Rethinking Drive By and Comp Pictures

I posted the following true (and scary) experience on Facebook a few days ago:

“I just had to file a police report. I was taking a picture of a house from the street for a drive-by pre-foreclosure. The owner ran out of the homeComp Photos Appraisal and stood in front of my car. He demanded to know what I was doing. He walked around to the driver’s window, and I calmly explained to him that I was taking a picture for the bank. He got very verbally abusive and demanded to know why. I told him it was confidential. He demanded that I hand him my camera. Of course, I refused. Because I was afraid it would get physical, I drove away at that point. This is not the first time I have had such an altercation.”

I have heard many, many stories from my fellow appraisers similar to this one. A colleague of mine was taking comp pictures in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, was chased for blocks, cut off, and held at gunpoint till he gave up his camera. I am sure you have stories of your own (please share below). Taking pictures of other people’s houses may be legal. It may be good business, but is it safe?

For as long as I have been doing appraisals (over 20 years), comparable sale pictures and subject photos for drive bys have been a requirement for most lenders. I can certainly understand the reasoning for this. Among other things, it allows the appraiser (and client) to get a pretty good idea of 1. whether the house is still there and 2. its condition (at least on the exterior). These items of information can be helpful to the valuation process. But, is there a cost to such information, and is it time to rethink drive by and comp photos?

It is not highly unusual to learn information about a subject property or a comparable sale/listing from the public road that was not fully understood from other data sources. Perhaps there is a large barn or shop that was not reported. The condition or quality may be slightly different than MLS photos and descriptions might portray. Maybe there is some type of external obsolescence that was unknown till a drive by was completed. I am not suggesting that a drive past the property be completely eliminated (though in some neighborhoods, even a presence can be a safety concern). I am wondering out loud, however, if a photo is really necessary.

With today’s technology, many regulations which have been around for a very long time may now be unnecessary. There are few major roads and streets which do not have a fairly recent photo taken by Google or Bing. Satellite photos are no longer the exclusive domain of CIA and NSA types. Anyone can see the backyard (and typically the front door) of just about any residence. Most MLS listings now have multiple interior photos of the property as it looked at listing time. Requirements to obtain drive by photos were made at a time when the only descriptions we often had was a small, heavily pixilated photo and an embellished narrative description on the MLS page. Times have changed and, for the safety of appraisers, so should the drive-by photo requirements. Dustin Harris, Creating ‘Value’ for Real Estate Appraisers.

Read the Original Article HERE

56 thoughts on “Rethinking Drive By and Comp Pictures”

  1. A drive-by often provides new information, as you say. It can also give the appraiser a better overall understanding of the neighborhood. However, when the appraiser feels it is dangerous to perform a drive-by, he or she should be able to simply state this and provide another photo. Client guidelines state that original photographs of the comparable sales must be supplied unless the home is not visible from the street. This is no doubt requested as an effort to show the true depiction of the comparable at the time of sale. But, even if it isn’t visible from the street they want a photo of the gate or the driveway, simply to prove that you tried to get such a photo. MLS photos are taken by listing agents who can enter the property and get the very best perspective of the home for its photograph. An appraiser is limited to a perspective from the street. I work in the Philadelphia suburbs. Homes there are often on large sites, and the comparables, particularly main-line estates, are often not visible from the street, or are obscured by vegetation, fencing, or other obstacles. With such homes it is often purposefully so. Views from the street of more usual properties are also often blocked by such obstacles, even vehicles on the street. I often end up driving around the countryside taking photographs of driveways, which is an annoying waste of my time as I can often tell from aerial photos that a view from the street will be impossible to obtain. Also, sellers rarely undertake external modifications of the home during the marketing period, while new owner’s often do so immediately after purchasing the property. The MLS photographs of the comparables show not only the true depiction of the comparable at the time of sale, but a better depiction than a photograph from the street taken at the time of the report would.

