Are You Secretly Under Surveillance?

spyHave you recently moved into your dream home in a great neighborhood, only to find out that you are secretly under surveillance?  Have you looked out your windows to see someone taking pictures of your home?  Do they speed off when they see you so they can’t be caught?  You may consider it a fluke if this only happened once, but it has happened several times.  Why are you being spied on?

I’ll tell you why.  Because you recently bought your home, and that person taking pictures of your house is probably a real estate appraiser.  They are taking pictures of your house to use as a “comp” in another appraisal report.  Is it all  becoming clearer now?  Good,  no need to contact the authorities.  In case you’re not familiar with how the appraisal process works (or if you are and just forgot) appraisals are based on what other comparable properties have sold for.  We find other similar homes that have sold and use them in our reports, including pictures.

I have had my fair share of experiences while taking pictures, including being pulled over by a police officer and being chased down by a homeowner in their car.  If you are a homeowner have you had an experience like this?  If you are an appraiser have you been “pursued” for taking pictures of peoples houses?  I would like to  hear from both sides because I know there are some funny stories out there.


  1. Well, I think before you sit outside in your car taking pictures of someone’s home, you should give them a heads up about it first. Most sane people aren’t going to see this happening, shrug and smile. Now, I wouldn’t get in the car and follow someone but really in this case, the STRANGER sitting outside snapping photos of personal property needs to explain him or herself.

    • Thanks Ruth for your comments. Sometimes, as appraisers, we don’t know people are inside looking out at us unitil they come out. If that happens I definately let them know what I am doing. Someone else mentioned getting a magnetic sign for your car with “Real Estate Appraiser” on it.

      • Sometimes the people who are taking photos are not appraisers at all, but real estate agents doing BPOs, market analysis or taking photos for a loan modification. I have seen this happen to my neighbor’s house multiple times as they are attempting a loan mod.

  2. Wow, Michelle, that is a scary story. I have only been approached and/or chased down a few times. The neighbors or homeowners have been upset because they didn’t know what I was doing, just happened to see me take a photo of house, but have all been very nice once I explained I was an appraiser.

  3. Tom, I would say definately it was at the extreme end of things, of course people ask why are you taking a photo, why are you looking at my home, those are easy and typical. But in some cases as stated above people can be very irrational and scary in their tactics. I have no problem handing out cards, definately dont mind picking the neighbors memories about the sales in the neighborhood those are all very positive aspects of our job and part of the fun. But those two particular instances really did creep me out a bit.

  4. My experience pales in comparison to the scary experience mentioned above. That is not normal. I’ve had minor issues such as home owners scowling or coming outside to yell “what are you doing?”, but never anything like that. A gangster approached me once to have a little conversation about not taking pictures of people’s houses without their permission.

  5. Well, here we go; you asked and so you shall be answered. As an appraiser for the past 10 yrs I have had fellow appraisers blocked in on dead in streets and calling me to have me on the phone because they were worried about what the “blocker” was going to do next.

    I have had a man follow me in my car (with my children in the back seat ) for over an hour until I found a officer and pulled over to ask for his assistance. At which time the officer explained what he was doing was illegal and threating behavior and suggested the man go home.

    If homeowners ask, of course I tell them Hi, im so and so and I am taking a photo of your house as an appraisal comp sorry to bother you and they are pretty much ok with that. However, if you follow me in your car for an hour or chase me through an entire county pulling over at every other inspection I have and waiting outside but never speaking or rolling your window down I view you as a threat to my personal safety; and in the one case a threat to my childrens safety, which is way worse in my opion.

    Why would you be so concerned but not asked or approach me? Why would you consider following me through an entire county and two other full inspections with comp photos, never rolling your window down or speaking? This behavior is atypical and one of the reasons all appraisers should carry a concealed weapon (*legally of course) because we never know who purchased a comp house and if they are insane or running an illegal business out of said house. As those are the only individuals I believe would waste their time following someone around for hours on end because you slowed in front of their house to take a photo.

    As for me prior to becoming and appraiser and definately after, I dont care what you are doing outside from the road (public property), take photos, take notes.. hey if you arent bothering me have at it. To me no normal person would get in their car and follow someone around town and definately not through an entire county.

