Did That Guy Just Take a Picture of My Kids???

I want to talk to you today about something most of us appraisers do on a daily basis – taking comparable photos.

Now, I don’t want to get into the whole “Are comps a waste of time? Do they actually serve any purpose?” debate. That’s gone on long enough and it isn’t going to stop any time soon. Instead, I want to try and clear up what is and isn’t actually required from your FHA comps; specifically, we’re going to be looking at the tricky question of taking comparable pictures when people are present.

So, let’s say you’re an appraiser who adheres to FHA rules, meaning you have to take a picture of each comparable at the time of the inspection (heaven forbid we have a photo of that comp that’s two weeks old, because of course everything will be completely different by now… okay, sorry, I’ll stick to the topic). You pull up outside the property and see that there are people outside; let’s say there are kids playing there in the front yard. What do you do?

Some of you will say, “I take the photo. That’s my job!” I get that, but look at it from another perspective. You’re a mom or dad inside the house, watching your kids play out in the yard. Suddenly a stranger pulls up in their car, winds the window down, takes out their camera or smartphone and appears to take a photo of your children. Are you trying to tell me that if you were that parent, you wouldn’t be at least a little bit freaked out?

Of course you would and you’d be completely justified in reacting that way. That’s why other appraisers and I have a standing rule – we’re not taking the photo if there are kids in it. There are simply too many implications and too many possibilities; basically, there are too many things that could go wrong. We live in a scary world, with a lot of bad people in it and I don’t want to put myself in any situation where my professionalism, my character or my standing in the community are called into question. I also don’t want to put myself in any danger, which – if parents think I pose a threat to their kids – I might well be doing.

As a business, we’ve simply decided that if there are any people at all in the picture – whether they’re under or over 18 years old – then we’re not taking a photo of the property. We just move along, no questions asked.

“But Dustin,” I hear you say, “Doesn’t the FHA require us to take photos of comps?” Well, my friend, I’m glad you asked. I broke out my trusty copy of the 4000.1 handbook and checked the section on minimum photograph requirements. There are a few rules there, but I want to draw your attention to this one: “MLS photographs are acceptable to exhibit comparable condition at the time of the sale. However, appraisers must include their own photographs as well to document compliance.”

That second line is pretty ambiguous, I’ve got to say and leaves the whole issue open to interpretation. Without clear guidelines, I’d say that you should use good old-fashioned common sense. If you don’t want to take a photo because people are in front of the property, I’d advise driving far enough away so that safety is no longer an issue and getting the photo from there. Other appraisers simply take a photo of the street sign, to prove they were at that location when they said they were.

The official line is that you need your own comp photos, in addition to the MLS ones. How do you actually put that into practice? That’s something you’ll have to decide for your own business, just like I have. Whatever you do, however, make sure you’re forthcoming about your approach and that you document it clearly.

 

For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode 100 – Taking Comp Photos When People Are Present

 

27 Comments on “Did That Guy Just Take a Picture of My Kids???”

  1. Pingback: Did That Guy Just Take a Picture of My Kids??? - Appraisal Buzz

  2. Don’t take picture, and explain there are children in yard. Or go up knock on door hand them a card, explain and never been turned away from getting a pic. I don’t take pics of law officers vehicles in front or on properties, and safes, gun safes, weapons in houses, as well as try not to take photo of photos.

  3. Good topic. I believe the 4000.1 goes on to explain how to handle situations where a photo is not possible. WAAAAAy back when “fair housing” was a topic for 7 hours of CE we were told that it was improper to have ANY people in the pictures, subject or comps, as it would be a signal of the racial make-up of the neighborhood. There’s another out. Finally, I always put MLS photos on the comp photo page, THEN, if it’s an FHA I include my own self-made pics on an additional photo page. Finally, when are FNMA and all the others going to figure this out and stop requiring the appraiser to view the comps at all. It’s an outdated requirement and who knows what’s all this driving around is doing to the environment not to mention the cost of doing business. Rant, rant, rant!!!

