Recently, I had a scary experience while taking comp photos. I live in a very rural area where there are a lot of people who are very protective about their private property. The location I was headed to was a house about three miles down a private road.
The place was a bit off the beaten path, GPS wasn’t very accurate about where I was going. There was still snow on the ground and there weren’t really any visible markers to let me know where I was. At one point, I thought I was where I needed to be and stopped at a large cattle gate.
The gate I stopped at was marked with a number of “no trespassing” signs and there was a camera pointed at me. Having a better view of the house from the gate, I realized this was not where I needed to be. I was only out of my car for a few seconds and I didn’t take any pictures or anything like that.
I continued down the road and found the house I needed. I spent about 45 minutes taking the pictures I needed of a very large, luxury, custom home. On my way back out to the county road I passed the same gate I’d stopped at before. However, this time there was a black SUV sitting there pointed towards the road.
The SUV pulled onto the road and started following me. It was kind of creepy. I thought back to the podcast we did with Blaine Fine about safety and decided that the safest thing I could do would be to head towards a police station.
The nearest police station, that I was aware of, was about 40 miles away and in the opposite direction of where I needed to travel. My safety is worth more to me than being late for my next appointment so I decided to go ahead and head to that police station. I got to the county road and turned towards the station. The SUV didn’t follow me from there so I continued for a few miles before turning around to head for my next appointment.
In the end, nothing happened to me other than being followed. Whoever was in the SUV was very intimidating but they weren’t violent. It was a scary situation though. I was out in the middle of nowhere being pursued by persons unknown.
Yes, in this case, I was on a private road. Since I had an appointment on that road and was expected, by default I had permission to be there. I hadn’t taken pictures of that house I mistakenly stopped at. I had done absolutely nothing wrong.
This particular situation is just an example. There have been other times when I’ve been chased down while I was out taking comp pictures, and not just when I was on a private road. I’m not the only one this has happened to either, I have heard from plenty of other appraisers that have similar stories. I know some appraisers that work in some neighborhoods where they won’t even pause to roll down the window and take a quick picture with their cell phone.
I’m not a fan of comp photos. Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments about why they’re a good idea but that all just sounds like tradition to me. I know, we can’t be certain about external factors unless we drive the property. Those pretty little pictures on the MLS might not show that high power electric line or county water tower lurking at the back of the property.
The liability is on the appraiser and not taking the time to understand the area and the situation is an issue. It is on you if you don’t do your due diligence and miss the fact that the subject backs up to a Walmart. You have a professional responsibility but are comp photos worth your personal safety.
There is no requirement in USPAP to drive comps or to take pictures of comparable sales either. You have probably been doing so from your first day on the job, but it is not required. It is really more about what is in the agreement that you have with your client. If the agreement says you’ll drive comps, you need to drive comps. If the agreement says you’ll take up-to-date pictures of that subject, then you need to head out and take them.
As a professional you should be able to make the decision about whether those comp photos are needed. You can make that choice to accept the agreement or not. You don’t need to put yourself in jeopardy just to get that $450 fee.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that clients will start to back off of the demand for comp pictures until something terrible happens. Banks won’t start to realize that it’s very dangerous to be out there doing what we’re doing until an act of violence results in serious injury or death. What can we do, as professionals, to protect ourselves while still giving the client what they need?
For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode 438: Are Appraisers at Risk when Driving Comps?