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Little Grey Lies: Photoshopping Listing Photos

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 [1] 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?