  4. I work for the Louisiana Tax Commission. I was doing a ratio study, and taking pictures of every house in a particular S-D. After leaving, I was pulled over and surrounded by sheriff deputies. It seems a family was having a birthday party for their daughter and reported me as a stalker, taking pictures of the young girls (no pictures were taken with any children in them). I showed the officers my ID, and also offered to show them my camera (which had over 80 pictures on it). They apologized for the inconvenience, and I thanked them for doing their job. Since then, when I am going to be out taking pictures, I first go by local law enforcement agencies and hand them a sheet with a copy of my driver’s license, work badge, and picture of the vehicle I’m in, including a photo of the license plate (since sometimes rental vehicles have foreign plates). Also, on another note, I have been profiled several times, for being in an area that “I didn’t belong in.” Each time, I thanked the officers for doing their jobs, and had no problems.

  5. Justin:

    I have been blocked in a cul-d -sac by someone that was armed and made a point to show me the pistol in his belt. He had just gotten a divorce and thought I was checking on him for his EX. I notified the client that he instructed me not to use the picture and was intending to destroy my camera. I explained who i was, gave him a business card, I have a sign on my car in Bold Letters 6 inches tall, (Real Estate Appraiser) I then explained the if when he bought his home someone had completed the same process so that he could obtain a home loan. This did not help, he was very upset, I then suggested that the police should be called and if I had done anything wrong the police officer would arrest me. This was not acceptable as he did not seem to want to meet with a police officer, ( He appeared to be drinking and armed) I finally told him that he should move his truck and allow me to pass, this was not acceptable as well. I decided to drive around the truck and return fire if he opened up, I wanted to be away from him as much as possible, most people drinking are not the best marksmen, and I was stone cold sober. That gentleman saved his life that day, he just stood there as I backed away and then drove around his truck very slowly. I made sure that I passed on the side of his truck that had the passenger side of my car between me and him. I banked on him missing the first shot, and I never have. However ever since that day i do not take pictures when someone is at home, I take a picture of the street in front of the home with GPS coordinates attached to the picture and supply either a MLS, Google, Zillo, Trulia, or Realtor.com picture. No lender has refused this. The rules are vague so that the lender is not responsible for any problems by taking pictures.
    One rule that has served me well over the years ” Beyond these walls there be dragons”

  6. Just use common sense, as Dustin said as well as diligence and I’m sure you will have no major blow back especially if you are dealing with a quality client and are clear. One issue is I 100% guarantee that lazy appraisers use that people in the photo thing on every or every other assignment, especially ones that know there are exceptions. Sad thing with rural appraisers, when often taking comp pics is sometimes useless, they can’t really even use that excuse, but I’m sure most are creative enough to work around when necessary. My suggestion is get your windows tinted,if legal in your area. You can take photos without anyone knowing typically or even know you are looking in their direction, also keeps the glare down with the sun.

  7. We live in a different world now. If this “original comp photo” requirement continues, my fear is, and I’m sad to say this, there will be an “Appraiser shot and killed” story, or stories on the horizon.

  8. I take comp photos for all reports as it is required by a majority of the clients I work with and I just go ahead and take them at the subject inspection so it is no big deal. The only time I do not take them is if it is rural and they are not required by the client. I use a surface pro and that can difficuilt to be inconcpisuous. However, I just pull up the property beside the one I am taking a picture of and snap the photo back at the subject and am as concpisuous as possible. I have dark tinted windows nobody even knows what is happening. I take 9-15 comp photos a day for over 20 years and have never had a problem getting a comp photo. This one is pretty simply solved. Thanks Dustin!

  9. I have the solution. I was in the mountains taking comp photos and a lady ran up behind me in her car jumped out and asked why I was taking a picture of her neighbors house for. I explained what I needed the photos for and she said, ” You guys should mail out a flier to all the neighbors about a week ahead of time so they will know what is going on.” So even if there are or are not people in front of the comps, we look suspicious. I will leave it at that.

  10. 1) if it looks they are heading into the house, I drive around the block and come back to take the photo. 2) if it looks like they are staying in front, I will often talk to the owner, and explain why I need a photo. The people usually move out of the photo. I always offer my card. 3) once in a while, if I am sure no one is paying attention, i take the photo. Since I am not allowed to have people in photos, I have to blur them out with my software in order to use the photo. I have been using
    these techniques for 30+ years. They work 99% of the time.

    1. Exactly. I have been doing residential appraisals since 1996. If people are in the yard, I typically ask them if I can take the photo. If not. I drive around and try to take the photo. If people are still present, I take the photo and blur out the people. In 22 years, only one person was upset – it wasn’t ever her house. She came toward me with a broom (quite appropriate) and I took off, but got the photo first.

