Rethinking Drive By and Comp Pictures

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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, Creating 'Value' for Real Estate Appraisers.

Dustin Harris is a multi-business owner, but he has found most of his success as a self-employed, 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., and is a popular author, speaker and consultant. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers helping them to also run successful appraisal companies and increase their net worth. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.

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I certainly agree - the use of MLS photography also more often than not is more reflective of the condition of the sale at the time of sale. One of the things I always ask an underwriter or reviewer is "What if the house burned down or was leveled by a disaster since the date of sale?" - it is still a legitimate sale but there can be no "current" comp photo. This happened in our market after the April 2011 tornado in which 8000 homes were damaged among which were several hundred sales.

This on top of the dangers you described make me very angry at those clients who insist on non-MLS or file photos.

Tuscaloosa, AL

Preach on Dustin. As you said, all of the resources are available on the internet now. You can usually get a view of the street, a satellite view, and typically multiple interior and exterior listing photos for a comp. Plus, you can call agents if you need to. What is the point of driving all over creation, especially for an assignment where the comps are spread across a large area? How much time does it cost us? How much more for gas? How much more wear and tear on our vehicles? How much exhaust from our tail pipes? What about our safety? Everyone knows that driving or riding in a car is about the most dangerous thing you can do in the world. Why do we need to put ourselves, our livelihood and potentially our family's well-being at risk just to cover 5 miles or whatever to go get an original picture of a comp that tells us absolutely zero that we couldn't tell from the safety and comfort of our office. Not to mention incidents like the ones you described. Why is it that appraisers are basically forced to waste their time and ultimately make less money because they are required to get meaningless original comp photos?!? This is such an antiquated policy. Hopefully it will change soon.
Cameron Horne
Atlanta, GA

Preach on Dustin. As you said, all of the resources are available on the internet now. You can usually get a view of the street, a satellite view, and typically multiple interior and exterior listing photos for a comp. Plus, you can call agents if you need to. What is the point of driving all over creation, especially for an assignment where the comps are spread across a large area? How much time does it cost us? How much more for gas? How much more wear and tear on our vehicles? How much exhaust from our tail pipes? What about our safety? Everyone knows that driving or riding in a car is about the most dangerous thing you can do in the world. Why do we need to put ourselves, our livelihood and potentially our family's well-being at risk just to cover 5 miles or whatever to go get an original picture of a comp that tells us absolutely zero that we couldn't tell from the safety and comfort of our office. Not to mention incidents like the ones you described. Why is it that appraisers are basically forced to waste their time and ultimately make less money because they are required to get meaningless original comp photos?!? This is such an antiquated policy. Hopefully it will change soon.
Cameron Horne
Atlanta GA

It's ironic that now some lenders not only want "real" comp. pics but they are demanding they be taken during the course of the assignment. Chase even checks public recorded listing pics to see if the ones used on the report is mls or not. This is all silly. Bottom line is all they want are bureaucratic boxes checked and forms filled out. They could care less about analysis, value, and our profession. They also want to make sure we are earning the paltry fees they are paying.

I have been fortunate as of late; the door sign on my car clearly states that I'm an appraiser. (I did want the word appraiser to be larger, but was over ruled in favor of having the company logo bigger.) I have the sheet indicating that a particular house was recently sold. And I remind them that an appraiser took photos of other houses to develop an opinion of value for their house when it was refinanced or sold. I only had one angry homeowner recently, but that was before I had the signage. I deleted the photo in front of him and drove on. I came back later an got a photo. I have been stopped by the neighbood watch but they see my signs, my business card, my license if they real push; that's been enough. I leave them my card if the ask. ​Often they want to know about their neighborhood values, I may comment if I have the general data. That is often all it takes.

I been a residential appraiser since 1973. At that time our reports were a whopping 3 pages long and included 2 B+W Polaroids of the subject. My experience with homeowners running me down to ask about photos has been mixed. Once I did receive a call from the local police to ask what I was doing. Every other time I have been able to turn it into a positive experience. I first explain what I am doing. Then I pull out my public records and ask "Are you John Doe, the owner of this property that sold in August for $210,000?" That makes my presence legitimate in the eyes of the homeowner. I have also just verified the date of sale and amount with the homeowner. I am usually able to verify anything else I need with the homeowner and it looks good on the report when the homeowner is listed as a source. I then thank the homeowner and get out of Dodge very quickly.
Comp photos are a double edged sword. As long as we have to take them, I at least try to verify the sale. It has worked for me several times.