    1. Timothy J Mucaria

      My appraiser friend and I discuss this all the time, and have similar stories. Because of this topic alone, yet, even for more reasons we can’t figure out why Lender’s have such a stand on not using MLS photos, except for supplemental reasons. Knowing the market, looking for external influences, etc…can always be figured out by driving by or by other means. An appraiser is looking for everything that’s relevant to the assignment, including locations/influences, other…and with all the tools at our disposal, a physical presence is usually not necessary on most comparable. . Besides, what’s it matter if the house you are using for a comparable burnt down after it sold? We are using it for its comparable sales data and its closing date…What, if anything happens to it after that, is not relevant. Additionally, the MLS photo is the “best” representation of that comparable when it sold, not weeks, months, or years later (when doing complex valuations) with a current photo. Bottom line, and we all know it, as reasonable as most “lender” guidelines are, some just make no sense at all (this topic) and rather than working with us on these issues, it seems they have all the power to have us appraise and complete the reports their way.

  2. Be careful how you use phrases such as “in some neighborhoods, even a presence can be a safety concern.” In retrospect, the person asking for only your camera might seem like a walk in the park on a sunny day.

    Your concerns and sugstions are well-founded, however.

  3. Exterior front photos personally taken are a leftover requirement from pre-mls days, in my opinion. The local MLS can give a superior indication of condition, quality, and features so much more often, that it is most probably the reliable resource every time. If the realtor provides minimal information in the MLS or misleading information in the MLS, then the property will not likely adjust consistently with other properties during paired sales analysis and can should be excluded from the report anyway. Not to mention, a phone call can help clear things up even better than a picture of the front of the house.

    1. Interesting thoughts. We always contact Realtors about property prior to using it as a sale. We view MLS as comparable sales leads that need to be confirmed…I wish all appraisers did that. Having said that I can’t tell you how many Realtors that sell houses that know nothing about houses. Incorrect information is frequently reported and only corrected after viewing the property. Although I wish we could either charge more for reports with photos or stop driving by the comparable sales, I don’t see relying on under-educated Realtors as a totally viable option to driving by sales.

      1. Agree about under-educated brokers. But assessor’s records can either confirm or reject brokers’ descriptions of a house. There is no way an exterior viewing from the street could correct any information not viewable from the street (room count, GLA, interior condition, etc).

    2. The requirement for “original” comparable photos has more to do with possible external factors more than condition at time of sale. Also, taking an original photo confirms (at least to some degree) that the appraiser actually inspected the comparable from the street, which is in the Satement of Work and/or Certification page of the report.

  4. The comp photo with the dumpster in the driveway says a lot. MLS says “lovely, updated home with new baths” so why is the vanity and tub sticking out of a dumpster two weeks ater closing? The same with drive-bys. Are the blinds all broken on the windows, is the trash can on the curb, grass need to be cut, etc? All signs of neglect that the client needs to know. I agree with others that I have wasted many miles, gallons of gas and days shooting driveways, gates and trees not to mention nearly being run over by speeding cars on rural roads and occasionally run off by owners but this is what we do. You have to keep an eye out for “No trespass” signs here in Kentucky as they really mean what they say. Sometimes what is not seen is as important as what is seen. Do I see a water connection or fire hydrant on this road? Are electric lines still running to this house? Has the lock on the gate rusted shut? We, as appraisers, are generally paid well for only modest physical labor. Drive-by and comp photos continue to be an integral part of the Client’s basis for decisions. Until I find a profession that pays me for doing “nothing at all” I will continue to provide those redundant photos that can be verified, for the most part, with Google and be grateful that I am not selling “fries with that”

  5. In 1994, I was taking a Comp Photo in a nearby neighborhood. I took the photo as fast as I could, drove down the block and as the street came to a fork, I stopped at a stop sign. At that moment a car pulled right in front of me an the individual got out and ran to my drivers side window. He had a GUN and was ordering me to roll down my window. I was stunned, and he was screaming those orders at me.
    Good thing I had an X Detroit Police officer, as she was my appraisal trainee. She said calmly roll down the window and I will take it from here.
    I rolled down the window and at that moment she leaded out of the car, onto my hood with a gun in hand and made him drop to the ground, he refused and the stood with guns pointed at each other. She says, I can shoot this, and I have the authority, I also have a witness,
    He dropped the gun, she grabbed it, and then asked him what in the hell he was thinking.

