Pictures in Private Neighborhoods Can be Tricky

Let’s talk about assignments in private neighborhoods, gated communities, or secure communities.  Rich folks buy, sell, and refinance their homes, too, so they need appraisals.  You have an assignment in a security community.  There is security at the entrances, you must be on security’s authorized visitor list to get in, and your permission to enter this private community extends solely to visit your subject. So, here is the question:  while inside this gated, secure community, do you also drive around and take photos of the comps? 

Now, even though you are reading this, I can see you looking at me quizzically while you say, “Dustin, hello!  Of course I do!  I don’t want to make a second trip to this place.  That’s a waste of time and money!  You teach us not to waste time and money!”

Stop looking at me quizzically and ask yourself this question: “Does my permission to enter this private, secure community include the permission to wander about in my car taking pictures of private homes?”  Think about this.  You are in a private community.  The roads and rights-of-way in it are not public thoroughfares.  Your permission to enter was limited specifically to visit one house – the subject.  Technically, to do anything other than go to the subject, visit and photograph the subject, and then leave the community, is trespassing.   Some states, especially in Idaho, do not look kindly on the invasion of another person’s land.

So, what to do?  Maybe you could persuade the homeowner to come with you as you photo the comps.  But then, we want to avoid any relationship with the owner, since the owner is likely not the client (at least in a refinance situation).  You could ask the broker to accompany you on the photo op.  Once the broker stops laughing, s/he will say no (they are far too self-important for such mundane tasks).  You could tell security that, after visiting your subject, you are going to wander about the neighborhood secretly taking photos of other houses in the community.  This will likely get you an opportunity to chat with a local deputy sheriff (likely not a fruitful endeavor).

So, what do you do?  The likely solution is to take photos of the subject.  Then, in the report explain the situation and include MLS photos (which, anyway, are probably better photos that you’d take).  If the client gets all up-in-your-face about this, then you’ll have the sweet opportunity to fire an obnoxious client.

In any event, I want to know what you think about this.  Explain to me what you’d do in this situation, as well as why you’d do it.  

For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode: 

20 thoughts on “Pictures in Private Neighborhoods Can be Tricky”

  1. Martin McCormack

    I ask the ‘offended’ Comp Owner if they wrote a check for their recent (< 1 yr) purchase. Oh really … you have a mortgage? Then an Appraiser, just like me, obtained photos of Comp Sales to facilitate YOUR mortgage. "This is 'standard practice' in the Mortgage Lending industry".

  2. I use MLS photos in all my reports. I put a comment at the front of the report in the USPAP comment section stating that the comp photos were pulled from MLS as they best reflect the physical condition of the comparable at its time of transfers. No push back from clients yet.

  3. I have never had an issue in a gated community. Probably because the residents are sophisticated enough to understand the process. Assignments located in public areas, now that is a different story.

  4. I would not trespass to take comp photos. I handle this the same way you suggested, explain the situation why MLS photos are used in the report. I have trained several appraisers over the years and this is exactly the way I have suggested they handle this type of situation. I don’t want to train someone to violate rules, laws or regulations, whether it be USPAP or trespassing.

  5. (when a reasonable photo is available from MLS, etc…) We need to STOP taking photographs of comps, all comps. Someone is going to get killed someday. Comps should still be “driven” and observed with notes taken.

  6. I try to take the comp. photos when in the neighborhood, but if I don’t I then I put a photo of the gate in the report with an attachment using the MLS photo. This has worked well for me.

  7. I take photos inside gated communities. I guess I could be considered a thrill seeker. I fully understand that private roads in gated communities forbid this act of lawlessness and I have been in communities that are strict on this policy. When I review suburban reports with MLS photos, the pics seem fuzzy and pixelated. It really doesn’t take much time to drive the comps and take photos. After all, the certification says that I did that-doesn’t it? Lastly-not all folks living behind gates are “rich” in the monetary sense, (I happen to live in a gated community).

  8. I have never had an issue taking comp photos in a gated community. Whenever a home owner/renter has ever approached me about taking photos of their home, I always take the time to explain the situation and they have “always” been relieved to find out I am just an appraiser doing my job and not some predator (which is what they typically assume at first). When I identify myself to the security officer at the front gate, I explain to them who I am and what I will be doing. My duties as an appraiser are to take comp photos sometimes. I think if it was an issue in the gated community, the security officer would have procedures in place to tell any appraiser not to take comp photos. If that was the case, I would follow their rules. If it was a single incidence, I would explain to the owner/renter who I am and that I have permission to do so.

