SmartExchange FAQ

This document answers some of the most frequently asked questions we hear about SmartExchange.

Visit https://www.alamode.com/smartexchange for more information and to pre‑enroll now!

Document 3500  ¦  Last updated:  10/09/2017 MJY

Q1 What about photos?
A

It includes the photo used in the grid of each appraiser who used the comp as either a listing or a sale.  Not only will you see what each appraiser typed, but you'll be able to see how each one's photo changed over time, and even attach an addendum showing the photos by time period for each comp.  That's pretty useful, because the typical comp is used an average of 13 times in the entire appraisal community over a two year period.  That's 13 more visual data points than you have now.

Think of when you're taking a pic of a comp in January, but it originally sold in June.  Was there landscaping that affected the curb appeal and the price when it originally sold?  Is there something you'd like to see about the roof but it's currently buried under a foot of snow?  The photos taken by each appraiser who used it before will show up, with dates, so you have — quite literally — the full picture of the property.

It also allows us to give you a friendly reminder about re‑using a photo.  If the photo you include is the same as anyone else's in the past (i.e., the MLS photo), we can warn you that you need to go take a unique pic of the property.

Q2 Can I choose to exclude certain appraisers?
A

No.  And there are good reasons for that — some legal, some practical.  And we think after seeing how well it works, you won't want to restrict it anyway.

On the legal side, it's problematic to enable a group of businesses to exclude another business from a source of data solely on the basis of arbitrarily discriminatory criteria, potentially impacting their income or operations.  NAR has faced this exact same problem on Broker Reciprocity (IDX) features in multiple MLSs, and has been sued by the Justice Department for it.  To avoid being a target of such an action, we will not allow selective sharing.  When you join SmartExchange, you share with everyone else in your area on SmartExchange.

In some cases, it's the flip side that appraisers have asked us about — "Can I hide another appraiser's data from my own feed?".  The immediate answer is no, just for simplicity.  Adding that exclusion dramatically increases the complexity, and we want the learning curve to be zero.  You'll appreciate it when you use it.

But we really don't see it as necessary anyway.  The biggest reason is that over the long haul, you'll only encounter any given appraiser's data when that appraiser is the very first person to have typed in a specific comp.  So, if there are 2 appraisers you don't like out of a group of 100 locally, then only 2 out of 100 comps probably come from them.  Is that worth the exclusion complexity headache?  Another reason is that you're not relying on their valuation skills — the thing you probably dislike about them — but rather just on their typing skills.  (You're using them for free data entry, basically.)  Plus, their comps data winds up in every system that reviews you anyway, and your comps are judged using their data already.  Better to see it first, and potentially use it if you like it, instead of only having it be used as a negative against you.

Bottom line:  It's better to see everything and then decide comp‑by‑comp if you want to use any given version, regardless of who it's from.  Use it, ignore it, combine it with another, overtype only certain parts — it's up to you.  And no matter what, it's better than starting from zero.

Q3 Can I see prior adjustments from other appraisers?
A

No.  Adjustments aren't facts about the property, and depending on context, they could be considered assignment‑specific and therefore confidential.

Q4 Does it include the sales history and public records data?
A

Yes.  Every line item in the original comps grid is included.

Q5 Where do I search for comps in SmartExchange?
A

You never "search" anything related to this at all.  You don't have to change anything you do currently.  You still go to your MLS and do your search there, because it's the best real‑time indicator of sales and listings.  (Any system which tells you to skip searching the MLS, or which uses public records instead, is doomed to failure.)

But when you start typing the comps you found on the MLS into the grid, the magic happens — any comp address that someone else has typed in before you is automatic.  That means there's no separate "comps database" that you have to go check.  You do exactly what you do now.

And if there's more than one example of that comp from multiple appraisers, you can see them all and choose the one you like.  Or you can edit bits and pieces here and there if you think otherwise.  Or don't use any at all.  It's your choice.

Q6 When will it work in my area?
A

As soon as it's released.  Because it draws from you and your local peers, it doesn't rely on area‑by‑area MLS configuration.  There's nowhere that it "doesn't work yet".  It works everywhere, as long as you and a few of your colleagues get on board.  In fact, because comps tend to have a longer shelf life in less‑active rural and ex‑urban areas, it actually works even better in those areas.  What had been a weakness of low population density and transaction volume is now a strength.

Obviously, you don't get the benefits unless you sign up for SmartExchange.  Like comps sharing systems that have existed locally for decades, you have to give in order to get.  Unlike those older systems however, once you sign up, there's nothing else you have to do.  It automatically contributes your comps to the local pool as you do your work, and you automatically see them auto‑populate when any comp address you enter is already in the pool.

Q7 Can't AMCs and AVM providers just use TOTAL and get all our data for free?
A

No.  There's no database for them to search and harvest data from in the first place.