It is a waste of time. I use MLS pics and even download from Google Earth as much as I possibly can. Original Photos were required before internet was used, GPS, digital photography, online MLS service; Fannie Mae really was just wanting A photo. All the reasons to drive by a comp can be replaced by using online available data. Plus when you choose your comps then you go out to the property but it isn't what you expected you have to find new comps, which could be a two trip to the area deal. The time and cost of taking comp photos is not worth the minimal benefit. Out of 1000 comps may be one I will discover something by driving by it. Sometimes I've driven by the comp several times already and some of these lenders are wanting "same day original comp photos" get real! What about saving the planet and all the gas(fossil fuels) I'll save by not driving by every comp photo.

The benefit of driving by is negated by modern technology. If I won the lottery the first thing I would do was launch a lobby to stop taking comp photos.

I work in a rural area which is full of marijuana growers who can not only become very suspicious of photos of their locations but am also concerned that most of them are gun owners as well and might not take kindly to my trespassing. So, in late summer and early fall or when the hair stands up on the back of my neck, I resort to other methods for a "comp photo". Also, I love driving 15 miles to take a comp photo just to find a motorized gate that I suspected would be there anyways but not noted in the MLS data. What a waste of my time!

I've had the home owner rush out of the front door to ask me what I was doing, and then tell me that I can't take the photo. It's hard to get those types of people to understand that it's perfectly within my rights to photograph the front of the home without the owner's permission.
The bigger issue with this is that many appraisers I know pull comps before they ever go see a subject home (because of AMC requirements for fresh comp pics), to avoid a second trip to the area later for comp photos. That usually means that they end up trying to make the subject home fit the comps they've pre-chosen (which may not be comps at all), instead of choosing the best comps after they know what the subject home is like. In essence, this requirement for street pics of the comps has led to some appraisers actually putting out inferior appraisals to those which they may have completed in the past. They say I'm crazy for making that second trip, but I say it's the right way to complete the appraisal.

A few years ago I was taking comp photos in a smaller town of 25,000 population.....and had the police pull me over. I proved that I was an appraiser, and explained the comp photos....they told me before I came back to take photos again in that town that I was to notify the police department first....of course I didn't do that, I was there several times a week. A while later, another appraiser was in the same town...and stopped by the police who accused him of taking pictures of children. He explained he was an appraiser and was taking comp photos....they still didn't believe he showed the pics off his digital camera....they still treated him like they didn't believe him and asked him to leave. Another appraiser I know had her car door kicked by a homeowner for taking a pic of his house.

The first mistake made was to not have the camera on and ready, and the window open before stopping to take the photo. The second mistake made was to stop for anyone getting in front of the car (They are breaking the law, and you should keep driving, no matter what.). The third mistake was to let the person close enough to you that they could harm you. You cannot trust today's police to deal with this even handedly. All that has to be done by the homeowner is to accuse you of photographing their kids. As for signs on the car, well, if you want to give someone your company name to make some crazy accusation, then place one on your door.

What is ironic is that we do have to take the photos very quickly and drive away, but then why are we supposed to take the photo in the first place? The clients want us to stop in front of the house, take photos of the comps that are clear and unobstructed without any people in them, and also want us to make notes of any features of the home. In other words if we followed the guidelines of the lenders we would all be shot or nearly dead. We need to be soooo certain of our comp information that we are willing to sacrifice our life for it, at the low rates we are being paid.

I have my camera ready, window down, take the picture and leave. I have played with the idea of a sign but have found that just gives them a name to harass whereas no sign means they can't track me down. Ready, aim, click, drive. I have only been chased down about six times, met up with a gun twice and got paid $400 to enjoy the privilege of a 32 page report, 400 miles or more, met mostly nice people and a few nasty ones. Be quick and get out of there.