  11. I have learned I can use my I phone camera video hold it up to window as I drive by. You can freeze video later to create a photo. Also if you drive by keeping eyes on road, that way you are not having to stop and they likely are not going to suspect something. Less likely to have a wreck also stopping quickly in road.

  12. We’ve all had instances where we have to use best judgement and that’s common sense. I will not take any photos if kids are in yard and if it’s an adult I usually ask them if I can take a photo and explain why. I’ve been pulled over by police from neighbors or homeowners calling in and have not had any issues with the police. I’ve had neighbors question me and most understand. Many times I’ll take street corner photo of street sign and use MLS photo and explain that children were present or unable to take a photo from the front and have no issues.

  13. In my short 16 years as an appraiser I have been surrounded by police, had guns pulled on me, been chased off, and have been followed to insure I left! I have been approached and asked what I was doing, have been told you cant do that, have been told your not taking a picture of my house, and have been told I’m calling the sheriff.

    What ever the case, if I am approached by law enforcement or the general populace. I provide my business card, show my identification, my appraisers badge (provided by Comergence), and show the smaller version of my state certification (wallet size). I have even had law enforcement ask to see the appraisal order to verify if I am in the right neighborhood.

    When it comes to people in front of the comparable, I will stop, get out, provide a card, ID, and explain why I need a photo. That usually works. If it does not, I move on and either drive by it later or explain it in the report.

    Bottom line, be safe! If your approached, show ID and explain. If your told to leave, leave! if it looks dangerous, leave. If you stopped by law enforcement, cooperate fully. Happy Appraising!

  14. Back when we used film cameras there was an appraiser in San Marcos, TX who used high quality film and would drive by a comp at 30-40 mph and click away. The first rural job I was assigned as a newby was in Wimberley, TX. Did the inspection and drove to the first comp. Long driveway before I could see the house. Drove up it and was greeted with a shogun blast (in the air) by the owner who said there had been many burglaries in the area. That was the last time I even thought about doing something similar.

    1. I never go down driveways by car or foot in rural areas. I take a fire number/address driveway photo and include the Realtor photo explaining it was not visible from the road.

  15. Bid the jobs high enough to make a 2nd trip after you know which comps you will actually need… Get a cup of coffee, and go enjoy a drive in the country! This is what the industry is asking for, Duh,, give them what they want, and charge what you want! You’ll be turning away as many as you accept!

  16. This is all ridiculous in the first place. With the advances we should not have to take comp photos. That being said, people in front of the house happen almost every day in my life as an appraiser. Simply pull up and ask if it is ok to take a photo and explain who you are. If they say no, take a photo of the street and explain within the report. This is not rocket science and there is no need to be sneaky about things. Rural properties are annoying because I typically drive around for hours taking photos of dirt roads. Just ridiculous….

  17. I know the rural appraisers here will always say the urban appraisers have it easy, but good luck talking a dozen comp pictures (day of) in a heavily populated skyscraper neighborhood (terrorist alert anyone). Good luck paying for parking 10 times or if your going to walk the beat, be sure you have a few hours on hand and comfortable hushpuppies. Good luck convincing that Uber driver to double park out front while your waiting for traffic and pedestrian traffic to clear for a good shot. Lastly, good luck scheduling all of your appointments on a one day a week routine, as with rotating schedules (professional sports teams, convention centers, etc.), no one cares that your one of 50,000 people all heading to the same place at the same time. I thought with technology that we could complete our assignments in half the time. Go make up a value.
    Seek the truth.

  18. A friend of mine, now an ex-appraiser was shot at. The bullet passed right through the cab, behind her head. Needless to day, I don’t do appraisals in neighborhoods that I don’t feel safe in.

  19. One more thing. The reason for taking photos of comps is to prove that you actually viewed the property. Oftentimes, the MLS listing doesn’t disclose adverse conditions, or even good conditions. You have to see it for yourself.

    1. By see it,, do you mean perhaps if you lucky the front only, the long driveway, or from the street that condo unit on the 32nd floor? Or do you mean all of the repairs/improvements completed by the new owner since purchase where visually it now looks like a C2, but your using it as a C5?
      Seek the truth.

  20. Back when I did lender work, on the rare occasion there was someone in the photo, I would roll down the window or even go say hello (not with kids though). However, I usually do my inspections while kids are at school. There is another guy in my office who does a lot of weekend inspections and he runs into more issues with kids than I ever did.

