Did That Guy Just Take a Picture of My Kids?

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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Photo of Comps When People or Children Are Present - Standing Rule

Looking at the tricky question of taking photo of comps when people are present…

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 completelydifferent 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 myself and plenty of other appraisers 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.

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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48 Responses

  1. Ross Grannan on Facebook Ross Grannan on Facebook says:

    Take a photo of the nearest street sign

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  2. Tim Mccomiskey on Facebook Tim Mccomiskey on Facebook says:

    Just go a few houses down and snap a picture. Then add the MLS photo and comment. It confirms that you at least performed a visual inspection of the comparable

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  3. Lance Alexander Zwiener on Facebook Lance Alexander Zwiener on Facebook says:

    If a kids playing or someone is in the front yard I won’t snap a pic. If all 5 of my other comps have original pictures by me and 1 MLS pic then it really shouldn’t be a huge deal. Shouldn’t they just take our word? I mean, that’s what an appraisal is really, our opinion of value, our word.

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    • Josh Johnson on Facebook Josh Johnson on Facebook says:

      I will usually ask if I can take a photo. If they say no, or are aggressive towards me, I include an MLS photo. I have a comment in every report regarding any MLS photos and why it was necessary. Sometimes you just can’t get a real photo during drive by. I’m not trying to get into a fight, argument or shot going into some of these neighborhoods looking like a creeper or thief. Lol. My safety is greater than an actual photo. IMO

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      • Lance Alexander Zwiener on Facebook Lance Alexander Zwiener on Facebook says:

        Josh Johnson I agree. I do the same. It really depends on the area and what the person is doing on whether I want to bother them or not. Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle. But ya never been a problem for my clients either. So business as usual.

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      • Lane Leppink on Facebook Lane Leppink on Facebook says:

        Josh Johnson , I totally agree with your approach. We’re all human here, and if we deal with it civilly, all is usually well.

        I wouldn’t limit the ‘no picture’ policy to people appearing to be under 18….
        In this situation, I think it’s just rude to take ANYONE’S picture.

        In approaching the owners, is it wrong to just stop and explain why you’re there taking pics?
        I’ve actually done that in the context of congratulating them in their new purchase, and if they haven’t noticed other appraisers taking photos, don’t be alarmed if they do.

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    • Bianca Wanoreck on Facebook Bianca Wanoreck on Facebook says:

      Last week I got chased up Highway 281 after taking a comp photo 😯 Had to call 911 and get Blanco County Sheriff out to get him away from me. Crazy world. I didn’t notice the guy was walking out to his truck (saw him later in the photo 😆 😆 )

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      • Lance Alexander Zwiener on Facebook Lance Alexander Zwiener on Facebook says:

        Bianca Wanoreck damn, that’s scary. Glad nothing bad happened.

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      • Sarah Chase on Facebook Sarah Chase on Facebook says:

        Bianca Wanoreck same happened to me. Had to call 911 and drive to the police station. Our profession can be hazardous at times!

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      • Koma says:

        Try coming into my areas where guns are more common than kids. If there are children outside I just keep moving. One missed comp photo is not worth it. And yes I’ve been chased down before. One time it turn out to be a police officer and when I said who I was and said didn’t you just purchase your home a light went on in his head and then he apologized.

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  4. Rick Hemry on Facebook Rick Hemry on Facebook says:

    If in a subdivision and I see kids or others in the yard, I’ll drive by it and do the other comps/sales first. After that, if they are still there, I’ll stop and ask the owner to have them move. I explain why I am doing it and have not had any push back. I also ask about the property condition. Owners tend to not be defensive and can give good information the agents tend not to disclose.

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  5. Anthony Membrino on Facebook Anthony Membrino on Facebook says:

    I’m not asking an owner of a comp to please get their kids out of my pic. The lender can handle an mls pic

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  6. Anthony Blackburn on Facebook Anthony Blackburn on Facebook says:

    Ive never had an issue with it. There is always a work around. Park 1 house down and wait til the front of the home is clear. Use a parked car in front of the comp to screen people. Come back later. There is always a way to work around it and be compliant. Heck, use a different comp that is just as relevant.

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  7. Scott Mangum says:

    We are appraisers with a task. We are not sneaky people conducting nefarious activities. If people are present, how hard is it to explain your actions and ask to take the photo. Presumably, they should understand since they just bought the house and likely have a copy of their appraisal on file somewhere. When engaged with the property owner, other valuable information can be obtained and/or verified. After 36 years in the field, I have experienced more rational people than hostile. Alternately, when you do act like a sneak and get caught, your activity may be harder to explain/justify to the owner/occupant.