    He said he is in the middle of a divorce and his wife is having him watched, by some Private Investigator. She let him go after she explained that he could not be pulling a gun on everyone who takes a photo of your house. You just bought your house within the last year, and appraisers may use it as a comparable. He apologized and she told him to get in his car, and go home.
    It all happened so fast, I really never had a chance to move.

    We really underestimate our Police officers. Without her, I don’t know if I would have happened.
    This was not a bad neighborhood with high crime. It was just an angry husband.

    This is just one of the hazards of the job! Hope everyone is charging enough for their hard work!!

    1. Exceptionally rare circumstance. HER leaping out with a gun could have gotten you all killed.

      If she had not been there, you’d have rolled down the window, explained what you were doing and likely that would have been the end of it.

      SHE was pretty stupid to jump out and then to aim a gun at someone already aiming at her, without shooting them.

      Frankly even if he HAD demanded your camera, its not worth your life; and I’m about as gung ho an ex Marine as you will find.

      1. Totally disagree, you have to stand for something or fall for anything, her jumping out of the car took to much time, I would have just unrolled the window and let him look down the working end.

  6. Comp photos are NOT required by USPAP, only FNMA and other “regulators”. The URAR says the appraiser viewed the comparable sale from the public street, NOT that the appraiser made the photo used in the report. As long as the appraiser discloses the source of the comp picture in the report AND drives by the comp they are in compliance with the requirements (in my opinion). I strongly believe in using MLS photos as they are a better representation of what the property looked like when the buyer and seller were making their decisions. I have taken comp photos that were misleading due to improvements (or once razing) that have taken place since the sale took place. I agree that the regs are extremely outdated. Thanks for your articles and insight.

    1. You may be right but too many of our ‘associates’ have abused the process and never bothered to inspect anything except the subject. In some cases they weren’t even the ones that did the subject inspection!

      These would likely be those still claiming to make $60,000 to $80,000 a year doing residential transaction work; and who ‘regularly brag about doing 2 or 3 full appraisals a day’.

      1. Mike i’m on track this year to make around 70K and i do on average 24 appraisals a month. inspecting 6-7 a week (sometimes 2-3 on days in the field)

  7. I use MLS photos in the grid portion of the report, then attach a separate (usually a single page) photograph addendum titled “Inspection Photos” – which yes, often are pictures of driveways or gates or imperfect shots of the property well after date of sale. I then include this statement in the report: “Multiple Listing photographs have been used in the grid portion of the report as best representation of comparable at time of sale. Additional photos documenting exterior inspection from the street are attached as a separate addendum.” Otherwise, in my opinion, exterior photos taken after date of sale used as a primary photographic reference can be potentially misleading. I think it is a good thing that original photographs proving one performed a drive by is essential to curbing (forgive the joke) appraisal fraud which was rampant in our rural area in the old days.

  8. Photos in the MLS should be used in the report, they best represent the home at the time of sale. Inspect the areas where the comps are, but I always use the MLS photos if available – and get grief so I understand the push back from UW.

    As far as being accosted, it happens. Usually I’m long gone before anyone gets wind of pics being taken but I’ve led folks on long drives as they tail me, not an issue. I over 26 years of doing this I think I’ve had maybe 2-3 people challenge me, never an issue even with the boisterous ones, my .45 on the seat is a handy tool.

    1. Concur, though when I use mls pics its WITH my own original as well and all labeled to disclose which is which. In the Socialist Republic of California we cannot carry guns as a rule, so we have to learn effective methods for being discrete. I WOULD carry concealed if it were allowed, though its not likely I’d ever use it. On the other hand I will never allow myself to become another Reginald Denny either.

  9. I used to get the stares from taking comp pics. Then i had magnetic signs made up with the name of my appraisal company and put them on 3 sides of my truck. I now get very few stares and feel very comfortable taking the pics.

