Is Your Facebook Brag Violating USPAP?

Celebrity, Public Trust & Confidentiality - Is Your Facebook Brag Violating USPAP?

Appraising celebrity homes and naming the names of said celebrities

When is it acceptable to tell others about your assignments? Is it okay to tell someone that you just appraised a famous movie star’s home? It is human nature to share the weird, unique and exceptional with others. Recently there was a debate on a social media site about appraising celebrity homes and naming the names of said celebrities. We have all done something similar, sometimes in an open forum, sometimes between close colleagues.  We are all human and it is within our nature to share the oddities and unusual stuff we have the opportunity to see, or even appraise. The only other human beings that really understand what we do are our peers. Many people are using Facebook for all sorts of things from conducting business to connecting with others. But should we do it? Is it in our best interest to share so openly in venues such as Facebook and other areas?

What does USPAP have to say about such an exchange?

While USPAP does not specifically address social media, it does address confidentiality. In fact, it may be a breach of USPAP to name the names of our clients’ clients.  I use the word “may” because USPAP is silent on this particular issue, and it is somewhat of a stretch to indicate this could be a violation. But one thing is certain: Sharing such information is unwise to say the least. The Confidentiality section of the Ethics Rule requires appraisers not to divulge any confidential information, which is simply put as: “An appraiser must protect the confidential nature of the appraiser-client relationship.”

Although the celebrity may not be our client, they are the client of our client, and naming names is simply unwise as well as potentially a violation of our USPAP. Appraisers have a duty of “Public Trust”, which is so important that it is in the first paragraph of the Preamble of The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP for short):

The purpose of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) is to promote and maintain a high level of public trust in appraisal practice by establishing requirements for appraisers.

Common Sense

The idea of naming names for an ego boost is stepping over the line and into eroding a level of public trust.  For us, it is in the vein of an attorney divulging confidential information, or an office worker at a doctor’s office talking about who came into the office for what treatment.

In that debate I mentioned earlier, someone brought up the concept that it was not a good practice to share such details of an assignment. Like so many social media exchanges, it got interesting and quickly got contentious.  The argument floated within the thread was that celebrities do not have the same level of protection as the public, by virtue of their celebrity, but is that a valid argument?

Timothy C Andersen, MAI, an AQB Certified USPAP Instructor offered the following on this argument:

“The word ‘celebrity’ has no standard definition. Who may be a celebrity to those under 25 may be a total unknown to those over 65.  Someone who makes movies for a living has just as much right to privacy, respect, and dignity as does a real estate appraiser.  To claim otherwise is silly, without any basis in fact, logic, or reason.“

This is a logical and appropriate argument in our opinions.

Another contention of the proponents of disclosure was that the address of the property was not disclosed, so it was okay.  For example, if an appraiser living in Connecticut says they just appraised Big Wig Z’s house, it is a simple exercise to look in the area that the appraiser lives and operates and to search for deeds and/or public records for Mr. Z’s abode.  Why even take the chance?  What possible purpose does it have other than to be fodder for gossip and discord?  According to Andersen:

“It is not uncommon for so-called celebrities to mortgage their houses.  If you are doing the mortgage, your confidentiality obligation is to the lender, not the celebrity.  However, if you were to divulge on a social media site anything about that property that is not otherwise already available, such as tax assessment and so forth, you could be opening yourself up to invasion of privacy charges.  This is despite the fact that you gave up nothing that USPAP would consider confidential.”

While social media is a wonderful outlet to stay connected with others, we have to become circumspect in what we discuss.  While we are both fond of the saying that appraisals have both long legs and a long life, it is becoming increasingly apparent that so too, does social media.  In the end, it is best to think it through.  What goes on social media stays there forever.  Even when you delete it, someone else may and probably has created a copy of it.  Is this the way we want to be perceived through the public eye?  Probably not, so maybe the best policy is simply staying mute about the properties we appraise, unless there is nothing left that makes the property identifiable by someone who has a keen eye for internet research.

By Woody Fincham, SRA, and Rachel Massey, SRA and AI-RRS specializing in ERC, Lake, and review work. Find more of Woody’s writing on his blog here. ~ Source a la mode.

Photo Credit flickr - mkhmarketing

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar John Moonitz says:

    I have appraised a number of celebrities homes, but I have never disclosed who’s home or any other details to anyone not involved in the loan process who was supposed to know. I can’t believe any professional appraiser would actually disclose this sort of information to anyone, much less on Facebook or any other social media! This is beyond unprofessional! It is appraisers like this that bring our industry down.

  2. Avatar ValleyGal says:

    Yeah we definitely need to be more careful about what we post on social media. What you post will reflect on you and your business. The other day I was reading how an appraiser believes he was removed from an AMC approved list 3 days after he put a negative comment about the AMC and their low fees. AMC said that he was being removed due to a revision request but he knows better and is not too heartbroken about it.

  3. Avatar Matt Cook, SRA says:

    Anyone who thinks it is OK to publicly name whose homes they have appraised should ask their client what they think about it.  I am guessing that most clients would move on to another appraiser who is more circumspect for their next assignment.