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      It’s helpful when you’re personally sitting in the drivers seat, and can just strike up a quick conversation. Then easily show some printed paper documentation that you had planned on taking a picture prior to showing up at the property. Every time someone is in the yard, make a quick comment, pass a card, and click a photo. There is nothing ambiguous about verifying the state of a property, as of the effective date of data research. To argue that trusting realty photos is sufficient, well their photos may not tell us exactly everything, especially the negative aspects which is what we are safeguarding against with on site verification protocols.

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      • Diana N. CREA,CRA,GRI says:

        Very true, I did a field review once and the only real photo was of the subject, and even that was shot at an angle so the junk yard next to the property didn’t show and the abandoned cars in the yard were photo shopped out. The comparables didn’t even exist. And Guess What.. it came in exactly at the sales price. 🙂

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      • Koma says:

        So, your saying just roll up on some 5 year olds and explain what your doing? Let’s see I have 3 comps in a subdivision with 2 my photos and one mls cause of children playing in a front yard and the lender can’t trust I went by all three…RUBBISH! How about one neighborhood there are so many flips that in less than a month the outside of the house has new siding, a new covered porch where it was open before, etc, etc and they never look at the mls photos I include also. Then questions come pouring or should I have to add those comments too? Again RUBBISH! It doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does it’s my call for everyone’s safety.

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        • Baggins Baggins says:

          Lenders should not just trust appraisers anymore. There are too many of them whom cut corners, use runners, outsource all duties, and come up with clever excuses why they did not meet the intended scope of work… So yeah, you’ve got to take that comp photo.

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        • I don’t think it’s people like yourself that have ‘once in awhile’ instances of mls that concern clients/GSEs. I think the issue is that a significant number of appraisers have been routinely using mls pictures INSTEAD of original photos and in person exterior comp observations.

          As for other part of post re changes, I’ve just started including supplemental comparable photos from MLS (6 each) in addition to my original exterior photos. Not in all reports; but those where I think the feature being shown has /had a significant impact on value and where I want graphic evidence of it (new kitchen/bath; very extensive yard amenities, aerial shots of large lots, etc). It may include pre remodel exterior photo too. Im still working on language that these are supplemental and have not been charged for to assure public domain/ copyright compliance. Open to more suggestions in that area.

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          • Koma says:

            Like I always say; a picture may be worth a thousand words, but an in person observation is worth a million. ?

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  8. Diana N. CREA,CRA,GRI says:

    Had an incident several years ago in a not that great section of Bridgeport CT. went to take a photo and there was a whole group of guys hanging out on the front porch drinking and playing cards, NO WAY was I going to ask them to move, used the MLS photo and was called to task by the lender. I said “fine you send someone armed over to take the photo, I sure as hell won’t.” end of conversation, and I still got work from the lender.

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  9. Odd. In 32 years I cannot recall a situation where I ‘had’ to take a picture with ANY people in it, let alone kids. I’ve had dozens of instances where people were doing yard work, playing, dealing drugs or whatever in the pictures. It just wasn’t that difficult to drive on to the next one and then come back in 15; 30 minutes to retry. Usually kids will be gone or have moved on to different part of yard. I’ve used trees, cars, trucks etc to hide people that didn’t move.

    When all else fails, I’ve asked permission. If need be I shoot it and (now) will paint them out very obviously and then explain why picture was altered. (I’ve done that on apartments more than once – haven’t had to do it on sfr yet). A reasonable explanation is all that has been needed so far. Of course that’s for 1 out of 3 or 4 comparables – not all 3 or 4!

    Has FNMA removed the old rule about not having any people in pictures and I didn’t get the memo?

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    • Diana N. CREA,CRA,GRI says:

      Mike, I remember we were strictly told when doing interior photos, don’t get any family photos or any religious items in the pictures.

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      • My point exactly. Appraisers just have no reason to take photos of people in front of houses…By the way, I have had drug dealers “look outs” walk up to my car; people stop me in the middle of the road (Gang area where they said they had to collect a toll – told them I was broke – went around block the other way and triplex owner walked me over to their card table in the middle of the road to let them know I “was ok”; “and helping him to get a loan [wasn’t a time to be picky about nuances either] .” Also had two different people chase me down with cars (but they were polite when I stopped) and in one instance had police stop me and tell me to get out with hands over head and back up to them…turns out there was home invasion on that block night before. I was polite, they verified who and what I was and then even apologized for the guns drawn approach. Had a security guard in Rolling Hills tell me to ‘give him my camera’ because he saw me taking pictures of houses. I told him to go perform an anatomical impossibility on himself. Each case is different. Aside from the police, never had guns pulled on me.

        None of these events or episodes ever caused me to take pictures with people in them.

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        • Baggins Baggins says:

          I’m entirely more worried about traffic cameras and big brother oversight compared to disgruntled home owners. If you see the google camera car, please try to put gum on the lense, throw your pop at it, whatever can be done.

