Drive By Comp Pictures and Appraisers Safety

Dustin Harris

Dustin Harris

Certified Real Estate Appraiser at The Appraiser Coach
A multi-business owner and residential real estate appraiser. He has been appraising for nearly two decades. He is the owner and President of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, Inc. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers. His principles and methodologies are also taught in an online, Mastermind group. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children. Dustin Harris on e-AppraisersDirectory.com
Dustin Harris

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Drive by comp pictures and Appraisers

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.

Dustin Harris

Dustin Harris

A multi-business owner and residential real estate appraiser. He has been appraising for nearly two decades. He is the owner and President of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, Inc. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers. His principles and methodologies are also taught in an online, Mastermind group. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children. Dustin Harris on e-AppraisersDirectory.com

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10 Responses

  1. Bryan says:

    Dustin,

    Everyone agrees except the people that make the decision. With geographical competence, the necessity is reduced as well. Satellite views will also show other land uses in the area. It is time to move in to the 20th century – but only part way (no AVMs).

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  2. Tom Woolford says:

    Unfortunately, the corner cutters insure that this requirement will never be dropped. Unless forced to visit the site and view the comparable, how many do you think will actually fulfill their requirement to view the comparable from the street if not forced to give proof. I submit it would be very few. “I know the neighborhood, I don’t need to look at it again” or “I can learn more from MLS than looking at the front of the house”. While those may be true, they are no substitute for visiting the property and noting the junky yard next door, or the people who raise Peacocks that roam all over and scream night and day.

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    • Retired Appraiser Retired Appraiser says:

      IF I were still appraising for today’s anemic fees I would cut every corner imaginable. I would steal every photo possible (including shooting photos of the PVA card if necessary), hire someone from India to type my reports, and give each report no more than 5 minutes of my time for analysis. Cost cutter fees will give you cost cutter/cheater appraisal reports. That is the ONLY way to stay in business today. Notice that I said IF I were still in the business. I’m not dumb enough to still be in the profession.

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  3. Tom says:

    You can trust my opinion of value, but not that I’ve driven by a comparable. If you don’t think you can trust the 2nd statement definitely don’t trust me on the 1st statement. Appraisers drive by their comps. As for current photos, you are using the comparable at the state it is in at the time of sale not 30-60-90 days or months after the fact. The photo of the comparable should be the photo of when it closed. I’m tired of are you sure you have the right house, because it doesn’t match (siding different color, it has a covered porch, etc) the MLS photo that was taken 6 months ago when the property closed. Then they say just add both photos. Well I’ll just start charging for each additional unnecessary addendum. Will the computer be driving by when they switch to AVM’s?? Thanks for listening!

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  4. Retired Appraiser Retired Appraiser says:

    Been there…Experienced It.

    I’ve had a home owner run out of the house and chase me on foot for 1/8 of a mile cursing and spewing threats the entire way.

    I’ve had a guy stand up on his porch (rural) and aims his gun at me.

    All the more reason to get the L out of the business. At $400 to $500 fees (pre 1004MC, pre 6 comps, pre UAD) it was barely worth it. At $225 to $275 I will gladly allow you guys to play JFK and take a hit for me. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t touch a residential appraisal today with the added BS addenda and liability for $1,000 a pop.

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  5. Bryan says:

    Adjust for a junky yard next door………………

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  6. Michael Powers says:

    Not too long ago I came to the conclusion comp photos are a huge waste of appraiser time and money. Yes, I still take photos of every comp in the report and some that don’t make to the report. My extras save me the trouble of another trip should on of my preferred comps not qualify. My reasoning is the property is likely to be 6 month older than when it sold. So many things could have changed since the sale. To take it to the extreme the comp could have burnt to the ground and could still be used as it’s the condition at the time of comp sale that you are reporting. And as some have pointed our there are a host of other sources for property photos like assessors, MLS, Trulia, etc.

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  7. Bryant says:

    I have been appraising for over 23 years. I guess God is looking out for me. Every time I have had to talk to the owner of the comp house they were nice. One asked if it was legal and a few others were fine with it when I told them I was an appraiser. I really feel like I have missed out. Nobody has chased me down, cussed me out or tried to take my camera. But I have been called incompetent and an as.hole for not getting them their value.

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  8. Dee says:

    In this day and age it’s getting more and more dangerous to take comp pics. This rule needs to be changed before someone gets killed for a stupid pic of a house then can pull up on Google maps or some other mapping program.

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