4 reasons why appraisers take interior photos

Why do appraisers take interior photos? What do they do with the photos? Are they required? An upset home owner recently grilled me on this issue after talking with his spouse about me taking photos at the property. Of course I asked to snap images of each room during the inspection, I was given permission, and I was nothing but professional, but it still ended up being an issue that had to be smoothed out with some explanation. Thus I figured it would be helpful to explain why appraisers take photos, and include some tips for agents, owners, and appraisers too. I hope this is helpful. Anything you’d add?

appraisers take interior photos - by sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf dot com

Four Reasons Why Appraisers Take Photos:

  1. Client Requirement: The truth is some clients require interior photos. In fact, lender clients usually require at least one photo of EVERY single room. It’s not uncommon for some lender clients to even require photos of smoke detectors, water heaters, and carbon monoxide detectors. I once had a lender client that wanted photos of all ceilings (I’m guessing they wanted to be sure there were no stains or spots because they probably had some bad experiences in the past). On the other side of the coin, interior photos might not be required at all by a client for a private appraisal (though the appraiser might need them. See #2, #3, and #4).
  2. Remember the House: When an appraiser takes photos, it’s helpful to have these photos when going back to the office. The photos can of course help the appraiser when choosing comps and making adjustments, but they can also help the appraiser remember what the house was like. For instance, there have been times when I labeled the bathroom floor as vinyl during my inspection, but the photos clearly showed the floor was tile. Or maybe my sketch showed only four bedrooms, but there were actually five based on my photos. Everyone makes mistakes, and that includes appraisers. Thus at times the photos can serve as a back-up to the appraiser’s memory.
  3. Documentation: If an appraiser is called into court to take the stand to talk about the condition of a property at the time of the inspection, photos can be a tremendous tool to assist the appraiser’s description. In fact, a few months ago some of my photos were shared in court while I talked through the house with the judge and jury.
  4. Reporting: Appraisers use photos in appraisal reports to help tell the story of the house to the client. Photos can highlight condition, layout, quality, recent updates, etc…, so they are an important part of the appraisal process. As they say, a picture can be worth a thousand words, so an appraiser can help a client see the house by including a dozen or so photos of the house in the report.

Realtor Tips:

  1. Let your client know the appraiser will be taking photos.
  2. Be sure the appraiser is going to have access to each room (including the garage), and that your client knows each room will be photographed.

Owner Tips:

  1. Image purchased at 123rf dot com and used with permission - 14688774_s - smallerIf you are doing a refinance, expect the appraiser to take photos. If you do not want interior photos because you feel it is an invasion of privacy, be sure to tell the lender before the appraiser comes so you are sure the lender will do the loan without interior photos. In today’s strict lending environment, I’m guessing the lender is going to require interior photos no matter what. If you’ve hired an appraiser for a private assignment, and you feel uncomfortable about interior photos, the appraiser might be okay with not taking photos (just ask).
  2. If you feel concerned about photos, talk with the appraiser before the inspection begins. The appraiser will likely let you know why photos are taken and how they will be used. While I don’t advocate hovering over the appraiser during the inspection, if you do feel really concerned, you can walk behind the appraiser to keep an eye on how photos are taken. It’s your house.
  3. Appraisers are bound to client confidentiality, so appraisal reports with photos are not made public or posted online by the appraiser.
  4. If you have personal property you do not want photographed, you may want to conceal or remove whatever that is before the inspection (if possible).
  5. Expect the appraiser is going to want to see every room, and if an appraiser is not allowed to inspect and photograph certain rooms, a lender client may want the appraiser to do a second inspection at some point to take photos (this will cost you more money unfortunately).
  6. If you are concerned about sensitive clothing articles being photographed, just make sure there are no sensitive items within view. Appraisers should not be opening dresser drawers.

Appraiser Tips:

  1. Ask before you take photos. I tend to say, “I’ll need to take at least one photo of each room. Is that okay?” This way I have permission. I know this is basic, but after a concerned owner questioned me recently about photos, I am definitely in tune with how important it is to ask this question.
  2. Be careful to not have any people or photos of people in the photos where possible. This is often what owners and tenants are most concerned about. Obviously lenders want photos, but if something looks too personal for a non-lender assignment, I simply take good notes and don’t photograph that room. I once inspected a house where the owners had poster-sized risqué photos of themselves. That’s fine if that’s what works for them, but I definitely made sure my camera didn’t snap any of those poses.
  3. Be cautious about including guns, art work, or safes in photos as owners can be sensitive about those items.
  4. Be careful about photos in a home office as it can be easy to include private information.

