When does creative marketing become deceitful?

Thirty-five years ago when I entered the real estate profession, things were very different and in many ways, easier. Contracts were one page long, financing was done by and handshake at the local banks, we had the very modern Polaroid camera to take our instant photos, and, if you can imagine, no MLS. Today everything is different about the business and the advancement in technology has been incredible. For people like me who are still trying to figure out how fax machines work, it is sometimes overwhelming.

Enter the age of the digital camera and Photoshop. How wonderful! We can do our own photo editing and enhancements right at our own computer. We can create a House Beautiful magazine cover out of a handyman special with just a few mouse clicks. After all, isn’t this what we are supposed to do to help your clients sell their houses? Article 1 of the NAR Code of Ethics clearly states that we are to promote the best interests of our clients. So what if we improve the look of the their rather tired looking home? Aren’t we promoting their interest? Doesn’t the seller want a fast sale?

Let’s take a look at Article 12, which states we must present a true picture in our advertising. So, where do we draw the line? Do you think it is okay to photoshop into our listing photos a “new driveway” so the house looks better? Is it okay to “patch the grass?” Remove a mailbox and a telephone pole and stains from the driveway? Is it okay to remove the trash cans the owner forgot to put in the garage?

When have we gone beyond helping our clients and deceiving the public?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to When does creative marketing become deceitful?

  1. Jeremy Hart says:

    I’ve always thought that changing the details of the photo – the color of the sky, adding grass where there is none, or removing details – is in clear violation of Article 12. I don’t enhance any pictures save for cropping to remove something outside the boundary of the lot, or rotating to correct the camera being off-angle … it’s a great point, where do you draw the line? I hope others will comment, this is a good topic.

  2. Scott Brunner says:

    Good points and question, Roseanne. I’m naive enough to think that common sense and conscience should prevail, and if it violates either or both of those, it’s probably not ethical. But then again, to paraphrase and misappropriate the Apostle Paul, one person’s common sense is another’s foolishness, right?

  3. Tony Arko says:

    I could make the argument that using the word “cozy” instead of “small” is deceptive. I could also make the argument that making the sky blue is not deceptive because yesterday the sky was blue but not today when I took the photo. I should be able to add the grass because this picture was taken in the winter but in the summer the grass is very green. When it comes down to it, if you make minor adjustments to the photo that improve the chances of the home being shown it is in your clients best interest. If those adjustments are so drastic as to irritate a potential buyer than I think that could be a violation of both articles of the code. But good luck trying to enforce it.

  4. I’ve long given up on there being any “clear violations” everyone seems to have a point of view, and where in COE we deal with “preponderance of the evidence” in lieu of “reasonable doubt.”

    I think we still need to take into consideration the intent of the practitioner before judging. If we take this too far than Realtors working on behalf of builders, using an artist sketch would be in violation. I think that hiding a known material facts is “of the devil” as Water Boy would say. However, cropping a picture to exclude a dirt front yard is possibly OK… just my opinion and would depend on the circumstances.

    To an extent I am with Tony when it comes to editing the “environmental issues”, so to brighten the sky, so that you don’t have to come back when there is no overcast is not probably unreasonable. Delaying showings for a great sunshiny day in June is a bit much.

    I think this is a tougher question that can be answered with the information given, but the true test is what does the consumer think is too much editing? Not the Seller, but the buyer – what would they say? Afterall, isn’t that who benefits from the picture? Doesn’t the buyer use it to decide which house they would like to go see?

    Just a shout out to Roseanne, who just a few weeks ago at dinner stated that she “didn’t get blogs” is now a great contributer to one!!! I love adaptable people!

  5. Alecia Moroz says:

    I agree that the question of when the line of good marketing versus deception has been crossed needs to be assessed from the buyer’s perspective. The common sense question to ask oneself is at what point would most buyers feel as though they’ve been duped by an edited photo? I doubt you’d find any buyer complaining about a blue sky in the photo if it was cloudy the day they viewed the property. Likewise, most buyers probably wouldn’t feel misled if a photo was cropped to leave out a decaying driveway. But 9 out of 10 buyers (or more) would think the listing agent had committed false advertising if they doctored the photo to make the driveway appear brand new, when in fact it was falling apart.