  10. Matt an appraiser

    I agree that MLS photos are usually the best representation of the comp at the time of sale. I always use them unless it is an FHA report or client says original photos only. However, I just recently did an appraisal in Garrett County, MD and I was looking at comps in the MLS and I found one I liked but it had circles around it with extra photos of Deep Creek Lake in the same photograph. I was trying to find a better photo but none was shown in extra photos in listing. I then went to check out all previous listings and sales for this property. I was shocked! Every picture for this property had the same exact pictures in the listing. There were probably about 10 previous listings. Every time it was listed, the realtor used the same photos that were in the original listing. I wonder how many other times realtors are too lazy to add new pictures?

  11. In Canada, original photos of comp exteriors are not required. Hand guns are almost impossible to legally to possess. Baseball bats & axes would be the items to worry about, but luckily, it’s never been an issue.

  12. I agree that MLS photos are usually the best representation of the comp at the time of sale. I always use them unless it is an FHA report or client says original photos only.

  13. Some very good points made, I must say. But I don’t think we will ever be able to eliminate taking comparable photos and drive-by photos of a subject. There’s no substitute for an real person who is unbiased and has no dog in the fight providing a photo they took themselves.

    I have had many people chase me down, however I have never had a GUN pointed at me! (even in some neighborhoods that I was uncomfortable in) Some were homeowners of comparables (including a state patrolman who followed me and turned his blue light on to pull me over), some were neighbors of the comparable who questioned me because the owner was out of town and asked them to look out for things. Some were home owners in pre-foreclosure. I have had 2 different men that were in a situation where they said they were being followed by a private investigator. (what’s up with that??)

    I think some of the problem can be inadvertently brought on by us and the way we handle this. I generally don’t try to hide the fact that I am taking photos. I don’t snap something fast and speed out of the neighborhood. When people think you are being sneaky, it appears you are up to no good and you draw their attention. If someone is in the yard of a comparable I stop and say “Good morning. I am a real estate appraiser working in your area today. Am I correct that you purchased your home within the previous year? I am considering using the sale as a comparable in my report. Would you mind if I took a quick exterior photo from the street?” If they walk over to my car, I offer them my business card. No one has ever told me no. If I am in a neighborhood where I am uncomfortable, I drive slower, discreetly rest my camera on the door frame (instead of holding it up for all to see) and snap a couple photos with the flash turned off (so as not to draw attention) while I coast by. I don’t stop the car, hold the camera up high, snap photos and drive off like a speed demon. That will make people follow you. When I have the occasion to be followed, stopped and questioned by someone, I say “My name is ______ and I am a real estate appraiser. You must have purchased your home within the previous year. I am using your home’s sale as a comparable sale in my report for a home in the area. When you purchased your home, an appraiser did the same thing I am doing today in order to collect data for the appraisal performed on your home.” Then they always calm down and usually have a question or 2 about appraisals in general. If they ask which property I’m appraising in their area, I reply that I am not at liberty to discuss it.

    If it’s the homeowner of a pre-foreclosure that approaches me, I say “I am just taking photos for the bank.” If they ask why, I reply that I do not have any details and if they have questions, they should contact their mortgage lender or broker that they worked with to obtain their loan. They can better answer any questions they have. Saying “It’s confidential.” puts you in an adversarial position that I do not want to deal with. Sometimes you can tell that they are afraid that their home is in the process of being foreclosed very soon and no one has been in recent contact with them.

    Overall, I’m not saying that we are responsible for being chased down by people, but I do think we can diffuse the situation a little by doing things a little differently. I have considered having a magnetic sign made with the name of my appraisal company and logo on it to put on my car doors, thinking that may help avoid the “chase downs”. Anyone out there already do that?…..and has it helped?

    1. I am not in favor of appraiser comp photos, though I also use your diffusing techniques. A simple friendly wave and smile goes a long way. Then if they engage the vehicle, I roll down the window, say hello and tell them what I am doing with a bid fat charming smile. I have gotten into conversations a few times too, often learning more about the comp!!! If I could talk to every homeowner on every comp drive-by, I would swear by their value.

      1. I disagree with opinion re appraiser comp photos but absolutely concur re interview benefits! I met one of my former best clients this way. That one client alone was worth $30,000 to me over the next several years.

    2. Matt an appraiser

      I have magnetic door signs on my vehicle for that reason. Since I started using them I have had no problems with people chasing me down. However, if I am doing a pre foreclosure I take it off while I drive by the subject.

