Grizzly Bears and Other Common Appraiser Dangers

It was a beautiful, early, fall afternoon. I had just completed my fifth inspection of the day and had just one more to do in the rural community of Island Park, Idaho, just outside of Yellowstone National Park. The cabin was setback in the trees and was surrounded on three sides by state lands. In other words, this 1004 UAD would have the ‘rural’ box checked on this one.

I had just begun measuring the outside when I heard a loud and extremely close bellow/snort. It is hard to explain, but it sounded like a cross between a cow moo and a moose call. I am used to hearing strange things in these woods, so I did not really give it even a second thought. A few minutes later, the homeowner emerged frantically calling for me. I rounded the corner where she was and immediately knew something was not right. She was visually shaking and her face was ashen in color. “Get up here now,” she demanded. Her demeanor was not to be trifled with, and I immediately obeyed by jumping onto the covered porch. “Look,” she said as soon as my feet were both firmly planted, and pointed into the trees. Not 50 feet from our position stood a large, menacing grizzly bear. No sooner had I turned to look, she turned and scurried into the woods. I am pretty sure she was more scared of us than we were of her, but I am not sure how. I do not think the bear had to change her britches after the encounter.

Twenty years of appraising homes in rural Idaho, Utah and Wyoming; I have seen some pretty strange and scary things, but never a grizzly bear. I was once cornered by two vicious dogs for over 20 minutes before the homeowner came home to rescue me. By the way, that was early in my career and before I learned the common courtesy of waiting till the homeowner is there before starting to measure the outside.

A close acquaintance of mine was taking comp photos in a gang and drug neighborhood in Salt Lake City when he was chased down by thugs, nearly run off the road, and had his camera taken at the end of a large crow bar. Though I have never had an experience quite like that, I did have an estranged (and rather large and hairy, I might add) husband come home once while I was doing an appraisal for a divorce he had not been told about yet. That was a bit tense. Luckily, he somehow got the impression I was from the county assessor’s office. I did not have the heart to tell him otherwise.

I could go on. I was nearly locked in a cellar once by a homeowner who was a few liters shy of a full tank. I am sure you have a few experiences as well that I would encourage you to share below. The fact is, most of the time our job is relatively safe. Of course, most of the time does not equal all of the time. When you work at and in other people’s habitat, you do tend to encounter some strange (and sometimes dangerous) situations.

My recent run-in with the cute and cuddly mama grizzly got me thinkin’; should appraisers be more prepared to protect themselves in dangerous situations? How many of you carry some sort of self-defense tool? Are any of you trained in the martial arts? Do women appraisers feel differently about going into a stranger’s home than men do? I would be interested to know your thoughts.

Now, go create some value.

Dustin Harris is a multi-business owner, but he has found most of his success as a self-employed, residential real estate appraiser. He has been appraising for nearly two decades. He is the owner and President of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, Inc., and is a popular author, speaker and consultant. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach ( where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers helping them to also run successful appraisal companies and increase their net worth. He is also the Founder and President of Your Appraisal Office ( which implements some of the systems he has developed to help lower costs and free up time for real estate business owners. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.

7 thoughts on “Grizzly Bears and Other Common Appraiser Dangers”

  1. I’m in Texas and do a lot of rural appraisals. I carry a gun…on me…dog treats in my truck ( and a shotgun), a magnetic sign on the tailgate, business cards, and will not measure a home with loose dogs. I tell the homeowner that my insurance will not allow me to get out of my truck with unrestrained dogs on site. ( I don’t have any insurance, but they don’t know that!) 🙂

    Rick Neighbors ATA-R

  2. We have had a lot of bear sightings here in Upstate NY this year as well. I’m sure you don’t think of New York as having ever to have to check the ‘rural’ box but I often do.

    I carry a product called Spray Sheild for dogs. It looks like pepper spray but is a Citranella based product. It’s humane and legal to carry in all states. Dogs hate the smell an it is very effective. I’ve even used it (at the customers approval) when a dog is jumping on me. Costs 12 bucks at your local pet store.

  3. I worked as an appraiser in Chicago from 1958 until about 1998 and had more experiences than I could write about in the limited space here. But given the fact that a lot of my work was in “Urban Renewal” areas with attendant high crime rates, I carried heat. One day after playing handball with an FBI man I asked him “hypothetically” about carrying a gun in my line of work. He replied that if he discovered it in his job capacity, he would have to arrest me–but as a friend, he said I would be a damn fool not to. A criminal attorney essentially told me the same thing when he said “I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6”.
    Fortunately, I never had to use it.

  4. Pierce Blitch, III

    I never leave the house without out my small KelTec 380 in my boot. In the last 3 years, a larger part of my business has been appraising foreclosed properties. Many times they have been secured but vandalized afterwards. I have come upon the homeowner squatting in the house, homeless people in the house, illegal aliens, and druggies in these houses, dogs, porcupines, and skunks. In the summer I wear a light weight cotton “safari” type vest and in the winter a coat when appraising foreclosures. I carry an additional larger pistol concealed (I have a carry permit and have received extra training at my own expense.) at my back as well as pepper spray in the pocket. I always try and back out of the house without disturbing anyone and immeidately call 911 and request the County’s Finest for assistance. I have only had to use the pistol once when I was measuring the exterior and rounded the house to find a drug transaction in process. They produced three knives and I proceeded to kill a small pine tree to my right. They ran one way and I ran the other!

  5. No bears here in LA, but crack heads galore. Had my camera taken by several gang members once, I think my street scene may have had a stolen car in it (lol). After 26 years I have put those days behind me and no longer accept assignments in those neighborhoods. As a woman, my hard and fast rule is no vacant homes by myself. Usually my husband goes along or I insist on the agent meeting me. I always make sure I have my cell phone in my back pocket and have carried my 38 a few times (back in the day). Back when I was doing alot of boarded up REO’s I had off duty sheriffs go with me on inspections, can’t be too careful! Once I felt threatened being in a house with a weird and very large dude and went in the front door and out the back door, looking back he must have thought I was crazy! Ahh the good ol’ days!

  6. Hi,
    Some great stories. I work in the foothills between Auburn,ca. and Lake Tahoe. A couple of years back a local appraiser was “shot” looking for comp pictures. There are “pot” farms everywhere. Never found the guy who shot her!. The appraiser (she) was shot in the ass.(driving away).. I just pulled down a semi private gravel road. People think that they own the road easements(around here). As I drove by, a guy was standing at the gate of a long drive-way (sweeping dust). Just so happens, it’s my comp. The guy approaches my truck as I drive by, and starts calling me and other people that drive down “his” gravel road threatening names. “they have no business down here”… “there a bunch of Knuckleheads”,.on/on. Just so happens, I have to make a u turn. (3 other houses). I pass the guy again and take a picture, the owner starts running after me! shaking his fist!!. I spun back into my car (house on opposite side), and sped off. I realized this was an older sale (4+months old), and that a lot of appraisers were using it. I feel sorry for the next appraiser who drives down “his” road to take a photo!!!!

  7. It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m happy that you just shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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