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Internet FAQs for appraisers
This article was previously published in Appraisal Today and was written by Ann O'Rourke.
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Even appraisers who regularly use the
Internet are confused about how it really works. The most frequently asked questions
(FAQs) in this article came from the many speeches, workshops, and seminars on the
Internet I have given to appraisers over the past several years.
If you're not on the Internet, this can be hard to understand, and may
seem a little strange. Once you're online, it's pretty clear. Can you learn how to
appraise by reading a book? No. You just have to do it!
What is the Internet?
The Internet is hard to describe. But understanding how it got started
helps. The Internet was started in the 1960s as a way to connect government defense
department computers together so that if the Russians bombed us back to the Stone Age, one
would still be running. It was set up to send data and messages in a sort of random
manner, broken up into "packets."
The Defense Department computers were connected together by the
Internet "backbone" which uses telephone technology. You could think of it as
very big phone lines used for a special purpose, not for regular telephone calls.
In the 1970s and 1980s universities joined the Internet, starting with
defense related people, then expanding to others.
That's where the tradition of academic freedom and not making a profit comes from.
When you connect to the Internet using your computer, you are
connecting to another computer called a "server," which is directly connected to
AOL and your ISP use servers. You could have your own server in your
garage or a bedroom. You just need a fast Pentium, modems, and a special high speed phone
In other words, the Internet is lots of computers connected together
using telephone technology.
Why is the Internet such a big deal now?
When I wrote my first article on online services and the Internet in
July 1994, I tried logging onto the Internet. The only way I could access it was through
Delphi, an online service like AOL or Prodigy. I had been using Compuserve for two years,
which did not provide Internet access.
To use Delphi's Internet access, I had to learn some Unix commands, and
wade through menus. (Unix is an operating system like DOS, which is used on the Internet.)
I quickly gave up as it was too much of a hassle and I couldn't find anything.
At the time of my first article in July, 1994, I had heard about a
program called Mosaic for Internet access, but was unable to use it as I did not have
university or government Internet access.
In 1995, everything changed. Online services such as AOL and Compuserve
allowed Internet access, using Web browsers such as Mosaic. With a Web browser, finding
information on the Internet is much easier. You don't have to learn Unix. The interface is
graphical, like Windows or the Mac.
Government agencies, businesses, and your grandmother set up their own
home pages on the Internet. Since the tradition was free information, almost all of it is
still free and few sites are making any money.
How can I contact a Web site in Japan and not have a big phone bill?
This is the number one FAQ whenever I teach about the Internet.
Dialing up to the Internet is similar to dialing up to your MLS or
other online data service. You are dialing up to their server (computer) and getting
information. If you're in a regional MLS you may be using a local phone number to call
their server which is located in another city. Usually you don't even know where it is
If you dial up with a local number, there are no extra phone charges.
If you have to use a toll call, there will be charges.
When you dial up to an ISP or online service, you are doing the same
thing, except you are using their server to connect to the Internet to send and receive
email or access the Web.
A primary factor in which ISP or online service you use is whether or
not it has a local phone number (POP, or point of presence).
Can I get comps?
I used to day there were no free comps on the Internet available to
appraisers. Then I read an issue of the newsletter of the San Diego Chapter of the
Appraisal Institute, which gave the Web address for San Diego County sales information
from the assessor ( www.co.san-diego.ca.us/cnty/online
). The assessor is targeting homeowners (voters).
I expect that more and more assessors offices will put them online as a
customer service, particularly if assessors are elected, like they are in California!
There are a few sites where you can pay for public records comps, but I
suspect appraisers who ask about comps on the Internet want free comps.
Commercial comps are available from Comps, Inc. at www.comps.com, for a fee, of course!
I don't know of any MLS Web sites that have comps.
Can I get flood maps?
As far as I know, FEMA does not have flood maps available for
downloading off on the Internet except for a few areas. They sell their maps on CD, but
you need a software program to use them.
Can I get appraisal business?
Although I have spoken with appraisers who have gotten some work off
their Web site, most have gotten none or only a few assignments. I know of only one
appraiser who has gotten many orders, Ken Rossman. Check out his site at www.quickval.com .
The main function of a Web site, for most appraisal businesses, is
public relations. A Web site shows you're keeping up with technology.
I have had my email address on my business cards for over four years.
Have I ever had a client contact me by email? No. Does it make a good impression? Yes.
What about pornography?
The Internet is a very different communication method than print,
radio, or TV.
We can have Internet pornography laws in the U.S., but what about
Japan, China, and the Netherlands? We can't regulate what comes on the Internet from their
Some countries, such as China, greatly restrict Internet access by
For over 20 years, the Internet has had the tradition of academic
freedom of speech. Usenet newsgroups have distributed very graphic pornographic pictures
for some time, and still do.
So what's the answer? The politicians seem to waffle. You're on your
own now. If you're worried about your children accessing pornography, you can get a
program such as NetNanny, which restricts Web access.
What happens to my email?
Your ISP on online services gives you a mailbox for your
incoming and outgoing email.
Your incoming email is stored on the server of your ISP or online
service until you retrieve it.
Most ISPs and online services send email very frequently (often just
after you send it to them). Smaller ISPs in remote areas may only send out every few
hours, or twice a day.
If you're on AOL and send an email to another AOL subscriber, your
email stays within the AOL server network.
If you send an email to another service or ISP, it will be sent over
the Internet. Because of the way the Internet was originally set up, it is broken up into
packets and randomly sent to the destination: the server that has the other person's email
Email can get "hung up" in several locations. Your ISP's
server may break down and not be able to send your email. A node of the Internet backbone
may be down and your email is held up. Or, a transmission problem somewhere else on the
Internet may occur.
Where do the Web home pages come from?
When you type http://www.appraisalinstitute.org
in your Web browser, your computer is telling the Internet to find the server
(computer) that has the Appraisal Institute's home page, and download it onto your
Do you need a fancy new computer?
Millions of college students (and professors) access the Internet using
a Unix shell account. You could easily access the Internet using a 386, 296, or maybe even
With a shell account you have to learn a few Unix commands, and you can
only view the Web in text mode, no pretty pictures or graphics.
If you want to use the Web, whatever you have is too slow. Get the
fastest computer and modem you can afford. A fast 486 is the minimum.
What's on the Internet for commercial appraisers?
If you're a commercial appraiser, you should already be on the Web. The
resources are almost staggering.
Recently I was contacted by an appraiser working for a well known,
medium sized commercial appraisal firm. He was looking for information on a local brew
I asked him how found brew pub locations. He said "phone
books." I said "You mean paper phone books?" I strongly suggested it was
time to use Internet phone directories. He could have obtained addresses and phone numbers
for brew pubs all over the U.S., not just from whatever local directories he happened to
have in his office.
Another appraiser contacted me for information on water slides. I told
her there was probably lots of information on the Internet. She wasn't online, so I
offered to check it for her. Within 10 minutes I had lists of articles, several trade
association phone numbers, etc. I suggested she get online as soon as possible.
What's on the Internet for residential appraisers?
Because of the much lower fees paid for residential appraisals, usually
research on the Internet takes too much time. But if you do higher fee work, such as for
litigation or high end homes, you should be on the Internet now.
The Internet has lots of information on unusual homes (such as straw
homes), high end homes, contamination problems, traffic, newspaper archives, etc.
Reprinted from Appraisal Today
Newsletter. Written by Ann O'Rourke