  9. Chris Shoemaker

    As human beings (and efficient appraisers) we all want a “one size fits all” answer. Life doesn’t usually work that way, does it? As with so many aspects of our professional life the answer is an unfortunate, “It depends.” There may be situations where taking photos in a private community is appropriate. Other times it may not. I have submitted appraisals with photos of the actual comparable and I have submitted appraisals with a photo of the gate or “No Trespassing” sign and then an MLS photo. I have neither gone to jail for trespassing or had an appraisal sent back for lack of photos. It is amazing what a concise but complete explanation within the report will do to make your life easier. I will point out one last item – while I agree in principle that the taking of comparable photos is a pointless exercise (there is a reason we do it, but the history lesson will have to wait), keep in mind that if you are doing lender work, most of the standardized forms have a certification stating that you have inspected each comparable sale from at least the street. It does NOT say that you have taken a photo and there is no requirement that we do so unless the client specifically requires it. But we ARE required to have at least driven by the comp. Don’t be the appraiser that gets in hot water with the licensing board because you didn’t know that the property was next door to a beautiful park or a Superfund site.

  10. As a newb in the early seventies I went up a drive as I couldn’t see the house from the road for the comp pic. Took the pic, reversed and heard a BOOM. Turned around and stared at a guy holding a shotgun trained on me. Since then the client gets a pic of the driveway or gated entrance, MLS photo and explanation.

  11. Paul Herrington

    For those using MLS photos, is that allowed by your local MLS? In our area the photos belong to the Realtor and they are not supposed to be copied without their permission. Of course, those same pictures can often be found on other sites that the general public can access without membership, etc. Does that make them fair game for anyone to use?

  12. You can often get photos from the county tax assessor data base. That said, I usually take the comp pictures but am VERY discrete. And quick. And in response to someone who faced a shotgun after a drive down a loonnnnnnggg driveway, I only and always take pictures of the mail box/gate/drive and add in a listing photo. No push back so far. Trespassing is trespassing …(I actually should stop it in gated communities, yes.

  13. I’m an ag appraiser and have had plenty of experience with gates. My advice, don’t drive through them, even if open. They’re there for a reason. If you don’t confront a shotgun, as Ron above did, you might find a gate that was open when you drove in locked when you tried to drive out, with you on the inside. That only had to happen to me once. Take whatever photos you need at the gate and move on.

  14. Anyone driving in the community had to be cleared with security . So, it’s my opinion that anyone seeing you drive by would not even think twice of what your doing . Also, a lot of people are at work and probably not home anyway . (Well before covid anyway ) .

    I’m not sure which banks one of the above appraisers mentions about using all MLS photos . Many engagement letters specifically say appraiser to take original comp photos . Review departments have caught me a few times using MLS photos. Be careful with that .

  15. Even if I don’t have a subject in the community, I look up the comps that have recently sold in the development and look in the private remarks. In the private remarks, there is usually a gate code for at least one home. If that doesn’t work, I follow another car into the development before the gate closes. My little Mission Impossible thrill for the day, luckily I blend well. On the way out, I will usually drift sideways through the not fully open gate while yelling out my window, “TAKE THAT SUKAS!” 😀

  16. I seldom run into any issues in the gated community taking photos. If I do, I apologize and use a MLS photo along with the picture of the front gate.

    What I do run into trouble with is gaining access to some gated communities for an exterior appraisal of a foreclosure. There is usually no one to make the appointment for you and the security at the gate insists that someone should have called them to put you on a list for access. I have tried to explain to them that the deed of trust that the borrower signed has a clause that guaranteed the lender or the lender’s representative (that would be me) could inspect the exterior of the residence for any reason at any time but that usually falls on deaf ears. So what I usually wind up doing is putting my Realtor hat on, get some MLS sheets of vacant lots for sale in the community and tell them that I am there to check out some building lots for my client, the pretty lady riding shotgun with me. Then I do the drive by of the subject property for the appraisal.

  17. Disclose
    Dont cross any private boundary open or closed(gate, driveway, pathway, bridge).

    Back in the day before it was legal-rural comps got a picture of the street sign as armed pot farms were the staple. Now its armed tweakers….

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