Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design! Today's post is all about the fine line realtors face walk every day when trying to present a property in its best light, and the tool that has spawned a trend of marketing manipulation and misrepresentation - Photoshop!
Yup, I'm talking about the increasing incidence of Buyers being enticed by listing photos posted online, but, upon visiting the property in person, discovering that the online images had been wildly enhanced.
Listen up, Realtors! I think Ben Parker said it best in the Spiderman franchise:
When it comes to real estate, if Photoshop is the power, then the responsibility rests squarely on the ethics of the Photographer, the integrity of the Realtor, and the moral obligation of the Seller to accurately represent the property for sale. To me, "photoshopping" may include removing visual distractions in a property's photographs like, for example, stray media equipment wires, errant lamp cords or creased bed linens. After all, these are the kinds of details which are frequently edited from the images of shelter magazines; I don't consider these a misrepresentation of the property itself. However, today photo manipulation in real estate has evolved into a business of its own, thanks to escalating expectations linked to HGTV programming and Beauty Industry extremes. Driveways created out of thin air, wall colours mysteriously changed, holes in the wall simply erased... these ar just a few of the “alterations” we occasionally come across on misrepresented lisitngs.
In Ontario, false advertising and misleading photographs in real estate are illegal. Photographs, virtual tours, and floor plans are all supposed to allow potential Buyers a chance to see exactly what a property has to offer online so they can decide if it aligns with their wishes, wants and needs, and warrants further investigation in person. If the Buyers decide to proceed with a viewing, the purpose of all this information is to ensure they have a reasonable and fairly accurate idea of how the property presents. However, more recently it's become increasingly common to find a disconnect between online promotions and reality. In an effort to sell properties faster and for top dollar, there has become a propensity for those in the shelter industry to manipulate photos and, well, "stretch" the truth. This has created grey zones blurring 'what is' and 'what could be', which have become the topic of conversation amongst real estate, design and political pundits of late.
Have you heard of the new wave of 'virtual tagging' - an option where Sellers can pay a fee to have images of their vacant property digitally altered by adding furniture to empty rooms? Today a room devoid of furnishings can easily be displayed online as a modern luxe study, or a sleek second bedroom with on-trend styling. Yes, I won't dispute the merits it may help Buyers who need help seeing what their imagination can't, and I respect it can help demonstrate the flexibility of space, but I can attest that it's always a bit bizarre unlocking the door to a property that is showcased online as a rustic modern sanctuary to find it a warren of sad empty rooms with none of the features digitally presented.
I promise you it never turns out well. When Buyers excitedly arrive to view the online 'dream house' to discover they've been duped, everybody's time is wasted.
In this recent article by Maclean’s, Real Estate Photos Are Distorting Reality, Frustrating Would-Be Homebuyers, yours truly was interviewed on this very topic. It led to a conversation about the changing relationship between a Buyer's expectations and the realities Seller's face when bringing their property to the market for sale.
When it comes to the challenges selling real estate in today's media-influenced age I said: “We’ve been brainwashed by the rise of HGTV, and it’s reshaped the real estate industry". “Today's Buyers expect to step into an inspirational lifestyle, and Sellers are penalized if they don't buy into this process.” The article goes on to explain: "As part of physical staging, Fudge offers what he calls a “style enhancement,” that is, adding “on-trend” pieces to the home’s real-life furniture. With his photos, he tries to promote the best and most unique features of a property, rather than resorting to tricks that make the home appear to be something it’s not.”
You can check out the entire Maclean's Magazine Article here, which I applaud with gratitude for its relevance to the Canadian real estate market at this moment in time.
On The Merits Of Home Staging & Style Enhancements
Yes, it's true. Some sellers might not want to stage their home, thinking how it presents is perfectly fine, but studies have shown there are more benefits to having a space styled, than to not. I wrote about the subject recently in my Dear Urbaneer series called Why Is Home Staging Important When Selling Real Estate? Today, the objective in the sales and marketing of real estate extends beyond presenting a property simply as it is. Instead, it's about enhancing the dwelling's spatial and design features that its specific target markets will find most compelling and desirable.
