Spot fake real estate photos before booking an in-person home visit

An online photo of a home for sale in Cannon Beach taken The attention of Phil Jones. The picture wasn’t of a sweeping ocean view from a hilltop or the towering brick fireplace in the living room.

Jones, a lawyer who often checks online real estate listings, couldn’t take his eyes off the misshapen kitchen appliances.

The microwave and stove seemed wide enough to park a car in, he joked. The camera also lengthened the dishwasher and made the doors appear larger than their standard size.

“Suddenly a small kitchen looks like the White House kitchen,” Jones said.

A home for sale in Cannon Beach has misshapen kitchen appliances.Zillow

Almost all home buyers search for online listings first. How do you spot misleading photos before booking an in-person tour?

In real estate photos, it’s okay to brighten up a cloudy sky, green a patch of land on the lawn, and add a virtual flame to a working fireplace, but permanent horrors can’t be erased and Fake items can’t be added, says Gregory Pierce, owner of real estate photography service Ruum Media in Oregon and Washington state.

A photographer can also touch up a hole in a wall and digitally remove an old hot tub if those repairs are done before the property goes on the market, otherwise it’s false advertising, Pierce added.

Jones, an estate planning attorney at Portland firm Duffy Kekel LLP, disapproves of some changes to photo-editing software as well as images taken to make rooms look deceptively larger than in real life.

“I once visited a house in Gearhart on the coast where the neighbor’s rusty utility trailer had been turned into a vast green lawn. Not an honest portrayal,” Jones said.

He was surprised to see old photos online of his Manzanita home in which the living room seemed stretched out, showing rectangular square windows.

Online real estate marketplaces like Zillow have an aspect ratio that favors image width over height. Parts taken with a wide angle lens to appear larger may be distorted. The telltale sign: even the lamps and thermostats look long.

Professional photographers know how to use a wide-angle lens to create a sense of depth, Pierce said. But amateur photographers or someone with a cell phone camera can shoot too close.

Objects close to the wide-angle lens appear particularly large, and distant objects appear abnormally small and distant. “If you pull too wide, the vertical lines will bend,” he said.

Fisheye lenses and other “bloat” techniques are also discouraged.

Although Adobe Photoshop and other photo-editing software make editing easy, experts agree that built-in objects such as power lines, telephone poles, and unsightly neighboring houses should not be removed from real estate photos.

An Australian property company has been fined for a photograph created with a wide-angle lens and a low angle to mask a menacing water tower behind a house.

“If the back of the house is awful, we tend not to photograph it,” said Pierce, whose photography company specializes in luxury resorts, hotels and residential properties. “Good photographers direct the viewer to the pretty pieces.”

Three-dimensional photography tours like Matterport use specialized cameras that capture multiple angles to let you explore rooms as if you were there. The images here cannot be edited by Photoshop, Pierce said.

His advice: look at the photos first, then study the Matterport images.

The National Association of Realtors has concluded in its blog that it is ethical to digitally install furniture and artwork to virtually decorate a vacant space. The intention: to allow buyers to see the potential of the house.

Since the home is not being sold furnished, the enhanced photos may be used in flyers, ads and Multiple Listing Service (MLS) pages, as well as on websites, according to the blog. association.

Light is one of the best ways to enhance a photo. Professional photographers know how to avoid moments when the house casts shadows on the yard. They also shoot at dusk, within a tight 20-minute time frame, to show an illuminated house and landscaping against a darkening sky.

They determine when interior spaces benefit the most from natural light (neither too weak nor too bright). They also draw the curtains and turn on all the light fixtures, and they ensure that an external flash does not reflect on mirrors or windows.

A camera’s high dynamic range (HDR) setting can capture more detail without additional lighting.

For an overview of a room, photographers stand in a doorway or corner and include three walls to get a sense of depth. They hold the camera at chest level and take pictures right after stabilizing the camera to avoid blurry images.

“A seller needs to make sure their real estate agent has a great working relationship with a great photographer,” Pierce said. “It will help you improve the perceived value of what is probably your most expensive asset. You can lose tens of thousands of dollars using bad photos.

Real estate photos by Ruum Media

This real estate photo of a kitchen was taken by a professional photographer from Ruum Media.Ruum Media

Photographers won’t have to wriggle their camera away from an eyesore if the seller prepares the property to look its best.

Pierce points to pill bottles on a bathroom counter in a photo. “A huge no no,” he said. Filled garbage cans, mountains of toys, messy beds and open toilet lids are also off-putting.

Long before the photographer arrives, screen every space, interior and exterior, of your home as if you were a first-time visitor. Would you like to move here?

Pierce offers these practical tips for preparing a home to truly look its best.

  • Declutter to maximize the appearance of space. Leave only larger decorative items like vases and bowls.
  • Depersonalizing rooms by removing family photos and keepsakes helps buyers see themselves in their new home.
  • Windows and mirrors are best photographed when they are clean and streak-free.
  • The lights will be on. Replace dead bulbs, even in ceiling fans.
  • Floor mats and mats should be removed.
  • Put away remote controls, cell phones and other annoying small items.
  • Home office papers, files, bills, notes, magazines and memorabilia need to be stored. Organize what you can’t store, but delete as much as you can.
  • Declutter all surfaces. Store cords out of sight whenever possible.
  • Beds should be freshly made. Clean bedside tables and dressers of small items.
  • Towels should be color coordinated, freshly laundered, neatly folded and draped over a towel rack. Shower doors, sinks and counters should be perfectly clean. Shampoo, soap, razors, brushes and all other toiletries should be hidden away. “And hide the bathroom scale,” Pierce added.

Outside, remove parked cars from the driveway and the front of the house. Store trash cans and recycling containers in the garage or out of sight.

The lawn must be recently mowed. Sweep walkways and put away garden hoses.

Remove covers from spas and in-ground pools. Store pool tools.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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