Spotting fake home appraisal pictures

Model of a home under a magnifying glass
Some unscrupulous home sellers may be tempted to substitute online photos that are not actually their kitchen, living room or bath in order to boost appraisal value, but it is pretty hard to fake it. (Getty/Stockphoto/Andrey Popov)

In-home inspections by appraisers for home sellers or refinancing transactions are still happening, but it is not unusual now for an appraiser to instead ask the owner to provide evidence of the property in lieu of a traditional walk-through, and that could include asking the owner to submit interior pictures.

Some unscrupulous home owners may be tempted to substitute pictures that are not actually their kitchen, living room or bath in order to boost appraisal value, but it is pretty hard to fake it.

“Generally, unless someone turns them off, photographs will be embedded with latitude and longitude, date and time data. And though there are some ways that data can be altered, it is one method that the appraiser can check to see that the photos were taken at the house,” Adam Johnston, chief appraiser and director of investigations at Genworth Mortgage Insurance, told WTOP.

There are third-party apps that can guide sellers on how to frame, light and take the best pictures of their home’s interiors, as well as prompt them as to what features the appraiser will most likely want to see.

Third-party apps also have fraud protection, and can spot an internet rip off.

“Good third-party applications will have fraud controls built into them to make sure the data is not altered, and will require multiple pictures of a room from different angles to make sure defects aren’t being concealed. Those services actually scrape the internet and do pixel matching and can tell the appraiser ‘wait a minute, there is an 80% match to something on Pinterest,'” Johnston said.

Appraisers also conduct old-fashioned detective work. If the home is currently for sale, they can view the images associated with its online listing.

If it is a refinance application and not for sale, they can search previous listings for images of when the property was last listed.

Some appraisers also offer live virtual tours. Those can give owners more control over what the appraiser wants to see, as well as what the owner wants to highlight.

“A homeowner preparing for a virtual inspection should sit down in advance and think about improvements they have made to the property they want to appraiser to know about. Write them down so it is easy to remember when you’re in the midst of the virtual inspection,” Johnston said.

Exterior inspections have largely not been affected by social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, and more appraisers are also comfortable with simple drive-by inspections.

The Appraisal Institute, an association representing home appraisers, suggests owners be patient.

“Appraisers may be asking more questions in these limited situations, so understand that they are gaining knowledge that will help their work be as thorough and professional as possible,” said Appraisal Institute President Jefferson Sherman.

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