Last week, Dave in California raised the issue of how far real estate photographers should go when removing things from real estate images.
Over the years, we've had a lot of heated discussions here about the ethics of image modification in the context of real estate photography. I think the subject is important enough to have a separate page dedicated to summarizing what has evolved out of these discussions over the years.
Here is a general outline of some guidelines:
- Real estate photographers typically work for the listing agent and in some cases will be asked to modify photographs of properties for sale.
- Listing agents everywhere have a legal responsibility to not "materially misrepresent" a property. That's a meaningful expression to lawyers since it keeps popping up every time this subject is talked about.
- Modifying or removing temporary objects like garbage cans, cars, or overcast skies is customary and generally not considered materially misrepresenting the property.
- Removing permanent objects like power lines, telephone poles, and neighboring homes are customarily considered materially misrepresenting the property because they hide undesirable permanent property features.
- Landscaping seems to be an area where not everyone agrees. Landscaping seems to be in between permanent and temporary. Many people believe that fixing defects in the grass or landscaping is OK, whereas others believe it is not OK. When there is some question about if a feature is permanent or temporary, it's safest to treat it as a permanent feature.
In summary, the photographer is working for the listing agent, not the potential buyer and representation of the property is the listing agent's legal responsibility, not the photographer's. However, diligence suggests that if the photographer is asked to modify photographs they believe materially misrepresents the property, they should document in writing the fact they are modifying the photograph at the agent's request.