PICTURE PERFECT

Digitally altering photographs is a normal procedure when advertising a property, but some of your alterations may be breaking the law. Jhai Mitchell explains how to comply with the legal frameworks

I recently stumbled across some heated discussions regarding real estate photography on popular forum site Whirpool Forums. I discovered that a large number of homebuyers were outraged at agents who Photoshopped their advertising images.

While criticism included unrealistically ‘blue skies’ and ‘lush green lawns’, I found people were more infuriated by agents who deliberately removed power lines and had added a view that could not be seen from the property.

As I read the comments, I started to get angry. I knew I would be upset if I arrived at an open home after seeing Photoshopped images and expecting my dream home, only to find a dump instead.

In my opinion, real estate agents lack an awareness of how people are talking about them online. Let’s take a look at one forum thread on Whirlpool Forums, titled ‘Ban Photoshopping Real Estate Photos!’

Now you may think these are just geeks typing away in the dead of the night, but these are buyers, sellers, investors and developers in your local farm patch. The scariest thing is that they are not afraid to post links of your properties and links to [NSW] Fair Trading to get you into trouble.

These are very educated people doing all their research online, and they are not afraid to express their opinions.

What I find interesting is there are agents out there who do not expect to get caught. With a few clicks, someone can find the property on Google Street View and verify whether an image is genuine. That is exactly what people are doing because they do not trust Photoshopped photography.

There was one real estate agent who almost suffered a fine of $220,000 in this way. He added landscaping and imaginary trees to disguise neighbouring units, as well as an orange sunset that made the property appear as if it was in tropical Bali.

One of the forum users posted, “When I sell my house, I’ll be taking my own photos and uploading them as they are and labelling them, ‘not Photoshopped’, following all the labeling guidelines provided by the Fair Trading”.

I’ll give you an example of where you can be caught out. Let’s say you are taking a photo of the city from a balcony of the property you are selling and you zoom in to get a better shot. You upload it online and start advertising it as having city views. Did you do the right thing? Yes and no. You took a photo from the balcony from which the view could be see seen, which was correct, but you failed to disclose what zoom you used. This is a common mistake.

Section 51 of the NSW Property, Stock and Business Agents Act 2002 clearly states that real estate agents must not zoom in on a photograph of a view that can be seen from the property to make that view appear closer than it actually is.

The answer is disclosure. Agents have a legal requirement to disclose information to buyers and what this allows us to do is make slight, presumptive changes to the advertising in question.

For example, we can add a nice picture of a park one kilometre down the street and disclose this as a “location shot”. Good agents know this works as subliminal advertising even though it is disclosed. I see this all the time where busy professional buyers see a pretty photo, skim though the advertising online, come to the open home and ask me questions that were answered in the advertising already. I’m sure you have had this happen to you, so don’t be afraid to disclose and follow the law.

Jhai Mitchell is the internet marketing business development manager at Elders Real Estate Toongabbie

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