VERNON - If you see a white van with a camera poking out the side of it driving around your neighbourhood in the next few weeks, chances are it's just B.C. Assessment making its rounds across the Thompson-Okanagan.
As a way to speed up their visits to over two million homes across the province, B.C. Assessment has retrofitted several vans with state of the art digital equipment and custom-made camera slots for easy drive-by photography. Formerly, assessors would walk door to door taking pictures, a time-consuming task.
"This is an initiative we started in the past few years, and have already successfully used in the Lower Mainland. It's a new way of doing our business, and it's a huge cost-saving," deputy assessor for the Okanagan region Tracy Wall says. "This is our first time bringing it to the Okanagan."
She says information from the photos is used to update their records and determine fair market values for homes in B.C.
"From the picture of the front of the house, we can quickly see if there's been a change to the home. We can see if someone has put in an addition, or added a deck," Wall says. "Combined with building sketches, it gives us a pretty good idea."
Once compiled, the assessment information is forwarded to the different taxing jurisdictions in B.C. to help determine what the tax rates will be, Wall says. Realizing the sight of a van taking pictures of your home might be a bit of a surprise, she says they're trying to get the word out to as many people as possible.
"Mostly, people are curious to know why we're doing it," Wall says of the experience in other areas. "The driver can answer a lot of questions and there's a lot of information on our website."
While some may view the initiative as an infringement of privacy, Wall says precautions are taken to ensure no personal information is transmitted in the photos.
"First of all, we're going to try not to capture any personal information—business signs, license plates, or any people—in the photo, but sometimes they will inadvertently get captured," Wall says. "In that case, we'd either delete the information, or blur it out."
Any photos revealing the interior of a residence—through a window or an open door—will be blurred or destroyed.
While the means of obtaining photos is new, B.C. Assessment has been taking pictures of people's houses for years; it was just on foot. Wall also notes that in this day and age, having your property photographed is a rather common occurrence.
"With technology, Google Earth has been doing this sort of thing for years, people are more familiar with it," she says.
The clearly marked B.C. Assessment vans will be in Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops over the month of August, photographing over 50,000 houses. Single family homes are the focus of the initiative, with apartment buildings being excluded. A YouTube video gives an inside look at how the B.C. Photo Update Initiative works.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.