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Altered photos: Removing the real from real estate

Airbrushed photos are becoming more common as prospective home buyers turn to the Web as the first point in their house hunts.

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Two years ago, Jonathan J. Miller, a Manhattan-based real estate appraiser, bought his own house outside of New York City. Shortly after the sale, he went to the Web site of the seller's agent to see the listing and noticed something unusual: The utility lines running over his house were nowhere to be seen in the listing photo. They had been entirely airbrushed out of the picture.

While he would have bought the house anyway, Miller says he was annoyed by the falsified photo.

"We physically saw the property, and therefore the utility lines, before buying, but did they really need to modify the photo that much? It didn't really seem right, either legally or ethically."

He posed this question on his real estate blog, Matrix, and it immediately became his most-read posting. Multiple real estate agents and graphic designers across the country debated the issue about the best way to show photos of homes to their best advantage. Some saw no problem with it, others said it crossed a line. "I was really surprised by the debate," says Miller. "But it seems like what happened to me was one of the least harmful examples."

Sprucing up digitally  
Source: Bankrate.com

Internet driving the trend
According to the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, 83 percent of home buyers check home-listing photos on the Internet before they visit a house, and they outrank video tours by a margin of two to one.

"It is more and more critical to have a presence online, both to generate interest in the agent and present properties in the best light to interest buyers," says Chris McElroy, an agent with real estate firm The Group in Fort Collins, Colo.

Only 45 percent of real estate agents currently use the Web for their businesses, the NAR says, but that number will grow as the market increasingly favors buyers. And agents, under the gun to close a deal, will feel more pressure to make their properties look as ideal as possible.

Home photos for real estate listings are taken either by the agent or a professional photographer. Some agents just rely on photographing the best angle. McElroy says his firm has its own staff photographer who takes multiple photos of every room and exterior from different angles so the agent can pick the one that shows off the room in its best light. Other agents rely on technology for that by uploading photos into a software program such as Photoshop, where they can crop, edit and visually enhance them. Sometimes the agent does it himself; other times the agent requests a graphic designer to make the changes.

Next: " ... it's up to each agent to decide what the limitations are."
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