After appraising for 35 years and over 8000 houses, I have only been chased down twice, and after explaining what I was doing, they were OK. However, I have discovered that I can take good pictures through my tinted windows which greatly reduces the chances of anyone seeing me taking the picture.

I was recently doing n appraisal in Apache Junction. Took comp photos in a Cul-de-sac. The guy trimming the plants rushes out to ask what I am doing. I tell him I am an appraiser, He angrily tells be that the home is not for sale and I cannot take a photo of it. He then stands in front of my car, and appears that he is going to try to grab my camera. At this point I just keep taking photos of him to record what he is doing. The guy then runs to his truck and I drive away. As I look back I can see that he is pointing a gun at me. I file a police report and the guy accusing me of taking photos of his kids. I showed all of the photos of I took, which proves there were no kids anywhere near the house. The photos almost show him removing the gun from his truck, but the view of the gun is blocked. When the police interviewed the guy, the officer said that this guy scared him!!!

After stopping for a guy, just trying to be nice to explain what I am doing, and then getting a gun pulled, I no longer show any mercy. I do not stop for homeowners, I do not explain what I am doing. If the ask "Can I help you?" I say no. If they stand in front of my car, I drive around them. If they chase me . . . well . . . that is why I drive a Charger. The decision to take a photo or drive a comp should be up to the appraiser. The only time I can find that it is necessary is when some sort of mountain or hillside view is involved.

I have been pulled over so many times, chased, stopped questioned . . . just for doing my job, and a part of my job that is completely unnecessary.

Don't wait for anyone. Just leave. He jumps in front of your car, run him over. You don't want to be in court. It is a joke that can ruin your life.


Hey this is the first time I am writing to agree with you! There is so much more information available on line about comps today than you could ever get by driving past. Interior photos, aerial pictures even birds-eye aerial views that you can rotate (on my MLS.) The requirement to take "real" or "original" comp photos does nothing but waste time and adds nothing to the quality of the appraisal. As a matter of fact I think it often degrades the quality of the report. Unless you plan on driving out to the subject area at least twice, this requirement forces the appraiser to select the comparable sales prior to inspecting the subject. We have all had surprises about the condition, features, GLA, etc of the subject that would effect our choice of comps. Given the low fees and quick, "no excuses" turn times expected today there is a great motivation to just use the comps you preselected even though they may not be the best indicators of value. The prospect of wasting hours to drive out and take a photo of a building which you already have multiple photos of is just ridiculous. I to have heard that cry that "we have to know if the comp is still there". I have never has a reviewer give a clear explanation on this. If a recent and similar arms length transaction happens and the home burns to the ground the next week, why is it any less of a comp?

I have even had the experience of a reviewer making me go back out an take pictures of gravel driveways leading into the woods on multi acre comps where the home is not visible from the street! It seems that as all out competitors in the valuation world (AVMs, Zillow, Trulia, etc.) rely on nothing but technology and internet data in their "appraisals" we are being forced to provide more and more senselessly redundant documentation.

I think the safety issue is not really a big deal. Over 3 decades of field work I have had just a few chance encounters with homeowners asking me what I was doing. When you deal with the public that can be part of the job. I learned a long time ago that if you are going to a "less than desirable" area, schedule yourself to be done by mid morning. Bad guys stay up late and sleep in.


I just received three emails in the last two days about MUST have pictures at least from the street. We don't have a choice. It says this right in our forms under Scope of Work. I have fought it for years and it is one of my biggest frustrations as I have to drive all over rural Montana and the fees are between $380 and $600. Some days I will put on 450 miles. I have fought the battle of having to drive 150 miles to one sale to take pictures of a driveway and forest. It is one of my number one issues working as an appraiser to the point I am looking into other options for work.

As good as your write-up suggests we don't, the actual wording in the forms says we have inspected each one. I have been threatened to be turned in for fraud because I used MLS pictures and fought the company about it. Here is the scope of work on the 1004:

SCOPE OF WORK: The scope of work for this appraisal is defined by the complexity of this appraisal assignment and the reporting requirements of this appraisal report form, including the following definition of market value, statement of assumptions and limiting conditions, and certifications. The appraiser must, at a minimum: (1) perform a visual inspection of the exterior areas of the subject property from at least the street, (2) inspect the neighborhood, (3) inspect each of the comparable sales from at least the street, (4) research, verify, and analyze data from reliable public and/or private sources, and (5) report his or her analysis, opinions, and conclusions in this appraisal report.

