Do Appraisers Really Need to Take Comp Photos?

First, before the hate mail starts rolling in, let me assure you that I understand the requirements surrounding comparable photos, and I do take them as an appraiser. I am not here to debate what the policies are, but I am here to question if those policies should be in place. I personally do not think that appraisers should be required to take comp photos.

Modern technology has provided appraisers with a way to know as much about a property from the comfort of their own desk as they likely would be able to learn from a drive-by. Oftentimes, appraisers are able to learn more with technology then they would be able to by personally visiting the property. Satellite and Google Maps sometimes allow you to view the property in a more intimate way than you might be able to from a drive-by. For example, you are able to see behind the house and get a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area. You can’t do that from the road. I work a very rural area where often the home is located down in long, private driveway. Additionally, MLS and county information will give more insight into the property than driving past the front of it ever will.

Technology has made the need for appraisers to take comp photos virtually obsolete. I have heard the arguments that as soon as comp photos are no longer required, the appraiser will have nothing to do, but I simply disagree. Our time should be spent doing analysis, not driving around in our cars. I understand if you want to have a policy in your personal appraisal office where the appraiser is required to take a photo of all comparables, but I do not think it should be required from the clients nationwide. It is simply a huge waste of time for busy appraisers.

For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode: 230 Can We Stop Taking Comp Photos Already?

49 Comments on “Do Appraisers Really Need to Take Comp Photos?”

  1. I have been saying this for years, years, and years, as have most of our associates. Your point is very well taken. In 25 years I have found only 2 photos that were taken of the wrong address. That difference did not alter the appraisal, but the current data available would have arrived at the same information.

  2. God bless you. Keep spreading the word. I do lots of rural work. I have the most extensive collection of mailboxes and gravel driveways you have every seen. I waste hours and hours driving around the countryside of Northeast Georgia.

  3. Yes, and god forbid you should not be able to accurately guess beforehand each of the 6-7 comp photos you’ll need. You may be in for a two-hour or more roundtrip to get a single photo. It’s bloody ridiculous.

  4. I strongly agree with your view on comparable photos. This is large financial loss as well as a safety issue. I have had individuals chase me as well as being pulled by local police. How can we, appraisers as a whole, bring a stop to this?????

  5. So true! Lenders want to cut service time by a day this requirement should be abolished! As you stated, way too much technology at the appraisers fingertips.

  6. Thank you! I completely agree. Most times, I am utilizing technology including google maps and online assessor databases prior to ever driving by the comparable sales. This actually streamlines my work and helps me avoid driving by sales that I may not use in the appraisal report. I do drive by every comparable sale I use and take actual photos to be in compliance, although I agree that if we are using the technology to our benefit, AND we are familiar with the neighborhood, it’s useless to spend the time driving all day. This would greatly increase productivity.

  7. I whole heartily agree ! It’s a huge waste of time ! These turn times are already so hard to make. Removing taking comp pics would help so much! Keep up the great work and voice for fellow appraisers ! Thank you

  8. I am not a residential appraiser and specialize in agriculture. My comp sales are often hundreds of acres and may be 30+ miles from the subject. In our industry, aerial photography usually suffices. A drive-by photo makes no sense for a 300 acre property. Aerial imagery, from either Google Earth or the assessor’s GIS makes much more sense.

  9. A comp photo can be misleading. It doesn’t look the same as it did when buyer entered into agreement to purchase. I spent an hour going back and forth with a lender because my photo did not reflect what was in the grid (painted and new roof after purchase; condition adjustment explained). Ended up sending over mls photo, too. More work for me !!!

  10. Here in Canada this is not a requirement. I would argue that this could actually detract from doing a good appraisal as you likely decide your comps before you even do the site visit. I am guessing it is a deterrent to switching to a different comp even if it is better as you’d have to go take another photo.
    Doesn’t make sense to me why this was implemented in the first place. What does one outside picture tell you. Not a whole lot that you couldn’t get from mls or Google.

    1. As a fellow Canadian, I agree. I can’t believe they have to drive the comps in the U.S. Can’t imagine the pressure to pick comps before you have even been through the subject. Its creating double-work.

  11. I do appraisals in an area where the houses are torn down and replaced. The question from the client, is that the correct picture, looks like a new house. Well if you would read the appraisal you would know that.

