Realink.com, a home appraisal technology company based in Phoenix, has raised $10 million in venture capital.
Insight Capital, a private equity investment firm specializing in business-to-business companies, provided the funding. Realink.com plans to use it for marketing, developing business relationships, and most important, to step up a technical training campaign.
That program is tied to Realink.com's efforts to promote automated appraisal, which lenders and appraisers alike have been slow to adopt.
Michael Schafer, Realink.com's chief executive, said getting a house appraised involves lots of back and forth by fax and phone - thousands of man-hours that could be put to better use or eliminated by automation.
"The appraisal report is one of the choke points in the loan process, so speeding it up is important," Mr. Schafer said. "And lenders need to recognize that this is a key technology to reduce friction."
He said the chief benefit of automation is time saved; the appraisal can be shortened from one to two weeks to less than three days. Appraisers using Realink.com's software still have to visit the properties, but with the help of digital cameras and e-mail they can create their reports on computers.
One reason banks are clinging to red-tape-intensive mortgage procedures is because changing to new ones entails major cultural and operational changes.
"The mortgage industry has embraced loan origination systems, but it has been slow to adopt the appraisal process software," Mr. Schafer said. "There's so much going on technically, lenders are uncertain about what to adopt first - there's almost too much to consider."
As for appraisers, he said, "You're dealing with a highly fragmented, disjointed group that is not technically inclined, and one by one they have to be assisted, trained, and educated."
While noting that the mortgage industry is moving to the Web en masse, Mr. Schafer said borrowers will not take to getting loans online until the industry automates its back-end procedures.
"Last year there was a huge movement to the Web by lenders to acquire consumers," he said. "But that's like putting the cart before the horse." Right now, he noted, even if the borrower submits a loan application through a Web site the application is usually handed off to an antiquated back office.
Mr. Schafer said the industry is starting to take baby steps toward automation.
"Lenders by their nature they aren't necessarily technologists, they're financiers," he said. "And they tend to be a bit slow to adapt to new technologies."
If banks become proactive and insist on getting their systems up-to-date, appraisers will have to follow suit, Mr. Schafer said. "The appraisal process has the greatest potential for change. But lenders need to mandate automation for the industry to change."