Why do I feel like somebody’s watching me?

Originally posted on DW Slater Company Blog


Mary and Tom had purchased their dream home about a month ago.  The new drapes that Mary special ordered had come in and she was standing at the front window working on getting them hung when she noticed something odd.  A car driving down the road started to slow down in front of her house.  She squinted her eyes and noticed that a person had a camera and was snapping photos aimed directly at her! The car then just slowly drove off.  Her heart began racing.  What in the world was going on?  Who was that?  Why were they taking her picture?  Were they taking a picture of her? The house?  Could it have been a private investigator?  Maybe there was something up with the people who owned the house before?  Maybe it was undercover law enforcement?  The FBI? Her anxiety just reached a new level as she raced from the window to call Tom.

No worries, Mary.  You see, Bill and Sue who live a block away, have a home very similar to your home.  In fact, it was built the same year and is the same floor plan.  Bill and Sue finally decided to take advantage of the current low-interest rates and refinance their home.  Their lender engaged a local appraiser to appraise Bill and Sue’s home.  Mary, your home is a perfect comparable sale to help the appraiser determine the current market value of their home.  As a part of the appraisal process, the appraiser selects the most similar recent sales within the neighborhood.  The appraiser is required to drive by the comparable sales and take pictures to be included in the appraisal report.  The appraiser was not taking a picture of you but of your house.  Hopefully, there was a reflection on the window and you did not show up in the photo.

This is a fictional story but not too far from the truth.  I have heard many appraisers tell stories of being chased down by angry homeowners or have the police called on them for driving by and taking photos.  Some have had people write down their license plate number and call them in, some have been chased down and cussed out and I have even heard of some who have had a gun pulled on them. I personally have not had these experiences but can see how they could happen.  There are some appraisers who believe the original photo requirement should be changed.  We now have much more access to online images that could be used.  On the other hand, others believe the photo requirement is still very necessary because not all of the images available online are accurate.   I am not really here to debate the comparable photo requirement but to help new homeowners understand why their home might be getting photographed.

Even though appraisers are to drive by comparable properties and snap a photo, there are times when this is not possible.  Sometimes a comparable is located in a gated community and the appraiser is not allowed in.  Sometimes people may be in the front yard or on the front porch.  Photos of people are not allowed in an appraisal report and so an appraiser will not be able to take the photo.  Also, which happens often when we are appraising rural properties, a home is on acreage and is located very far from the road or behind trees and cannot be seen from the street.  In this instance, we take the photo of the trees or field and explain that the house was not viewable from the street.

I believe that appraisers develop a skill for taking photos discreetly as to not cause any concerns or worries but the possibility for confusion or danger is always present. I hope that this explains why sometimes you might see someone drive by your house and take a picture. If you just purchased a home and you read this article, maybe now you will not be alarmed or frightened as Mary if you see someone driving by and snapping a photo. You will just know that your house is a great comparable sale.

Do you have any questions about this?  Did I miss something?  Do you have any stories of taking comparable photos or seeing someone take a photo of your house?

Shannon Slater

Shannon Slater is a Certified Residential Real Estate Appraiser with the DW Slater Company which provides appraisal services to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and its northern counties. She joined her husband David at the DW Slater Company in 2006 and has now been appraising for 12 years. Shannon is a designated member of the National Association of Appraisers and a member of the Association of Texas Appraisers. She writes for the DW Slater Appraisal Blog– a blog about real estate appraisals and appraising.

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