Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is Zoopraisal Just a Fancy Word For "Wild Guess?"

 Article written by my colleague Asif Khan – Re/Max All-Stars

As word of Zoocasa’s new property value guessing game made it’s way around the internet, messages began to flow in from clients and colleagues. Is Zoopraisal a game changer or just simply a game? Can the values be relied upon? Is Brookfield not owned my Royal Lepage? Is this an invasion of my privacy? Will my ex now be able to find out the value of my home? Why are the numbers off by so much? All valid concerns, yet nothing to worry about. l’ll share a few of my thoughts here:

Appraising a property’s value can be as automated as diagnosing medical conditions through a computer program. Imagine going online, selecting your body type, sex, height and weight from four or five drop down boxes and then selecting symptoms from a field of three or four predetermined choices like cough, fever, rash, and loss of appetite, then have the computer generate a diagnosis. As the hourglass spins, you wait with great anticipation as your diagnosis is being determined. All of the sudden a box pops up and you now know you have pneumonia. How comfortable would you feel that the diagnosis is correct? Now let’s replace your health with your most important monetary asset – your home. How confident would you feel about your home’s value when determining the same by selecting from a few drop down boxes and choosing from a few predetermined fields?

CTV’s headline read “New service bypasses agents, offers free home appraisals”. There couldn’t have been a more misleading statement to lead off the report on Zoocasa’s new Home Appraisal system. In fact, the word “appraisal” should not even be mentioned in the same sentence/paragraph as this system. It is nothing more than a “wild guess”. It is ironic that the “Zoo” feels they can replace the human element when it comes to something as subjective as property values. Zoocasa’s business model is to have Realtors and Mortgage Brokers advertise on their site to fund it’s initiatives. Yet, obviously Zoocasa is creating a perception that they are a service which “bypasses agents” as this is the second time Zoocasa has been painted in this light. Is this not a classic case of biting the hand that feeds you? Zoocasa will argue that this is not the case and they are a “Realtor Friendly” site. However when the media is led to believe that Zoocasa is being built to “bypass agents” one would have a valid argument.

Today, Canadian Appraisers expressed their concern with the inability of Zoopraisal to provide true values to the consumer. With unique characteristics that can be found from home to home, it is unlikely that a computer generated value would be accurate. There are many factors to consider when pricing a property for sale or evaluating a price for purchase. Each home will have a wide variety of upgrades, updates and specific enhancements that increase or decrease it’s value from the average homes in the area. Outside of upgrades and enhancements, one needs to consider market conditions, competition, supply and demand. To rely on a computer generated value that is based on neighbourhood sales data – which may or may not be accurate – is misleading to the public.

The “Zoo Keepers” are working to persuade realtors to believe this new tool will benefit consumers and real estate professionals in determining true values for homes. On the contrary. Zoopraisal will confuse the general public even more by providing unattainable figures, thereby undermining the value of a Realtor and their ability to accurately determine the proper value of homes. To give you an example, I recently listed a home for $429,000. The home sold for very close to asking price and set a new record in it’s immediate area for price. The value of this home on Zoopraisal is stated to be $685,000. When searching my own home, which is valued at about $750,000, Zoopraisal gives me a value of approximately $594,000. Being a Real Estate Professional, I know Zoopraisal’s values are off base, however if I were a consumer and trusted the figures to be reliable, I would put myself in a compromising situation when pricing my property. Zoocasa’s failure to manage expectations from their launch of a fictitious value determination tool will cause a lot of problems as we move forward. If used for entertainment and taken with a grain of salt, it is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. If relied upon for accuracy, which unsuspecting consumers will do, how will that affect not only the Real Estate industry, but also the banking industry when it comes to refinancing?

In my opinion, this upstart version of the USA’s Zillow may be positioning themselves to rival the MLS system however is it going to be a contender or just a pretender like others that have come and gone? They are riding on the coat tails of the circus that has been created by the Competition Bureau’s attack on the Real Estate industry to gain popularity, while endearing themselves to Realtors by providing banner ads for a fee. I love Zoocasa’s demographic information, and feel they do provide some value during the home buying process. I am disappointed with their venture into the “guesstimate” home valuation technique, and feel this will make a mockery of the property valuation process. As one of the first advertisers on Zoocasa, I’m disappointed in the direction they seem

headed. Signs at the Metro Zoo read “Do Not Feed The Animals”. The time may be here to apply the same advice at another “zoo” and protect my hands from being bitten.

Asif Khan, ABR
Member of Re/Max Hall of Fame
Re/Max All-Stars Realty Inc., Brokerage

Ben Sage, Sales Representative. Re/Max a-b Realty Ltd., Brokerage. 519-536-7535. 521 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON

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