We will have to change the form in order to ever quit taking photos from the street. Most all of us have stories of being chased down, yelled at, screamed at, cops involved, etc. WE DON'T HAVE A CHOICE. We can whine all we want but the FORM says it, and it is something the lenders can make us do it. This was put on my forms in 1990 (when I started) and it has never been changed, they are just "enforcing" it.

So these are our choices:

The industry has to change the form----unlikely.

Our fees match the miles required----only if we, as an industry demand it. Too many willing to undercut for work.

We do not go where it is not safe----
I state in my report: "Safety Concern, picture from a safe distance." "I do not trespass due to safety concerns. Picture taken as close to subject as possible." Or various other things and have not been required to provide a total street picture since I have begun putting those statements in.

I love the article and feel for each and every one of us who has been subjected to abuse to do our jobs. However, ultimately, we have to adapt to this issue as it isn't going away. Writing to us appraisers isn't going to help without concrete facts of how we can approach this from the lenders. We need to figure out what the lenders are going to let us do and we demand the fees to match the work required.

Best to you for bringing this "hot button" issue up. Maybe we can figure it out what to do collectively.

I've had 3 fairly serious situations in taking comp photos ... but my point here is a careful reading of the Scope of Work,

SCOPE OF WORK: " ..... (3) "INSPECT" each of the comparable sales from at least the street ... "

The word is not "Photograph"

Appraisers seem to have a special way to take what we "hear", "think", or maybe was instructed by some mistaken USPAP instructor or Mentor ... But you won't find the word "Photograph" in this part of SOW ...

You are sooo right. Where did I get buffaloed into thinking was I was thinking....likely the harassment and fights over the years? I stand corrected. Thanks for the comment.

Taking comp. photos is probably the most time consuming, money wasting, worthless part of completing any appraisal assignment. What on earth can you possibly learn by driving by a property and taking a photo while the car is still rolling and trying to avoid hitting a kid on a bike or a car backing out of a driveway? We may have the law on our side to be allowed to take photos from the street but what happens when we get charged with "distracted" driving when we happen to crash into something or someone while trying to see if the house has a feature that didn't show up in the mls photo? You think the underwriter, fha, or any other GSE is going to stand behind you in court? Obviously not. However, I have decided that if anyone ever chases me down and it ends up in some kind of altercation and I or the other guy end up in court and involved in a lawsuit, I will be dragging whatever lender, loan officer, GSE or any other person who had any part in the chain of responsibility for "requiring" me to take that photo into the court room with me and laying all blame and responsibility on them.

Here is the reality in regards to comp photo's. In addition to safety reasons, including driving around un-desirable neighborhoods where at any moment you may have to duct from a stray bullet, I would say 90% of the time, your 50% through typing the report, the report is due that day or your already late (because you only really have that day to type it, the way appraisal reports are treated with such urgency it's as if some one's life is in jeopardy if they don't get that report within "48" hours, not to mention the constant interruptions in regards to "Where is the report?") and you find you need a different comp or there is a better comp than the ones you have photo's of. This could happen for many reasons, you could find the condition is different that what you thought, there is an accessory apartment you didn't know about, an addition you didn't know about, MLS and/or Assessor measurements are (always) different than what was reported, etc., etc., What do you do? 1) You can drive 20 miles back out to take the photo, that is steering you right in the face on your computer, and be late delivering the report and all others that are in your pile . 2) Copy and past the photo in the report. 3) Not use the truly comparable comp and make it work. Tthe only time they don't come back with revision harassment is #3. Which means they don't really care about the good report, they just want their time commitments met and rules followed, not the best report. If you do # 1 and explain the situation, you will be bombarded with calls, emails and texts until that report is in their hands, even threats of "if we don't receive the report in the next 2 hours, it will be reassigned" and, get a black check mark against your "score" because the report was late. If you do #2 they will say, you cannot use the photo and you will have to go back anyway but you will again have that black check mark against your "score" because it needed a revision. If you do #3 you have just jeopardized the integrity of the report and yours as well BUT, they will not bother you and work will go on as usual but the consumer pays in more ways than one.
When I say they I mean AMC. I have never worked for a private lender or any other private work, not involving an AMC, that gave me any of these issues and would rather have a good report than one done under that kind of pressure. I have been appraising for the past 11 years and now refuse to be pressured or bullied into submitting a less than good report because I'm an hour late. I used to let it get to me, no more but, it sometimes means I don't get work because I'm not always on time. It's unfortunate that's the way it has to be.