  12. I hate nearly everything about the logistics of getting my own comp photos. Hate being yelled at by occupants, etc, etc. That said, I have learned things that aerial photos haven’t picked up. Aspects touched on in this minisode. I think those of us who believe we should be getting all of our own comp pics think that this is one of the last things we can do as appraisers to make those in the lending community realize that we are an important part of the process. You can screw up many things. If you can take extra time and that time helps you get it right. Well . . .

  13. I agree about not needing to take the photo, IF, the appraiser is completed familiar where the property sits. I’m sure the MLS will not take photo or mention what is next door, on all occasions.

  14. I had a situation many years ago where I was taking pictures of Comps for a relocation appraisal. A Comp was located on a long rural road which ended in a cul-de-sac. Apparently the owner of this Comp saw me take a picture of his house from my car on the street. I drove to the end of the street and turned around and as I was driving back by the Comp, the owner backed his truck out into the street and blocked my passage (Since the street had deep ditches on both sides he almost forced my car into a ditch). He jumped out of his truck and charged my vehicle and asked me why I was taking a picture of his house. I explained to him that as an appraiser I was required to take Comp pictures and also told him that I knew he had recently purchased his house. He finally decided I was telling the truth and allowed me to pass, but it was a pretty scary situation.

  15. I think it is important to physically inspect the exterior of the comparable, a lot is learned about the property and the neighborhood that it is in. But taken an actual photograph is an invasion of the property owner’s privacy, and as Dustin stated is unnecessary now with photographs that are available through MLS and public sources. It’s just a matter of time before an appraiser is hurt, or worse in this crazy world. I’ve always got my eye in the rear view mirror as I speed away from the property.

  16. I agree. What is the point of it? With all the information available on-line and drones why waste the appraisers time driving to these homes. Oh, wait, thats all going change anyways with the bifurcated appraisal in 2020. Go get your job as a Property Data Collector, you won’t have to drive your Comps and get paid $45.00 a file WHOOHOO, Or get the other job as a Data Analyst and get paid just slightly more. I think this profession has much bigger fish to fry than worrying about taking photo’s or not.

  17. The guys that made up the comp photo rule must have been city or suburban appraisers only. Sure when I go to a large subdivision it is easy to all comp pictures. When I tackle a manufactured home out in the county – hours spent driving around country roads hoping my gps was working out in the midde of nowhere. Then the lenders end up wanting a mls photo about 1/4 of the time because the trees are in the way from the driveway. I may take an appraiser getting shot in either a rural or urban setting for the powers that be to change this stupid rule.

  18. I’m in a non-disclosure State. I do find it somewhat ironic that I have to rely on the description and word of RE agents and other involved parties for most details of the subject property and transaction, however I should not use their front photo of the house.

  19. While I do agree to a certain extent with Dustin, I also feel the decreased “scope of work” will allow lenders and clients to force appraisal fees down because taking these photos is a very time-consuming task. If you look at the fees for desktop products and other hybrid appraisals, they are lower, partly because we as appraisers sometimes don’t do the inspection. But they are also lower due to the lack of taking comparable sales photos. The frustrating thing I have witnessed in my market is there are lots of appraisers that are using MLS photos in ALL of their appraisals. I call this out when I do field reviews but it does not seem to make a difference. Some appraisers are already NOT taking comp photos and getting away with it. I think a better requirement would be that the photo has to be original, but it could be taken by a staff member, or other person. Then it would be an original photo, the neighborhood can be checked for external obsolescence, and the appraiser can spend more time appraising rather than photo-taking!

  20. Agree and the most important thing guys is if your clients require the comp photos and demand it and send your reports back without them make sure you’re charging additional fees for them a $400 appraisal might become $550 (or more) if the comps are long distances away …

  21. If I was Justin and I had to drive many miles for a single pic, I would take a similar stance. Driving 20 miles for a pic of a standard farmhouse is a stretch and could be considered in the category of the laughable and ridiculous. What really gets me is the ones that say you need to take the same pic every time you use the sale…..beyond laughable and ridiculous. If I do not know a sale, I go by and take a photo; repeatedly taking it seems to be the epitome of insanity! Certain folks in the biz seem to be making bucks on convoluted theories of the purpose of the picture (worth a thousand words). I doubt anyone will come to their senses in the near future.

  22. Safety – someone is going to get killed! Appraisers rolling by at 3 mph, slowly drawing down the window and pulling a camera out is not going to end well for someone, some day. Original appraiser’s photos MUST be eliminated. Now, on to the quality work product – my opinion – with all of the technology available, employ the most representative image of that comparable from that technology for sure AND an appraiser should drive the comp to observe it/surroundings (in the development of typical residential assignments, exceptions for true Rural may apply).