    These days with the foreclosures and the additional stress people are under I definately feel a little more uneasy about our safety out on inspections and comp viewings so I am much more vigilant while out on the road.

    • Wow Michelle that would be un-nerving, especially with your kids in the car. I don’t think I have heard of someone that intent on “pursuing” someone. I have considered getting a magnetic sign for my car that has “Real Estate Appraiser” on it, then people would know what was going on. Hey, if you put a phone number on it, you might even get a job (although maybe not with the strange person that was following you). Thanks for your story.

    • I had an appraiser pull into my driveway and start taking pictures of my house. Is that trespassing? He showed up today in a different car (same man I assure you) and started taking picures again. It would take a mere 5 minutes to knock on the door and state what you are here to do. Yet instead of taking this very easy approach, appraisers decide to skip common courtesy and then play victim. Talk amongst yourselves to share just the extreme stories to feel validated in your behaviour. You talk about safety and purchasing a gun??!!….and we’re harrassing you? Just ring the doorbell….it’s really not that hard. Could there be something to what you are doing if it continually upsets people? Why haven’t you asked yourself that? You incite and then name-call….calling home owners paranoid. You’re just rude.

      • Thanks for sharing your experiences, but I am sorry they have not been good. This article was meant to be light hearted and humorous. I did not mean to upset anyone. I do not think that appraisers want to “harrass” people and if I see someone at a house I need to take a picture of, then I do let them know what I am there for. Sometimes when we are taking pictures of houses and there is no one around, it would not be practical to go up to every house and knock on the door. Taking pictures of houses that have sold recently is a requirement for appraisal reports. If you have ever got an appraisal on your home then that appraiser had to take pictures of the “comps” they used. I hope this has helped you understand the process a little better.

    • From a home owners point of view, I have 2 small daughters and a wife who stays home with them everyday while I work 12+ hours everyday. Last night after I got home from work, my whole family was relaxing watching tv in our living room. My older daughter looks out the window to see a flash from a camera and a gold suv outside our house. I dismissed it and said,” it’s possibly just a reality person.” My daughter continues to watch the person take more photos. I few mins later daughter again says daddy they are still out there. So I get up open the door and start to walk towards them. The person was actually recording video with a phone as I opened the door. I continued to walk towards the end of my front porch only for this person to peel tires speeding off down the road in my 20 mile an hour neighborhood. If that car comes back to this neighborhood I will not hesitate to put a gun in their face. Now my daughters are freaked out of strangers. My wife is wondering if somebody will come back while I am at work. My privacy has been infringed and I am not a happy camper. We have nothing to hide and are lawful happy people. If they were apraisal people they need to come as for photos, give me a card and I will welcome them inside for a bottle of water and we can chat about the neighborhood. But parking in front of my house l, taking videos of me and my family through the front window will lead to a disaster for them.I get they are doing a job but use your brain.

      • You make a good point. From a lay person’s perspective, it looks odd that someone is taking pictures of their home. I can imagine that seeing someone taking a video may even be even odder. Personally, I don’t know why anyone would need to take a video as that is not a requirement, only a picture.

        I will say that it may not be practical to contact every homeowner of the comparables we use. Some people may not answer the phone and others may answer and say “no, you cannot take a picture of my home”. So what are we as appraisers supposed to do with that? We are required to have pictures if they are available and the home is visible from the street. If asked by owners what we are doing we most certainly should explain why we are taking pictures.

        Another situation where appraisers view a home from the street and take pictures is when we are requested by the lender to do a “drive-by” appraisal where we only view the property from the street and take pictures while we are driving by, hence the name. In situations like this, I call the owner and tell them what the bank has requested and let them know the approximate time I will be by and what color my car is, and that I will be taking some pictures.

        As I mentioned in the original post, if you have recently purchased your home and people are taking pictures then most likely they are using your home sale as a comparable in an appraisal. If you have owned your home more than a year and see someone take a picture it may be for another reason. I hope this explains what appraisers are required to do and the practicalities of contacting homeowners. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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