Is Front Exterior Shot From South Sydney Australia Listing Misleading?

February 16th, 2016

ScamToday there was a story flying around the net that a front exterior shot used by a listing agent in South Sydney, Australia was misleading. The photo on the top right was used to list the home but the photo on the bottom right is from Google Street View of the listing address. Hmm, do you think there’s something misleading here?

Both the listing agent and the Australian site that started the story claims there was no digital trickery going on, that the photo was just taken from an angle so you couldn’t see the large water tank behind the home. News.com.au also claims that their research shows that the photo was not photoshopped.

The fact is, it doesn’t make much difference whether the photo was photoshopped or not, this is an outrageous deception! The listing agent is foolish for using such a photo because anyone on the planet can look at the property on Google Street view if they know the address (31A Penshurst Ave, Penshurst NSW 2222, Australia).

A huge number of photography sites reported this story and readers from literally all over the world told me about this story, more than any real estate photography story ever! I think the reason so many people were talking about it is that it’s so outrageous.

I frankly think that any listing agent that pulls a stunt like this deserves to lose their real estate license.

Update Feb 19: I got several questions about where the limits are and what the ethics are for photo modification. Over the years, we’ve talked about this subject many times here on the PFRE blog and I’ve distilled the community’s thinking on this subject on the Ethics page.

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22 Responses to “Is Front Exterior Shot From South Sydney Australia Listing Misleading?”

  • This is clever photography. We all use angles to obscure unsightly objects. Personally, I would have done the same thing, but left a small portion of the water tank showing.

  • the sky looks shopped : with a blue sky with a few cirrus you should have cast shadows but the house shadows looks like from an overcast sky, and then you notice that with a wide angle FOV, the clouds should be much more elongated . The POV hiding the tank is clever, misleading but should stay legal IMO, if that’s illegal what could be the limit? But the fact it is shopped (for the sky) cast a doubt about its veracity.

    The real chore is for the agent to get customers there and have their jaw drop at the tank. You will have so much pointless visits, you’re going to put back a real perspective pic. Gus is right, the best thing to do is to have a perspective which minimizes the tank but let it in the view, a bit like the 2010 sale view.

  • I have a similar photo. I took one as I approached the house because it was so unique. It is not often that you see a backhoe and other heavy equipment on the roof. They were re-working the intersection of two toll roads and this was the exit ramp which was above the roof of the house. For the actual photo I used an UWA at about the same distance I normally do (around the sidewalk to not show it), and walked to the left for better framing, using a tree to an advantage. A split 2 story home and the ramp was level with the first level roof. I had to wait for an earthmover/grader to move behind the upper story.

    Bottom line – any mapping software will tell you it backs up to thee intersection of the 417/408. It was one of my top “Hall of Fame” performers, going to contract in 10 days and public records show it selling for 4% above asking price.

  • The Street View imagery is from January 2014. The article is written February 2016. No info on the actual date of the listing though? Unless the silo was demolished between January 2014 – Febraury 2016, the agent was definitely using sly tactics. Agree they should lose license or at least lose it for a few years if in fact the silo actually exists while the property is listed.

  • This reminds me of the latest “trick” I’m seeing in our market now. Realtors upload their pictures sideways. At first it was lower priced listings but then it caught on and I started seeing it in the $600k range. There is nothing prohibiting this in our MLS. The first photo is right side up, then at least one is sideways. It is jarring to the eye so buyers linger on the page, as I did when I first saw this, trying to figure out – did the agent mean to do that? Does s/he know? Should I tell them? And then checking all the the other pics to see if they are that way as well. Of course, the idea is for consumers to see it, assume the realtor is not aware of this gaff and call to let them know (thinking they are helping the agent) and then boom…realtor has a buyer lead. To me, it’s unbelievably lazy. This is done by the agents who do not use a professional photographer. If you use a professional, there is no need for tricks.

  • I have not done quite so drastic a job hiding something, but, I have hidden plenty of stuff. I provide a normal angle image also, so at least I am not going back when the realtor gets tired of the complaints and wants to show what is really there. I think this was a bad move on the realtor’s part. Hope it costs him, at least some credibility, anyway. I agree with the post from Gus, leave some indication of the tank back there. I do not agree that just because the map will show where it is, it makes it ok to be completely deceitful. The map made me do it! Hall of Shame candidate for sure.

  • Selling real estate is a collaborative effort. To be successful, everyone from the home owner to the closing officer must do their job. Our job, as photographers not real estate agents, is to present the property in the most attractive way possible while maintaining visual accuracy. Our success is measured in showings, not closings. Let’s say that this house has some stunning amenities and features, and is priced right taking into consideration the not so nice backyard; price cures ALL objections. Obviously this house has found one owner. It’s the agent’s job to find the next one. Our job is to provide prospects.