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  10. Fritz Vogel AGA,CRS,CEI,GRI NY Cert. Appraiser 27yr says:

    Our safety is worth more than $400 bucks

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      If you can’t communicate with the people in the areas you’re providing appraisal services for, change the scope of work or drop that coverage area. Either it’s acceptable assignment conditions or it’s not, there is no cheating or excusing the duty which is required.

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  11. Retired Appraiser Retired Appraiser says:

    In 20 years I only had one MoFo come out of his house and chase my car on foot.  I took great pleasure in allowing him to nearly catch up only to speed up again. My favorite photo was of a comp I took 1/4 mile off the road with a telephoto lens.  When it came back from the developing lab you could clearly see someone on the porch pointing a gun at me.

    Lucky In Kentucky

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    • Diana N. CREA,CRA,GRI says:

      WOW and I thought working the in “inner city” was bad. Have had the door slammed in my face doing foreclosures, but thank heavens no guns.

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      • Baggins Baggins says:

        Appraisers play with fire if they’re doing pre foreclosure work w/ interior. I refuse that service and only work reo after the eviction process has already occurred. I won’t be mistaken for an agent of the lender, in that specific regard.

        Man it’s too bad that Retired made it out of there, he could have like been, an martyr and such, could have really had a positive impact… Lucky in Kentucky, you should try it again, there is still hope that we can gain some public sympathy with the unexpected demise of our resident appraiser gone postal. Any one of us would likely qualify but I nominate you for the esteem. LOL!

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  12. Seneca says:

    I could care less about people in the front of a house. I take the photo and blur them out. I don’t care what they are thinking or who they call on me or if they chase me. Did nothing illegal, I am licensed by the state and I C & C.

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  13. Adam Sparks on Facebook Adam Sparks on Facebook says:

    Never a “real” issue taking a pic; yes, sometimes it’s a pain, but having to ask someone for a pic or explaining what you’re doing isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, I suspect far fewer are complying with the pre-printed scope of work than presumed 🙁 ?.

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      Some appraisers want to outsource and automate everything, can’t be bothered with a drive by. Rehashing the same issue to infinity. Hell yeah I took a picture of those kids, and your wife, and your neighbor, and your car, and your home. I checked in on your online profile as well. Deal with it, I’m a professional real estate researcher, I’m not playing around with chauffeurs and shortcuts. The guidelines are clear as day, don’t presume otherwise. It’s o.k. to sub a single mls pic now and then but for the majority of all reports, the majority of all photos, regardless of order type, it’s much more professional than not to take the photo or at least be on site somehow even if only for 2 seconds. Every now and then you get a little surprise and that makes all the comp driving worth the while. One thing I include in my reports is the ‘thumbs view’ provided by mls for my 6 comps. That page is there so review can quickly see my photos are original, helps the confidence factor and keeps stips down. Using mls photos and talking your way out of it is slickster behavior, an instant red flag for reviewers. Don’t be that guy.

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  14. Drove by old man asleep in lawn chair, child running about. Went took some more pictures , returned, no change in situation, left to get some more pictures, return #3, only change now the child had removed his clothes and was running around naked… I left

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    • 3 tries is more than reasonable. THAT’S the time for mls…with specific explanation exactly as you reported here. I’d add “If client still requires original photo of this comparable rather than mls despite explanation I will do so for an additional trip fee of $150.”

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  15. mike says:

    I have areas where due to weather no comp pics are taken for my safety (not sliding into lake for a dollar)

    I also have areas where my comps come from 5 years ago – do not ask… no way I am taking pics.

    I also have areas where during ‘harvest’ all photos except for interior subject are from MLS.

    “SOME COMPARABLE PHOTOS ARE FROM MLS AS DANGEROUS CONDITIONS RELATED TO POTENTIAL MARIJUANA PRODUCTION DID NOT ALLOW SAFE ACCESS TO THE FRONT OF EVERY COMPARABLE. MLS photos are considered reliable and the greatest indicator of a comparables condition at time of sale which could be up to 12 months prior to date of inspection.”

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      I live in Colorado, and find your statement to be way out there. Are you living in fear of marijuana, please clarify.

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      • mike says:

        Not in fear, in reality. In our area – its mexican cartels in the hills with no english spoken and during harvest the last sound you hear is “thwap”

        I am not talking about stoners with 3 plants, I am talking about cartel with 5-10,000 plants.

        These are not anti-social hillbillies (my people) who i talk to for hours, these are hired guns who dont care.

        The latest is Honey oil production on a semi-truck scale and historically buried cargo containers filled with meth labs.

