online database by consumers will probably represent only a "tiny fraction" of the overall use of the system.

He envisions that the information will be more heavily--and profitably--used by lending institutions and others who want to target-market products to the owners of very specific types of homes.

He also expects substantial use by mega-investors such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wall Street mortgage bond buyers "who really need to know what types of properties they've got backing their loan portfolios on an ongoing basis."

But since such detail on the nation's housing stock has never before been available, says Rayburn, "we probably don't even know all the uses people will find for it."

Stay tuned.

Distributed by Washington Post Writers Group.

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