database used to generate values for properties across BC.

Wall maps sporting scores of numbered pins and stickers keyed to binders filled with property data led to the online property assessment system recently developed by New Westminster’s Rudy Nielsen.

The early paper files have been combined with property data purchased from the BC Assessment Authority to create a 17-gigabyte database, which is used to generate assessments for properties across B.C.

Nielsen, who refuses to disclose the amount of money he invested in the product's development, said the system generates a property’s specific valuation based on current market prices for properties with similar attributes.

“This is based on the simple appraising formula and two simple words: recent and similar,” said Nielsen, best known for his 28-year-old Niho Land and Cattle Co. Ltd. “This hasn’t changed since I was first appraising in 1964.”

The elegant and user-friendly system also locates properties with specific attributes and provides real-time sales information for specific markets.

Tax, lien and encumbrance information is not included.

Launched on November 7, the new online database operates as (, the offspring of a company Nielsen set up in 1987 to assemble a database of his company’s property information.

For the first eight years Nielsen toyed with various forms of data, from his own paper files to aerial maps. Finally, in 1995, he and his sons Dean. 38, and Darin, 36, began work on what would become the prototype of the current system. In February 2000, 15 programmers were brought in to finish the job.

While there is an unstated margin of error, and valuations are currently possible for only 65 per cent of properties province-wide  because of the lack of comparative information, Nielsen said within two years the database should be able to provide assessments for “just about everything.”

Stan Hamilton, senior associate dean in the Faculty of Commerce at the University of B.C., consulted on Nielsen’s project because of his familiarity with valuation models. He said the system is one of the most accurate in North America despite the missing pieces.

“I think he’s moved the electronic valuation process further than anyone has ever done,” said Hamilton.

Steve Mossop, senior vice president for the western business unit of the Ipos-Reid Group in Vancouver, said that a recent study by his firm concluded that online tools for homebuyers are relatively popular among e-commerce applications.

While 34 per cent of Canadians use online financial services and 32 per cent have made purchases online, 27 per cent search for housing information. The figure in B.C. is slightly higher, at 30 per cent.

“I think there is potential for it,” Mossop said of online assessment tools, but he adds that branding and consumer recognition is key. “ The major drawback of those sites is awareness –building.”

Landcor has at least one local competitor in the supply of property information, Richmond based Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA: TSE; MDA’s California-based subsidiary DataQuick ( recently signed a contract to supply Fidelity National Finance ( subsidiary Market Intelligence with its Home Value Estimator. The software generates residential property assessments using a continually updated national database of real estate information.

The same information is resold to the general public through (

DataQuick revenues for the year ended March 31, 2000, were US$33.1 million, two-thirds of which came from renewable subscription agreements or multiyear file licenses for access to its database.

First year revenues for Nielsen’s project are unprojected, but because the system offers what was available in-house, any sales will simply complement Nielsen’s existing business.

He suggests the system, a practical tool for realtors, will also interest developers because it can identify homes with specific attributes such as waterfront properties with swimming pools (according to the database, there are 87 such properties in West Vancouver).

MDA media relations officer Ted Schellenberg said that his company is aware of Nielsen’s work, but interest is limited at this point. MDA currently limits the real estate information it provides in B.C. to that contained in BC Online ( service it operates on behalf of the provincial government. Value-added information products such as Nielsen offers are not yet on its local agenda.

“We’re interested in what everyone’s doing in the land information business,”

Schellenberg said. “But as far as working with [Nielsen], we’ll see what the final product is.”