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        • Baggins Baggins says:

          God damned, you just took it to the next level. Don’t worry, I have a website for this issue specifically. Get involved, sign the letters to representatives, sign up for their weekly news letters. I’ll pass on everify, but otherwise, I like Roy Beck and his crew. 1st link is main page, 2nd is about the founder, and don’t forget to swing by the action board, it’s a moving target but it’s there somewhere, score cards and letter campaigns. The best thing about legal weed in Colorado, we took all that money away from the cartel people and instead of crime, we have an emerging industry where money flows back inside the local community loop. It’s a win win.

          https://www.numbersusa.com/

          https://www.numbersusa.com/about/history

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          • mike says:

            Im in Kommiefornia where they cant find the difference between, …,  well, and a hole in the ground. (punin10did)

            and we are too close to NAFTA and the porous boarders even at 500 miles away.

            (i was working assessor office and rolled by mistake into 3,000+ plants in 3 75′ greenhouses… turn and burn without looking back… in a MARKED government car-OOPS~!)

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  16. Kevin says:

    was working on one of the not so great areas of the capital city in Oregon a few years back. Needed a comp pic of a duplex. Ok, no problem, I turn down the street, OK,, Problem! There was hooptie with two dudes leaning in the windows was parked 1 unit up from my comp. I drove by, got the stink eye, then took a “covert ops pic” while still moving and then just drove out the end of the street…. WRONG,,, it was a friggin cul-d sac! Had to turn around, and drive out now. Hooptie and dudes was 1 lot from the stop sign. As I neared there was another car now at the stop. I was sitting right next to the the hooptie getting a major stink eye from all 4 now. As I looked over, one of the dudes was standing up app puffed up and pos-in’ at me lifting up his shirt and showing my his “piece” in his belt. I hit the brakes, smiled laughed a little and said proudly,  “Hey man,,, I got one of those too, but mines a 45!”  He un-posed, and then smiled and said, “that cool,,, we jus checkin ya know.” I said,,, “ya good cuz ya never know when some dude like me is gunna try and pull a drive by on ya”  He just smiled waved and laughed as I drove off.

    Since then, new policy. No more pics of comps in “The hood” when there is a car of homiez outside on the street.

    Ive been chased down 4-5 times in the last 20 years after taking a pic not knowing the owner of renter was scopin me out from the back side, or thru the blinds. Usually turns out fine once they figure out what the heck Im doing. Last 20 yrs Ive been mooned, flipped off, hooter flashed, Ohh the stories……

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      Try this line instead; “I’m just the real estate appraiser, I’m looking at recently sold properties, next I’m driving to (somewhere 30 miles away).” It’s a helpful simple approach which excuses your presence and if the people live there, they’ll remember that house did in fact, go up for sale recently. Simple, quick, easy. Next time give a nice courteous wave, what people don’t’ expect is for someone driving through with bad intentions to be courteous, a little good manners can go a long way.

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  17. Adam Sparks on Facebook Adam Sparks on Facebook says:

    I would love for FNMA to do an audit of comp photos and notify those who are using MLS photos, where the LOE specifically states original photos must be used, that they must stop or they will be blacklisted. That would significantly reduce the corner cutting with regards to adherence to that assignment condition. And if those appraisers who don’t comply think they could start and not have to change their business model (a large increase in fees), they are sadly mistaken. I could take on double the amount of work if I didn’t have to inspect my comps.

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    • My understanding of the current CU is that FNMAs automated software already looks at photos and can tell when mls has been used even when corner or bottom logos have been cropped.(Richard Hagar’s current course on Avoiding FNMA CU Fails).

      The appraiser that crops to intentionally hide ‘mls’ is proving their own intent to deceive. Bad enough to use one (though possibly avoidable under certain limited circumstances…like shooting 30+ original photos and having last 1 or 2 missing due to dead camera batteries) but hiding or trying to hide the fact is an admission by the appraiser that they knew what they were doing was wrong at some level.

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      • Koma says:

        I do not perform FHA, but all my clients state; Original Comp/Listing photos when possible if not please provide an explanation of why not and use MLS photo. Again does not happen often but when it does a reason is supplied.

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  18. Diana N. CREA,CRA,GRI says:

    I have used MLS photos when the comp was located on the site where it couldn’t be photographed from the street, and in a few cases, when the comp was torn down for new construction, which gave me a site value, or totally remodeled and certainly worth more than what it was purchased for.

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  19. Wayne Courtney says:

    Gee guys…..You just do not understand! The AMC or UNDERWRITER said that you MUST take that comp photo. These people set at a desk in an air conditioned office and holler all day “HURRY”, “HURRY”, “HURRY”. These folks are the same people that could not care less if you have your head shot from your shoulders…They do not care a bit about a silly appraiser. Once I even had a lender ask that I break into a house to get a photo. REALLY! I told them that they could borrow my camera and do that themselves while I watched from the street. Some of these folks would have to receive education to arrive at the idiot level!  Say NO to foolishness!

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      There is no individual licensing requirement for amc or underwriter personnel. Fancy titles, nothing to back it.

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Did That Guy Just Take a Picture of My Kids?

by Dustin Harris time to read: 3 min