Property appraisal has long been one of the most time-consuming steps in originating loans. But automated property valuation systems are starting to change that.

TRW Redi Property Data, Anaheim, Calif., has introduced two systems that tap its large real estate data base.

One system compares similar properties, just as human appraisers do. David M. Ross, vice president, said the second system looks at past sale prices of the individual property and at the present real estate market to arrive at a current price estimate.

Other techniques tend to focus on property characteristics, he said.

HNC Software, San Diego, offers a similar property valuation system called AREAS Property Appraisal. Lenders can download information from other property data bases in addition to those available from HNC, said Patsy Campbell, marketing director.

The secondary market still requires an appraiser to look at mortgaged properties. But industry insiders agree that an automated system is a first move toward streamlining the cumbersome appraisal process.

Countrywide Home Loans Inc., Pasadena, Calif., is one of the lenders using TRW's Value Point, which compares like properties, for quality control and preapprovals.

Ralph Mozilo, executive vice president and chief underwriting officer at Countrywide, said Value Point is used as a quality control measure, to preapprove refinancings, and for evaluating home equity loans. He said Countrywide would eventually use the system to analyze properties in possible purchases of servicing portfolios.

Mortgage approvals would come much faster if lenders could use automated underwriting systems, Mr. Mozilo said.

Appraisals are "the one piece left that takes a heck of a long time," he said. When appraisers use the TRW system, it cuts the time needed from about two weeks to a day or two, Mr. Mozilo said.

But this is only the beginning of how the technology can speed things up, Mr. Mozilo said - much more progress is likely to be made on this front in the next year.

A mortgage industry consultant said property valuation systems can not only save time but also give a preliminary estimate of property value - and check the quality of appraisals.

"It will absolutely help cut time," said Barbara Smiley of the Tower Group, Boston. She also said automated property valuations would permit more confident evaluations of loans.

While small and midsize companies are often the ones with the insight to develop new systems like these, said Mr. Ross of TRW, they do not always have the money to carry out the idea. TRW does, however, he said.

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