One more thought.. If every one of us does this tomorrow, I would love to see the response's received: Tell the AMC, "The report will be 1 day late because I need new comp photo's." I would love see the responses' you received.

There are some instances where we do need them for the sake of the report. Some times you just can't figure out why the comp sale price is out of whack and can't figure out why, then a drive by is a good idea but that should be up to the Appraiser.

I live in a rural area, my GPS often will not get me to the right location and the automatic maps on the software programs outside of towns (depending on the county) are nearly always wrong. It is fun for me to do reviews on someone who comes into my area and uses those auto maps and the comparable sales are nowhere near close to where an appraiser's software may place them on a map inside his/her report. Then I will look at the photos and note they were MLS or county record photos and make the logical conclusion that the appraiser completely ignored a major valuation component of LOCATION. It is also fun to do reviews where the appraiser insists it is an original photo and I find it on an MLS sheet. As a side note, I agree that an MLS photo should be sufficient, but driving by a potential comparable property can be critical. Obviously it is possible to drive by and not take a photo, which should be allowed, but the proof that you did your job and drove an extra 3-5 miles and 20 minutes is in the original photos. I do not think it is an unreasonable request from someone who hires you to do a job to tell you to go out and take original photos. You knew it going into the deal right? An idea would be to give your client a couple of different price options, say if I don't have to take original comparable photos and use only MLS photos or county record photos I would charge you only $800, but if you want the original comparable photos it's $850.

I work in rural northen NH. Many times, I have to go down gravel roads to take photos of driveways in all kinds of weather and road condition. One client questioned my comp photos because the Zillow photos she had access to were from the rear of some properties. Another client even wanted street numbers on the the photo of the subject. Not always happening in this neck of the woods. They refused to pay me unless I provided the tax card for the subject. Many comparables are not viewable from the street and if you do FHA, USDA aor VA, you cannot use MLS photos. I charge a lot more for this service. Scope of work says that you need to inspect, not photograph. A USPAP instructor said that you are not required to use original photos. It is a Freddie and Fannie rule.

I agree with others that taking current comp photos is often a waste of time. If you have appraised a comp property when it sold 3 months ago, exactly what purpose is served in going out to take a "new" picture? The problem is that clients no longer trust the appraiser to use their professional judgment on when it is really helpful to value accuracy to make a trip out to see a comp. Economists tell us there is a point of decreasing returns to value accuracy for putting in all of this extra busy work.

With the clients' great concern about appraisal fees and turn times, you would think they would be looking to cut busy work rather than increase it. But, of course, they expect us to work night and day for them for free, so I guess it doesn't enter into their thinking. As for safety, we live in a conceal carry state. Enough said?

Just read Dustin Harris’s article regarding comp photos and I couldn’t agree more. Several years ago I took a comp photo for a purchase of a property in Nassau County in a suburban desireable residential neighborhood. After taking the photo I drove to the end of the block and made a U turn in order to go on to take my next photo and as I was passing the property that I had taken the photo of a car came screaming out of the driveway cutting my car off. The driver parked at an angle to my car opened his car door and kneeled behind it with a revolver pointing at me. He yelled for me to get out of my car and show him identification. When I stayed in my car and locked the car doors and rolled up the windows he started walking towards me with his gun drawn and his wallet in his other hand displaying a badge. As it turned out, the owner was a some sort of Federal Agent whose job it was guarding some hi ranking public official and when he saw my camera flash it sent him into some sort of defense mode thinking for some reason that I was “casing” his house out.

