Pat Kennedy - Your Washington, DC Real Estate Connection

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Is Photoshop For Virtual Tours Cheating?

In my office we have a professional photographer on staff, and he is the God of Photoshop.  I get a new listing, finish up with the staging, then our guy goes in and takes the photos – and he is really, really good.   He has a fabulous camera and lens as well as good lighting equipment.  And he knows how to use them like a virtuoso musician plays a fine instrument.

When he returns to the office, he downloads them onto his computer and begins to work his magic.  And he does it with integrity.

Once he removed a delivery van double-parked in front of a listing near Dupont Circle.  He didn’t change a thing about the home’s façade, but with no van to get in the way, you could really see it.

Another time, he erased cat claw marks from the slipcovers on a sofa.  Again, it didn’t change anything about the room, though it did make for a much nicer photo.  

I remember a few years ago at another company, I watched as someone removed a window air conditioner (the place had no central air).  Then he replaced the hideous portrait hanging over the fireplace mantel with a different work of art that looked much better.  He tidied up the kitchen, zapping clutter off the countertops.  He also “repaired” some nasty plaster damage and made the Formica counter tops look a bit more like granite.  But he didn’t get the sellers to declutter the kitchen or paint and plaster the walls.  Nor did they replace the ugly painting or the counters in the kitchen.

Photo editing has reached a point where you can take a total dump and make it look more than presentable.  But just because you can doesn’t make it a good business practice.

For me, I guess the bottom line is keeping photo editing to a level where it doesn’t raise expectations too far above the property’s ability to meet them.  You want the place to look good enough to attract buyers, getting them in the front door.  And I can’t help but wonder – if what they see is markedly different than what they expected, is that better than having buyers pass up seeing the house because the photos, like the house, are not real appealing?

Having good pictures for on line listing information is a huge plus, and so is getting your clients to stage their home so it looks fabulous.  If there is a hideous ancestor above the mantel, send her to the basement and replace the portrait with something or someone more appealing – in the house as well as in the photos.  If the place is cluttered, stash the trash.  If you have peeling paint and cracked plaster, you need more than Photoshop to repair it.

Goofing with photos on an ugly, messy house to tart the place up in Photoshop is like doing massive touch ups for a picture you plan to post on Match.com – sooner or later the guy is going to see the real you!

Comment balloon 36 commentsPatricia Kennedy • February 02 2008 10:37AM

Comments

Some homes just don't photograph well and need some touch up. Also, if it's just cosmetic, or to change the look of the furniture, I think it's OK.
Posted by Al Maxwell, Real Estate Agent (Keller Williams) over 12 years ago
Some adjustment to light with photo editing I would think is fine, but "erasing" things - I think one may be treading on thin ice there Patricia.
Posted by Gary Woltal, Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth (Keller Williams Realty) over 12 years ago

Our photographers will do touch-up as well, as long as it isn't "material" to the property.

For instance, if you go to shoot a house, and it's garbage day, and the neighbors are moving in next door, I see no problem with removing these transient items. Even cleaning off the counters or photoshopping a clawed up couch (it doesn't come with the house, right?) is OK.

But if you start repainting walls, or "fixing" material defects in walls, counters, etc, I'd say that's definitely crossing the line. 

I haven't yet decided about things like making grass shot in the winter greener... I'd say that's probably a bad idea, too.

Essentially, anything to that alters a picture to look "like it REALLY does" is fine, and anything that alters a picture to make it look  different from reality is a bad move.

Posted by Alan Pinstein over 12 years ago

Sounds to me that your office photographer is a great asset & genius. Wish my office had a guy like that to help with delivery trucks, etc. in the pics.  Not cheating at all - it's called marketing.  Let's face it your job is to make the home as presentable to the public as possible. 

How is it cheating to erase a plate in the kitchen sink?

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) over 12 years ago

 

Patricia,

As a professional photographer for 25 years and having a crew of 14 great photogs working for me in WI for Obeo,

-common sense still rules.

The home should be represented accurately and transparently in photos just as it is in the inspection, and MLS data sheet.

It is great to know you have the common sense to hire a professional photographer!

Blog 0n!

Steve

Posted by Obeoman Glade Jones (www.obeo.com) over 12 years ago
Patricia - I think a little editing is ok - but when it changes reality - then that's where I do not meander.  I once had someone want me to remove power lines, I wouldn't do it and he understood once I explained.  
Posted by Steve Scheer, Highlands Ranch Real Estate - Denver Real Estate (Realty Oasis - Metro Brokers) over 12 years ago
There isn't a "Glam Shot" in the world that could help me!
Posted by Kirk Williams (Private Venture Capital ) over 12 years ago
I've taken out cars in the drive-way and made them brighter, that's about it. 
Posted by Missy Caulk, Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate (Missy Caulk TEAM) over 12 years ago

It can most certainly get out of hand!  I once had a listing on the 5th floor of a condo building.  It had huge south-facing windows; with an obstructive view - and thus was (most) always filled with tons of sunlight!

Of course the week we put it on the market - was rainy and cloudy all week.  Well I took my pictures and added some wonderful "sunlight". 

My Photoshop'ing - made it just like it looked (on a Sunny Day) - not on a crappy rainy day. 

I have yet to remove cars or moving vans... I am just not that good.  (I need a MAC!)

Posted by James Downing - Metro DC Houses Team REALTORS®, CRS, GRI, ABR,MRP, MilRes, When Looking to Buy or Sell - Make the Right Move (Real Living | At Home) over 12 years ago
It's great you have a photographer in house. I am the photographer for my listings. Like James I'm not good enough to remove cars or vans. I do work with a stager, and we just arrange furniture, and take away "art" pieces that don't fit in. I would rather have a professional photographer, but I'm not too bad. Nice post.
Posted by Maria Couto, Realtor with "Results That "MOVE" You' (RE/MAX Premier) over 12 years ago

IMHO Pretty pictures won't sell an ugly house. Why disapoint buyers when they get there. I rather have them pleasantly suprised.

Posted by Mitchell J Hall, Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn (Compass) over 12 years ago
For me, removing non-house issues, such as a van parked in front of the house, or a trash can in the driveway, is ok - changing what is there, like removing power lines, is not ok.
Posted by Sharon Simms, St. Petersburg FL - CRS CIPS CLHMS RSPS (Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International) over 12 years ago
I've seen electrical wires and such photoshopped out, but I, too, think it's a bit silly since they'll be there as soon as the folks drive up to the house.
Posted by Gregory Maley, REALTOR, GRI, CBR, SHS, e-PRO, ABR (Sold Buy the Sea Realty & R.E.N.T.) over 12 years ago
When the pictures look more like an oil painting than photographs it's too much!  The prospective buyer will only be disappointed to see brown patches of grass and less than perfect blue skies. 
Posted by Norma Toering Broker for Palos Verdes and Beach Cities, Palos Verdes Luxury Homes in L.A. (Charlemagne International Properties) over 12 years ago
In my opinion it's ok to use photoshop to make the picture better, but not to make the property better. (it was ok to take out the delivery van) :-)
Posted by Hank Roeters (Platinum Partners Realtors) over 12 years ago

I read a statistic once from NAR that said that one of the main things people use pictures for is to rule out houses the don't want to see in person. Other statistics show that the more pictures a listing has, the more views it gets, and the more activity it gets.

Therefore, I think good pictures are very important. I think this is especially so in a buyer's market, as searchers are quick to skip anything that doesn't WOW them since there's so much choice.

Plus, emotion is so important to choosing a house. Might as well start the warm-fuzzies as early as possible.

Posted by Alan Pinstein over 12 years ago
Patricia- I have wondered that myself. I do not have the patience to repair every single photo! It takes long enough just to adjust the brightness and crop and change to web photos! 
Posted by Katerina Gasset, Get It Done For Me Virtual Services (Get It Done For Me Virtual Services ) over 12 years ago

Patricia,

There certainly is an ethical line which should not be crossed..."He also "repaired" some nasty plaster damage and made the Formica counter tops look a bit more like granite." is crossing the line IMHO! I think Alan's got it right!!! Thanks,   Fran

Posted by Fran Gaspari, "The Title Man" - Title Insurance - PA & NJ (Patriot Land Transfer, Inc.) over 12 years ago

It's a fine line, for sure.  However, I remember in the "old" days when MRIS used to go out and take just the front exterior and actually made the place look great.  However, when you show up with your buyers the place looks like death warmed over and the neighbors' homes could use some help as well.

I don't have the resources you have with the great in-house photog with Photoshop skills but the virtual tour guy/company I use somehow makes room look larger, the angle of the photo is more flattering, and so on. The virtual tour isn't "photoshoped" but looks pretty darn good.

I'll personally remove refrigerator magnets, dish cloths from the stove and clutter from the kitchen counters if the place hasn't been professional staged. Velvet Elvises or Dogs Playing Poker are another story, though.  If there up there, so be it.  :-)

Posted by Ken Montville, The MD Suburbs of DC (RE/MAX United Real Estate) over 12 years ago
I agree with you - there is a point where you are no longer marketing the property - but something that does not exist
Posted by Thesa Chambers, Principal Broker - Licensed in Oregon (Fred Real Estate Group) over 12 years ago

Wow - I'm lucky if I can get the lighting right. I agree, what is the point in changing a house if they will see the real thing when they get there. I think there is certainly an ethical question there as well. 

Interesting 

Posted by Kevin McGrath, Long & Foster Real Estate Companies (Long & Foster Real Estate Companies- Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania) over 12 years ago
I agree that changing the physical house is crossing the line... HOWEVER, I have to admit that I recently edited out a hole in a wall because the owner assured me that a repair was forthcoming.  Obviously, I believe that pulled me back across the line into the area of acceptability.
Posted by Don Stern, Greater Baton Rouge Real Estate (Realty Executives South Louisiana) over 12 years ago

Patricia - wow! you are one lucky girl to have someone like that who is able to edit those photos! Good for you!!! That is not cheating, that is being smart! Bravo!

Posted by Billnulls Blog Florida Realty Professional, AHWD (Charles Rutenberg Realty) over 12 years ago
Patricia, I think quality photos are an important part of the listing process. If you have a person who can take great shots, and then tweak them to perfection, I say job well done!
Posted by Dean Christiansen (EXIT Three Rivers Realty) over 12 years ago

As a photographer and realtor, I deal with this with every listing.  I would not redo a countertop or place artwork that was not there (maybe the artwork...) but removing personal objects and certainly cars on the street would be acceptable, even mandatory.  A lot can be avoided by intelligent camera placement, but sometimes my trusty-ol "PS" is needed!

Posted by Jeff R. Geoghan, REALTOR, Marketing Manager (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 12 years ago
Love the analogy So true. It is like reading the remarks that tell of a palace and walking into a disaster. Your just wasting people's time. They're not buying  the picture. Show what you've got. Bait and switch is never a good practice
Posted by Sally Zatkoff, Making a Difference (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services PenFed Realty) over 12 years ago

Look, I'm not sure if when writing this blo, your looking for an ethics lesson. Although I do agree with many of the posts. 

I think good marketing is good marketing. Be honest, but make sure those photos look like a million dollars. I use a Nikon D80 with a 12x12mm super wide angle lense. I also use my Photoshop CS2 and WOW. With the Nikon I don't have to do much editing.

Please see my work online at www.ArizonaParadiseLiving.com 

Posted by Brian Dunshie, Realtor - Arizona Biltmore,Arcadia,Paradise Valley (Russ Lyon | Sotheby's International Realty) over 12 years ago

What a great post! 

It is our job to get folks thru the door.  But we can not disapoint them when they get there.  So, in my book touch up is ok.  Taking a car out of the drive way is ok.  Changing the color of the drive way is not. Upping the contrast is ok.  Moving windows and changing the physical nature of the home is not. 