I hope this was helpful. Thank you for reading.

Investor Interview: By the way, I had an hour-long conversation recently with an investor named Janice Bell. She does a weekly interview, and I was her target a few weeks back. You can listen in the background below (or watch here).

Questions: Any thoughts? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your take as an owner, agent, appraiser, or tenant.

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  1. Joe Lynch says

    Good post. I tell borrowers that I need the interior photos for readers of the report who have never been to California to give them a sense of the house. I also shoot bedroom photos to corner ceilings and show as little detail in bedrooms possible.

    What to do when there are guns and ammo everywhere though….

    • says

      Thanks, Joe. Great choice in words. I like that statement because it highlights how the end-user of the report is making a decision about the property and really needs the appraiser to be the “eyes” to show and describe what is there (and what it is worth).

  2. Mike Robertson says

    Two words – stripper pole. I once had to share multiple images of the 2nd floor master bedroom because the underwriter thought it was another way to access the main floor. Like a firefighter.

    • says

      Oh, that is funny. I have seen stripper poles too. Lots of people use them for exercise and whatever else. That must have been a large bathroom. It would have been great if the pole really did have access to the garage downstairs (like a Bat Cave maybe). We as appraisers see lots of interesting things and some very personal items too, so I can understand owners being worried about photos. Yet another reason to be courteous and show respect.

  3. says

    A fellow appraiser called me to discuss photo requirements just this morning. First time in 20+ years as an appraiser he has been asked for interior garage photos. And they want multiple photos of all the rooms, not just one of each room. He was upset because of course it was in the fine print of the instruction and now he need to make a second trip.

    I guess the old saying rings true “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

    • says

      Thanks Mike. I’m glad you brought that up. Consumers ought to know appraisers sometimes are taking so many photos because that is what lenders are requiring. I wonder what they are expecting to see with multiple photos of a bedroom. I’m curious if they are looking for a closet, window, and door?

  4. says

    Great post and helpful tips! Appraisers become pros of taking pics of rooms with larger mirrors, such as bathrooms, without getting his/herself in the pic. 🙂 It can sometimes be a challenge.

  5. says

    I recently had a client call me about a private estate appraisal that was done by one of my appraisers. He said, “I am calling to complain.” I thought he was about to tell me he did not like the value. He said, “The report looks thorough, but the photos don’t show the house in a good light and I’m upset.” I explained that the photos are for documentation and are not professional photos to market your home. I explained that the photos are more of proof of what we saw and when. He asked that I come back out and retake the photos. When I went back to the house to take new photos, we talked for a while and he finally realized that the photos in the report did exactly what they needed to do. He asked me, “What does this photo do?” I explained, “This photo shows the side of your home, it shows that the landscape is cut back, it shows that there is an air conditioner, etc…” We talked for a while and he was happy. 🙂

    • says

      Wow, Gary. that’s wild. It’s nice of you to have smoothed things over with the owner to try to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Yes, the photos are not for marketing, and that is a very important point. I appreciate you sharing the story.

    • says

      This is a great example of why we write our blogs. Educating and informing homeowners as to why we do what we do can go a long way in helping them to understand.

      • says

        Thank you, Tom. I hope home owners who are upset will understand a bit more where appraisers are coming from. I know you wrote a post about interior photos a while back too, and I appreciate your take too. Additionally, I hope real estate agents and loan officers can communicate effectively with home owners so they know what to expect. I think you’re smart to let the owner know you are going to be taking photos. This will help occupants plan for the inspection better too.

  6. says

    Great post Ryan. I have seen some recent concern over the pictures that appraisers take but, as you say, we are only following the directions of our clients for mortgage lending appraisals. Whenever setting up the appointment I try to remember to let the homeowner know that I will need to take pictures so that they will know what to expect.

    • says

      Thanks DeeDee. I’d say the vast majority of owners don’t say anything negative thankfully. It’s just good to know why photos are taken and how they will be used. I had an agent use this post on the day it came out to help his client (the owner) understand that I would be taking photos of the house. In this case the owner was very private, so knowing in advance about photos was a good thing.

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