The bottom line is that none of that made much sense to me except this guy was obviously paranoid, ultra sensitive but seriously armed and dangerous. After I showed him my ID and explained what I was doing he understood but that in the future he wanted anyone taking a photo of his house to knock on his door and ask his permission. I attempted to file a police report shortly afterwards and was told that it was a waste of time by the local precinct and then called the “loan officer” (whom we were allowed to speak to in those days) who actually found it amusing.

As for me, I am very careful taking comp photos these days and when there are people in front of the homes I don’t take the photos and let the banks know this as well. I for one, think whatever benefit that accrues from taking the photos is not worth the risk and feel that a simple statement that we drove each comparable should be sufficient.

Even during full appraisal while taking photos of the subject and the street. I have been questioned by the police three times, at least 7 times neighbors came to check what I was doing and even asked to see my ID,... NEIGHBORS I TELL YOU!!!, one of them because saw me from her back window walking around her neighbors back yard, I started wearing a reflecting construction vest and I even printed myself a company ID with my Logo and my photo. AND I AM THE ONLY WORKER IN MY COMPANY... I decided to start getting fun with all this, when they asked "can I help you" i say, Oh yes !!!! thank you!!!! here, hold the end of this tape, ... When i get into a house on my own with an MLS key or contractor box, I always say, "Hello,.... I'm the Appraiser, please don't shoot......." I've been appraising for 11 years and I bet you guys have not been bothered as much as I have, ............................................ Did I mentioned that I am a colored latino????
About drive-by photos I learned how to use a dashboard camera and how to be discrete with my smartphone camera. So I'm okay now, but I had my moments too.

I can understand taking comp photos in the past but with all the technology available it makes no sense today. Think of the time, gas and gas money saved across the country by thousands of appraisers not having to take comp photos. I have been chased down, yelled at and had the police called on me. I think the next time I'll file a police report and include it in the appraisal as the reason I'm using mls photos! I hope this requirement gets revoked before someone gets killed. Don't think this will happen? Have you heard about the guy in the movie theater in Wesley Chapel, FL who shot and killed a man because he was texting in the theater? Oh and P.S. the killer was an ex-cop, it was during the previews and the killer was texting himself!! I'm not afraid of a normal homeowner coming out with a gun. I'm worried about an insane or schizophrenic homeowner coming out with a gun and killing me or a fellow appraiser. I hope this ridiculous requirement gets revoked BEFORE someone has to get killed!! Jeff in Tampa

Taking comp photos is just another way lenders prove they have no faith in appraisers' decision making abilities. Basically if I tell my client the property is comparable they should take my word for it, or fire me and hire an appraiser who has earned the client's trust. Still though, I have had my share of run-ins with people who don't want pictures shot of their homes. My favorite thing to do is tell the culprit slowing me down that I'm taking a picture of their house because they paid more for it than anyone else in the entire neighborhood. If you get a chance to laugh and shake your head as you drive off or maybe ask them, "You must not have used a professional real estate agent or appraiser when you bought it, huh?" then you know you've scored.

I agree that comp driving, especially in a suburban or urban setting, is generally redundant and serves little purpose. IN rural, high end or atypical areas I think its necessary due to the differences in "custom" home quality. Im a suburban appraiser and I've yet to decide not to use a comp based on the drive by.

Our engagement letter guidelines state original comp photos and FHA also requires them. If you sign your certification stating you adhered to the scope of work then you basically just signed your own admission of guilt. With the new submission the powers that be can also tell how many times a certain appraiser uses the same picture...some have used the same street scene or attic picture in 50+ reports..

Bottom line: I agree its often a time waster but driving comps is part of a job. If you want to just pull all data from online with the exception of visiting the subject than youre basically doing an enhanced desktop. Want to get paid for a full appraisal or desktop?

Its part of the job and the right thing to do. With digital cameras and phone cameras its not hard. I've been pulled over once and questioned a couple times. I talked to the officer but ignored the others and left. Do your job and follow the guidelines or possibly lose your license and get another one. Simple.

I've been chased by homeowners and threatened. This is not the normal, but it happens about once per year. I've thought about purchasing a roof mount camera for my car, so people cannot see me holding up a camera.

