Someone suspicious was taking pictures of our house. Should we do anything about it?
April 15, 2010 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Someone suspicious was taking pictures of our house. Should we do anything about it?

My wife was leaving to head back to work after lunch, and as she pulled out of the driveway, she noticed a man in a car taking pictures of our house from the curb. "Can I help you?" she asked. "Just snapping some photos," the man said. (I am paraphrasing here.) "Why?" she asked again. "I'm an appraiser," he replied as he drove away. He was less than professional looking as well, she said, wearing a sleeveless white undershirt ("wife beater") and in an unmarked, rusty car.

Should I be worried? Is it worth alerting the police for? Am I being too cautious?
posted by wordsmith to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Whether or not you should be nervous about what he was up to, it's not illegal for someone to stand/be on public property and take pictures of private property. See: google street view. So that might help you with the legal angle... if he's there again, take a bunch of pictures of him, just so you have them.
posted by brainmouse at 11:50 AM on April 15, 2010

I'd say it's definitely worth making a report. The police won't do anything about it, but they'll have the report/description on file if anything else happens.
posted by nosila at 11:50 AM on April 15, 2010

The police won't do jack and you may have a hard time even getting them to file a report.

The appraisers I've met have all been very informal, fwiw.
posted by unixrat at 11:52 AM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Earlier this week, a friend of mine noticed a guy taking pics from his car, but she saw the "County Assessor" sign on the car before she had a chance to get too worried. It might be worth calling the assessor's office to ask if this guy was with them and suggest that in the future they provide ID for the car and the person.
posted by scarnato at 11:53 AM on April 15, 2010

We had the same thing happen a while back, right down to the rustbucket and wifebeater. My housemate was the one who went out to ask questions, and our guy was even more evasive:

Housemate: Hi, why are you taking pictures of our house?
Wifebeater Guy: My boss told me to.
HM: Who do you work for?
WG: I don't know.
HM: Well, who signs your paychecks?
WG: Gloria.
HM: Does Gloria have a last name?
WG: She, uh, I get paid in cash.
WG *drives away*

I got on my bike and made a quick pass around the neighborhood to see if he was photographing other houses (he wasn't) and we reported it to the police, and that was it (this happened maybe 4 months ago.) A few days ago our landlord sent an appraiser out to actually go through the whole house, but I didn't ask him about the previous incident (I didn't even think to connect the two until I read your question, as a matter of fact.)

I'm assuming you rent?
posted by contraption at 11:58 AM on April 15, 2010

Yeah, call the assessor's office and ask if they've been taking pictures in your area. They do that from time to time. He was probably dressed down because he didn't have to go into the office that day.

I can't imagine a criminal would be taking pictures from the curb in broad daylight.
posted by bondcliff at 12:00 PM on April 15, 2010

We own the house, FWIW.
posted by wordsmith at 12:04 PM on April 15, 2010

There's no harm in making a police report, which is what contraption, our housemate, and I did. If there should be home robberies in the future, perhaps that report will help.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:07 PM on April 15, 2010

My husband used to take photographs of "comps" for a realtor - he would take pictures of houses that were in the range of the one the realtor was representing. I'm sure he freaked a lot of people out. He worked as a contractor and didn't dress up to do it, so that may be why the guy was dressed the way he was.
posted by orsonet at 12:08 PM on April 15, 2010

I know my county auditor's office is in the process of re-appraising houses for property tax purposes, and that they have photos of each property. So I agree that you might want to try calling them first to see if they sent someone out to take photos.
posted by thejanna at 12:09 PM on April 15, 2010

There are informal field inspection jobs out there that hire people to document occupancy status/condition for lenders. There are not a lot of requirements for some of them, beyond having a car and a camera. They drive around all day photographing/describing houses and then send them back to the company via the internet. Even if the company he works with does have a dress code, agents may never see superiors face to face, so it wouldn't be surprising if someone decided on comfort over professionalism.
Of course he could have been a criminal, too, but field inspector is a legitimate possibility.
posted by waterlily at 12:13 PM on April 15, 2010

I really wouldn't be surprised if some property assessors farm out the unskilled busy work of taking photos of comps to guys in wife beaters who drive rusty cars.
posted by Good Brain at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2010

I would make a document with all the pertinent information, including time, date, make of vehicle, description of person, etc. But I would discourage you from calling the police on somebody who is doing something entirely legal, which taking a photo of a house from the street is.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Any chance it was a P.I.? You don't have to answer this, but if you've been "up to" anything lately, someone you know may have hired somebody to keep an eye on you. (Though any decent P.I. would probably have the sense to be discreet about it.)
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work in the financial industry, and do property secured deals often. All my appraisal reports come with comparable sales information, with pictures of the comparable properties from the curb.

