You will need to take photographs regularly throughout the REO process. Whether you are documenting the condition a property has been left in after the owners have moved out, an issue that has developed during the vacancy period, or the result of any work you might have performed, taking photos is an important and necessary part of your job.
The photograph-taking process usually lasts from 30 to 45 minutes for an initial bid survey and from 45 to 60 minutes to document the initial inspection. Remember, photo documentation is your friend. Always take high-quality pictures, mark them appropriately, and store them for future reference. Talk to your tax and legal advisors about the length of time you should keep these photos for.
Including Photographs with Your Bid
Although you will take photographs during an initial property survey for the purposes of bidding on a job, it’s not usually necessary to include these photos with the bid itself. These pictures are, however, important for documenting the nature of the work that needs to be done and to give you a “before” and “after” comparison. You can then use this to track your achievements and showcase your work.
I don’t recommend distributing the images you have taken with the bid because they may get mixed up with other bids or be given to a different contractor if they win the bid instead of you. Remember, you don’t want other people to benefit from your work and resources. If you do consider it necessary to include the images with your bid, watermark them clearly and label them with the name of your organization. Make sure all images and documents are sent in PDF format as well. Once you have developed a good relationship with a customer or organization, you will be able to trust them a little more in this regard.
That said, including photos with your bid may help you to win more work, but proceed with caution. It is still advisable to PDF any documents that you send to potential clients.
The Importance of the Before and After Photos
Use the checklists on this page when you are taking both before and after photos, and remember to take all the images from the same angle and the same distance to allow a clear comparison of the work you have performed. For example, if you take a before image of the lawn from a viewpoint next to the front door, make sure you take the after photograph from exactly the same spot. This will make it obvious to anyone looking at the photos exactly what work you have done.
You’ll be amazed at how many photographs you take during the processes of inspection or surveying. I regularly take over 50 photographs and sometimes up to 100! You’ll be surprised at how many views of the same pile of trash you can get. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking as many photos as you can while you have the chance; you can always delete those you don’t need later. It’s better to have too many images than have to make a second visit because you haven’t documented everything properly.
Photos That You Generally Must Take
Every property preservation job is different, but photo documentation is required for every procedure performed at every property. Photos must be taken of:
- The street view of the house
- All exterior sides of the house showing all damages, debris, security or maintenance problems, and liabilities
- Other areas of concern such as health and safety hazards (in writing and with photos)
- Attached structures or add-ons
- Playground equipment
- Utility meter readings such as gas, water and electric, and any serial numbers
- The exterior of all outbuildings such as barns, shops, playhouses, etc.
- Anything that will substantiate your claim that the property is either vacant or occupied
- The property’s lot to help judge the size of the property
- All work performed (before, during, and after)
- Any notices such as realtor signs, winterization notices, or code violations posted by the city or county
- HUD labels, VIN numbers, and interior data sheets for mobile homes. Make sure the photos are clear and close enough that the information can be read from the photo
- Address verification at every property. A photo of a mailbox with the number on it or any other number painted or attached in some way to the property (some clients may ask for the street sign too)
- All interior rooms, a minimum of two photos per room of all damages, repairs, etc. including closets, stairways, attics, and crawl spaces
- Lock changes: knob locks, deadbolts, padlocks, hasps (before, during, and after), key in lock and lockbox codes
Standard Photo Requirements
In today’s property preservation environment, the word “photography” rather than “photo” or “picture” is significant since the quality of digital photographs demanded by contractors is high. Your photography has to be of a professional standard.
There are some photo standards that are consistently stated in work orders and company procedure manuals. Since these requirements appear so often, they could be considered the standard for property preservation photos. Here is a basic list, although there may be more that you know of that could be added later:
- All photos must be in color
- Pictures must be clear and sharp – no blurry images or fingers to be included
- Use appropriate lighting and a flash if needed. Make sure the pictures are not red or yellow. Adjust the camera setting so the photos best display reality
- All before, during, and after photos must be taken from the same distance and angle and preferably include the same focal point
- Submitted photos must be in a logical work order
- Take enough photos to properly document the property’s condition
- Always read the work order and supply the photos that are required
- Take still photos only – no video or sound
As I have said many times before, good photos can make or break your business. Companies demand hundreds of photos of your work and many more of the property not directly related to your work. If you cannot or will not supply the photos required, you will not get the job.
To be honest, some companies do take advantage of contractors when it comes to photos. Many work orders now request high quality “marketing photos,” which may seem over the top when all you are doing is documenting your work. Often, the clients you work for are selling these photos to real-estate brokers, auction companies, and others. They will also need to pass the photos up the line to their own contractual obligations. However, companies do not pay for your photos, and I forecast that a copyright problem could soon arise.