Appraisers with any experience can go on, and on with close call stories. I have been around over twenty five year. I should write a book. Sadly only appraisers would read it, and no one would buy it. If someone is kind, and simply asking what Iam doing, I respond offer a brief explanation, and move on. When they approach me with anger, hostility, and occasionally a firearm. I may explain that it is my legal right to take public photographs, complete my task, and move on. I have found that people tend to leave you alone if you tell them you are from the bank, and trying to help a neighbor. The from the bank comment seems to work with most individuals from a friendly neighbor to a hard core gangster, demanding payment for the privilege to take photographs. In my opinion a personal view of the subject property, and all recent market activity of similar properties, provides a better opinion, then relying on public information. After all computers cant drive around, and provide the personal opinion we do. Technology has its limits, and it has already dug deep enough into our pockets. Technology cant complete with our personal view, and opinion of value. Keep living breathing appraisers working.

Not only is it possible and likely the home has been updated since the sale, not to mention we do already know the neighborhoods, my biggest problem is that in nice weather children are always playing outside and it does look bad to try and get a picture, of course without them in it!

I did get a report through using an MLS stating I drove by the house but was unable to get a copy due to children in the yard. It worked. But in case, I took a picture of the road sign and part of the street.

It's ridiculous to take current photos of comps. The comp photo should reflect the exact condition at the time it closed sale. Here in San Diego , there are numerous flips and condition is often much different after the closing dates. Driving the comps is useful to verify MLS data for external issues and view. It is a huge waste of time, however. How about putting stricter regulations on real estate agents in regards to MLS data entry! How many times have you pulled MLS and found no comments, or misleading info. Especially on Short Sales, the agents often leave out significant repair issues. These bad MLS entries lead to less accurate comp selection..which leads to less accurate appraisals..which leads to an agent complaint about the appraiser. The agent then explains "I've been inside that comp and it has a cracked foundation", yet the appraiser doesn't know since the agents aren't held to higher standards when entering the data in the first place.

Something to think about.

Fannie Mae allows the use of MLS photos. The selling guide updated April 15, 2014 on page 553 states:
Exterior photographs:
"Clear, descriptive photographs showing the front, back, and a street
scene of the subject property and the front of each comparable.
The subject and all comparables must be appropriately identified.
Acceptable photographs include original images from photographs
or electronic images, copies of photographs from a multiple listing
service, or copies from the appraiser’s files.
Photographs of comparable rentals utilized in the Small Income
Residential Appraisal Report (Form 1025) are not required."

FNMA and FHLMC have no requirements for comp photos. Each individual AMC/Lender has their own scope of work and if going to the GSE's will require original comp photos. FHA is mandatory and if they are looking for reasons to remove you its the easiest way out there.

The reason they require current and original comp photos is because it proves that we actually did inspect the comps. Sure, you can get on Google Earth and get all the information you need about the street influences, etc. and the MLS photo is usually the best indicator of how the property looked at the time of sale, but there are too many appraisers out there that would just copy and paste the MLS photo and call it good without taking the additional steps of utilizing satellite and street imagery to "virtually inspect" the comparable. That's our own fault for being corner-cutting slackers that can't be trusted to actually perform the actions that we certify on the appraisal.

The MLS photo isn't the be-all, end-all, either. I shot a comp last year that had a transmission line tower in the back yard and the agent had photoshopped it out of the listing. And of course agents are taking the most flattering photos possible. So yes, I prefer to physically inspect my comps. I think the majority of appraisers that are shouting about personal safety are just reaching for some excuse other than "it would be way quicker if we didn't have to drive the comps".

We certify a number of other things in our reports other than the fact that we have inspected the exterior of the comparable from the street. Should we provide a copy of a statement from the local MLS that we are a member? A statement from the assessor that we have access to their records? A list of all appraisals done in the area so they know we are geographically competent? A very incompetent appraiser who knows nothing at all about the area can still take photos of the comps from the street.

"I don't know of an honest, competent appraiser who uses MLS photos except in rare circumstance. This is one of these easy issues that separates good appraisers from bad appraisers. You should get this right or consider a new career." - Joan Trice, Appraiser Forum post 07/03/2014 at 4:55am.