Not to say he couldn't have been doing something shady, but it is common.
posted by smitt at 12:22 PM on April 15, 2010

I can't imagine a criminal would be taking pictures from the curb in broad daylight.

Most property crimes actually occur during the day, except for motor-related activity - during the day, property owners are more likely to be at work/school/etc, at night they're more likely to be home, with their cars parked conveniently out front.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:24 PM on April 15, 2010

It is legitimate for lenders to want to take pictures of real estate "comps" -- houses that are similar to the ones they are looking at as collateral. So it is plausible that an appraiser would want to take a picture of a house that you own (and are not selling / refinancing). It is also unsurprising that appraisers sometimes use helpers who may not look like they're coming from a suit-and-tie office job (or in fact look kind of sketchy).

However, it is also a nice cover story for someone taking pictures of a house for not-that-great purposes. Someone casing out a property for burglary, a PI doing private surveillance, law enforcement, etc. might all offer the "appraiser" line as a cover story.

That said, it would be odd for the same assessor to come back to take pictures of the same property. ("Uh, oops, we deleted all our pictures by mistake.")
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:26 PM on April 15, 2010

My husband used to take photographs of "comps" for a realtor - he would take pictures of houses that were in the range of the one the realtor was representing.

That's my guess too. He's just using your house as a comp. You should be flattered!
posted by Big_B at 12:28 PM on April 15, 2010

Did you buy the house recently? If you did, you will have had an appraisal. That appraisal will have pictures of recent sales of similar homes. If your house is a recent sale of a similar home, someone may take a picture of it.

Not sure why you think there's anything you can do about people taking pictures of your house....

Completely unhelpful comment.

Actually, I don't think that this is completely unhelpful. Assuming that your house is on a public street and is visible from a car parked at the curb, I don't think that there is anything that you can do. But I don't think that there is anything nefarious going on and it doesn't seem like you have anything to be worried about.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:33 PM on April 15, 2010

Most property crimes actually occur during the day, except for motor-related activity - during the day, property owners are more likely to be at work/school/etc, at night they're more likely to be home, with their cars parked conveniently out front.

I understand that. But taking pictures of the house isn't a crime and I don't see what crime-related purpose it serves. Was he casing the house from the curb? If you're going to rob a house, rob a house. Don't take pictures of it to double your chances of being caught. That doesn't make any sense.

I think the real problem here is that the assessor's office, or some real estate or insurance office somewhere, needs to do their work a little more professionally and perhaps they could use a phone call to tell them so.
posted by bondcliff at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not looking to sue anyone or throw them in jail. I'm just wondering if my suspicion is valid. Thanks for the answers, folks.
posted by wordsmith at 1:09 PM on April 15, 2010

When an appraiser appraises a house, he also has to find "comps" in the neighborhood - similar houses in size, age, etc, for which he can use as a basis for his appraisal. The comps that the appraiser finds, if not already documented in the MLS database with photos, might need to be photographed. This is usually done by the appraiser leaning out the window of his car and snapping a photo, then driving off. The person taking the photos might have been doing just that.
posted by skwm at 1:28 PM on April 15, 2010

I vote for comps. Or, if you have an HOA, someone hired by the HOA to take pictures of items that need to be fixed.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2010

While I agree that it would be dumb to photograph a house you later plan to rob, and that it is legal for anyone to photograph your house from the street, I have to wonder why someone with a legit purpose would act so sketchy. In the year after we bought our house, it was used as a comp at least twice. Both times, a neatly dressed young woman knocked at the door, handed me the card of her supervising realtor, and asked permission to photograph the house from the curb. No problem. Of course, I would have no way of knowing if the house was photographed on any other occasions.