    3. Sarah, do you also ALWAYS disclose that you have used mls photos in lieu of original photos, but STILL personally inspected the comparables from the public right of way? Do your mls photos still show the mls logo in them, or have they been photo shopped? IF you show the logos, then how do you get away with regular and routine use of copyrighted material belonging to someone else, for YOUR commercial benefit? Incidental use may be argued as public domain or reasonable expectation of mls membership, but “always” use? Im not too sure about that one.

      BTW mls photos are ONLY better representations of the sale at time of LISTING, not sale. Taking contrasting photos can also help support condition adjustments where a comp CLEARLY had major renovations after it sold.

    4. Most accurate mirror of my own experiences so far. Outstanding solutions and general procedures followed over the years.
      Concur with ALL comments except telling them its a pre foreclosure UNLESS an NOD has been filed.

      True story: Once was doing small apartment building on Imperial Highway in Los Angeles (unincorporated portion). No parking in front. Only parking was to rear off alley between the two carport structures. The “Lookout” came over to my Volvo station wagon while I was taking pictures and asked “Are you the Man?” This was back when I used to still wear a spots coat and had military style very short cut hair.

      I laughed; said “No, Im an appraiser here to do some bankwork for the owner, and NONE of the pictures were taken while those guys are going up on the roof to that open window in the back. In fact Im not allowed to even have people show up in my pictures because of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act laws.” He looked around inside through the window, bummed a cigarette from me (which I lit), and then told some other people it was ok “He cool”. I told him I needed to take ONE picture of the back of the property and we waited together until no one was climbing up or down from the roof. I took the picture and left.

      BTW this was the property where I did not take a front photo because of VERY bad gang and racist graffiti on the bldgs. front. Good learning experience.

  14. Having been in this business in one way or another for over 30 years, I can say that prior to the use of computers, driving by a property to get a sense of what was there was very important. Typically MLS sales were provided in black and white books that were sometimes copies of copies and the only view of the property was a black and white blob on the listing. Now, we typically know significantly more about the property before we view it but it continues to be an important part of the process. It is very infrequent that we don’t find something that we didn’t know or the listing agent had conveniently overlooked. It also shows the client you have driven by the property and demonstrates it’s current condition. Having said that, in this world or more competitive appraisal pricing it is becoming increasing expensive to provide photos. Perhaps we should allow our clients to choose…offer the appraisal report at a base fee and charge extra for driving by the comparable sales. Finally, if you believe taking a photo is going to be a problem, set your camera to video mode (most digital cameras have that), start the video a block away then stop after you are out of sight. It may not be the best photo but you can get a screenshot of the property from your video and you never have to stop. I have used that technique on more than one occasion.

    1. Jerry how would you actually ‘compare’ a comparable with the subject if you did not see it in person? Are you also getting the listing agent to co sign your appraisal reports and certifications?

      I drove a commercial comparable two days ago. It had OUTSTANDING data in mls; LoopNet and in open online sources. I had EVERYTHING I needed to know EXCEPT

      The notice of public hearing for proposed demolition of THREE blgs. versus the one reported; AND proposal to build a new commercial center with parking structure. What started as a potential great improved sale comp moved to a possible supplemental (non primary) improved sale comp to a GREAT LAND SALE COMP. All because of the post sale date notice of public hearing that I saw on the front wall of the property.

      Point is that we do not KNOW what we are going to actually find; until we go out and find it!.

