EXCERPT: Automation haunts many discussions about the future of work, employment, and the economy. But technological advances may soon hit homes in an unexpected way: could real estate appraisers be replaced by robots?
That’s the conclusion of a recent article in Bloomberg, which discusses how advances in big data and computing are helping automate this knowledge-based job, perhaps a harbinger of how advances in machine learning mean an ever-widening circle of professions are at risk.
The future of the profession has become a topic due to a recent decision by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two institutions that facilitate the flow of funding for home loans nationwide. In the past, both of these entities have occasionally allowed appraisal waivers when evaluating low-cost loans. But recently, they’ve changed their stance, starting up a program earlier this year that would waive the new appraisal requirement for homes where the loan-to-value ratio is low. Instead, they’ll accept any appraisals on file from the last five years. In June, Freddie Mac said it would start accepting automated valuations for some refinancing loans.
This decision will reduce the number of appraisals being requested, says Appraisal Institute President Jim Amorin, and implicitly suggests that a model with less human participation is just as good.
“There’s no replacement for an appraisal in most cases,” Amorin tells Curbed. “Many of the computer models use public information that hasn’t been verified. Even Zillow will tell you it’s an estimate, not an appraisal.”
These policy shifts come during an unfortunate time for a profession watching its workforce slowly shrink. Today, there are currently 78,000 licensed appraisers in the U.S., says Amorin, whose organization represents roughly 20,000 of them. That is a steep drop from the 120,000 that performed the job five years ago.
Part of the decline is due to appraisers requiring extensive training and apprenticeships to become licensed, and part is due to diminishing fees, a result of the growth of appraisal management companies that work with lenders and take a portion of the final fee. The median age of an appraiser is roughly 52-55, says Amorin, suggesting the workforce is aging, retiring, and not being replenished.
“If numbers continue the way they are, there may not be enough appraisers to meet the needs of the marketplace,” says Amorin. “We worry about how the automated models will serve the needs of consumers.”