A few years ago, when we bought our house, I noticed that the listing photo had been altered to remove the power/phone lines coming from the street. I didn’t notice it until after the purchase. While it wouldn’t have made any difference since we physically saw the property and the wires were a non-issue, the modification of the photo didn’t feel quite right. A better solution would have been for the broker to take a picture of the home from a different angle. This was actually done at a later date when our home appeared in a calendar of historical homes.

But what if the wires or any other distraction would have been more difficult to miss? ie., a giant water tower directly behind the property?

In our appraisal reports, we specifically state that we don’t alter the photos we present by any means, including digital methods.

Blanch Evan’s article Be Careful When You Photoshop Your Listings in Realty Times addresses this issue. Here’s a snippet from her interview with an NAR representative:

“Could someone win a civil case based on a doctored photo?” he conjectures. “Probably, though I doubt so in this case, because a potential plaintiff would have likely seen the property and the wires. Of course, if they bought it over the Internet, in part on the basis of the pictures, that might be grist for a good case.”

it’s one thing to remove distracting objects from a kitchen counter or messy backyard — it’s another to attempt to set aside a material fact.

I wonder how the ethics line can be drawn? The physical marketing of a property includes showing a property at its best to influence the value, and this can include staging the home through furnishing, lighting and sounds.

Those staging efforts don’t bother me because they help the buyer visualize the property potential. The new owner can effect change after purchase. However, the probability of the wires or a water tower being removed after purchase would be remote. That seems to be where the line should be drawn.

I am being too black and white about this?

9 Responses to “Little Grey Lies: Photoshopping Listing Photos”

  1. Norm Fisher says:

    I think you’re quite right. Any edit that alters the image of the property itself is deceptive. I have no problem cloning out items that may have been left on the floor during a shoot, adjusting lighting, correct perspective, etc. Frame and shoot from the best angles and a lot of the negatives can be avoided.

  2. skep-tic says:

    it might seem bizarre, but in some cases, a photo can ammount to an express warranty of the quality of the property offerred.

    sort of like when you shop in a catalog– you expect that the sweater will look like the one in the picture

  3. Photo Guy says:

    As a professional photographer when I was selling my home in Arizona one of the things my family loved was the view off the back deck and Arizona Sunsets. As it turned out when we needed shots of the house there was a dearth of sunsets so I added one. It was the highlight of the photo slide show and I am sure that it was a big help in selling the home.

    So the question is when selling and photographing the home do we also not add (or subtract) from nature or weather? Do adding some clouds or a better sky also amount to an express warranty?

  4. Michael Daly says:

    I find myself annoyed (and embarrassed) by the photos of homes on “the Highway” being photographed to show everything BUT or, as you point out, photos where material changes are made to present the home as different from what it actually IS. It does nothing but contribute to the skepticism clients and customers have towards agents.

    While a seller may relish making ther house look better, after they sell it and are on the other side of the equation, they can’t help but be cyncial. It’s like having an affair with a married person and then realizing that you just fell in love with a “cheater”.

    I think that ANY picture changed or “touched up” should bear a statement: “this photograph has been enhanced”. md

  5. Leigh Brown says:

    Seems to me it depends on which side of the fence you’re on! If you’re representing the seller, your job is to get as good pictures as possible (I agree that photoshopping things out isn’t right, you should just aim for the best real photos possible) so the house gets showings and sells. And for buyers, you want it as ‘real’ as possible so as not to misrepresent.

    In regard to the internet buyer who hasn’t seen a home, NC has added a clause to contracts expressly stating that the buyer declares they have physically seen the home they’re purchasing. Put the onus of discovery on the buyer as well as the seller.

    Interesting post to think about!

  6. Miracle Bennett says:

    As a Realtor and a professional photo retoucher/photographer, I would NEVER alter a photograph in such a way that it could be perceived as misrepresentation. I am very careful about such things.

    In the past I have adjusted the color, contrast, brightness etc. (say if I took the image on a cloudy day). I have removed trash cans from front yards, laundry and toys from bedroom floors, even a risque calender or two from office walls…but never ever have I given the impression that the house was in better repair, the yard was more manicured or the neighborhood was more desireable.

    We have to be very careful about doing anything that could come back and get us later.

  7. Anna says:

    Socketsite wrote about this same thing last October. Funny enough, under the headline “Where Do You Draw The Line(s)?”


  8. Anna says:

    Socketsite wrote about this same thing last October. Funny enough, under the headline “Where Do You Draw The Line(s)?”


  9. Christian says:

    First off let me please say that this was a very good topic that I think needed to be addressed, but I had no idea it had grown into such an issue. Anyways, I myself work for an “In-House Marketing Department” for a local brokerage that is an affiliate for a prominent national real estate company. I know personally I have always felt that my job is no different than any other marketing person out there, so compared to the vast array of un-ethical marketing that is out there, making a sky blue or removing a car from a driveway, I believe doesn’t even compare. I will say though that there comes a point where the person editing the photo should ask, “Does this change make the HOME different?” What I mean is, just because I change the sky to look blue instead of cloudy doesn’t mean that it hasn’t ever actually looked blue like I made it, to me it’s just marketing, but when you actually alter what the home has to offer or doesn’t have to offer, I think is crossing the line. I agree even as a marketing person, “Don’t sell me something that isn’t what you told me it was.” Like the powerlines, I don’t think I would take them out unless I noted it in fine print at the very least, and that would be a in a scenario where it was necessary to remove them. But then if they are really that much in the way, then maybe they shouldn’t be removed because of how much they are a part of the home’s features. It’s tough to really go just one way or the other on this subject. Thank you.