Residential Magazine

Take the Pain Out of Appraisals

Remote inspections using a homeowner’s smartphone can reduce transactional delays

By Mark Walser

Today, mortgage lenders are experiencing record sales volumes. The resulting fallout includes the pain associated with long turn times for appraisals and inspections. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated delays in all aspects of the mortgage process but critically so for third-party inspectors and appraisers who visit properties and generate photos.

While there’s a shortage of appraisers and inspectors, many parts of the country also are experiencing an increasing number of disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires, that regularly disrupt the lending process. How can lenders and originators solve these problems? One answer is to examine and utilize emerging technology for inspections and appraisals.

These technologies gain even more importance given the increased clout of Generation Z — the generation after millennials, defined by the Pew Research Center as anyone born after 1996. Gen Z will soon begin to make up a larger share of the homebuying market as the most senior members are currently almost 25 years old.

This is the generation that grew up with FaceTime on their iPhones and every other remote communication method imaginable. Generation Z and millennials, also digital natives, are perfectly poised to embrace hyper-convenient mobile technologies that make the entire purchase process easier and faster. So, how can lenders and their business partners adopt the mindset and technologies sought by these younger consumers?

Emerging technology

With appraisals or inspections, the analysis and generation of the opinion of value tends to comprise about 80% of the workload, while actually getting to the property, doing measurements and taking photos is typically 20% of the workload. The challenge for the industry is that this 20% portion of the workload is now taking up most of the time. In some areas, it takes weeks to find an appraiser who has the time in their schedule to visit a property.

If the area is impacted by a natural disaster, appraisers and inspectors alike can take many days to schedule an inspection, let alone show up for the appointment. In the millennial and Generation Z world of instant connectivity, this archaic process can be mind-bogglingly slow. Mortgage companies that can provide alternatives will be the ones that capture their business.

Technology for remote inspections delivers an alternative and differs from previous tools by allowing the home inspector or appraiser to use the homeowner’s smartphone to expertly (and noninvasively) take pictures of the home, all without the homeowner needing to admit a third-party visitor. The homeowner only needs to walk the camera around to areas of the home as directed by the appraiser or inspector. Moreover, since the technology provides the advantage of not needing anyone to visit the homeowner’s property to take pictures, the speed of return on inspections is unparalleled.

Inspections conducted this way also are highly resistant to pandemics and disasters. Even if law enforcement won’t let anyone but the homeowner back into the neighborhood, if the owner or another designated party is at the house with a smartphone, the inspector or appraiser can complete an inspection within a few hours or days, then have the report quickly returned to the lender. This brings a game-changing element to a lender’s collateral-review process. Indeed, even though the technology is fairly new, some lenders in areas impacted by disasters (such as the ice storm that swept across Texas this past winter and caused billions of dollars in damage) have used it to assess damage to owner-occupied homes and rental properties — and are reporting much faster turn times.

This technology also maintains the surety of a professional generating the images that a lender relies upon, thereby removing the subjective risk of borrower-generated photos. The appraiser or inspector is controlling the homeowner’s smartphone camera and taking the pictures. The same applies for scenarios in which a lender-designated user — such as a tenant, contractor or real estate agent — is at a multifamily property.

Vetting solutions

This innovation has major implications for mortgage lending, disaster inspections, final appraisal updates, insurance inspections and default servicing, as it accelerates the process and lowers the associated costs. The average turn time for a non-appraiser remote inspection using a Catastrophic Disaster Area Inspection Report or a similar report is less than 48 hours, with many of them being completed the same day.

Similarly, valuations powered by this same technology could be done in mere days, not weeks, as has been the case for much of the past two years. A remote inspection for a home appraisal must have the capability to not only take images but also include gross living-area measurements. This enables appraisers to complete a report and include an opinion of value. This technology is now being combined with augmented reality and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) on phones, and similar built-in advances that make it possible to accurately capture these measurements.

Lenders are well-served to ensure that in vetting solutions by various vendors, each of these pieces are either present or planned. The newest solutions, for example, are not designed to be used through apps such as FaceTime. They are more advanced to keep the appraiser or inspector fully in control. Their only added requirement is that someone with a smartphone must be present at each property and have their camera turned on. In the future, drones may play a role here.

As the industry evolves, the traditional appraisal model will continue to employ these new methods of valuation and inspection, providing lenders and their clients with unprecedented flexibilities. Prepare yourself, your clients and your company for the next increase in lending activity — or the next pandemic or disaster — by assessing and implementing technologies that will deliver convenience and speed to your lending process. This will prove especially popular with one of fastest-growing segments of borrowers in the mortgage industry. ●


  • Mark Walser

    Mark Walser is president of Incenter Appraisal Management, a leading national appraisal management company. He brings more than 10 years of senior management experience in the mortgage industry to the role. His overarching goal is to give mortgage lenders a competitive advantage by offering them top-quality valuation services, complemented by innovations such as the RemoteVal mobile/desktop virtual appraisal technology. Walser is also a member of the Incenter leadership team. For more information, visit

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