Recently, one of our appraisers had a gun pulled on him.
He was out in a rural area, taking a photo of a recent sale for our comp database. The homeowner saw him and proceeded to get in his truck and follow him several miles through the county. When both the homeowner and appraiser pulled over, the homeowner was extremely irrational, yelling obscenities, and was holding an unholstered handgun. He threatened the appraiser that his behavior (taking photos of homes) could get him shot.
In this blog post, I want to help inform the public why an appraiser takes photos of homes, and then discuss how you can help keep everyone safe. I’ll be addressing homeowners, lenders, and Realtors. This is a very serious issue for anyone involved in real estate, so please read, and then share this post!
This is a very serious issue for anyone involved in real estate, so please read, and then share this post! Click To Tweet
Why does an appraiser even take photos of homes?
When appraising a residential property, one of the main ways appraisers develop an opinion of value, is by comparing their subject to other homes similar to the subject property that have recently sold. In a typical refinance or purchase transaction, the form we use states that we have inspected the neighborhood, and each of the comparable sales from at least the street. The best way we can prove we have examined a comparable sale is by taking a photograph of the home. But more importantly, most banks require original photographs of comparable sales. That means we can’t just rip a photo off the MLS and call it a day.
If you’re a Realtor, here’s how you can help
The next time you find yourself at the closing table sitting across from your buyer client, please take an extra two minutes, and let them know that they may see one or more vehicles approach their home at some point in the next year and take a photo of their home. Explain the process (above), and strongly encourage them to not go after the person who just took the photo!
If you’re a homeowner, here’s what you need to know
Several different individuals may, at any point in the year after you purchase your home, come by and take a photo of your house. It could be an appraiser, tax assessor, insurance agent, or Realtor. Unless you have something to hide, it’s not likely to be the FBI simply scoping your new place out. So relax. It’s all part of this big game we play called real estate.
If you’re a lender, here’s how you can help
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Ask 100 real estate appraisers the following question: “If you didn’t have to take comparable sale photos, would you?” Out of 100 appraisers, I would wager that close to 90% would give a hearty ‘NO” answer. In this age of technology (thank you, Google), we can usually see all we need to see about the home in question, as well as the neighborhood. With the exception of some rural areas, we can see pretty much everything, from the comfort of our desk. No need to go into the field and take photos.
Here’s something else. Imagine a home was purchased in May, and the new owners painted the exterior, added a garage, and a new front porch. In September, four months after the home sold and a month after all the renovations have been completed, I go take a photo of the home. Does it look like it did when it sold? Absolutely not! It’s a completely different looking home! So why not use the photo from the MLS? That photo best represents how the home looked at the time of closing.
One of the main arguments for appraisers taking original comp photos is that they can examine the house and the surrounding homes/neighbors. Maybe they notice some external influences – good or bad – that may affect value (perhaps a water view…or maybe a nearby railroad). But here are two responses to that argument: First, technology can often show us anything (and sometimes more) that we could have seen ourselves. Second, we assume a lot of things about a home when it sells, and we take the information the Realtor entered in the MLS as accurate. If we rely on that information, shouldn’t we rely on it when it comes to the location of the house and its neighborhood? If not, why don’t banks require is to go inside each comparable sale? It just doesn’t add up.
So my argument to financial institutions is, stop making us take photos of comps! If an appraiser thinks it’s necessary to visit a comp from the street, let them make that decision. With technology and MLS photos that best represent a home at the time of the sale, there really is no need to send us into potentially dangerous situations just to get a photo of a home.
There is nothing illegal about taking a photo, but there is something very illegal about chasing someone down, harassing them, and pointing a gun at them.
Unfortunately, our incident is not an isolated one. We hear similar stories from time to time, across the country just like this one. And, it affects Realtors, insurance agents, home inspectors, appraisers, and more. However, with everyone’s help, we can keep these incidents to a minimum. Thank you so much for your partnership with us!
Helping homeowners navigate the appraisal process,
Ryan Bays, SRA, AI-RRS