Tips on Taking Quality Photos
- Always take your photos in landscape orientation, and never turn the camera for vertical photos
- When you are taking interior condition photos, don’t just take a picture of the floors; take a few steps back so that you can include the walls and the ceiling in a room shot
- Get better-quality interior photos by using a flash
- Discard any bad photos such as blurry or dark ones. You don’t want to have to explain them later
- Don’t include items that are not a concern for your client
- As far as possible, make the subject of the photo obvious
- Always take clear photos of the items that you will need for your PCR (meter/serial readings, working lights, appliances, etc.)
- Before and after photos should include a reference point such as a driveway or a door jamb. Don’t just take a photo of a patch of grass or a section of wall with nothing to show perspective or position
- Take your photos in the same order every time. This will make them much easier to label
- If your camera has rechargeable batteries, always carry at least one fully charged spare and keep a spare memory card with you as well
- Photos are cheap; take plenty of them. We have never been criticized for taking too many photos, but clients have told us several times that we have not provided enough
- Make sure your camera’s date/time stamp is OFF, and don’t be tempted to “stage” your photos; only take things as they are
You will soon discover that the processing of photos takes more time than the actual property
preservation work on site. This time is made even longer if you have a slow internet connection, if the company site is slow, or if you experience any number of other problems that commonly crop up. To ensure the process is as painful as possible for contractors, the company makes no allowance if their upload site is down or if you are having problems with your ISP.
The Purpose of Taking Photos
Despite all these complaints about taking photos, I once again have to remind you that photos will be the one and only thing that you have to prove your point. This may not be the case for companies, but “a picture is worth a thousand words” to a judge and jury. So take the best “photographs” you can for your client and keep a bunch for yourself too, especially the ones that show damages, health and safety hazards and everything you have bid on even if your bids were not approved. You will need to take photos for the following reasons:
- Property Condition Report (PCR): You need to document the condition of the property every time you go there
- Damage reporting: The client needs to know if there is any damage, what the extent of the damage is, and how much it is going to cost to fix
- Making bids: The photos you submit need to match your description and measurements of the work that you say needs to be done
- Invoicing: You will need before and after photos to show the work you have done for which you are submitting an invoice
- Personal liability: Your photos will protect you from liability for damages that have not been reported
Photo Requirements for Specific Jobs
While taking photos may sound straightforward, it is easy to make mistakes and you should always follow the general guidelines listed in this article. Again, refer to our Property Photograph Checklists on this page. This will help you make sure you cover all the requirements for each particular job and can be especially useful if you are sending someone out to complete the job on your behalf.
Some jobs may also have additional requirements. The list here should cover most of your property preservation jobs, but if you can think of any more, you can create your own photo checklist using this one as a basis.
Broken Window Photo Requirements
Before: In order to show clearly that a window is broken, place an object through the broken pane. This could be your hand, a cloth, or any other object that helps to locate and emphasize the broken glass. When taking the before photo, include an adjacent feature which will prove that this is the same window as the one in the after photo.
After: One mortgage servicing company came up with the idea of putting an X on a window pane that had been replaced to show that there was indeed glass in that opening. This has become a real money maker because local kids often use the X as the target for their BB guns and pitching practice. You can use either a non-permanent marker or tape to make the X. (The kids seem to prefer the tape.)
Try to include a nearby feature that you also showed in the before photo. This will help to prove that this is the same window but with the glass replaced.
Grass Cut Photo Requirements
Standards: All photos should show the entire property, not just the area that you have cut.
Before: Before you start to cut the grass, take photos from a distance so that you include a full view of the front and one side of the house. Take another photo to include the back and the other side.
After: Take exactly the same shots again from the same place, now showing the freshly cut lawn.
During: Some companies will also ask for a “during” photo, so you might have to take a photo of the grass (front and rear) about halfway through the cut. Stop the mower, return to the spot where you took the before photo, and take another one halfway through.
Hedge Trimming Photo Requirements
Standards: All before, during, and after photos must be taken from the same angle and from the same distance.
Before: Before trimming the hedges or bushes, take photos using the standard above. Try to take the photo from an angle and distance showing the entire length of the hedge if possible.
After: The after photo should be taken from the same distance and angle as the before photo and show the trimmed hedge with clippings removed.
Debris Photo Requirements
All bids for debris removal must be accompanied by photos to justify the bid, but what exactly does the word “justify” mean? It means that your bid must fall within the fee range set by the company. This will not necessarily be the same as a free market fee.
Standards: All before, during, and after photos must be taken from the same angle and from the same distance. If you are submitting photos for debris removal by the cubic yard, the photos must show all the debris that will be bid for. Photos for debris that will be bid “per unit” should show only the unit of debris to be removed. Photos for a collection of items to be bid for should show only the collection if possible. An example would be five 5-gallon containers of diesel fuel.