John Petrella, REALTOR®
ABR®, GRI, Broker/Owner

Direct: 808.640.3953
Local@LocalHawaiiRealEstate.com

Local Hawaii Real Estate
Honesty • Integrity • Commitment

159 Keawe St., Suite 1
Hilo, HI  96720

Local Hawaii Real Estate

REALTOR® is a federally registered collective membership mark which identifies a real estate professional who is Member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics.

Posted by John Petrella (Local Hawaii Real Estate) over 12 years ago
Patricia,  My husband does my photos and editing, but he refuses to do much more than adjust brightness and contrast - being a realtor he personally moves garbage cans, hoses and minor items before he takes the picture.  Cars don't bother me unless they're up on blocks.  Karen
Posted by Karen Kruschka, - "My Experience Isn't Expensive - It's PRICELESS" (RE/MAX Executives) over 12 years ago

There are ethical lines in any aspect of business:  is it wrong to touch up a plate of food before photographing it for a menu?  Will that shirt look as good on me as on that model?  Photoshop and similar software will be here forever and so will the use of it.  Where the ethical line is drawn is up to us.  I believe enhancement and slight editing is fine:  any reasonable adult, heck a 9 year-old knows that not everything is just like the picture on the box.  The problem lies in changing or altering the fundamentals of a property.  Putting a picture of a Mercedes in an ad and telling us this used car is for sale, when it is really a Yugo--the same principle applies to real estate. 

One would think that common sense would apply, but I guess it isn't that "common" any more!

Posted by Kent Simpson, Real Estate Is About People (Realty One Group Mountain Desert) over 12 years ago
Oh I must admit...I'm pretty crafty with Photoshop myself.  Mostly it is getting rid of dead or brown patches in a lawn but I don't ever cross the line on property condition....scary!
Posted by Shannon Lefevre, Shannon Lefevre, PA Your Naples Smart Girl (John R. Wood Properties) over 12 years ago

I love CS2. and use for enhancing every shot I take.  I would never go as far as your example (change paintings, etc), that's just a huge waste of time.  It might get one more showings, but misleading the buyers will not help the house sell faster.  I do like what your photographer is doing.  

One thing that I use, is adding text to pictures.  Short sentenses like  In the best part of Maspeth!  It helps me tell a story of that particular home.  Also, not too many other agents are doing it, so my listings stand out, and that's always a good thing. 

Posted by Bart Olszewski (Keller Williams Landmark II) over 12 years ago

Taken from NAR 2008 Realtor Code of Ethics:

Article 12
REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.

Posted by Mike Gambino, GRI (Prudential Patterson Realtors) over 12 years ago

We won't remove anything that is immovable (e.g., powerlines, cable box, etc.).  If it IS movable, then digital removal is OK as long as the representation is accurate.  For example, we'll remove a dog from the bag yard, but I won't remove a stain off the driveway because if they buy the home the dog will be gone but the stain will still be there.  Likewise, I've dropped a hot air balloon into the background (assuming balloons do go by in the area) for artistic license and mood because everyone understands that if they buy the house the hot air balloon doesn't come with the view.  In general, we won't digitally remove autos from photos simply because of the hassle, but I have no problem asking the next door neighbor to move the car so the photograph looks nicer.  The alternative, of course, is to take the photo so that you avoid the car altogether.  Finally, as to furniture, this is all "staging;" if the furniture doesn't come with the home, you can bring your own props or touch up what's there to make it look good; if the furniture doesn't convey, there's been no misrepresentation.  To me, these are just commonsense rules as someone suggested. 

Posted by John Hokkanen, Encinitas Real Estate (SurfTheTurf.com) over 12 years ago
I absolutely agree with what many have said.  Editing to sharpen image, adjust lighting, and remove photo 'clutter' such as electrical cords, plates on countertop, etc., is totally acceptable (and, at times, expected by my clients). I've used it to remove distracting glare on windows and pictures as well as to create cheery sunny sky on an otherwise dreary, cloudy day.  The line for me rests clearly in keeping the integrity of the property, though, so the buyer sees an accurate depiction of the home for sale. 
Posted by Trish Edmonds (Ad Vantage Virtual Tours, LLC) over 12 years ago

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