    While I won’t fault the photographer of this property, I would’ve included a small portion of the water tower in my UWA low shot, more to avoid the appearance of deception than actual. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we work for the selling agent. Why would we present this house in the MLS in the worst possible light and possibly scare off the one person that might just love it?

  • If you read the original article in it’s entirety you might note the reference to the use of ‘wide angle lenses’ and digitally ‘brightening’ the interior photos as being examples of trickery. That alarms me somewhat. Am I to believe that somewhere out there exists a Big Brother that thinks my 16-35 is too wide and I am guilty of trickery and my client Realtors are also at risk?? And brightening a scene is now a violation of some perceived rule?

    Who else is to say what is acceptable as far as equipment or post-processing limits? Do I eliminate permanent structures from shots to assist my Realtor client in hoodwinking a potential buyer? Absolutely not!! If there is a speed limit sign in front of the house MUST I show it or is it OK to choose a different perspective so the sign is out of frame, or to just move inside the sign and use a wider lens to avoid it?

    I would not have eliminated the water tower from the photo, I would have chosen however to mitigate it’s impact on the composition be selecting a view that would reduce it’s impact on the overall photo. THAT is our job!

  • This photo comparison is great for a headline, but the whole truth probably lies somewhere else. If I were delivering a set of photos for this property, there would probably be one or two that included the water tank. The rest would draw focus away from the tank. I would probably use my pole to get a downward-angle view of the property. Yes, there’s a water tank, but we aren’t selling a water tank. Anyone who looked at the photos would see the water tank and not be surprised when they arrive to see the house in person.

  • I think this photo is absolutely misleading. Adding a bit of color to an otherwise dull sky is one thing. Removing something from a photo via the use of technology is another.

  • I think it would have been better to have included either a fraction of the water tank or presented two views of the exterior, one with and one of the nice up close photo. It’s borderline on removing a material fact, while the tank is not an attachment on the house, it is there and should be shown. But to yank someone’s license and be fined $22k, overkill, if you ask me.

    The agent and the photographer did their job in presenting the property in the best possible light. In the states, buyers are required to do due diligence. Not to do so is sheer stupidity on the buyers part.

  • Storm in a teacup!

    As real estate photographers we are in the business of creating images that garner interest in the listed property. We shoot the compositions that show the best of the home… Not the worst.
    I recently shot a property with high tension power lines just over the back fence. I stood at the back fence and shot back towards the house.
    Was I misleading anyone? I don’t think so.
    I often replace patchy grass with nice lush grass. Is that misleading? Not really. The images may have been created when there really was lush green grass at the property. (Or else it’s a vision of what could be…)
    I agree with Debra York. It’s up to the buyers to do their due diligence. Anything else is just stupid.

  • What’s really disappointing is the behavior of the RE agent & brokerage in the aftermath of this. As we see in the comments above, you can rationalize (or not) the photo in any number of ways. But if you’re going to do it, then OWN it.

    Instead, the agent instantly disavowed any knowledge of anything as soon as the controversy erupted. They claimed that the owner supplied the photo and even stated that the owner insisted that it be used. Way to step up and take responsibility, Ray White. I’m sure all the sellers in the area will be glad to know that you’re going to throw them under the bus at the first sign of trouble. And then there are the statements like “…it would appear from our own investigations that the photos have not been photoshopped…”, which are utterly laughable given the obvious sky replacement and incompetently removed power lines.

    If you’re going to engage in this kind of lame marketing, then at least have the balls to be open and forthright about it.

  • This is an ethics issue. If I were asked to remove that water tower, I would not have taken the job.

  • It is stupid of the agent to use this (tower ommitted) photo, isn’t the idea to SELL that house. Any house buyer not prepared to see a tank nearby will immediately drive away in disgust. If you show the tank, even just a bit, the house buyer is coming by, knowing and willing to accept such a condition; perhaps the only thing bringing the buyer is the price (compensated by the nearby by presence). The agent is deluding themselves if they think such a deceptive photo is helping them.

  • Had a related discussion with a client this past Sunday. The job is to create imagery to help sell the property. However I will not do anything to -materially- misrepresent the property (or product) in question.

    If there’s a requirement for a street-level shot, then the tower will likely be in it. Of course, if there were ever reason for a front-door-only shot, this might be it:). One thing’s for sure, this isn’t a condo shoot, where I’m not including adjacent units.

    One comment regarding buyer’s diligence. That applies only if you’re selling to a local customer you know will be visiting the property in person. With higher-end properties, it would definitely be unethical to use images such as these where a transaction may be completed w/o the buyer every physically seeing the property.

    And, I think that’s the litmus test. As photographer, I may shoot what I’m asked. You won’t see me using it as marketing nor with my company’s metadata tied to the image. As realtor, would I feel comfortable selling this sight-unseen to someone, feeling I had fairly represented it?

  • A little bit more truth and detail about this ‘story.’

    The Google street view photo shown is deceptive too. The tank is actually more-or-less behind the lot of the house to the right, it is not directly behind and towering over the property for sale as the street view selected (by a News Corp competitor) for comparison shows.

    The front view has been pulled from the listing at the News Corp RE website, but two of the backyard photos clearly show the tank–in it’s proper perspective behind the neighbor’s lot.

    News Corp (Murdoch newspapers) is the parent of realestate.com.au and Fairfax Media (Non-Murdoch newspapers) is the parent of domain.com.au. The two companies have been at each other tooth and nail for supremacy of their real estate sites, as the RE web sites represent the only growing business segment in their AU media empires.

    As most listings are exclusive here and there is no multiple listing service, these two web sites are essential tools for buyers. Looks like domain.com.au got the jump on realestate.com.au with a bold story on their web site ‘after’ pulling the offending photo, fanning the flames and leaving News Corp holding the bag on this one.

    It also seems the owner did insist on using the photos from when they bought the house:

    “Unwilling to pay for new photography, the owner provided the new agents with photographs arranged by Elders Real Estate Hurstville who took the home to auction in August last year…”

    Alex Chou, whose company took the original photos, said they had not used any picture editing software to remove the water tower and were instructed by all agents they work with to use the best possible angles — which they did in this case.”

    Copies of the original Elders RE brochure are shown in the news articles along with a quick snap from the agent using a gopro that essentially duplicates the view that was published. It was clearly a choice of angle and POV that resulted the water tower not showing up. So all the comments about removing the tower via photoshop do not apply to this particular photo under discussion.

    The statement in the PFRE post “News.com.au also claims that their research shows that the photo was not photoshopped.” is not actually what News Corp said. They did say that their research showed it was not digitally altered to remove the water tower–which appears to be true.

    They also said:
    “An agent’s primary role is to act according to the vendor’s instructions, providing they are within the parameters of the law. In this instance, the vendor instructed the Ray White agent to use photographs commissioned by a previous agent (five agents had previously used these photos since June last year).”

    Note that agents pass through all promotion costs-photos, signboards, advertising and promotion–to the seller in Australia (although commissions are lower here than in the US). It’s not uncommon for sellers to try to reuse old photos or to decline to pay for professional photographs (which explains in part iPhone and agent photos on websites here).

    The property is listed for sale at auction, on site, so any actual non-vision impaired buyers are going to see the tower.

    Comments like “It is stupid of the agent to use this (tower ommitted) photo, isn’t the idea to SELL that house,” don’t reflect the fact that the agent/auctioner gets paid for the auction whether the house sells at auction or not. And often houses that don’t sell at auction sell through negotiation a few days after the auction with one of the bidders. So building interest for the auction is the goal in this case.

    So it seems the real story has all the earmarks of a pretty savvy attack on News Corp by Fairfax media with a coordinated release of the story to non-Murdoch papers in the UK to generate as much hubbub as possible.

  • Has happened before….but I’d say on a bigger scale although we didn’t hear so much about it then. If you think a water tower is bad, then how about a nuclear power station!

    http://unconditional.co.nz/sunny-nelson/2009/10/01/looks-good-but-wait-a-minute-whats-this-here/

    Where its the visualization of what the imagery is that draws a buyer to a location, its only right they fell mislead when what transpires before their eyes is not at all like the home / surroundings portrayed visually in the property advert.

  • One day I pulled up to a project and the fence company had dropped a load of lumber on the driveway right in front of the house. Was I wrong to remove it with PS? Or the old beat up Dodge that their son had driven home to work on that was also in the driveway– He was at work and his folks had flown out that morning. Living in the Northwest, is it unethical to change a sky, or brighten an otherwise dull image? If I need to, then I will remove or change temporary non structural things. For me, my customers are looking for credible images that show the prominent features of the property and do it in ways that will reflect to their perspective clients that they the broker can be trusted to buy or sell the home. I look at myself as being my broker’s team, so I must represent the property in ways that will help to make people want to choose my broker to represent them.

  • @John Driggers, News Corp owns the realtor.com website in the US. They also own some behind the scenes syndication companies. When they bought the syndication companies, they discontinued allowing the other two major consumer-facing RE web sites (Trulia and Zillow, which have merged) access to the feeds. It seems like News Corp is working to have a monopoly on RE advertising worldwide. Given their past behavior, that’s scary.

  • I would say the Google photograph is misleading just as much as the other photo is, and the reason I say that is because you’re looking down on the tops of cars from vantage point of maybe 8 feet or taller, and that is not the average view that a homeowner would see walking up to the house.

    So which is more misleading – a low view, or a high view?

  • As a professional photographer (as well as a professional agent), you should always do your best to optimize the image, making the most favorable presentation possible BUT it has to still be truthful. Trying to hide a water tower is a huge waste of everyone’s time and, in this case, should well be considered deceptive.

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