I just can't figure out why a county appraiser or a real estate agent would want their employees to act/dress in a way that freaked people out. Sending up all those red flags would be bound to cause them a hassle later on. Honestly, if this happened to me, I would make a beeline for my City Councilman's house (across the street) and put him on the case. The activity itself may be common, but the behavior is odd.
posted by SamanthaK at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2010

In this previous question, the poster asked if it was OK to take pictures of people's houses from the street. Most answers said it was fine, both ethically and legally.
posted by k. at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Specifically, they say it's legal for anyone to take a picture of anything visible from a public space such as the street. That question also gives you one reason why someone might do that.
posted by k. at 1:59 PM on April 15, 2010

Our out-of-state insurance company sent someone around to take photos of our house several years ago, right around the time our policy was up for renewal. Same scenario as the OP. Call your insurance company and ask if the appraiser was working for them.

ITA that these guys need to carry some type of ID and give the homeowners a heads up before they start -- it can be quite unsettling to see someone doing that out of the blue.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 2:06 PM on April 15, 2010

Probably an appraiser or somebody hired by an appraiser to to take photographs of specific addresses for comps.

I rode along once or twice with a pal who sometimes made a little extra money taking photographs for an appraiser. If one unkempt dude in a car taking snapshots of your place makes you nervous, imagine two unkempt dudes in a car taking snapshots of your place.
posted by notyou at 2:33 PM on April 15, 2010

This man is likely from your local County Assessors office. They take pictures of your house and probably post them online along with the information from your home's schematics. We're talking about number of rooms, number of buildings, fireplaces, and so on and so forth here. The pictures will help them assess your property taxes.
posted by fujiko at 3:21 PM on April 15, 2010

...and by "probably post them online", I mean "if your county has that system set up yet." My county does this already. My county (in Ohio) definitely already does as the assessor scared the crap out of them while doing the same thing. However, the assessor had to drive down our long, long driveway to get to the house and almost got ass beat for doing it. Hi, I am naked in my house, do not roll up and take a picture of said house without asking, please.

If they were from the assessor's office, they are not friendly because they are trying to be smooth and quiet. A lot of people hate the government.
posted by fujiko at 3:26 PM on April 15, 2010

i recently got a nice digital camera, and ... i've been going nuts with it. i take pictures of things like this all the time. i found that when people see me doing this, they're pretty defensive. i found pretty quickly that people didn't respond to me being polite, and that generally nothing useful comes from the exchange. i pretty much say as little as possible.

haven't had the cops show up yet.
posted by lester at 4:22 PM on April 15, 2010

I take pics of every strange car (inc. license plate) I see on my street (not as weird or difficult as it sounds -- there's only like one a month). If anyone is robbed, I'll have at least some record of unusual activity.

So no, there's nothing wrong with your suspicion. And even though there's nothing you can do about it, it doesn't hurt to keep some record of strange events like this. Consider it your contribution to neighborhood watch.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:44 PM on April 15, 2010

Bruce Schneier pointed out once that while, in the movies, the thieves/terrorists/whatever always go out and take pictures of their target and build a little diorama for making up their dastardly plans, this almost never happens in real life. This is because if you want to tell the story of a heist or some such and you want to build up to it, you have to have the thieves/terrorists/whatever doing something that will let you know that they are thieves/terrorists/whatever and give you some insight into their characters.

Assuming you don't have a giant diamond with a flaw that resembles a leaping panther sitting on your coffee table, it is very unlikely that planning is going to be the strong suite of any real life neer do wells you encounter.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:31 PM on April 15, 2010

This isn't uncommon. I've watched folks take pics of my neighbor's house before, and when I asked my hubby about it he said it was an appraiser.

Did you guys just get new home insurance or something?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:51 PM on April 15, 2010

a few years ago i worked for the water company painting fire hydrants. yes that is a real job, there are people who drive from hydrant to hydrant all day painting them one neighborhood at a time. So in each town i'd find a nice shady spot to park my old pickup for lunch if there's no park i would often end up in a cul de sac or just the side of the road under a tree. i got accused of being everything, a PI, thief, drifter, etc. after a while you stop really trying to explain yourself. just do your job so you can go home.

the vast majority of people are doing the same thing, just trying to do a job and get home without minimal hassle
posted by swbarrett at 7:56 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

uh, that would be WITH minimal hassle....
posted by swbarrett at 8:04 PM on April 15, 2010

He's an appraiser - I have a friend that does this, and he has to take pictures of comparable properties. I've tagged along with him a few times, and yeah, there's no degree of professionalism, really. Most appraisers are independent and don't work for a company on the regular so he would've just looked like a regular dude. I wouldn't be worried.
posted by sephira at 9:47 PM on April 15, 2010

« Older I'm getting impatient for my flying car. It's been...   |   The Pill or not the Pill Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.