CU Times Technology Correspondent
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Nearly 20 years after he was recruited to help the old Resolution Trust Corp. revive the nation's thrift industry during the savings and loan crisis, Thomas Inserra has an interesting new job.
In a mission befitting a man who also was national chief appraiser for the FDIC, Inserra is now in charge of a company that intends to appraise a big property--the entire United States.
Inserra is president/CEO of Zaio Inc. The Scottsdale-based firm is the U.S. subsidiary of Zaio Corp., founded in 2004 in Calgary, Alberta. The company--which acquired Real Info and Kirchmeyer and Associates in 2007 and the technology assets of Appraisal.com earlier this year--already provides a range of real estate valuation services and now has an even bigger project in mind.
"We're partnering with local appraisers who use our technology to embark on an ambitious project where we're going to inspect and appraise every property in America," Inserra said.
Zaio is an acronym for "zone appraisal and imaging operations" and already has more than 400 appraisers in more than 300 cities working on the project. The national appraisal project will focus on single-family homes at first and then move on to commercial property.
"As you can imagine, this is a large undertaking," Inserra said. "There are at least 90 million single-family homes alone in the United States."
The company's long-term objective is to provide the real estate industry and the lenders that serve it with instant property valuations in much the same way as FICO scores are supplied by credit bureaus.
The automated valuation model of appraisal can help resolve the current mortgage crisis and perhaps help prevent another one in the future, Inserra said, at the same time as allowing credit unions and other lenders to improve service to members and customers.
"Think of appraisals done in advance and stored in a secure database, just like your credit report is done and stored in advance," Inserra said. "When you apply for say, a HELOC, your credit report is obtained from the credit bureau and from your viewpoint it only took a few minutes. But that agency has been collecting and updating that information for years."
And on the bigger scale, there's the overall effect of improved property valuation accuracy from the AVM approach, the Zaio CEO said.
"I would say this is a very timely product right now," Inserra said. "There are two concerns--how to solve the crisis that exists and how to prevent another one in the future. We believe we have the only proprietary product on the market that addresses both issues."
Restoring confidence in the market is one of those issues. "Wall Street is having a difficult time answering one very simple question: What's the true value of the homes that secure these mortgages?" Inserra said. "The reason they're asking that is because many of these mortgages were made three or five or six years ago and the values today are not the same."
"The life-of-a-loan appraisal is what's really needed. Collateral needs to be revalued because that value changes over time."
Along with building a massive network of qualified appraisers who can feed a database with updated valuations comes the next piece of the puzzle, providing updated appraisals in real time to the end user.
"We feel we have succeeded at that," Inserra said. "Taking those together, you can restore confidence in the system, because now everyone can understand what a property is really worth at that particular point and lenders can respond appropriately."
Zaio currently has a network of more than 16,000 licensed appraisers overall. That includes zone owners who appraise properties within a geographic area and store the data in the company's database, which then is made available to Zaio customers, which includes more than 30 credit unions on its list of 500 lender clients in all 50 states.
Spokane Firefighters Credit Union in Washington state began using the Zaio software after a demonstration by the company's local zone owner, longtime SFCU appraiser Michael Hartman. The system is now saving members time and the credit union money, according to Todd Powell, SFCU president.
"We simply check to see if our collateral is in a zone available for Zaio valuation, then we run the report," Powell said. "We get a verified property appraisal at a considerable costs savings and more quickly than waiting for a traditional appraisal."
The results are typically available in a minute or less, instead of sometimes the week or so it can take to get a traditional appraisal, and members save about $175 each time. "We charge them only the cost of the appraisal," Powell said.
"It's just that much nicer when you can have a property value back in a minute, and we feel very comfortable with the values," he said. "We have no complaints."