  15. I agree that MLS photos often represent the property at the time of the listing but sometimes properties are months to a year old before sold. I too have taken many taken many pics of long drives and traveled gravel roads to see nothing but a locked gate or a sign that says private. But I have had recent Clients that require pictures taken at the time or during the appraisal process when I was just there a month ago and the trees changed from blooming flowers to current green leaves and had to go back to take current pictures. I remember them and now charge them higher fees to accommodate my time. Even Fannie does not require new pictures every time you take a picture in the same neighborhood. It would really be advantageous if the Realtor took a picture on the day of closing of the house in most cases the realtor with the buyer mays a final inspection on or shortly before closing to insure all contract stipulations were met. How hard would it be for them to snap one good front photo and place it on the MLS as a Closing day photo. It would give you the condition the look of the property at the time of closing and what the buyer was purchasing. I have been advocating this but it is hard to get Realtors to understand that the process of get their loan closed is much more easily accomplished if they give us good information and good photographs. When I see no photos in the listing I assume it did not have features worthy enough for photographing. I also have found Realtors to lazy to go take pictures and use the same one taken from other MLS listings. That is fine for selling but I still stand by my solution of taking a final photo on the day of closing or close thereof. I also use MLS photos in addition to the photos taken but put the photo I took In the grid since if I use that again the photo follows it and reminds me that I could not see the house from the street. Cell phones are wonderful tools when someone is chasing you down the street and 911 or *55 or whatever your local law enforcement uses works well when calling. As a former law enforcement officer I carry a pistol but have only had some one threaten me once with one as a stepped on his property as I was taking of side picture of the subject. All I can say is be careful out there.

  16. Iv only had this problem once (where they actually chased me down) in 14 years and it was while taking a comp picture. Several times I have had very concerned looks from people in the yard and I explained the situation. I thought of buying big magnet signs for the sides of my car for these situations. Big words that say REAL ESTATE APPRAISER. Maybe that would help some.

  17. I would say it is important the subject be at least inspected from the street and if you are already there, of course take some photos. As far as comps, I think it is a major waste of resources for very little benefit. The history of the requirement stems from pre-computer days, when appraisers had to search courthouse records for sales and tape Polaroids to their typed-out reports that they sent through the US mail!!! After the dawn of computers, the requirement lingers on as a measure against fraud. Somewhere along the line a few appraisers decided it would be easier to just make sales data up; now everyone must pay the price for their behavior. I don’t give much credit to the idea of “finding out more” about a sale by driving by it. After ten years, I can think of only a few instances when a comp was not what I though it was going to be after getting there and zero instances when it was so different that I couldn’t still use it as a comp. Even more rare (meaning never) has it happened when all three comps were not what I thought they were. The requirement is in my opinion outdated and a major waste of time. I would prefer to skip the exterior drive-by photos and provide instead interior MLS photos; which nowadays play into my analysis significantly.

    I think many things are outdated that we still do; though that would be a whole new conversation.

    1. I think anyone that believes a personal inspection of comparables from the public right of way does not NORMALLY help, is probably not a very good appraiser to begin with. I am being paid for MY analysis, not reciting some unknown agents puffery published in mls.

      I’m frankly shocked that anyone would claim otherwise except in abnormal circumstances. But then again, I’ve only got 28 years appraisal experience and 6 more before that as an agent.

  18. I’ve never been chased or challenged, though have had plenty of dirty looks. I have had many instances when I roll up and the homeowner is in the yard. I usually roll around the block to see if they will go inside, though a few times I’ve had to ask them to step aside so I could take a photo without a person in it!!!

  19. 2 years ago I took a comp photo in a semi rural area then turned around to head back the way I came. I saw a red truck flying up the road behind me. I turned into a residential area and made a few turns to see if I was being followed. When I determined I was I stopped to explain. He jumped out with badge in hand. It had been a cop’s house I photographed. I explained, showed him the MLS sheet and the other photos on my camera so he would see he wasn’t singled out. He called back up and in the hour I was there the county building closed requiring a second trip to the area. I wish agents would tell sellers and buyers that appraisers will be taking photos for maybe a year after the sale. I agree the MLS photo gives a good representation of the house at the time of sale but in my area agents often use the same photo time after time even when they weren’t the previous agent. To me that is misleading but hey, agents can do anything they want. Even when I call them to point out a mistake in the info they list they don’t seem to care and almost never correct it

  20. When I was a newly minted appraiser, I was appraising a property in a rural area of Texas. One of the comps was located on a private drive with a No Trespassing sign prominently displayed at the entrance of the open gate. I foolishly decided I would drive up an get a pic of the comp. I did so and was backing out of the drive when a very loud noise occurred. I don’t know if the guy was a bad shot, or if he was shooting over me, but the next thing I saw was a shotgun pointed at me by the homeowner who had been burglarized the week before. I will NEVER go up a private drive again, and if the lender wants a pic of the comp, they are politely told they can get the comp pic themselves. The pay is not commensurate with the risks involved.

