The Digital Frontier: Virtual Property Valuations In The UK
The UK property market has undergone a digital revolution in recent years. From virtual viewings using VR headsets to AI-powered online valuations, technology is transforming how properties are appraised, marketed and sold. One of the most significant tech-driven changes has been the rise of automated valuation models (AVMs) for estimating property values remotely.
The Growth of AVMs in the UK
AVMs leverage big data and algorithms to instantly value properties based on their attributes and comparable sales. This allows buyers, sellers and agents to get a good indication of worth without needing in-person appraisals. According to analytics firm Oliver Wyman, the global AVM market is projected to be worth $8 billion by 2024. The UK is at the forefront of this growth, with online agencies like Purplebricks pioneering the use of AVMs.
Several key advantages are driving the adoption of AVMs:
Speed and Convenience
Rather than waiting days or weeks for a surveyor appointment, AVMs provide instant online estimates 24/7. This suits the on-demand expectations of modern consumers.
Surveys typically cost £200-£400. AVMs remove this expense, making valuations more affordable. Some agencies provide free AVM estimates.
Big Data Analytics
AVMs draw on huge datasets of sold prices, listings, geographic info and property attributes to make accurate predictions. The algorithms become more precise over time.
Removes Human Error and Bias
Valuations conducted by different surveyors can vary significantly. AVMs eliminate inconsistencies and biases associated with human appraisers.
How AVMs Calculate Property Values
There are a few core technical elements underpinning automated valuations:
Location is critical for property prices. AVMs geo-tag addresses and analyses granular spatial data about amenities, transport links, schools, crime rates and other hyperlocal factors that impact values.
This statistical method models the relationships between property features like size, age, layout and condition against sold prices. It quantifies the contribution of each attribute to determine an overall value.
AVMs examine prices achieved for similar properties in the area to benchmark against. They can adjust for differences in features and dates sold to make more accurate predictions.
The more data AVMs process, the more sophisticated their algorithms get. They self-optimise, recognising patterns and refining their valuation capabilities over time.
By combining these techniques, AVMs can price homes with a high degree of accuracy. However, on-site appraisals by surveyors are still necessary for definitive valuations, particularly for unusual properties. AVMs should be seen as a complement, not a replacement, for human expertise.
AVM Accuracy in the UK
Recent analysis indicates AVMs achieve average valuation errors of around 5% in the UK. However, several variables impact precision:
Detached and semi-detached houses tend to be easier for AVMs to accurately value due to more available comparable sales. Accuracy is lower for flats and unique buildings like converted barns.
AVMs perform best in areas with high data density and homogenous housing stock like suburban developments. Performance lags in rural locations with fewer comparables.
During stable or rising markets, AVMs achieve greater accuracy. Valuations become less reliable in volatile or declining markets.
Frequent AVM model updating with the latest sales data improves precision. Stale datasets produce less accurate estimates.
To optimise reliability, agencies combine AVMs from different providers and add in human oversight. However, valuation uncertainty remains a barrier to full consumer confidence.
The Valuer’s Perspective
The rise of AVMs is disruptive to the valuation profession. Some see it as an existential threat, while others view it as a productivity aid. Insights from key industry players:
“AVMs will never fully replace surveyors. We provide an experience that algorithms cannot match.” – Chris O’Neill, advanced valuations manager at Connells Group
“AVMs are a useful complement but should not be seen as a direct substitute for qualified valuers, particularly where properties are more complex.” – Isabelle Ingham, residential district valuations manager at BNP Paribas
“I see AVMs as an extra tool to help valuers be more efficient, especially during the initial pricing advice stages.” – Mark Parkinson, associate director at Colliers International
“Consumers want speed and convenience. AVMs deliver this but they are a blunt tool. Nuanced human judgement is still essential.” – Neil Toner, commercial valuations manager at Lambert Smith Hampton
While views differ on the appropriate uses, there is broad consensus that AVMs will not replace surveyors entirely but should be utilised prudently in tandem.
Lender Acceptance of AVMs
The biggest hurdle for mass AVM adoption is acceptance by mortgage lenders. Most still require physical valuations to secure loans currently. However, attitudes are shifting:
- Nationwide, Virgin Money and Skipton now use AVMs for remortgaging without new surveys.
- Santander, Halifax and HSBC employ hybrid AVM-surveyor approaches to appraise remortgages.
- Barclays and Lloyds are trialling AVMs for a potential wider rollout.
- Government-owned NatWest bank recently invested in AVM firm Hometrack to accelerate digitisation.
In a telling example of directional change, in 2021 Aviva became the first insurer to accept AVM valuations for underwriting home insurance policies.