    Argue about USPAP, but if you are naming names, I don’t think your client will be happy.

  4. Respectfully, I am amazed that it could have been much more than a one word discussion.

    “No.” It is not ok to tell anyone whose property you appraised without that owners specific permission to do so. That is NOT public information, It IS non public personal information of a confidential nature.

    Whether or not a person is a celebrity isn’t the issue. The standards that you and I operate under are. Neither of our USPAP versions say it is ok to violate the confidentiality clause when the client is a celebrity. AT some point in almost all our careers we will do an appraisal for a senator; political candidate, movie star, television producer, etc..

    Hopefully we will all respect their right to personal privacy; but for those that wouldn’t, then hopefully they will follow USPAP.

  5. bubba jay bubba jay says:

    ever have a “nosey neighbor” ask you what you are doing while you are standing on someone elses property taking pictures or measurements? i have always wondered if we are violating USCRAP by disclosing to that nosey neighbor we are doing an appraisal? i think it could be. i hate to be a jerk, but if get asked, i tell the neighbor that he will have to ask the homeowner what i am doing there. after all, its quite possible that the home owner doesnt want his neighbor to know what he is doing with his finances.

    i wish i had a dime for every time a nosey neighbor called the cops on me.  hahahahaha. but hey, as far as i am concerned, i am not on their property, and therefore its none of their business, whether i am violating USCRAP or not..

    the bleeding continues . . . . .

    • Bubba Jay, You are right. Long ago I used to tell them I am an appraiser doing some work for the owner (pre USPAP). It inevitably lead to the “Are they selling their house? What’s it worth? What’s mine worth” kind of questions. I’d always have to then say, I cant discuss that with you or some variation. As long as I may have to alienate them anyway, its just easier and (IMHO) more compliant to do as you say. “I’m doing a job for the owner.”

      In some neighborhoods, When approached by people on the street -really “iffy” areas, then Id say Im working for the county or Section 8. I don’t like subterfuge but I also am not about to get shot by some gangbanger because they think Im a threat to their drug dealing, or “dissing’ them.

      I’ve only had the police called on me once. Get followed more often than people calling the cops. My favorite was doing an assignment for a famous nationally known ethnically restricted religious oriented organization with a reputation for ‘cleaning up’ areas and having some very tough bodyguards for its leaders. It was in a very bad neighborhood. The Minister sent three of his bodyguards to walk with me around the block and through the alley to the rear of the commercial property. People hanging out in the alley got up and walked away BEFORE we got near them, and people in front of the building made sure to greet the bodyguards (and the Minister since he went with us in front) VERY respectfully. It was a real l eye opening experience, I felt safer then than I ever had in that particular neighborhood before. OK, sorry-got off track.

      • bubba jay bubba jay says:

        a few years ago i had an old nasty neighbor being a total a-hole, and he would not leave me alone. he told me he was part of the “Neighborhood Watch” program. i could not get the guy off my back, so i decided to have a little fun with him.

        him – “who are you?”

        me – “i am with the bank”.

        him – “do you know who are the new owners are?”

        me – “yeah, i heard the new owner is the lead singer for a punk rock band called The Bloody Puppies”.


        after all this time, i can still clearly see the look on his face.



        the bleeding continues . . . . .

  6. Retired Appraiser Retired Appraiser says:

    Caution: This may offend those of you who are thin skinned. Since I didn’t appraise the home I have no problem relaying info about this celebrity wannabe.

    The only celebrity home I was asked to appraise was that of Tubby Smith (prior to his being fired by the University Of Kentucky).  My immediate thoughts:  Who needs a pit bull when you’re married to one?

    Mrs. Smith was notified well in advance by the bank that I was coming over.  I parked in front of the home in a Mercedes to provide additional comfort to the homeowners.  When I arrived at the door Mrs. Smith asked to see a copy of my license (a first in 15 years).  I pulled out my driver’s license to show her and she immediately bellowed, “YOUR APPRAISERS LICENSE”.  I explained to her that I’ve been appraising for 15 years and didn’t carry a copy of my appraiser’s license with me.  She then snatched my driver’s license from my hand, called her attorney and then began asking him to do a background check on me.  I spent a minute or two evaluating the situation and weighing my whopping $400 fee against the prospect of being trapped and interrogated by a wild boar while measuring her mega mansion. It wasn’t a difficult decision; I asked for my license back and told her that I was probably the wrong appraiser for this high security assignment.  As I walked away from the home she screamed at me, “OK OK YOU CAN COME IN”.  I continued to walk to my car and left the property watching the woman waving her arms in my rear view mirror.

    In hindsight, it was one of the best split second decisions that I made in a 20 year career. I have appraised scores of homes that made hers look like a match box and never uttered a word about the experience because they were gracious people. I have no regret in telling this story to people because it was the ultimate example of how not to treat people who are there to serve you.

    For the record, I have no problem with Tubby, only his crazy wife.


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Is Your Facebook Brag Violating USPAP?

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