As I outline in Seven Home Runs To Achieve Top Dollar!, this includes paring down your stuff so it doesn't compete with your space, completing the necessary repairs, upgrades and decor improvements which will increase the property's value and appeal, followed by giving it a comprehensive cleaning and then curating the contents of the dwelling which - if necessary - includes using furnishings from outside sources that complement both the aesthetics of the residence while aligning with the desires of its target market. Then - by creating a sales prospectus which includes floor plans, professional photographs, a presale inspection and other relevant information on the merits of the location and the dwelling - the unique qualities and the "heart of the home" can be presented online in their optimum light.
As a realtor fascinated with how our Housing Is A Symbol Of Self, I'm really interested in the human condition as it pertains to our relationship with shelter. In Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs For Buyers - and - For Sellers, I explore our hierarchial quest to climb beyond the physiological need for shelter, to attaining safety and security, creating love and belonging, improving self-esteem, and potentially achieving self-actualization. It's a complex topic that will take a lifetime for me to fully understand but to date, I've already learned that to achieve top dollar for my clients I need to pull out all the stops by showcasing their house as a HOME. This, in our media-induced culture, necessitates sharing the story of its greatness - from its past, in its present, to its future potential - in a manner that speaks to its specific buying audience. And it all starts through its online promotion.
This is the opportune time to say that no matter how much I am a real estate marketer, my intention when selling a client's home is not to eradicate their personal stamp but to honour and elevate it. In fact, in my piece called Chapters of Life: The Value of ‘Home’, I share how it's the patina of a well-loved Home which, despite whatever deficiencies, can transcend the value of its bricks and mortar to the intangible premium accorded beauty, spirit, and emotional resonance. In this respect, when I'm listing a sellers' home I retain as much of a client's personal belongings as required to celebrate the personality of the resident before incorporating the fixtures and furnishings that complement our urban buyer's POV. As examples, here are some pictures of my own Style Enhancements (which is included as part of Urbaneer.com's listing package) which, incidentally, are 100% photoshop-free!
In this 470 square foot contemporary condo, I used circular furniture, natural-fibre floor coverings, and lots of cushions to soften the concrete ceilings and linearity of the space:
In this Edwardian living room, I added graphic cushions to add a contemporary contrast to the retired owner's traditional furniture, and installed a larger sisal mat under her lovely but too small rug:
In this Bay Street condo, the dining table, chairs, and sisal rug kept the space minimal while complementing the owner's bar stools, couch, table and lamp, while my art supported the colour palette and added visual interest:
In this vintage brick and beam loft, my weathered dining table and sisal carpet supported the owner's rustic aesthetic, while my cream dining chairs and tufted chaise longue infused the modern furnishings some buyers prefer:
In this authentic Edwardian in the family-friendly South Annex neighbourhood, I mixed my art and furnishings with the sellers' pieces to create a 'Brooklyn vibe' that was hip, comfortable, and not too precious:
Why Manipulate A Property's Photos?
Quite frankly if I, as a realtor, can present a range of different properties online like these as they appear, why would one manipulate a property's photos so that it differs from what a Buyer will see when they view a property in person? If anything, the Buyer should find it more delightful than the images convey. So, dear realtors, save my Buyers (and me) our time by ensuring what we see online, is what we see crossing the threshold! Resorting to photo trickery of a property listing is nothing less than a real estate fail!
Yes, sadly real estate is subject to misrepresentation - and with the increasing introduction of technology tools that make it easier to modify a photo - the situation of photoshop transgressions may become more common.
Which pains me both personally and professionally.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy these other Urbaneer.com blogs:
Thinking of selling? Here's How To Prepare Your Home For Sale (And What We'll Do For You!)
Considering buying? Read How Urbaneer Helps Buyers Make The Right Real Estate Purchase
If you, or someone you love, requires real estate guidance, please know I and my team are here to assist, without pressure or hassle!
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
- we're here to earn your trust, then your business -
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