Picture This! If You Dare!

Sanitizing appraisal images

Images of personal items and people must go!

Crime and Punishment

The appraiser who took the interior image below is currently serving a ten year sentence in the Fair Housing Maximum Security Prison outside of Atlanta. The charges ranged from willful imaging of stockings hung with care to wanton display of a nutcracker and malicious showcasing of Micky and Minnie without their written consent.

Appraisal photo Christmas decoration - sanitizing imagesActually, the image below was taken by yours truly about a decade ago and somehow survived the underwriting process.

The mythology of what constitutes a Fair Housing violation continues to vex this profession like some movie monster that just won’t die.

Familiar Language

“The photos included in this appraisal report are digital/electronic, they have not been enlarged, enhanced, or altered in any way.”

So many appraisals contain this statement or something like it.

Are you telling the reader that you’ve never cropped, lightened, darkened or sharpened a digital image for an appraisal? They all came out as masterpieces of photography? Ansel Adams quality?


I bought my first digital camera in 1997. Kodak’s DC-40. Remember that?

I learned in short order how to manipulate digital images inside ACI’s software. It was an unsophisticated program with basic adjustments that made the early morning “sun shot” somewhat passable by allowing me to brighten a terribly backlit house.

Was this fraud? Of course not.

Eventually I moved on to stitching images (merging two or more images to account for having no wide angle lens).

Again, was this fraud? Of course not.

Many digital point-and-shoot cameras have a stitching processor built into the camera. The effect doesn’t even require a user to do it from their desktop or laptop computer. The camera does it.

So, why bother writing a disclaimer that nobody believes?

Personal Items and People Must Go

Ever since digital images became widely used, more and more entities beyond the appraiser have sought to control the content of those images. Appraisers are being asked – make that ordered, by lenders, AMCs and others to remove or obscure any trace of people or personal items from both exterior and interior images. Such demands come under the guise of the Fair Housing Act. Maybe they mean the Equal Credit Opportunity Act or the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

Well…one of those important sounding laws definitely prohibit appraisers from submitting photos with people and stuff…right?

Not even close.

Of course there are die-hard appraisers convinced that their interpretation of the Fair Housing Act absolutely prohibits them from submitting a living room shot with a mantle crowded with family photos. If that’s what you want to believe; then you’d better start taking Photoshop classes.

Most properties are occupied and most people keep personal affects in their home. It’s what everyone does. The fact that you’re sanitizing a photo by removing what is present could be construed as creating a misleading report.

How is that not improper?

On one hand we have brokers staging empty properties in order to sell and on the other hand we have appraisers trying to empty occupied properties of personal items on behalf of paranoid underwriters.

What Are These Laws?

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in housing-related activities against any person because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, or familial status.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, age (provided the applicant has the capacity to enter into a binding contract), receipt of public assistance, or because the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

If you check out the URAR it clearly states the following:

Note: Race and the racial composition of the neighborhood are not appraisal factors.

I’ve never seen an appraisal that adjusted for race or racial composition.

Assignment Condition

Entities who ask or demand that appraisers sanitize photographs are doing so as an assignment condition; not by law.

If your clients really think that pictures of human beings and their possessions somehow taints the process; then by all means, keep taking crazy angle shots to cut out the borrower’s chotchkies.

But let’s be clear. There is no law or regulation that directly forbids images of these things from being made, sent, or seen.

By Lee Lansford – Source Illinois Appraiser Newsletters – Volume 4, Issue 8

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Provided as a service to licensed and registered Illinois appraisal professionals as well as Illinois course providers and users of appraisals. Illinois Appraiser Newsletters promote a greater understanding of USPAP, the Act, and the Administrative Rules of the State of Illinois. promote a greater understanding of USPAP, the Act, and the Administrative Rules of the State of Illinois.

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1 Response

  1. Lee good for you! FINALLY someone standing up for common sense.

    I will NOT alter or crop a photo to make it misleading. Now, IF and when I DO alter (usually brightness or sharpness related optimization), I disclose it. I WILL include whatever is in the home from my best picture angle as an appraiser. I will ask humans to move out of the picture. I do NOT remove items or ask them to redecorate.

    The real issue was use of mls photos IN LIEU of original appraiser photos, which raised the question of whether a property was ever seen by the appraiser or not. I WILL use mls pics to augment a report, but will clearly identify them as such.


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Picture This! If You Dare!

by IDFPR Board time to read: 3 min