  21. This is why I no longer do inspections on weekends, when people are outside. Its not worth having to make an extra trip. in the last two weeks I have been confronted by two people about taking pictures, not of their house, but in their neighborhood. I have been chased by an angry woman using profanity, cornered in a street and not allowed to leave, threatened with violence, accused of taking pictures of little girls, of being a private eye in a divorce case, etc. etc. etc. We rely on the MLS listing for all facts and details of the comp up to the day of sale, which is all that is relevant. Whatever is the condition of the comp after closing is irrelevant. When the GSEs realize how dangerous and unnecessary it is to take comp photos, it will solve a lot of issues facing the appraiser, one important being productivity.

  22. Well, I have been compliant by taking the comp photos for my appraisals for about 20 years now. And I still take a picture at every comp. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an era prior to the “do not talk to strangers era”. So, if there are people(children or adults) in the front that would be in the photo, I simply go say hello. Explain what I am doing, and how it is necessary for me to inspect comps from the street and take a photo for proof of this inspection of comps. If I see a person peeking out the front window at me, I get out of my car and do the same thing as above. In 20 years of taking photos of comps, I have never had an incident that was not quickly settled with my explanation to others. Yes, I have had several people upset with me. And even a few threaten me prior to knowing what I was doing. Welcome to the job. Many jobs out there get confrontation from the public, and possibly experience dangerous situations for things they do on the job. If we could avoid everything dangerous about a job, then I would vote to never drive to see the subject property either.
    The only case in which I do not take a photo of the dwelling is if I can’t see the dwelling from the road and there is a No Trespassing sign posted. If a No Trespassing sign is posted, going beyond it would be Trespassing, which is a criminal offense. When I first was licensed I ignored the No Trespassing signs and this is where an incident can really go bad. I learned my lesson the hard way, by having a home owner put a shotgun to my head, through my car window. He insisted that I leave and refused to give me permission to take a photo of his home. As I had already taken the photo of his home, I informed him that I had already taken the photo and asked again if it would be ok to keep the photo. He said no! Therefore I opened up my camera and exposed all my film that I had in it to satisfy the home owner. (Yes, film. This was quite some time ago)
    There are several reasons that we should continue to do the exterior inspections of the comps.
    First reason being that we can’t rely 100% on the RMLS information put in by the realtors marketing the property. They usually take pictures from the best possible angle to make the property look as good as possible.(or even hire a professional to take the photos for them). Since the photos may be misleading to begin with, an exterior inspection of the property may be of some help when determining condition of the comp or if the comp is located on an unimproved road or has a public alley behind it.(both of which have a monetary affect on the property being used as a comp) Also, inspecting the comps from the street can help confirm any views reported by the realtor. I used a comp once that said it had a mountain view, which was similar to the property I was appraising. When I drove up to the comp, I could not see how it had a view of the mountain. So, I called the realtor again and asked about the view. She said, well if you walk out the front door and go into the middle of the street in front of the dwelling, you can see the mountain above the roadway. Long story short, realtors can word descriptions of the property they are marketing slightly deceptively. It is up to us to try to figure out when this is happening, as to not over-value or under-value properties.
    Another good reason is that neighborhoods change over time, and so does the zoning in these neighborhoods, not to mention the desired size and style of homes. As neighborhoods become more desirable, and the location becomes even more desirable to the market, there is a period of time where properties with dwellings on them are purchased to demolish the improvements, to build new improvements(such as a larger dwelling, or several dwellings). This is important, because as you drive by to inspect the comp you have chosen you might just find out that the neighborhood just went up in value over the last couple of months more than you anticipated, because what you find is a vacant lot or a new improvement being built on the property. Instead of the comp being used to valuate the subject property, you now have a sale that closer reflects the value of land(that has increased significantly in the prior couple months) rather than the value of a residential property with a dwelling on it.
    And lastly, when driving the neighborhood to take pictures of comps we get a better feeling for the neighborhood in which we are appraising, and we are able to note any changes to the neighborhood since the last time we were there, and if those changes effect value in a positive or negative manner.
    I could go on as to the importance and value in looking closely at the comps you have chosen, from the street. Plus, getting rid of this process is just one more step closer to appraisals being automated, and there being no need for real estate appraisers in guarding and securing the interests of the banks/lenders. Remember, for many of us our job to protect the interests of lending institutions that we work for by preparing them a report with the most accurate data possible as we form our opinion of value for the property.

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