Drive By Comp Pictures and Appraisers Safety
Rethinking Drive By 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 home 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.