  23. While all of the comments are heart felt and greatly expresses one of the ironies of the appraisal industry for the appraiser; the only thing that will change this requirement is a change in the law! Also, think about this, those who underwrite or desktop review our reports use technology, google earth, MLS, etc. to verify the comparable sales used in our reports. If the use of non-live photos are prohibited, why is it ok for the underwriter or desktop reviewer?

  24. What is the point of driving by a comparable and not taking photos? The whole reason that posts like this fail to do anything other than garner some faux outrage on the internet is that anybody who knows anything can clearly see that this is a backhanded attempt to not view the comparables from the road at all. Since this is the goal, why not just state this outright and not end-around with the photo angle? I no longer have any clients who will get upset if I don’t take a single photo in a report because I felt uncomfortable or unsafe… that all stopped a few years ago and a simple comment will do even for the most stingy of clients, even FHA if I take a photo of something close like a street sign down the road away from the unsafeness.

    If you don’t think that viewing the comparables is a value-add to a lender, over using a MARKETING photo in the MLS, then you might as well sign up for a $75 analysis-only bifurcated paradigm since this is likely where it all will be headed where an appraiser never leaves their desk and also no longer gets paid a wage worth working. One of the largest value-adds that I provide to my clients is to let them know when what they are seeing in RedFin or Zillow is total garbage so that they can assess risk better. If more people understood the difference in what an appraisal report was versus what is in a marketing and sales tool (the MLS), then nearly nobody would think that an actual appraiser (rather than a form filler) provided no value. Instead, as a profession, our laziness and short sightedness with not wanting to do work, using robots to enter in public record data instead of gathering our own from human sources and using other peoples labor will continue to marginalize our value in the process.

    The next time that you are buying online, pay attention to just the marketing stuff on Amazon, or the like. Read the description and decide if you want to buy. DO NOT read the reviews of people who touched, smelled and saw the product with their own eyes. Certainly do not try and figure out which reviewers are smart and which ones are not – this is easy to do if you are smart. If a lender cannot get the touch, feel, smell and person experience, then why do they need us? This works for comps the same way that it does for the subject. The lenders know who is smart and who can give them better stuff to base their decision on… they know who does the work and who is smart.

    If providing less value is where we want to go, then should we not at least be up front about it and not hide behind “photos” as the reason?

  25. The worst appraisal I ever reviewed in 40+ years in the business had not a single actual photo of the comps or the subject. They were all screen shots from the local MLS or Google Street View. In fact, there was no evidence that the MAI doing the report had even seen the subject property and there was no evidence that he had ever confirmed the sales with a buyer, seller, broker or deed; only the MLS. He also had the legal description wrong. The subject was a multi-million dollar commercial property in a legal dispute. And I don’t want to see a rear view mirror in your photos either. Driveby shootings don’t cut it with me. Inspecting a private airport one time I found thirty 55 gallon barrels in a weed hidden ditch behind an FBO leaking puddles of viscous chartreuse liquid. It was being used as a midnight hazmat dump. Do you think that might have influenced the purchase price? If you can’t do the job, stop whining and get out of the business. OTOH, 30 years ago I was accosted by a drug dealer on the street corner for taking pictures of a vacant lot across the street from the Denver Police main station. I still got the photo.

  26. We should be tasked with making sure the photo is correct and representative of the home at time of sale. Game over. If there is external obsolescence the Appraiser should also be tasked with being competent for the area. Game over. Otherwise it is a complete WASTE of our TIME and RESOURCES. Why should I be driving all over the county taking photos of homes I’ve driven by thousands of times when there is a perfectly good picture in your local MLS taken by a “competent” realtor – I don’t really condone using Google or other sources.

    1. Hell, with the 1004P and tri-furcated products you don’t even have to inspect the SUBJECT!! Get real. If your going to force me to compete with non-credible products – at least allow me to be competitive with the TIME and RESOURCES I have left after the AMC’s have taken 30-40% off the top.

  27. Absolutely. I spend a lot of time driving in rural areas taking pictures of gravel driveways and “NO Trespassing” signs. A total waste of time, gas and money.

  28. Truly a dangerous and time wasting practice. I have been accosted so many times over the years and even had to pull a weapon on a guy once. In rural North Carolina and Virginia a lot of sales are on acreage where the driveways accessing the property are posted with “No Trespassing” signs. The comps can be as much as 20 miles apart. How can we get our clients to drop this unnecessary practice?

