There are certain aspects you face in the appraisal field that are universal. Getting chased for taking a comp photo, feeling uneasy when entering a vacant property, or the lack of confidence in a homeowner’s assurance that their dog won’t bite. Appraisers understand personal safety is a big concern on the job. On site safety issues can pop up quickly and the outcome is dependent upon your preparedness. It’s not always as dramatic as being threatened during a divorce appraisal. Sometimes it’s a matter of not stepping on a nail during an inspection.
We did an informal survey of appraisers on social media to better understand the biggest concerns regarding safety and how appraisers handle it. Many appraisers provided tips we thought were worthy to share with our readership in an effort to remind appraisers of what’s important. We can all agree that with the right precautions, you can inspect a property and implement some simple safeguards to ensure your personal safety.
Concerns with the Homeowner:
A number of female appraisers mentioned that they will ask the homeowner to lead the way down into the basement. This is to ensure they don’t get locked in and never turn their back on homeowners who insist on following them into the basement. When your “Spidey” senses are triggered, it is much better to be safe than sorry.
When going to high crime neighborhoods, try to schedule appointments before 11 am and no later than 3 pm. Walk with confidence and make eye contact with those in the surrounding area. One appraiser said “Remember, animals and people sense fear and uncertainty, so confidence is not just for you.” -D. Lewis
When going to an area you think may pose a threat, “Text a trusted person or friend with the address and what time you expect to be finished when you are going into a house. Then, text them when you leave. Provide a family member or trusted friend a copy of or access to your schedule.”-KMB Hoey
This topic of safety garnered a great deal of discussion. It was recommended that appraisers knock on the door of a vacant home and announce loudly that an appraiser is onsite, even if it is supposed to be unoccupied. Begin the inspection on the exterior of the home, making note of any open or broken doors and windows. Check that all exterior doors are locked. Most appraisers recommend you carry your phone with you in case of an emergency, but to not be distracted by your phone in the event you are not actually alone in the home.
In addition to that sound advice, R. Padrick offered this piece of advice: “Call in damaged doors and windows if they can potentially allow unauthorized access. Otherwise, you could get the blame for the damages. Plus, it’s just not safe.”
Most appraisers recommended that once you are sure you are alone in the home, lock yourself in the home while inspecting it. It prevents you from being surprised by unexpected visitors like neighbors, realtors, or an intruder.
Some appraisers mentioned that you can call the police for an escort into a property if you feel uneasy. Those from larger firms might consider this advice: “We almost always have two people on each inspection. We have inspection days specifically with tons of inspections on the same day.” -C. Cross
“After encountering a squatter and a person asleep in a bed, we made an office policy to never enter through any side or rear door, no matter what arrangements were made with the owner or listing agent. Front door entry or they can meet us there and let us in through the front door.” -TJ Lewis
“If you’re at a vacant house, always park at the end of the driveway, near the street, and facing out. It gives you the opportunity for a quick getaway and prevents anyone else from coming and parking in the driveway.” -G. Landford
“If your intuition tells you not to go in, don’t go in.” -L. Hall
Exterior Inspection Concerns
“When you’re walking along with your measuring wheel and measuring the side walls of the house, be sure to look ahead of you so that there’s a clear path for nothing to trip over or fall into.” -W.B. Bell
“Don’t step on wet river rocks. I slipped and fell …once.” -R. Stickney
“If you are inspecting a house with an inground pool and there is snow, do not go in the backyard unless you know exactly where the pool is, or someone is with you.” -L.K. Zwyers
There are location systems you can install on your phone. J. Swanson suggested Life 360, which is free. It allows you to share your location with a small trusted circle of friends.
Protocol for Comp Photos:
It is becoming increasingly more common to hear appraisers talk about being threatened by homeowners or neighbors when taking comp photos. Announcing who you are to the public seems to be a resounding theme by appraisers. One appraiser suggested putting magnetic signs on your car identifying you as an appraiser.
When taking comp photos, some recommended the use of a point and shoot camera for one handed operation. This allows you to have one hand on the wheel as you drive, and you never have to stop when taking the photos. If you are taking photos on a dead-end street or cul-de-sac, try to take the photos on the way out, not on the way in. Also, avoid taking photos when people are standing out front.
Dogs on property
I think all appraisers have gotten in tense situations with family dogs at one time or another. One appraiser suggested that a useful purpose for a clipboard was as a weapon and shield. You can protect yourself against a dog or cat. We recommend that appraisers remind homeowners that even though dogs are friendly when the homeowner is present, that the same dog can change when left alone with a stranger. It’s not unreasonable to have dogs secured during an inspection.
Carry a weapon
Conceal carry came up a great deal in this discussion. We understand there are a number of lenders who have policies against conceal carry. Resoundingly, some appraisers feel there are situations that warrant the use. There were other less lethal suggestions to use stun guns or pepper spray. One appraiser mentioned carrying a sound grenade attached to their crossbody bag when on inspections. At the first sign of trouble, they reach down, pull the pin, and it emits a loud shrieking sound. Another appraiser mentioned bringing a mag light. Besides easily blinding someone with the light, it also serves as a baton.
In the spirit of preparedness, we were provided a list of items appraiser should consider carrying in their car for any situation.
- First aid kit
- Roadside kit
- Portable battery w/ cable & air pump for car
- Respirator masks (moldy houses)
- Shoe covers
- Reflective Vest
- Extra Batteries
- Hard hat/ regular hat
- Bug Spray
Also, do not remove your shoes and wear booties instead. Shoes protect your feet and make it easier to run or defend yourself, if necessary.
Technology used for Safety
We’ve already heard about texting from your phone while in vacant properties, but there are other devices designed to let others know where you are. S. Loos suggested SPOT, which is an outdoor beacon with robust tracking options.
The bottom line is that nothing is more important than your health and welfare. Be cognizant of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable doing something, don’t do it. Be safe out there!
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