    There are no hard and fast rules, but common sense is always a guide.

  6. Thank you all for your comments and I am glad you like the topic. Just a couple of points and observations I would like to make, and, perhaps, give some additional “food for thought”.

    Scott, my Dad had a wonderful expression he frequently used–he used to say “common sense is none too common”. The older I get, the smarter my Dad becomes in my memories. I guess if we all had commone sense and a conscience, the Professional Standards committees would have nothing to do! We can only hope that day comes.

    Interestingly enough, this issue was discussed at great length at the NAR Professional Standards committee meeting in November. Some agents have actually “painted” the house, “repaired” the roof, and “repaved” a driveway. Needless to say, this is deception. NAR felt it would be impossible to write a standard of practice to cover every scenario. So, this is left up to a case by case situation.

    Remember, there is a difference between “framing” a photo when you take it so the house shows in the best light; and, editing a photo after the fact. Using contrast, enhancing the color of the sky in no way changes the actual home.

    Matthew, you brought up using an artist sketch for new construction. I would suggest using the banner “similar construction” to cover yourself, but that would be ok. Yes, Matthew, I do remember the comment at dinner. I have amazed myself. Ben is a good teacher, so it goes to show, you can each an old dog a new trick or two!

    At the end of the day, ask yourself if using doctored photos is really promoting your client’s interest. Ultimately, a buyer is going to physically see the property. If it is substantially different from what was represented, you may have succeeded in really annoying the buyer. Possibly, an otherwise easily dealt with objection may become an insurmountable obstacle. So, what have you really gained?

  7. This is a great question. As a former photographer I can make a studio look like a 3 bedroom. Maybe a disclosure is in order. Something like “Photos are better than property” in the remarks.

  8. Frank, you make an interesting point. Some agents are certainly better photographers than others. Good photos are ok. It’s the altered ones that cause the problem.

  9. Jay Thompson says:

    I’ve used “retouched” photos to help sellers understand the impact of things they can do. The driveway is a perfect example. It is one thing to tell a seller “you should power wash the driveway”. It’s much more effective to show them “before and after” photos and say, “which one looks better?”

    But showing them to the seller and representing to the public that this is what the house looks like now are two different things.

    Adjusting tilt, contrast, even brightening the sky are one thing. Brushing out a trash can is probably OK (though really, why not just move it before you take the shot?). But brushing out a telephone pole? That’s incredibly deceptive in my opinion.

  10. Some good points Jay. Great idea to show sellers what improvments can do to the curb appeal of their home. Appreciate your comments.

  11. Just as an “aside” I’ve recently went on staff at FAAR as the Director of Education, thus turning over my real estate practice to my wife. As we rode around to make her familiar with her new listings, she kept saying “This isn’t the same house as your pictures – the pictures look WAY better.” Not a one of them were modified. Lots can be done with a good camera and an eye for the correct vantage point.

  12. There is no question some photos are better than others. But, you can’t get in trouble for taking a good photograph. Deliberately altering photos is another matter.

  13. Michelle Robertson says:

    Rosanne, perhaps we should begin with our own photos on our business cards :-)…thanks for generating some good conversation for “both” sides…marketing is about putting the best forward but when are we no longer marketing and when are we “deceiving”? adding grass in the winter so a consumer can “visualize” what it will look like in the summer is a fine example…of course it begs the question, will there be grass there in the summer? Like our photos on our cards–do we want the consumer “surprised” when they arrive–seems to defeat the purpose of good “marketing”…thanks for giving us something to think about…

  14. Thanks for the comments Michelle. I agree with you about the cards–sometimes it can really be a surprise when we see the agent in person. If that fell under Article 12, PS committee could be very busy! In thinking about adding grass in the winter, you also risk having someone think the home has been on the market a lot longer than it actually has been. I think it’s always best to “show it like it is”, and, that way there is never a question.

  15. Pingback: Cool Photoshop Tricks | The Phoenix Real Estate Guy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *