The Turbo Charged Appraiser

 “Progress Slow on Robot Takeover”

This is the headline from an article in the San Diego Union Tribune this morning.  The article went on to say, “Data complexities, trust issues, and the persistent need for human input restrain scaled-up automation.”

As a brand-new appraiser trainee, I was in awe of the office and the people.  And in particular, the backroom.  The backroom was the library and data room.  As large as some small homes.  It contained data.  Lots of data.  And data converted to information.  Compiled summaries.  Economics.  Local conditions.  News clippings.  The MLS books – weekly listings, quarterly comps.  The Appraisal Journal.  And information turned into actionable decision-making.  Loan appraisals.  Lots of appraisal reports.  Narratives.  Land.  Offices.  Stores.  Lots of data.

My bosses boss owned the data.  My boss owned some data.  Within a year or two, I started to own some data.  I started to own some market knowledge.  I also started to own some fresh reasoning ability.  It was new.  It was useful.

Then the original paper Compdata came out.  It came out on colored paper to distinguish property types.  Then it became Comps, Inc.  Later to become part of CoStar.  The original CEO used to come into my office in 1981-1983 to learn how to do appraisals.  I asked why?  He answered:  “So I can learn what data is used, is needed, and how to improve the data.”  He wanted to improve his product.  He was gonna make my job easier and he did.  They did.  And now I buy his product.  I no longer owned it.

But I didn’t care.

Metal robot head with feminine appearance. Black text that reads, "My robot was the desktop computer." From: The Turbo Charged Appraiser. Market Trend Analysis Graph George Dell's Valuemetrics.Info Classes

My job became easier.  I could do it better.  It used my analytical skills more profitably.  Best of all, I fired the typist.  I (re)learned how to type.  It saved time.  The work could be improved interactively, rather than one or two re-edits of typed drafts.  I started to use five or six comps instead of just three or four!  Improvement!  (Someone smart named Sir Ronald Fisher said “more information is better than less information!”)

My robot was the desktop computer.  I remember getting my first one for the office. My staff of 6 appraisers and 2 secretaries (who always hated each other) gathered round.  I sat at the computer haughtily.  Turned on the switch.  Then explained.  This is the cool new thing.  Look – it is now going through initiation self-testing.  Start-up self testing has been automated!  They all, almost in unison, said “wow!”  I was so proud.

Then the ultimate.  MLS on line!  60bps!   Diddly♫-doodly ♫beep♪

Pulling comps took minutes, instead of an hour or two copying and poring over pages of MLS books.  (The yellow highlighter itself was a marvel of technology!)

I became more efficient.  Less subjective in comp selection.  Better at even “non-standard” adjustment amounts!  More quantative, less qualitative.  More science, less art.

The robot takeover had started.  I was better.  Charged, but not turbocharged!   More next time.