Before: Before photos are required for every area from which debris is to be removed. The photos need to clearly show all the debris, and as with the broken glass photos, try to include another feature in that area to show that it is the same area that will be shown in the after photo. For interior shots, this could be wall damage or an eye-catching wall color. Outside, you could use trees, shrubs, or permanent fixtures like mailboxes.
After: Take photos after removing the debris using the same criteria as for the before photos. Remember: same distance and same angle.
Take Descriptive Debris Photos
Your photos should literally “describe” the kind and quantity of debris present at the property. If it is spread all across the floor of a room, you might need to photograph it from each corner to get enough photos to accurately represent the quantity of debris present. If you’re in a garage that has debris three or four feet deep, you might need a dozen photos to show the extent of it.
If the debris is outside, it might be difficult to show just how big the pile really is. Take photos from a distance and close up, or include a tape measure in the picture if necessary. Something like a large appliance (refrigerator, oven, etc.) in the photo can also help to provide perspective.
Take Comprehensive Debris Photos
Make sure your photos show ALL of the debris that you are either bidding to remove or have removed. When you’re taking photos for a bid in dark areas such as attics, use a flashlight to illuminate all of the debris present. If your bid is to remove all of the debris, you can’t claim that there is more debris than you first thought after your bid is approved. They’ll simply tell you to remove all of it anyway.
If you’re taking photos for a bid approval, take photos of all the debris before you remove it and after you’ve loaded it into your truck or trailer. Your client will be more interested in the cubic yard count in these photos than the count in your bid photos. This is the amount they are paying you for, so take photos of ALL the debris before you move it.
Hazardous Materials Warning
Debris removal is not to be treated lightly. You will encounter things you may have never seen before and some of them could be hazardous. In addition to familiar culprits such as mold and mildew, you could be exposed to dangerous chemicals, drug paraphernalia, or other hazardous materials.
It is a smart move to familiarize yourself with the names and markings of any commercially produced products that are classified as hazardous. You will also need to be familiar with the signs of meth production and other illegal activities that may have taken place at the property.
Damages Photo Requirements
In order to take great damage photos, imagine that you have a vested interest in the subject matter. Pretend that you are taking photos of damage at your own home and that these pictures will be sent to your own insurance adjuster. You will want the biggest pay-out possible, so try to tell the whole story with your pictures. Imagine that you are not allowed to write on the photos or send any supplementary notes with them. Ask yourself what you think the photos really need to show.
Here are a few things that could help:
- Photos must clearly indicate the room or area of the house in which they were taken. Carry paper and a pen with you in case you need to include a sign in the photo. These signs can offer additional information on the damage and its location.
- Close-ups are great for providing detail about the damage, but the true extent of the damage cannot often be seen in a photo if the perspective is not clear. You could be close to the subject; you could be standing at a distance. You could even be using a zoom lens. Try to include something in the photo to give perspective or include a ruler or yardstick as a size reference.
Eviction Photo Requirements
Taking pictures for an eviction requires empathy and sensitivity. Never take photos of the occupants. Except in extreme circumstances, all eviction photos should be taken after the occupants have left.
Eviction photos act as an add-on to all other photos such as bid photos, lock change photos, and grass cut photos. The following are photos that you will only need to include for eviction scenarios, but again these are in addition to other photos that may be necessary:
- A photo of personal property moved to the street or curb
- A photo of the eviction crew and removal van in front of the property. Try to include a distinguishing feature of the property in the photo so that there is no doubt the photo was taken at the actual eviction property
- A photo to show the number of people performing the eviction. This can often be combined with the photo above, but extra pictures are always a bonus
- A photo to verify the size of the truck
- A photo of the truck once it has been filled
- A photo of the sheriff or sheriff’s vehicle
If debris is removed as part of the eviction, before and after photos of the debris are required in addition to other debris photos that may be taken later on. This is also a requirement of the sheriff’s office.
Remember the photo-taking rules: Use the same height, distance, and angle for all before and after shots.
Note: During an eviction, the sheriff is in charge and will tell you and your crew what must be done. Most sheriffs and deputies assigned to eviction duties will have a lot more experience than any property preservation contractor, so even if it is not your normal procedure, remember the sheriff’s word is law and do what you are told. This will actually relieve you of the responsibility and liability for decisions over debris, as the sheriff will tell you what is destined for the debris pile and what is personal property that is to be set aside at the curb.
Never take a photo of the sheriff without asking permission. If the sheriff does not want you to take a photo, a shot of the sheriff’s vehicle will be fine.