  21. Ok, I understand the requirement for an exterior inspection of the comps provided in a report (In my opinion to primarily understand the external factors), however I have a big problem with the “current to time of inspection” photo requests which would require me to drive by the same comp at a later time. Many times I have actually appraised the comp for the date of sale that I am using and I have been told to provide a seasonal comp photo!! What photo could better represent the comparable sale than my original photo which occurred shortly after the contract was executed? I have actually replaced my original out of season photos with an in season MLS photo in the past just to avoid this request later. Ridiculous, I know.

  22. I have been chased and yelled at many times throughout the years. I usually just explain that since their property recently sold, it would likely be used as a comparable sale which will require appraisers to drive by and photograph the home for up to a year after the sale. Usually that is sufficient to meet their concern/curiosity. The latest episode was truly odd though. I took a photo of a house in the suburbs and about twenty minutes later I got a voicemail from the Police Department. The officer said someone reported that I was looking in their windows with binoculars. My car license plate says “APRAZER” and I have my company website and a tagline in block letters on my rear window. This is how the homeowner knew who I was. I asked the officer if he was at all familiar with what appraisers do as it relates to photographing homes. I explained it to him and he said he never knew about that. I then told him that the man who said I was using binoculars to look in his windows either had really bad eyes (which didn’t seem to be the case if he could read my license plate number) or he just wanted to get me in trouble for taking a picture of his house.

  23. Coach, the NUMBER ONE reason we still include original comp photos is to PROVE we actually went by the comparable, instead of doing a desk analysis of comparables based only on mls pictures. We ALL know, or have heard of appraisers that do exactly that. Some are so good you can’t even tell they are photo shopped to remove MLS logos, even by dissimilar pixilation.

    I frequently include ADDITIONAL mls labeled photos in my reports to show those special features you mention. I DISCLOSE whenever I use an mls photo and state why. Its NOT a substitute for my own exterior property analysis, even when the house is not visible from the street front.

    As for confrontations, Its happened twice in 28 years. Both times in the bad neighborhoods, I merely stated what I was doing and that was the end of it. The single other exception was an idiot security guard in the gate guarded City of Rolling Hills, CA.. On my way out after I had passed (exited) the gate I got out, took a picture of the gate and a corner house inside the gate. He foolishly thought he had a right to my camera or film roll.

    I suggested an alternative would be for me to take his billy club and shove it up inside him in an uncomfortable manner, if he thought he was capable of trying to steal my camera OR film. This same city routinely used to charge an $8.00 entry fee for ‘trades people’ (including professionals) merely to enter their private city (which oddly enough receives federal funding for roads). I had personal friends in the community so I could call them and bypass the fee if I really wanted to, but the process itself offended me.

    I started charging a $1,000 premium for any appraisals I did there. Only did one with that DISCLOSED surcharge Identified as “Mayors Extortion Surcharge Fee” on the invoice.

    Bottom line, we all have war stories. We all learned how to take 20 to 30 mph pictures of houses when we used 35 MM cameras; stopping around the corner to write out our field notes; out of direct view of the drug dealers that lived at the comps. Sometimes we’d have to drive by several times to ‘absorb’ all the details of the property. Other times we’d have the property owner ‘introduce’ us to the thugs sitting at a card table blocking the street to collect “local gang road taxes” (free entry for residents and their guests).

    Rather than eliminating the need or requirement for even admittedly ‘quick’ analyses, we should be charging appropriate fees.

    Next time, when you are doing a pre foreclosure or occupied REO, don’t stand directly in front of the subject! Stand one or even two doors away; set up your zoom lens and then pretend to shoot the OTHER house, front, left and right (which is when you shoot the subject or comp that you don’t want others to know you are photographing. Then IF someone asks what you are doing, LIE! Tell them you are working on a private appeal for the county tax assessment. When your personal safety is threatened, it is NOT immoral OR illegal to lie to avoid a confrontation. Just note it in the workfile.

