Online real estate company’s photo squad at work taking pictures of your Capitol Hill house

If you see bands of young people wandering the neighborhood streets of Capitol Hill snapping pictures with their mobile phones this summer, don’t worry — you’re not photobombing any selfies. Seattle-based online real estate company Zillow tells CHS it is experimenting with a possible new site feature to include better imagery of homes for the company’s listings.

But instead of employing satellites or camera cars — or professional photographers, for that matter, the company is taking a much more sneakers on the ground approach. A company spokesperson tells CHS that people spotted around Capitol Hill with Zillow badges and camera phones at the ready are taking pictures of the exteriors of neighborhood homes to be added to the Zillow site in a test to gauge interest in having even more pictures to look at as customers search for homes.

The summer hires have been given firm instructions not to take pictures of anything but the exteriors of the houses, to respect “everybody’s privacy,” and to remain on public property — sidewalks, streets, etc. — where the First Amendment rules.

In addition to Capitol Hill, the Zillow rep said you can expect to see the photo collectors in other neighborhoods “in certain ZIP codes” around Seattle.

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14 thoughts on “Online real estate company’s photo squad at work taking pictures of your Capitol Hill house

  1. This is kind of creepy considering that over 90% of homes on the market are professionally photographed. It would only seem they want pictures of off-market homes. I’m not too worried about my privacy though, not like anyone wants to buy my mom’s basement.

  2. yeah, this is basically to get a jump on any homes that aren’t currently for sale. Cynical me thinks the purpose is to entice developers by showing them desirable plots so they can then approach the owner privately.


    • Me thinks is to allow buyers from outside the city (aka investors) to know the “surroundings” before paying full price in cash.

      • In my situation, I believe it was a credible request from a neighbor to occupy our house, and not an investment. And it came from a realtor, thus there was no evidence of commission avoidance. I was tempted to quote a price of about 80% more than the considerable value of the house, but elected to remain silent and non-responsive. As I said, I found the letter off-putting and entirely unwelcome. The nature of the neighborhood and the house does not suggest an owner who would offer up their home in the current market, via a non-competitive situation based upon a letter.

        While I can on some level understand the prospective buyers angst, it is not something that I asked for, and a personal letter hand addressed to us, inviting me to sell my home is intrusive.

        I have always thought that those who offer cash as investors are bottom fishing for distressed owners or property.

  3. Some creep was wondering around my house with a tape measure not long ago. He acted like he was on official business but scrammed when I asked what the hell he was doing.

  4. Unfortunately, this appears to further the transformation of our homes and our lives as commodities to be traded on the open market. Commit to your neighborhood by building both a community and home where you want to live.

  5. @George. 90%? Must be speaking of the Seattle area only, becasue it is more like 10% in my region. And I am seeing this “Professional Photography” is nothing more than “wide angle photography” There is no style

    • Considering this blog is dedicated to a neighborhood in Seattle, why would I refer to anywhere else? More importantly though, why are you reading a neighborhood blog you don’t live in? That’s kind of weird. Like Zillow weird.

      Oh, and I completely agree. There’s a ton of bad real estate photography (there’s also great RE photography done by architectural photographers). But professional, in this case, refers to people with dedicated gear that know how to use it. Hiring a bunch of kids to snap photos of homes with their iphones will surely look much worse than what a bad RE photographer can accomplish.

  6. Reading about the increasing intrusiveness of the housing market reminds me of a very recent event.

    The other week I got a handwritten letter from a Windermere office on the hill. The writer claimed to represent a family on the next block who has coveted our home on their walks. She wanted to know our plans.

    I tossed out the letter with no response to this solicitous realtor whose friendliness was calculating. I found this creepy and unwelcome. If per chance I wanted to sell my beautiful home, which frankly I can’t imagine at this time – I would not engage or entertain such tactics. I would professionally market it likely with the help of a realtor and I would ignore or put at the bottom of the pile, letters that implore me to give someone a leg up because they are nice people. I would look at offers and perhaps risk factors like various contingencies that might be included. In the end, the best economic offer would be the one that would likely be most compelling. Not how much they claim to want the house, how wonderful their children are and the like.

    I wonder if my views are common or I am just a misanthrope who should feel more for those who want to find their dream home on the hill and are being outbid on the rare home on the market.

    • I don’t think the answer to your question is necessarily either/or. I did this once regarding a house I was interested in (to live, not “invest” in). What was possibly in it for me was buying the house “by owner” and saving several thousand $$ commission and as you said not having to compete for the house. For the sellers it was also possibly saving some commission and knowing their house was actually going to be lived in by the buyer and not being bought to “flip” it or pimp it out. To some people who might be attached to their house, that might be important. Many wouldn’t give a crap. IMO, it’s only creepy if they persist after you tell them you’re not interested.

    • I have owned a small, modest home in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. In the past, I have occasionally received letters from realtors/developers wanting to buy my place, but there has been a marked uptick in such letters in the last couple of years. I assume this has something to do with the fact that we will have a light rail station soon, and I live about 2 blocks from there.

      But I never know how seriously to take these “cash” offers….which often state they have someone ready to buy. My suspicion is that most of them are just a marketing technique used by realtors to get access to a home sale.

      • We too have seen a remarkable increase in the number and frequency of these letters. The letters delivered through proper US mail don’t bother me nearly as much as the realtor card with the handwritten scrawled note that was stuffed under my door. Being only two or three blocks off of the new light rail station and having seen our single family residence zoned for “mid rise” development, I figure it’s someone who thinks we’ll sell out and they can build more apodments.

        Yes, there are still a few houses west of Broadway and there will be for some time to come! :)