  29. YOU ARE ALL CORRECT TO A POINT. BUT SOME GOOGLE PICTURES OR WHAT EVER WERE TAKEN SO LONG AGO THAT THEY ARE MEAINING LESS LIKE WHEN A HOUSE IS TORN DOWN & THERE IS AN NEW HOUSE THE 3 YEAR OLD PHOTO IS NOT THE SAME HOUSE. NEXT LENDERS WANT TO ELIMINATE INTERIOR INSPECTIONS IF THERE IS NO NEED FOR REAL COMP PICTURES THAT IS ANOTHER REASON TO ELIMINATE THE FULL INSPECTION. DO ANY OF YOU REALLY KNOW WHY THEY STARTED MAKING US TAKE COMP PICTURES? WHEN I STARTED APPRAISING IN 1976 WE HAD NO OF THESE MAPS OR AERIAL PHOTOS. WE WERE REQUIRED TO DRIVE BY EACH COMPARABLE TO SEE IT. MANY APPRAISERS REALIZED THEY COULD DO MORE INSPECTIONS IF THEY DID NOT WASTE 30 MIN TO AN HOUR TAKING COMP PICTURES. WHEN LENDER HAD A REVIEWER GO OUT AN SEE THE HOUSE WAS NO LONGER THERE OR WAS CLEARLY NOT IN THE CONDITION THE APPRAISER SAID IT WAS IN. THEY BEGAN REQUIRING US TO DO COMP PICTURES ESPECIALLY SINCE DIGITAL PICTURES CAME IN AND WE NO LONGER HAD TO PAY FOR DEVELOPING WE WERE LAZY & THAT IS WHY THIS IS A REQUIREMENT NOW YOU WANT TO BE LAZY AGAIN. SOON WITH A 1004P & OTHER BIFURCATED APPRAISALS YOU WILL NOT HAVE TO DO ANY INSPECTION. & YOUR INCOME WILL BE CUT IN HALF I AM SURE ALL YOU LAZY GUYS WILL LOVE THAT. SURE ONCE THE NEXT CRASH COMES BECAUSE WE DO NOT SEE THE PROPERTIES THEY WILL WANT US TO DO INSPECTIONS AGAIN BUT WILL YOU BE ABLE TO FINANCIALLY MAKE IT UNTIL THEN. ?

  30. Each item of the appraisal process you elect to eliminate lessens the quality perception of the final report. In my opinion, as we continue to go thru eliminating the portions of the time honored appraisal process we do not enjoy or which cost us money, we lessen the clients confidence in that process. As we eliminate these sections that are unique to a professional appraisal, our work product and the result of it begins to look like that of lesser qualified practitioners. If we are not careful, we will be supporting the claim of many lenders that we don’t need an appraisal when a short evaluation will do. I am primarily a commercial and farm and ranch appraiser. I take comp pictures and also use aerial photography. I understand and agree with your position for rural properties where the improvements may not be visible from the road. However, in more urban areas, much can be learned by visiting a comparable sale. If the purpose of driving to the comp is only to take a picture of the front of the property and speed away, we are missing the point of that directive. It is also important to observe the nature of surrounding development, it’s quality, upkeep, etc. It is hard to do that from the air. Many appraisers are now electing not to physically measure the improvements and use their local tax appraisal district dimensions. I am not saying whether this is right or wrong. I am saying over a 40+ year career in real estate appraisal, many times I have noted construction defects stringing the tape down the side of a building that I would not have otherwise noted.
    All this is pretty much a moot point anyway. The cattle have left the pen and its too late to close the gate. Appraisal organizations are no longer determining appraisal standards. The users of our services are now making that determination and we know where that leads. Unless appraisers can again prove to the market we are a value add to the underwriting and transaction process, we may go the way of the dinosaurs.

  31. Where is Bill. (seek the Truth) I’m rural also, Google earth and streets are good in the cities, but not here in the mountains. I like driving my comps, but I hate taking the pictures.

    1. Right hear rick reading and watching all of you drink from Dustin’s pitcher of Kool-Aid. Good luck finding enough medical attention to patch those blisters your’e all getting here from patting each other on the back. I dare any and all here to go to http://appraisersblogs.com/appraisers-taking-comp-photos-time-wasted where this same article is being discussed in a much different light.

      Move along, nothing to see here but a bunch of across the board neutral locations, C3 condition, and Q4 quality of construction appraisers. Don’t worry rick, I have a paragraph in the report explaining how a panel of my peers are often sheep to the process instead of being true independent observes.

