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Photoshopping can be used to produce misleading MLS photos that give buyers false hopes, only to be let down when they see the home in person. Here’s what you need to know.

No matter the state of the housing market, polished listings attract prospective buyers and lead to better offers. That’s why real estate agents work with professional photographers to capture each property in the best possible way.

The goal is to showcase the home’s best features with flattering angles, optimal lighting and oftentimes some light editing. However, some agents take “photoshopping” to the next level and produce misleading MLS photos that give buyers false hopes, only to be let down when they see the home in person.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Evolution of Editing MLS Photos

Realtors of decades past relied on professional-grade photography for their MLS listings, doing the best they could with the pictures they were given. But as technology evolved, it offered greater possibilities for showcasing properties. A modern MLS listing can include drone photography, interactive floor plans and 360-degree virtual tours along with a standard photo gallery.

These online experiences can be incredibly helpful for prospective buyers, especially those who are moving from a different area and can’t immediately visit the property—but only if they’re truthful. Filters and overly edited MLS photos present a false image and do more harm than good. Unfortunately, the pressures of perfection on social media have extended to real estate, and misleading MLS photos are rampant.

Simple Retouching Is Acceptable

There is a major difference between a small retouch and a misleading edit. Retouching simply helps present the property in its best light, sometimes literally. “Photoshop” can bring out the blue in the sky, brighten colors that were previously hidden in shadow, touch up the front lawn or remove an unsightly trash can or car from the driveway.

These examples do not change the fundamental appearance of a property, so they do not give buyers cause for complaint upon arrival. As a general rule, if a detail can be easily changed (e.g., the trash can be moved into the garage) then a retouch is not unethical.

It’s All About Perspective

“Photoshop” and filters can be used sparingly in MLS photos, but a more common photography trick is “forced perspective.” Wide angle lenses capture a large area all at once and can seemingly add square footage to a space. Additionally, the angle of a shot can over emphasize or hide certain features of a property.

Consider this famous example of a listing in Japan that created the illusion of a spacious pool by merely shooting from a favorable angle. Buyers who suspect similar trickery should carefully read the description of the property and, in many cases, can use Google Street View for an unedited look.

When Photoshopping MLS Photos Crosses the Line

Light retouching can highlight a home’s best features beautifully, but there are instances where Photoshopping MLS photos crosses the line. Generally, any edits that drastically change the appearance of the property itself are unethical and possibly a violation of consumer fraud laws and other laws, and buyers can make complaints. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Smoothing holes or cracks in walls and/or cement
  • Adding grass, plants or trees where they don’t naturally grow
  • Removing power lines or other permanent fixtures
  • Changing paint colors
  • Moving light fixtures, doors, windows or other features

If a detail cannot be changed in a matter of minutes, it probably should not be “Photoshopped” to make buyers think otherwise.

Find an Experienced Real Estate Attorney

We have seen it all; covering a pool with grass in an image and even showing a working wood burning fireplace in an MLS photo which we found out later was not even a working, inspection approved fireplace!  MLS photos are a crucial part of each listing, and they can be a deciding factor of whether to visit or even place an offer on a property that is for sale. If you have been misled by MLS photos and wish to pursue legal action, our attorneys can provide you with legal options.

Contact us today at 602-562-7218 to schedule an initial consultation or make an appointment online.

Call us today at (602) 533-2840 for an appointment.