If you notice someone taking pictures in your neighborhood …

August 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm | In Seen around town, West Seattle news | 21 Comments

… it MIGHT be the real-estate site Zillow. We got a note from Michael in Gatewood this afternoon, saying someone suspicious was taking photos of houses along his street. A neighbor, he told us, asked the person what they were doing; they said they were with Zillow. After we tried contacting the company via Twitter just to ask, they called us to confirm yes, it’s a project they’re working on, to “improve the images on (their website)” comparable to what you might see on Google Street View. However, the spokesperson assured us, they aren’t taking photos with people in them, and if you tell the photographer not to take a picture of your house, they’ll honor the request. Just thought we’d share what we found out.

21 Comments

  1. Interesting. They were doing the same thing during the work day on my street in High Point a month or two back. The neighbor called down to the woman from his open upstairs window and asked what she was doing and she brushed him off and wouldn’t tell him. At the very least they could wear identification and identify themselves politely when asked! I felt very uncomfortable at work finding out someone was roaming around my house taking pictures.

    Comment by trickycoolj — 3:59 pm August 1, 2014 #

  2. While some of us may not like it, it’s also generally quite legal to take photographs of just about any sort of property from the public right of way. The police — or myself as a home owner — would have no authority or right to try to stop someone from taking a few photos of my house, or even me in my yard. Depending on the circumstances of how those photos are used, there may be some limitations — but I could walk every single street in Seattle and take a picture of all 60,000 or so homes if I wanted to, for better or worse.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 4:11 pm August 1, 2014 #

  3. This kind of thing happened to me a couple of years ago. The person acted as if I were out of line for asking why he was taking pictures of my yard. I told him to leave, which he did

    Comment by Eric — 4:12 pm August 1, 2014 #

  4. You can ask them to not take a picture, if you happen to be home in the middle of a work day when they come past your house? Nice.

    Comment by Gatewood Guy — 4:26 pm August 1, 2014 #

  5. As Joe points out, anything and anyone visible from a public space, sidewalk, street, whatever, is fair game for photography. The Zillow rep who called us (again – unsolicited – I tweeted “at” Zillow just because some larger, online-savvy companies are actually more reachable via Twitter than if you try to make your way through a phone tree, and did NOT include our number, so they went to the trouble of looking it up) volunteered that people could ask the rep not to take a pic; it wasn’t the response to a question. Google Street View goes by regularly. Bing’s corresponding service was seen in West Seattle recently. If you look at Redfin and Zillow -type services, there are satellite shots of your home too. Just a datapoint … TR

    Comment by WSB — 4:39 pm August 1, 2014 #

  6. I agree it’s fair game to take pictures from the right of way, I have used Google Street View so many times for all kinds of reasons. But when it was some random person not willing to identify herself, it seemed sketchy. The county assessor would most definitely identify themselves (I hope!) so it made me skeptical that someone was going to try to profit from pictures of our houses in some way, which I wasn’t really comfortable with. Especially given the concepts around High Point who knew if it was something innocent like Zillow or the agent for the house that later went on sale across the street or some type of shady media outlet trying to smear High Point or SHA. I wouldn’t be thrilled if someone used pictures of my home for something negative about my neighborhood!

    Either way I took solace that I had just installed two very kitschy pink flamingo yard ornaments that week!!

    Comment by trickycoolj — 4:47 pm August 1, 2014 #

  7. Anything that can be seen or photographed from the public right of way is fair game as there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. I have a hard time understanding why people get themselves so worked up and get so aggressive about things like this. I don’t find it the least bit suspicious.

    Comment by Christopher Boffoli — 4:52 pm August 1, 2014 #

  8. A young man was taking pictures of houses on my street a couple of days ago. I asked him what was going on, then saw that he had “Zillow” written large on his shirt. He confirmed that was what it was for.

    Comment by KatherineL — 5:07 pm August 1, 2014 #

  9. I saw him here in Gatewood, too. FWIW, it did look he had a badge with ID on a lanyard around his neck. He wasn’t being intrusive, just on the sidewalk at the time I drive by.

    Comment by Michelle R-R — 5:11 pm August 1, 2014 #

  10. As an amateur photographer, I often photograph buildings that I find interesting looking. So what. Seems to me, someone’s being awfully paranoid…

    Comment by Me — 5:37 pm August 1, 2014 #

  11. I have far bigger things to worry about than someone taking a photo of my house. It certainly won’t be the only one on the internet.

    Comment by Me Too — 7:18 pm August 1, 2014 #

  12. I pulled up to my house as he was taking a picture of it. I asked why. He told me he worked for Zillow and showed me a badge. I said okay and we both moved on. I’m not sure why being curious would make me suspicious or paranoid.

    Comment by Beth Davenport — 9:15 pm August 1, 2014 #

  13. I don’t think anyone is being “paranoid”. I too saw a person taking pictures and I asked him why, and he told me for Zillow and I noticed he had a i.d. badge, and I took his picture with my phone – glad to hear others are taking notice. I hear too many stories of burglaries and such where the burglars acted like they were supposed to be at a house and no one asked, took information or whatever. Also, bank representatives do things like this to harass homeowners whose houses are in danger of foreclosure. Love that a lot of my West Seattle neighbors keep an eye out for all of us.

    Comment by zorazane — 9:35 pm August 1, 2014 #

  14. Actually Joe Szilagyi, it’s not that simple. If Zillow was not profiting from it, yes. However, they are. I’d also go as far as to say they probably don’t have proper permits to take pictures for profit in city limits. Oops, the multi-billion dollar company might just have a class action lawsuit brewing over this.

    Comment by Mike — 10:28 pm August 1, 2014 #

  15. Permits to take pictures for profit in the city limits? Yes, it is that simple, they can. Whether for Zillow, Google, or any other “for profit” company, I can walk on public property and take all the pictures I want to. Restrictions occur only in how I use said pictures.

    Comment by Twobottles — 11:22 pm August 1, 2014 #

  16. If it was illegal to stand on public property and take pictures of private things you would solve the paparazzi issues that celebrities have. Imagine how annoying THAT would be!

    Comment by Smitty — 6:05 am August 2, 2014 #

  17. Hopefully they didn’t take pictures of my house last month when I hadn’t touched my yard in 5 weeks. It looks much, much better now Zillow!

    Comment by Azimuth — 7:53 am August 2, 2014 #

  18. @Azimuth. That’s funny. I actually appreciated the angle he was shooting my house as it didn’t show the bush that needs to be pruned on the south side.

    Comment by Beth Davenport — 3:08 pm August 2, 2014 #

  19. @zorazane And now the burglars will wear fake Zillow uniform and ID badges.

    Comment by tim — 3:49 pm August 2, 2014 #

  20. I called Zillow and the gist was they don’t hire people to take pictures of anyone’s house. Real estate agents submit pictures to them all the time so I find it odd the person said he worked for Zillow.

    Comment by Winston — 1:35 pm August 13, 2014 #

  21. As a follow up a Zillow rep sent me an email saying it was probably someone from Zillow after all. They did say however, “…our photographers are supposed to have ID on them at all times, so if you encounter this again and the photographer cannot produce an ID, try to get more information on the person and please let us know. Thank you.”

    So, all-in-all, if you see someone taking pictures from the street, no need to worry. If they are sneaking around your backyard taking picture through your windows, time to worry. :-)

    Comment by Winston — 3:29 pm August 13, 2014 #

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