Real estate investors in British Columbia can now punch up, online, detailed sales information and assessed values of property nearly anywhere in the province.
The data is due to a new online property assessment system developed by New Westminster’s Rudy Nielsen.
Existing 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 BC.
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 know for his 28 year old Niho Land & Cattle Co. Ltd. “This hasn’t changed since I was first appraising in 1964.”
The 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 last November, the new online database operates as Landcor.com (www.landcor.com), 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 sons Dean, 38, and Darin, 36, began working on what would become the prototype of the current system. In February, 2000, 15 programmers were brought in to finish the jobs.
While there is an unstated margin of error and valuations are currently possible for only 65 percent 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 anything”.
Stan Hamilton, senior associate dean in the Faculty of Commerce at the University of BC, 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 Ipsos-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.
Wile 34 percent of Canadians use online financial services and 32 percent have made purchases online, 27 percent search for housing information. The figure in BC is slightly higher, at 30 percent.
“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,www.mda.ca). MDA’s California-based subsidiary Data-Quick (www.dataquick.com) recently signed a contract to supply Fidelity National Finance (www.fnf.com) 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 Domania.com (www.domania.com).
DataQuick’s revenues for the year ended March 31, 2000, were US$33.1 million, about two-thirds of which came from renewable subscription agreements or multiyear file licenses for access to its database.
First year revenues for Nielsen’s service 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 and investor 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).
“Developers can not only find their product here, they can determine what they should be building,” Nielsen said.
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 BC to that contained in the BC Online (www.bconline.com) service it operates on behalf on the provincial government. Value-added information products such as Nielsen offers are not yet on its local agenda.
“We’re interested in what’s 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.”