    Coach, respectfully, you got complacent and didn’t consider the ramifications of someone knowing you were taking pictures. As for the story about the person ROBBED AT GUNPOINT, I assume the police got his camera back and the ‘irate’ homeowner was arrested for armed robbery, right?

    Thanks for reminding us all to be careful, AND for pointing out yet one more reason why we should NOT be doing discounted fee appraisal assignments!

  24. I live in a small redneck town, and taking comp photos can be dangerous. I hate it. I don’t mind driving by and making notes about the property, but I take the picture and drive away as fast as possible. I have had the comps called, and been chased. I guess it’s going to take an appraiser getting shot before they will think about changing this policy. MLS photos are better anyway.

  25. In my area there is a lot of new construction and it is quite common for builders to submit a photo of the same home in multiple MLS listings, or a computer generated rendition of the home. Obviously in those cases, the appraiser has to take the shot.

  26. Part of the problem is that clients no longer trust appraisers. I’d rather see some photos be optional and have lender clients occasionally review appraisals and kick off offending appraisers off their approved list if they lie about something in an appraisal.

    For us honest appraisers, our clients are oftentimes paying for things that are nothing more than a verification that we are telling the truth in our appraisals. If a client can’t an appraiser then they should be using that appraiser regardless of how many photo requirements they feel might make up for that lack of honesty.

  27. Hi, When I was confronted, I told the folks that I was a designated member of the Appraisal Institute. They gently bowed and left the area.


  28. Our chief appraiser, (my husband) was photographing comparables in a neighborhood. A woman came out and demanded to know why he was taking pictures. He told her and gave him his card. She got very irate and told him it was illegal for him to photograph. He told her it wasn’t and left.

    That evening, our local sheriff sent a deputy to our home at about 12:00 am. All he said was that a sheriff’s deputy from 2 counties over needed to speak with my husband but he couldn’t say why.

    As the parents of young adult girls who happened to go out on the town when they got invited, we were very upset that something could be terribly wrong. My husband called the deputy immediately.

    The deputy proceeded to question my husband as to why he was in a particular neighborhood and why he was taking pictures. Much relieved that it wasn’t an issue with a family member, my husband told the deputy what he was doing. The deputy then wanted to know a lot of other information, like the client, the other addresses visited, etc. At that point my husband got very short with him, and told him to call back during business hours. The deputy said he didn’t work during the day, so then my husband said, I don’t answer business questions in the middle of the night.

    The deputy played telephone tag for a couple of evenings. Finally, my husband called the county sheriff, explained the situation and told him to tell the deputy to stop calling. We go no more phone calls.

    The main reason that photos are necessary is that lenders don’t believe that appraisers actually visit the property and don’t rely on our word or description of the property condition. Even when we say, peeling paint, rotten wood, broken railing, they want picture proof.

    I could see those items from the street for a exterior inspection (driveby) that I completed. BUT the lender then said they couldn’t see that in my pictures and wanted me to go back and take close up example photos. THEN the confrontation came with the current tenant. WHY was I standing in the front and side yard taking pictures and so forth. Even after I gave her my card and explained, I had to spend another hour with her while the lender and owner were contacted. All so that this woman would stop worrying that I was casing the place for robbery.

    I understand safety issues, but lenders put us into a position where the public doesn’t trust our profession, and the lenders don’t trust us as professionals.

    I do not believe the same would happen to other professionals.

  29. What information do you think is more valuable to someone who is deciding whether to loan money on a piece of property. A picture that looks like every other picture that is available from so many sources today or the fact that it is located in an area that is unsafe to take a picture in. If it is not safe to drive down the street and take a photo, the condition of the roof and siding is the least of the lenders worries.

  30. In the North Carolina Mountains a driveby often takes you off the main road onto a very long driveway up the side of a mountain where it’s almost necessary to turn around in the front of the house just to get a picture. If you don’t turn around in front of the house you may have to back down the side of the mountain and around curves just to keep from being spotted. We all got stories and the jest of the whole thing is that for your own safety if you don’t have a private carry permit then get one. Sometime I have to walk land that may have rattlesnakes, bob cats or even black bear. You can bet that my old pistolie is tucked down in my jeanes.

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