SmartExchange works simply by matching an address you typed into the grid against the full list of properties.  It can only pull one address at a time, and only manually.  An unscrupulous company would have to individually type millions of addresses one at a time to build a meaningful database, and we'd shut that activity level down long beforehand.  We track usage, and detect and stop unusual activity.

Q8 If the Internet is down, or I'm offline, am I dead in the water?
A

No.  If there's no Internet for SmartExchange to work, then you're simply at the same spot you are right now.  You'd have to type in the comps.  But if you're offline, you wouldn't be able to search the MLS in the first place, or public records, or anything else — so it's hard to imagine how you'd rationally expect to complete the data gathering phase of the comps when your primary data gathering tool, the Internet, isn't available.

Q9 Isn't this project just delaying Titan even further?
A

Quite the contrary — it's part of Titan's core too.  We even considered just naming it Titan Comps as a matter of fact; it's all web‑based behind the scenes, using Titan's infrastructure.  TOTAL just wraps its own interface around it.

And it actually speeds up Titan's full release, because now we don't have to spend time developing any sort of comps database inside Titan.  Why would we, or why would you waste time in a comps database at all, when any address you type from your MLS search is automatically matched up against hundreds of millions of potential property records in the SmartExchange database, with no extra effort whatsoever?

Q10 How does it really work?
A

SmartExchange allows you to transparently share your comps grid data with your peers — and get access to theirs — in a way that's so simple, so quick, that it's actually hard to demonstrate.  The best way to describe it is "typing magic":  You type an address in the grid exactly like you do now, and suddenly you see the rest of the grid for that comp filled out.  Instantly.

No clunky MLS importing.  No retyping of messy data.  No expensive third‑party tools guessing at it either.  How's it all possible?  Well, with so many appraisers out there using our software, and everyone typing in many comps per report, it means that nearly every comp in your market has been entered into a grid by one or more appraisers before you got to it.  Why retype it if someone else has already done so the first time?  That's the whole value of crowdsourcing — using the magic of large numbers of people so that it lightens the load on any one person.  Simply put, our goal is that no two appraisers should ever again have to do duplicate data entry for any one comp address.

Q11 Does this work with Aurora, or just TOTAL?
A

SmartExchange is only being built for TOTAL, and also for Titan as it rolls out.  Since the migration from Aurora to TOTAL is so simple and provides so many other benefits, we recommend that you switch to TOTAL to get SmartExchange.

Q12 What about hackers?
A

Your data is pushed up to Amazon's secure private cloud, and no "back door" is opened into your local PC anyway.  No data is on your PC at all.

And think about what "the data" is in the first place; it's just the comps grid info.  Nobody cares.  No hacker wakes up in the morning thinking that today might be the day that they finally get into a juicy comps database.  It has no economic value whatsoever to them, and it's nicely protected — so they move on to other much shinier, much more lucrative, digital objects.  It's like a criminal seeing a Pinto on the street with an alarm on it, parked next to a Mercedes with the keys in the seat and the door unlocked.  The Pinto isn't going to be stolen.

Q13 Aren't you just going to build an AVM with our data?
A

No.  There are just too many solid financial reasons why that would be insane.  First and foremost, you'd stop using our products.  Plus, as soon as you stopped using our product, that data would dry up anyway.  The business model just doesn't work.

And here's a news flash that rarely makes the headlines — those AVM companies aren't very profitable.  We make more money right now than we would by trying to become yet another pennies‑at‑a‑time AVM provider.  It's a crowded and brutally low‑margin business that we have no desire to enter.

Here's another news flash — it wouldn't do any good anyway.  The guys and girls who build AVMs already have your data.  Do you really think the big real estate data companies, AMCs, and lenders don't pool and share your comps already?  Of course they do.  They have it right now.  They just don't share it with you.

When you make more money, we make more money.  It's what's powered us to the number one slot in appraisal technology and it's why we've held that position for decades.  Selling you out by selling your data would destroy all of that.  It would be stupid.

Q14 Why are you working on this when I need practical day to day stuff?
A

SmartExchange is absolutely practical — perhaps the biggest time saver in decades.  It shaves off up to an hour per report, and potentially hundreds of hours per year (the average appraiser does around 250 reports annually).  So the time savings far outweigh nearly every other feature we've ever added.  This is on par with digital photos and digital maps in terms of productivity — and those transformed the industry.

Q15 Isn't this a USPAP violation?
A

No.  This version of SmartExchange skips all of your subject data from the report, including in the grid, and only works with the comps slots (Comp #1 to #X).  None of that comps‑only data is assignment specific, nor is it client confidential.  USPAP confidentiality isn't even in play here.

Q16 How much does it cost?
A

It's free for the foreseeable future.  It could be a while before we charge, but if you're one of the users who pre‑enrolls right now, you won't pay anything for the first full year that it's no longer free.  All you have to do is pre‑enroll by clicking here.

Pre‑enrollment doesn't "do anything" yet on your system.  It's just to gauge what regions show the most interest and to help us find the best test pilot areas for rolling it out.  (So sign up now, and your area might be the first location to go live.)