Photos in Gated Communities Can be Tricky

Pictures in Private Neighborhoods Can be TrickyLet’s talk about assignments in private neighborhoods, gated communities, or secure communities. Rich folks buy, sell, and refinance their homes, too, so they need appraisals. You have an assignment in a security community. There is security at the entrances, you must be on security’s authorized visitor list to get in, and your permission to enter this private community extends solely to visit your subject. So, here is the question: while inside this gated, secure community, do you also drive around and take photos of the comps?

Now, even though you are reading this, I can see you looking at me quizzically while you say, “Dustin, hello! Of course I do! I don’t want to make a second trip to this place. That’s a waste of time and money! You teach us not to waste time and money!”

Stop looking at me quizzically and ask yourself this question: “Does my permission to enter this private, secure community include the permission to wander about in my car taking pictures of private homes?” Think about this. You are in a private community. The roads and rights-of-way in it are not public thoroughfares. Your permission to enter was limited specifically to visit one house – the subject. Technically, to do anything other than go to the subject, visit and photograph the subject, and then leave the community, is trespassing. Some states, especially in Idaho, do not look kindly on the invasion of another person’s land.

So, what to do? Maybe you could persuade the homeowner to come with you as you photo the comps. But then, we want to avoid any relationship with the owner, since the owner is likely not the client (at least in a refinance situation). You could ask the broker to accompany you on the photo op. Once the broker stops laughing, s/he will say no (they are far too self-important for such mundane tasks). You could tell security that, after visiting your subject, you are going to wander about the neighborhood secretly taking photos of other houses in the community. This will likely get you an opportunity to chat with a local deputy sheriff (likely not a fruitful endeavor).

So, what do you do? The likely solution is to take photos of the subject. Then, in the report explain the situation and include MLS photos (which, anyway, are probably better photos that you’d take). If the client gets all up-in-your-face about this, then you’ll have the sweet opportunity to fire an obnoxious client.

In any event, I want to know what you think about this. Explain to me what you’d do in this situation, as well as why you’d do it.

For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode 291:

Dustin Harris
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Image credit flickr - Don Graham
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

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason says:

    I’ve never had an issue talking comp photos in gated communities. If I see someone outside their homes, I introduce myself and explain what I’m doing and get their permission before taking a photo.

  2. Avatar Bill Johnson says:

    Dustin’s always lookin for a reason to not take comp photos and will use in my opinion any loophole he can muster up to not do so. When I’m inside the development/project, I’m taking pictures of the gate, private roads inside the development to show condition, any and all common areas (rec rooms, pools, laundry etc.) to justify the HOA fees, and of course any and all comp photos.

    Its a good thing Dustin doesn’t work the big cities where every other assignment is for a condominium which are most often private and gated or not gated but still private land.

    Stop with the churn of 4 to 9 appraisals a day while looking for every reason to not seek the truth.

    Your friend, Bill.

  3. Matt Beiseigel on Facebook Matt Beiseigel on Facebook says:

    I have been escorted out of several communities for taking comp pix. Usually by golf cart driving rent a cops. I was threatened at the Sanctuary in Boca.

  4. Avatar Natalie Davenport says:

    I always take comp pictures when I’m inside a gated community. No one has ever bothered me in 20 years. There are signs on my car. I’m happy to talk to people if they want an explanation of what I’m doing.

    At times when I can’t get into a community I take a picture of the gate, put a note in the report, and add an mls photo of the comp clearly stating why it was used and where the photo is from. I’ve never had a bank complain about this.

  5. Avatar Tony L Woods says:

    Dustin, he’s such a blow hard I can’t even remember his name!

    • Baggins Baggins says:

      I see what you did there. You forgot his name immediately after typing it. That’s what makes it funny. But how do you proof before posting? Thare she blows! Thy beist another Appraisal Coach article lads. Swab the deck en shiver me timbers, you’ll not be taking any photos of fancy houses today. They be slated for pirating so strap up!

  6. Baggins Baggins says:

    This is what is on your mind lately, to take a photo or not to take a photo in ritzy areas?

    Watch this: More frightening than any haunted house. Take the mask off.

  7. Vince Simon on Facebook Vince Simon on Facebook says:

    Yes. Nobody has ever cared, if I talked to them so. If I see a homeowner in the drive way I actually pull in and greet them, let them know, congratulate them on the purchase and never had any issue. 16 years.

  8. Tres Kirkland on Facebook Tres Kirkland on Facebook says:

    There is one gated community in my area, that the gate guard will tell you that taking comp photos is prohibited. Never been an issue in others.

  9. Avatar James says:

    I had the cops called on me in two separate gated communities and spent the next half hour trying convince the cop I was not casing the joint. Each time I was informed it was a private community and to turn my car around and leave the community especially since the house I was photographing was not the subject to which I was engaged to appraise. After the second occasion, I never photographed comps in gated communities again. I always use mls photos and explain to the client why. I never had any pushback. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than try and prove to a police officer I’m not up to no good. As one cop explained to me, these people pay big money for their privacy and you sir are violating their privacy. I got the message loud clear.

    • So my question is this….If I have a license issued by the state to appraise real property doesn’t this alone give me permission to look at a property at least from the street? Even if it is located in a gated community. Should I be able to get a sheriff deputy from the local jurisdiction to escort me to the property if the gate keeper doesn’t give me permission? The prior homeowner who advertised his property in the mls doesn’t own the street in front of his house. The HoA does. Bit If you pull into the driveway, it’s a different matter. No one asks me if they can take a picture of my house from out of an airplane, in SC we technically own the land above and below the ground . If you use a mls photo instead, better make sure you take the statement out of your certification that you inspected it at least from the street. The danger in using a mls photo is that it makes the report less credible and could be misleading without you even knowing it.


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Photos in Gated Communities Can be Tricky

by Dustin Harris time to read: 2 min