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Real estate appraisers decry Zoocasa calculatorFred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The country's professional real estate appraisers are sounding the alarm over a service that allows Internet users to receive instant estimates of a house's worth using past appraisal data. recently unveiled its Zoopraisal service, which allows anyone with a web connection to punch in an address and receive a valuation estimate. The estimate is generated using data provided by Centract Settlement Services, a property valuation company that has appraised millions of homes across the country on behalf of financial services companies.

But the Appraisal Institute of Canada says anyone who let Centract into their home wasn't doing it so the data could be used by snoopy Internet surfers curious about property values along their street.

"Our organization has significant concerns relative to the confidentiality and custody of the data being used to populate the site," said Keith Lancastle, the organization's chief executive officer.

Zoocasa president Butch Langlois said the service isn't intended to replace the services of professional appraisers or real estate agents, and the estimates are based on similar properties in a neighbourhood and not on any specific report on a specific property.

"We are not actually pulling any data on specific houses," he said. "It's based on sales and appraisals in the area around the home."

Traditionally, the best way to get an estimate of a house's value was to call a real estate agent. But as data become more available, web services such as Zoocasa are stepping in to make the process less cumbersome for consumers.

Appraisals are typically carried out when someone is looking to borrow money against a property. The Appraisal Institute of Canada has about 5,000 members who are certified to do the work. Mr. Lancastle said he was "concerned" that services such as Zoocasa's could undermine his organization's reputation.

"Much as a retail store blood pressure test is not a substitute for regular medical care, a web-based calculator is no substitute for a real property appraisal," he said. "A proper appraisal comprises a number of stages – including research, analysis and interpretation – needed to provide an accurate estimate of the market value of a property."

While some real estate agents have also expressed concern about the service, others such as George O'Neill of O'Neil Real Estate Ltd. in Toronto have welcomed it as a one more tool for consumers to use before they approach a professional for help.

"I would prefer that someone do all this research before contacting me so I can provide more value-added services rather than just provide numbers," he said. "That may put me in the minority amongst my peers. But I'd rather spend my time getting someone the best price, because that can never be automated."

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