Dart Appraisal: Reflecting on 25 years

In 1993, more than a decade before the real estate crash and 16 years before regulators created the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC), Dart Appraisal was established as an Appraisal Management Company (AMC) in metro Detroit. The company was founded by Darton Case, who continues to serve as CEO today. 

"I realized quickly how much pressure was put on appraisers if they did not have a referee," said Darton Case. "I believed that an appraisal management company could create transparency between the lender and appraiser, cultivating a process that brings out the best in both parties."

Throughout the company's early years, Case struggled to generate local business because many ties between lenders and their appraisers proved too strong to sever. In need of alternatives, he was determined to get enough out-of-area jobs to build a business. By 1995, the company had expanded coverage across the state of Michigan and began looking beyond its borders. 

Innovation in Technology and Geographic Expansion

As Dart Appraisal began its expansion outside of the state, technology became an increasingly important component of the operation. In 1995, the company was one of the first to offer a Web site for appraisal orders, and in 1998 it launched is second generation Web site and internal Web portal, set on a Microsoft Sequel database. Early on, the profits from the business were regularly reinvested into the latest technology to further streamline the appraisal process.

From the company's early years, Case knew that he wanted to reduce average turn times by days, and in most cases weeks. The industry was using standard mail, with real photos pasted onto reports that had real signatures. In the early 1990s, as digital cameras, the Internet and Pentium computers emerged in the marketplace, Case recognized the advantages in turn time that technology could offer. He encouraged each one of the appraisers within their panel to invest in themselves, and when they couldn't, he would loan them the money to buy the newest technology.

In 1996, Dart Appraisal launched Dart 96. With this technology, the company became one of the first AMCs to begin producing and shipping reports with digital pictures and signatures, yet the final documents still had to be delivered in hard copy format. Dart invested in huge commercial printers stocked with extra RAM memory to print out 2 sets of appraisals per order. Dart also incurred weekly costs into the thousands to overnight reports to its clients, not only to increase speed but also for tracking purposes.

It took several long years to get the digital appraisal process adopted by the main stream. All three pieces - digital photos, digital signature on the appraisal, and digital transmission of the appraisal - had to happen at the same time, without any breaks in the chain.

It became apparent to Case that his sophisticated clients were regional or national-this is where he wanted to take his company. In 1998, he and his team began recruiting a panel of qualified appraisers across the nation. When at least 70 percent of a state's largest counties were covered by available, licensed appraisers, the company would add that state to its coverage area. Slowly, state by state, Dart Appraisal was becoming a nationwide provider.

The New Millennium - Market Embraces Principles of Dart Appraisal

By the turn of the century, the company had transformed from a metro Detroit AMC servicing one main client to a nationwide operation with hundreds of clients and an extensive panel of fully-licensed appraisers. To mark its transformation and highlight the company's technological advantages, Case changed the corporate name and structure to DartAppraisal.com. 

In 2002, the first bi-directional system to system integration was developed between Dart and one of its largest clients. In 2004, Dart designed an integration to Ellie Mae's ePass network. By 2005, the company had a self-service pre-payment system that allowed clients to speed the mortgage loan process and turn an application into a borrower commitment.

In 2005, a CRM sales platform was installed, while a new inside sales team had been established to expand the client base. Beginning in 2006, the company began to specialize in REO valuations by exclusively handling specific states for three HUD asset managers, including TX, NM, GA, MO, KY, TN, KS, and OK. Eventually, these relationships grew and developed into 28 states.

When the HVCC was implemented in 2009, DartAppraisal.com had a multitude of underused technologies in place, scattered throughout its website in various pieces. Capitalizing on the lending experience of company executives, Dart launched an online broker center that offered full compliance with HVCC for brokers registering, prepaying for the appraisal, tracking statuses and ordering online.

"The building blocks of nearly two decades allowed us to leverage our processes and technology," said Case. "The fact that we owned our own technology made it simple to pull all of the pieces together into a coherent process. Our culture, business model and procedures went farther than HVCC intended and we were ready to rapidly grow based on the new market realities."

Weathering the Storm

As a result of the company's investment in technology early on, Case was now able to provide comprehensive tracking data to clients. The Dart Dashboard report was launched in 2010 and for the first time, lenders saw the data, reporting and resulting intelligence that allowed them to streamline their appraisal process. Lenders now had more control over their loan process through appraisal management services.

"For the lenders, their existing appraisal system was like sending 15 people to 20 different stores all the time," said Case. "Timelines weren't tracked, and you had multiple vendors and multiple payments to juggle. I showed them things they had never seen and made our processes very transparent, which keeps people doing their best."

In 2012, the company changed returned to its original name, Dart Appraisal, to reflect its position in the industry as a leader in both personalized customer service and innovative technology.

Dart Appraisal continues to reinvest in itself annually to develop and maintain its lead in technology and service. Integrations with client's Loan Origination Systems are continuously being added and improved upon to provide the most efficient appraisal experience possible.

By being flexible and agile during its early years and remaining true to the company's core values during tough times, Dart Appraisal has emerged as a strong, highly capable AMC in a sea of new and inexperienced competitors that were to capitalize on recent federal appraisal regulations. It has thrived in the industry, and has seen the shift in tides that has brought the marketplace to its door.

"We were designed for today in 1993," said Case. "We were not created based on HVCC or the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform guidelines, yet our principles and processes align almost identically with the goals and intent of the regulations. 25 years ago, we were called 'conservative'. We now hear new competitors call us 'traditional'… I call it 'reliable and consistent.'"

"When HVCC hit the market in 2009, we were already there. The same principles of transparency and safeguards that the code demanded were the building blocks of Dart Appraisal. And we had the technology and long-term vision in place to make it work. So ultimately, our start is our end: we have remained consistent, held fast to our integrity in a tumultuous market and prepared for the future through technology and innovation," Case added.

"I believe there is a soul in our company," concluded Case. "For 25 years, we held fast and continued to do something unpopular, but in the end, it was the right thing to do."