      Sorry, got to go violate appraiser policy and crop out the local MLS watermark so I can attempt to fool the masses.

      Seek the truth, or invest in Johnson & Johnson.

  32. Quite a few neighborhoods in my territory are in private gated communities, so I take a picture of the stupid gate. How is that helping the client get more accurate reports?

    Also, I have had a gun drawn on me, the police called 2X, and have been chased down by increasingly paranoid homeowners. Not only is the comp photo requirement a waste of time, we should get hazardous duty pay. The 1% of the time where you might notice something awry, does not warrant this sometimes dangerous practice.

  33. I worked for a AMC that had a lot of their own extra requirements and was a pain to work for. However they only required comp photos if the lender specifically required them. I wonder how many lenders wouldn’t and it’s just the AMC’s not wanting to bother keeping track of who does and doesn’t.

  34. When I get a request, I give the quote with mls photos as my standard fee. I add $50 to $75 for actual comp photos. I am also in a Rural type area and have driven 3 hours many times, doing nothing but taking comp photos. It doubles the amount of time it takes to do the appraisal. Not to mention all the times I have almost be hit by on coming cars or ran over, pulled over, chased down and cursed out, etc. I include a comment in the report with mls photos, that the realtors visit the site, walk around the property and generally take between 15 to 25 pictures which is a much better picture than we can get from the road.

  35. Pingback: Do Appraisers Really Need to Take Comp Photos? - Appraisal Buzz

  36. Amen, Brother a big percentage of my work is remote properties because that’s what the area is – Very few of the comps are even visible from the dangerously narrow steep winding rocky rutted access road and often the ‘driveway’ doesn’t have an address and there is no mail delivery. I take my meaningless photo of a driveway entrance photo and have to go back and use MLS photos anyway. I also have been met with shotguns, chased down by irate home owners, etc. plus the distance and time involved. Grrrr! In town – not so bad but still get the irate home owner – Or having to make two or three trips because there are children playing in the yard – no way I’m going to mess with that. Adults – OK- I’ll stop and explain and usually get a favorable response.

  37. It’s the biggest waste of time, and only take the photo if required by the client. I barely glance at the house when taking a one bc I don’t want to get shot. Bottom line, people don’t like strangers taking photos of their houses, and the requirement to drive by every comp slows down the appraisal process as well… Obsolete!

  38. I agree appraisers should not be required to take comp photos. It’s dangerous & upsets homeowners. I can understand their concern in this world in which we now live. I’ve been followed, chased, & last week I was stopped by a police. Someone is going to get hurt eventually. Plus, many times homeowners have made improvements & the property looks different than it did on the date of sale. Ride by the property, yes. Taking the photo is insanity.

  39. Everyone’s comment is spot on. It’s nice to see so many appraisers feel the same way about this. The comp photos go to the beginning when we did not have all the modern tech items available to use today (we all know this). As stated, today we have so many more ways to obtain a photo of a property. The issue with this being an outdated practice is one thing; however, what makes me infuriated is the fact the lending industry wants to blame us and change the appraisal industry because “appraisals take to long”. Really !!!…It’s not the appraiser or the appraisal process that needs changing its the lending industry that requires an appraiser to drive around for an additional 20-30 minutes taking comps photos. If they were so important to have why is it ok to use MLS photos when a comp can’t be seen from the street or in a gated neighborhood. Oh now it’s ok to use an MLS photo. You can’t have both ways, come on man. Here is a solution to consider, cut out the required MLS photos except when a current or accurate photo can’t be ascertained. Get everyone on the same page with regards to requirements and stop this nonsense of having all these different AMC one size fits all and lender requirements, etc. that require appraisers to have 1,000 different templates for each one’s special requirements, sayings, phrases, etc. If you simply cut out this garbage I bet appraisal turn times would drop. It would also help if you ordered the dam thing quicker so the appraiser has time to actually do it. It’s hard to believe you need it back in three days when contract was written three weeks prior and the closing date is three weeks later.

    Clean your own house before you start cleaning ours.

  40. I agree that we should not need to take comp photos anymore considering our current technology and I disagree with those who say we need to drive the comps to learn of external factors. MLS photos and aerial photos on the internet show all of these factors, even more. We should no longer be forced to put ourselves in danger from occupants and considering the considerable reduction in appraiser fees over the last several years we should be able to save time to do more work in a timely manner. Is there anything we can do to help make this happen? NO MORE COMP PHOTOS!!

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