Whether you’re photographing and editing listing images yourself or you’ve hired a professional photographer to do the job, you must ensure that photos are a true representation of a property.
Don’t retouch pictures to cover up significant property imperfections or repair issues; doing so could violate the REALTORS® Code of Ethics Article 12, which says, “REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”
So, how can you be sure your edited images don’t cross the line? Daniel Rothamel, an agent in Virgina, has a general rule: If it’s a permanent item, fixture, or problem—or something that’s not easily remedied—then don’t change it in the photographs.
For instance, you might feel compelled to add a little grass to a sparse yard, but that can lead to unrealistic buyer expectations of the property. A buyer could even file a complaint against the listing agent.
It may be acceptable to remove a trash can from a driveway in an exterior listing shot because that can is moveable in real life. But editing out power lines, which can’t be moved in real life, amounts to misrepresenting the true picture of the property.
Listing photos should show the home at its best, but digital manipulation that isn’t realistic or true to the property’s actual appearance may “modify a physical element of the property,” which means you are “falsely advertising and opening yourself to legal risks,” says Jacy Riedmann, of Amoura Productions Real Estate Photography & Video in Austin, Texas.
Here are a few property elements that Riedmann says should never be manipulated or removed from photographs.
Never ask your photographer to hide holes in walls or cracks in cement.
Grass or plants should not be added where they do not exist.
Leave all power and telephone lines as is.
Don’t change paint colors, paint blemishes, or positions of light fixtures.
“There’s a difference between doctoring an image and just touching it up,” says Jordan DiCaprio, owner of Hampton Roads Real Estate Photography in Virginia. He shoots a lot of aerial photography and video, which is a nice way to show off properties close to the beach. Sometimes, adjacent properties may appear in the shot, and it might be enticing to edit out the neighbor’s inflatable pool, for instance. DiCaprio errs on the side of caution, opting to leave all properties undisturbed. Sometimes, to draw attention to a featured listing, he’ll leave the property in color and turn the rest of the image black and white. But he still doesn’t remove or alter physical elements.
Another point of contention when it comes to photo manipulation relates to artificial high dynamic range (HDR) photography enhancement. HDR is the technique used to layer several images with various exposure levels into one shot so that the highlights and shadows are more evenly exposed. The results can be remarkable if used correctly. However, it can also create a hypercolor effect that looks oversaturated and false.
Often, HDR is used so that a room’s interior and the view through a window can be shown simultaneously in the same picture. Sometimes, the effect works—but not always. “Having partial view outside is OK,” says Erickson. “But if you have the room in full view as well as the outside in full view, it looks manipulated—because it is.”
While some people may love the vivid colors, others prefer a more natural look. Excessive HDR enhancement might work for a “coming soon” picture an agent posts to their Instagram, but in listing photos, it’s walking a thin ethical line. “If the colors are not natural, ask the photographer to adjust them,” Riedmann says.
Here are a few additional tips from Riedmann to ensure your photo session goes smoothly.
To showcase a property, make sure it’s clean and ready to go at the time of the shoot.
Ask your photographer for a readiness checklist, or bring in a real estate stager who is willing to gently coax your sellers into removing extra clutter and family photos ahead of the shoot.
Make sure lightbulbs are working and are the same color temperature in every room.
Bathroom counters and showers should be clean and cleared, fans dusted, and blinds in working order.