Singapore startup UrbanZoom launches API access to property auto-valuation tool


URBANZOOM, a homegrown artificial-intelligence-enabled research portal for HDB and condominiums, on Monday announced that it has enabled API access to its proprietary auto-valuation tool, Zoom Value, which has been tested and used by several Singapore government agencies and companies. 

API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface, which is a software intermediary that allows different applications to talk to each other.

UrbanZoom's users include the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), although UrbanZoom founder Michael Cho says he is unable to disclose details on the collaboration due to non-disclosure agreements inked.

Other users include startups and companies in the insurance and finance industries including property technology (proptech) firms SoReal Prop and Ohmyhome, which have incorporated UrbanZoom's API and deployed it in their current product offerings.

Jeremiah Ng, chief technological officer of SoReal, adds that on top of working with UrbanZoom to provide its users with current market indicative valuations, SoReal is planning a further collaboration between the two companies to increase the accuracy of the valuation for the market at large.

UrbanZoom's Mr Cho says: "After we launched, we were pleasantly surprised by the level of interest from businesses that are interested to tap our technology. There were proptech, fintech startups, financial institutions, et cetera, each with their own unique use cases of Zoom Value.

"While our team is proud of the tech we've built, which is outperforming even the best-in-class auto-valuation tools in markets like US and China in terms of accuracy, a good piece of tech is still useless unless people use it. So we'd rather open up Zoom Value to allow more people to access it, be it through partners who use our API or our own website."

Other automated valuation models such as Zillow's Zestimate in the US has an average error rate of about 4-5 per cent, and Fanggugu in China has an error rate of about 5-6 per cent. Zoom Value is able to predict HDB and condominium valuations with a median error of less than 3 per cent. It includes a confidence rating on its accuracy for every prediction in real time.

By opening up API access, UrbanZoom hopes businesses can tap into UrbanZoom's AI-enabled insights to enrich their own services. Since its launch in March 2018, UrbanZoom boasts about S$100 billion worth of Zoom Value searches, Mr Cho says.

So far, the industry is split on whether auto-valuation models can substitute human valuers in the near future. RHTLaw TaylorWessing partner and conveyance lawyer Sandra Han believes that while they are useful in giving indicative pricing in casual situations "with no ramifications", licensed valuers will still remain relevant for formal valuation reports.

"This is unlikely to change going forward; the only exception is for properties under construction and those that valuers cannot go in to value. These are probable cases where AI can be used to estimate the value."

Another industry player who did not want to be named, disagrees, believing that automated valuation would be feasible in Singapore, where real estate tends to be homogenous in attributes compared to other countries.

"I think the debate to be had is around the valuer's human judgment versus the fallibility of humans by nature. Humans have an opinion. Computers don't; they decide entirely based on facts, and there is merit in both. But I think, at least, a portion of very homogenous properties in Singapore can be priced very reliably on the basis on these models."

In addition, UrbanZoom also recently released a voice app on Google Home and launched a phone hotline, 31388416, where users can dial in to check on their home's Zoom Value, built using the Zoom Value API.

Mr Cho says this came after his team received feedback from older and less tech-savvy users that its website font is too small, and that they prefer to make enquiries over the phone compared to via a computer screen.

"Ultimately, we're here to empower home-owners. How can we leverage our tech know-how to better inform the 'moms and pops' with useful insights without overwhelming them with a deluge of data? That is the challenge and our opportunity to make a real difference in this space," Mr Cho says.