Industry bodies are also driving reform. The RICS has published guidance on AVM best practices. UK Finance is lobbying for legislative amendments to enable digital valuations for all financing situations.
As lender confidence grows and regulation evolves, AVMs will become fully bankable for mortgages, enabling far wider usage.
The Tech Companies Leading the Charge
The UK AVM sector is dominated by PropTech firms like Hometrack, Movewise and Nimble. They have established vast datasets and algorithms that achieve high levels of valuation accuracy. Some notable players:
Part of Zoopla, Hometrack has the largest AVM coverage in the UK at over 29 million properties. Their “Automated Valuer” tool is used by agencies including Savills, Strutt & Parker and Chestertons.
Powering Purplebricks’ online pricing estimates, Movewise has valued over £500 billion worth of UK housing. They promise instant, accurate AVMs integrated with listing portals.
Nimble’s self-learning platform Inside MAP provides instant valuations for 90% of UK addresses. Their analytics are used by brands like Countrywide, Foxtons and Rightmove.
This US-based firm entered the UK market in 2020. Their CANARY AVM leverages AI and blockchain for secure, transparent valuations delivered via API.
Cherrill focuses on charting micro-market property trends. They plot granular price patterns down to the postcode level for nuanced neighbourhood valuations.
As adoption accelerates, expect more PropTech firms to enter this fast-growing corner of the market.
The Agent’s View on AVMs
Estate and letting agents hold huge influence over the valuation process. Their views on AVMs are therefore critical:
“We use Hometrack for approximate prices when taking on new listings then have surveyors inspect for final figures.” – Belvoir Cherwell Valley
“I see AVMs as a useful starting point but advise clients they’re not 100% accurate.” – AbbotFox Residential
“Nimble valuations give a ballpark that helps manage vendor expectations. But the personal touch remains key.” – Brunell Residential
“AVMs lack the local insight that agents can provide. We know the streets and houses.” – Propertymark Estate Agents
“Great for portfolio or multi-unit valuations where surveyor costs stack up. But for one-off sales, physical appraisals still rule.” – Hunters Property Group
“Clients increasingly expect instant online estimates. AVMs help us deliver but human oversight is still vital.” – Purplebricks
Agents recognise AVMs have limitations but increasingly use them as sales aids to meet customer demand for fast, low-cost valuations.
The Role of AVMs in Automated Trading
Another potentially disruptive use case of AVMs is in automated property sales platforms like Doorsteps and Nested. These allow instant online offers on listings, enabled by AVMs.
- Doorsteps partners with Hometrack for near-instant valuations to buy properties virtually. No physical inspections are needed.
- Nested uses proprietary machine learning and geospatial algorithms to make cash offers on homes within minutes.
- Proportunity offers an “instant sale” service for those inheriting properties, divorcing or relocating urgently. Their valuation AI prices homes in seconds.
- GoodMove guarantees purchases within 14 days based on AVM pricing estimates. Applicants get an instant quote online.
These platforms promise speed and certainty to sellers. However, some industry insiders argue they undermine due diligence and erode consumer protections. Rapid trading enabled by AVMs requires tight regulation around transparency and fairness.
The Outlook for AVM Adoption
While AVMs still face barriers to full mainstream acceptance, the consensus is clear: automated valuations are here to stay and will become more predominant. As data and algorithms improve, and lenders get on board, AVMs will transform price estimation:
- Instant valuations – Consumers will expect immediate online estimates as standard. Waiting days for appraisals will feel antiquated.
- Lower costs – Fees of £200-£400 for physical surveys will become increasingly hard to justify when AVMs are fast and free or cheap.
- Tech integration – Seamless AVM APIs will be built into agency/lender systems and consumer platforms for on-demand valuations.
- Complementary usage – Rather than replacing surveyors outright, AVMs will be used in partnership for initial approximations before site visits.
- Regulatory evolution – Government and industry bodies will update guidance to enable digital valuations for financing, insurance, tax and all use cases.
While AVMs still have limitations, rapid innovation makes their dominance inevitable. The future of valuations is virtual.
In the evolving environment of property valuation, the integration of automated valuation models (AVMs) alongside human expertise has become increasingly critical. AVMs, driven by vast data and advanced algorithms, offer speed, affordability, and consistency that traditional appraisers may find challenging to match. However, the human touch, enriched by experience and nuance, remains indispensable in handling intricate cases.
As the technology matures, garners wider acceptance, and adapts to evolving regulations, AVMs will undoubtedly become a standard component of the valuation process. Yet, they won’t entirely replace the human element. For those who ‘value my property,’ the future is likely to be defined by hybrid approaches, skillfully combining the strengths of AI and appraisers. The digital era brings evolution rather than extinction to the valuation profession, ensuring that the human perspective continues to play a vital role.