Sure, You Can Retouch Your Listing Photos-but How Much Is Too Much?

photoshopWe’re neck-deep in the Photoshop era—retouching, it seems, has become an inescapable part of everyday life.  Dating-site photos are retouched. Cover models are retouched. LinkedIn portraits are retouched (or so we’ve heard). Cat photos on Facebook are sometimes even retouched. All of it is meant to show their subjects in the best possible—or sometimes, impossible—light.

But when does retouching go a bit too far?

That question came up recently when an Australian real estate agency grabbed international headlines after posting picture-perfect photos of a Sydney home on the market—which mysteriously omitted the massive water tower that looms above the property like a rocket ship.

Yeah, we all know the deal: Listing photos exist to inform and educate, but also to entice prospective buyers to come and see a property in person. There are some simple and effective best practices. Maybe the lighting makes the rooms look more spacious. Maybe a bookcase is hiding that hole Grandpa accidentally punched in the wall. But overreach, and you might experience backlash.

And that’s exactly what happened in Australia. Con Economos, the principal agent of real estate agency Ray White in Rockdale, New South Wales, denied that the photo in question had been altered—and told the Daily Mail Australia that it was simply “taken at an angle.” (We wish we could find an angle that would make a giant structure on a hill disappear.)

The agency has since been ordered to take down the photos by the Office of NSW Fair Trading, after potential buyers who actually went to see the property in the Sydney suburb, Penshurst, complained about the hulking eyesore behind it, according to the Daily Mail.

While omitting a major landmark or substantial photoshopping is a no-no, sellers and real estate agents can instead photograph the home at the best possible angles, says Matt Liss, a Chicago real estate broker at Mark Allen Realty.

That said, photographic creativity is often a must. “You don’t want to show that you’re right next door to a gas station,” he says. So instead, a photo could stop at the edge of the home—so agents aren’t putting one over on unsuspecting prospective buyers. That’s cool.

And sometimes the absence of photos can help. Agents can list the unpleasant bits—like the bubble-gum-pink painted walls or the stripper pole in the kitchen—in the notes attached to the listings.

“I don’t want to make anyone angry for driving out to a home without knowing what is around it,” says Dee Evans, a real estate agent at Dallas-based Ebby Halliday Realtors®. “That’s setting everybody up for a loss.”

“Full disclosure is the best way to sell a home,” Evans says. “Try to present the house in the best way … without ever photoshopping anything.” And as the old adage goes, let the buyer beware—or at least Google Earth the property.


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