Why are people taking pictures of our house?
December 27, 2012 3:13 PM   Subscribe

People keep stopping and taking pictures of my house. The previous owner was in a lot of debt and I'm wondering if we should be worried.

For the third time someone has stopped in front of my house, taken photos and left. Our house is a plain, square 1950's construction house that could use some paint, so I don't think they're taking pictures for any architectural reason. We bought this house in June after the previous tenants were foreclosed upon and we still receive a lot of collections mail for them. According to the neighbors the previous owner was unpleasant, but not shady.

The first time a man parked on the street (next to the no parking sign!), got out of his car and proceeded to walk around the house taking several pictures. Our neighbor came over (we weren't home) and asked him what his business was and to leave. The man didn't say anything, but left. The second time a man pulled into the end of the drive, snapped ~30 seconds of photos, and left. I was home and saw this from my daughters nursery. Today a woman stopped in front of our house and snapped several photos. She pulled away quickly when our ferocious* mutt beast started barking.

I worry because I stay at home with our 5 month old daughter and my husband works long, predictable hours and is sometimes TDY for weeks at a time. What should I do if it happens again? Why would someone be taking photos of our house? It was never listed in the MLIS database so it's not a case of it being listed for sale still or anything. Please put my mind at ease Metafilter!

*She is all bark and cuddles.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
take pictures right back, especially of any license plates or such and take notes about date, time and location with detailed description. Also make sure your county/city property records are up to date about who currently owns the house, sometimes those records are not updated well at all for foreclosures and such, so debt collectors are going to look up that information. Your county assessment office is the first place to call. Most counties these days have on line GIS databases that will show you the information.

My Mom bought what used to be a grow house (the greenhouse they left out back is awesome) and for about a year had some real interesting visitors/callers/people driving by but it has now stopped after seeing a little old lady living there. Also make sure all your doors stay locked and gates if possible(of course).
posted by bartonlong at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Was a lien search done on the property when you bought it?
posted by mkultra at 3:20 PM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Definitely document all this stuff as much as you can. Also it can't hurt to call the non-emergency line of your local police department and report repeated incidences of trespassing on your property.
posted by elizardbits at 3:21 PM on December 27, 2012

I'll try not to threadsit too terribly, but I'm anxious to see what people have to say.

There was a lien search done when we bought the house and it was clear and the house is listed at the tax office in our name.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 3:23 PM on December 27, 2012

They may be trying to collect a judgment or serve a summons or just plain locate the guy or something - that it was three different people, and one a female, seems to suggest it's not a gang or band of criminals or what have you. No one is going to repossess your car for his debts, or anything ridiculous like that, and it seems unlikely anyone will do anything overtly dangerous at this point, given that they keep showing up (in broad daylight) and sticking around long enough to be asked to leave, etc.

Go to the police station and report it, because there's no harm in filing police reports and because hey, it might help. Consider also keeping a camera handy to catch car descriptions/license plates.

Make sure you're sending all that collections mail straight back to the post office (mark it "Addressee Unknown,") BTW. And yeah, make sure the city, county, and state all know the property is yours.

Also, buying a house in general is a public record - some newspapers just flat-out list every single real estate transaction that happens in town - so you don't have to be in the MLIS for people to know the house was sold. And a house being in an REO/foreclosure status is trivially easy to find out, at least in my experience. It's arguably possible that these people are thinking the foreclosure is still pending and the house might soon be on the market.

(Re: what mkultra said, please, please tell us you have title insurance.)
posted by SMPA at 3:23 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you sure this isn't just the assessor's office doing their job? Not to minimize your worry (and if it is the assessor, I'm not sure why three trips are necessary) but I typically catch our assessor's office around the house taking pictures, freak out, and then I see his state license plates and calm down.

Nthing the advice to place a call to the assessor, if for no other reason than to rule out that they're just around taking pictures for legal reasons.
posted by youandiandaflame at 3:32 PM on December 27, 2012

This happened to us when we moved in too, although I don't think there were debt issues involved. We never did figure out what was going on, but it stopped after a few months. At one point, I saw a fancy zoom lens, and they were well-dressed, so we speculated that maybe it was a real estate company (we are in an area popular for summer vacation homes).
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:33 PM on December 27, 2012

They might be creating content for real estate tracking websites like Zillow/Trulia/etc.
posted by rhizome at 3:41 PM on December 27, 2012

Right after we bought our house we had at least three visits from appraisers. They had seen the transaction listed and wanted to get a look at the house so they could use it as a comp.
posted by bq at 3:47 PM on December 27, 2012 [17 favorites]

They might be creating content for real estate tracking websites like Zillow/Trulia/etc.

We had some weird experiences when we bought our house (we closed in July) where we had people taking pictures of our house after we moved in, for about a month. The house has a long driveway and is hidden from view from the road unless you drive up a little, which these people did--but not all the way up, which made it weirder. Just enough to take some pictures. Mr. Llama said he saw it several times and was creeped out.

I also wonder if it could have been the insurance company, just making sure the house they had just insured was in fact standing.