I agree that all efforts should be made to take comp photos. I appraise in the Florida Keys and to appraise in Key largo is 3 hours each way. I essentially do 75% of the appraisal before I even go to the property and put in all the possible comparables to take photos while I am there. This has often resulted in my not getting paid for my work when they decide to cancel before the inspection and occasionally I return to find that there is a better comp I missed or due to some characteristic of the property I find better sales when I returned. I cannot make that trip every day obviously- I usually go twice a week but what then- turn in the report a week late and lose work due to poor turn times, use inferior comps or request that an MLS photo be used- this request has been denied every time. There has to be some middle ground. I also find it ridiculous that if I appraised one of my comps a month ago I am required to go retake the photo. I find that my fees keep getting lower and lower and the expectations higher and higher. I don't agree that we should not take comp photos but that lenders be reasonable when certain situations like the above arise. If all my comps are within 30 minutes I have no problem- even an hour but to drive 6 hours for a photo for a full appraisal that I am being paid less for than I was 15 years ago is just exasperating. For a 350.00 fee I am already spending 8 hours in driving and photos and an additional 10-15 hours on the report which works out to 17.50 an hour not including the 50$ in gas. So If I take 10 comp photos and then find another sale to use- it will work out to about 5.00 per hour for someone with 16 years experience and a college degree. .

As many of the others, I agree that original comp photos are not necessary, nor even desirable for the most part (due to changes that may have occurred to the comp since sale). In my area it is often dangerous not from the fact a homeowner may be irate, but that many of the homes are located on rural roads that have blind curves and inadequate shoulder areas to safely pull off the road to take the photo, which may consist only of a driveway or gate as the house isn't visible from the street. It is a danger to stop in the middle of the road, and risk being plowed by a log truck, semi-trailer, or other commercial truck or even a passenger car to get a photo. Not only is it a danger to ourselves, but it is a danger to those other drivers who may not see us in time to stop.
For those that have been in the business for years, we are familiar with the area, likely have driven past the property in the past, and really don't need to drive past that driveway another time in order to adequately use the sale as a comp.
As many others have noted, we do have more information from the interior photos and aerial photos than a quick drive-by will provide. It is time that Fannie/Freddie changes the certification requiring an exterior inspection of the comparable from the street. Perhaps an "either/or" situation is most appropriate. I have either viewed the comparable from the street OR have adequate data and have viewed photographs of the exterior/interior as available from MLS or other sources.
For 2055 exteriors of a subject, an appraiser taken photo can be helpful, as current photos often aren't available from other sources. Still may be risky, but at least there is a purpose to that risk.

I think that many appraisers do neglect inspecting comparables if they can get away with it. I know some like that. Inspecting the comps is required and therefore should be done to do the job correctly otherwise find a new line of work and cut corners at. In my area which is quite rural, having to go 50 miles to and take a new picture of a property I have driven by multiple times since it was listed, and snapped a photo of a week ago but now there is snow on the ground or the leaves have changed color, is a completely useless waste of time and resources.
On the issue of safety, I usually take my photos while driving by between 20 and 40 mph without any trouble because there is little traffic and I can just point the camera and snap without making sure it's centered, zoomed, etc. and if there is an issue where it would not be safe to try to point the camera while driving or if there are people in the way, I put the camera on video and just hod it low and level as I drive by and extract a single frame from it later. Using video like that is very useful as the people are not really seeing you shoot a picture.

I work in some sketchy areas, I mean really bad... Here is how to do it.. Get a good camera, not a iphone or a $100 junk camera.. Im talking $500+..(optional but suggested get tinted windows and take the photo through the tint, no one can see what your doing, you may have to +1 the exposure on the camera depending on light conditions) Put camera in burst mode, put camera on shutter priority set shutter for 320s or higher...Set your gps to go by all your comps in order (I use my google maps on my phone) Drive by property at 25-35mph and do not stop.. Hold camera out window and take 10 photos as you go by. Out 10 shots in burst mode you WILL have 2-3 photos what are razor sharp. Keep moving to next property and dont stop and take notes.. If you stop you will eventually get pulled over, have someone chase you or get harassed in some other way. Oh Also... Get a DashCam, if you get problems its all recorded..