And Zillow/Trulia is a good theory too.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 PM on December 27, 2012

Appraisers gathering comps. The sale is indeed a public record, and it may be, for reasons of location, square footage, age, etc. be a good match to use when appraisers gather "comparable" sales, a.k.a. comps. Are there fairly few home sales in your area? That tends to result in multiple appraisers independently choosing the same property as a comp, since banks are pretty strict these days about the comps being recent. Appraisers tend to be very busy people, so I can believe they were unwilling to stop and answer your neighbor's questions.

Debt collectors and repo men also show up unannounced but I don't think that explains the pictures of the house.
posted by wnissen at 4:26 PM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have you checked Zillow or Trulia to see if your house is still listed as being for sale or in foreclosure? Googling your own address might give you some clue if this is the case. When we were recently in the market to buy a house, we found several promising houses in our price range on Zillow that were listed as in pre-foreclosure or for sale, and drove around to look at them--only to be told by our real estate agent that sites like that are notorious for taking 2-3 months (or longer!) to update their database when houses are actually sold. So, we were the creepy people slowly driving up to a house and staring at it for a few minutes--in retrospect, I wouldn't be surprised if we surprised or scared a few new homeowners. (Whoops.)
posted by iminurmefi at 4:43 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

As other posters have said, this is most like appraisers gathering comps. I recently refinanced, which involved an appraisal, and the comparable properties section of my appraisal included photographs of other properties that had sold recently.
posted by zombiedance at 4:57 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just in case someone IS looking for the previous owners/residents: if you have a roadside mailbox, have "Jungle Residence" clearly marked on the side of it; plus perhaps post a "No Trespassing" sign. And yes, keep your camera handy to take pictures of any & all people and car license plates you can, plus consider talking to the police non-emergency number.

And if it keeps up? Consider setting up a post on each side of the base of your driveway, and string a chain (again with a "No Trespassing" sign") across it. It won't keep everyone out, but it would at least keep them from driving up.
posted by easily confused at 5:06 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What the heck does "Jungle Residence" accomplish?
posted by megatherium at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I think easily confused means OP Last name Residence not actual literal Jungle Residence. If people are looking for the previous tenant this indicates he is longer in residence.)
posted by gingerest at 6:47 PM on December 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I take pictures of houses, and at least once someone charged out and accused me of casing it. It never occurred to me before that second that taking pictures of the outside of someone's house could be considered nefarious. It was a totally ordinary house. I just liked the way it looked. I had a habit of doing "photo walks" and practised on all sorts of weird stuff.

My last boyfriend was taking a picture of someone's boat hitch--he was standing on the street, not on the guy's property, and the guy totally freaked out and said he'd call the cops. For what, exactly?

If you're nice about it, and you ask, and the person is a harmless photo enthusiast they'll probably be glad to show you the pictures on their card. Just ask. Otherwise, why worry? How exactly do you think they can harm you by taking photos?
posted by thelastcamel at 7:49 PM on December 27, 2012

Oh, I didn't even think of that. I worked for a real estate appraiser once, and he would take pictures of the houses next to the one he was appraising. So that's a possibility too, as stated earlier.
posted by thelastcamel at 7:50 PM on December 27, 2012

Agree that it is likely the Assessor's office, or an appraiser for the bank maybe. You could call their respective offices and ask if they routinely take photos for their files.

But I also agree that I would document, including taking pictures of license plates when possible. A phone call to the non-emergency line at your local PD just to ask them if it is worth filing a report wouldn't be out of order. I would also post a "Private Property - No Trespassing, No Photos" sign easily visible from the street.

I'd bet good money that you won't see this kind of activity after you've been in the house a solid year. By then the Assessor's and lender's records should be fully up-to-date, and your place will no longer be a current comp.
posted by vignettist at 10:43 PM on December 27, 2012

Thank you, gingerest, that's exactly what I mean: "The Jungle family lives here now, not PreviousOwners, so if you're looking for them they're not here."

thelastcamel: sure, someone could simply like the looks of the house, but that doesn't explain some of the photographers getting out and literally walking all over the property, all the way around the house.
posted by easily confused at 4:13 AM on December 28, 2012

Over the course of the first six months in our house, we had two appraisers, our homeowners insurance agent, and someone from the mortgage company come around to take photos of the house. The appraisers took photos of the front. The others walked around the house. Not a one of them knocked on the door to let me know who they were or what they were doing (probably because there wasnt a visible car and they thought no one was home) and when asked were mostly rude. For all I know, there might have been more than those instances. At the time, I wasn't home all day every day.

My understanding is that this is common immediately after purchasing a house.
posted by Orb at 6:10 AM on December 28, 2012

I agree that it's appraisers getting comps. It'll die out soon. I bought this house a little before you got yours, and we had several photographers in the beginning, then months without any (that I saw), and one just a few weeks ago. The same thing happened with my previous house. No need to worry.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:32 PM on December 29, 2012

Why not just ask the people who are taking pictures in a very friendly and non-confrontational way why they are so interested in your house? It's not illegal to take a picture of a house from a public street, so being confrontational is frankly kind of silly.
posted by Dansaman at 10:34 PM on December 30, 2012

« Older What should I wear with this? Part VIII: Bridal...   |   Campervan Cool on the Cheap Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.