Tech Tuesday: Manipulating Property Images

Graham Norwood, a freelance residential property journalist who writes for a variety of national newspapers and magazines, last week blogged about the use of digital manipulation in property photographs.

Its not the first time he has thought about the issues surrounding estate and lettings agencies using photoshop and other image editors to doctor photographs to make a property look more ‘appealing’. In 2008 he wrote a piece in The Telegraph about the tactics agencies employ to sell a product. I have spent some time thinking about the issues he raises, and here are a few reasons why I don’t think images should be doctored; and why they don’t actually need to be.

Firstly, I think its time to say goodbye to that property photo rule of always having a bright blue sky in the background. I see why that may seem like a good idea and how it could make the property seem appealing to an applicant, but in England we don’t always have the sun shining in such a picturesque manner. In a city like London, where an average of 5 people are after every property available for rent, is a grey sky, that they see all the time in real life, really going to put them off viewing a property?  No.

Importantly, its not quite as simple as that. Manipulating your image in general is not going to foster trust with a possible tenant who is going to be placing a lot of money in your hands. Especially in lettings, where tenants need to believe that the landlord or managing agent will look after their property well and fix any issues, any inkling of being deceived could turn the tenant away from wanting to rent through you.

This leads nicely to some of the other points Graham makes. The use of a lens to make rooms look larger, removing wheelie bins, cropping images to omit the kebab shop next door and boosting or suppressing interior colours are all tactics employed by some agents to make a property more appealing in a photo.

Think about when you book a holiday, and the room looks spacious and clean. If you turn up and the room is fine, but its half the size and needs some paint, you are going to feel disappointed. The thing is, there is nothing wrong with the room, and if you had seen the real images on the Internet beforehand you would have no problem at all. Its annoying but there isn’t a lot you can do – you have paid your money and you just have to get on with it, but it can leave a bitter taste.

However when it comes to finding a property to live in, applicants look at your perfect photos and then turn up the next day to view a flat and see the bins out front and the cars parked on the street. They know straightaway, before signing anything, if they have been manipulated. By taking everything you consider unnecessary out of an image, like the bins or the car in a driveway, you can make an issue out of something that would not normally have been considered a problem. The applicant has a different image in their mind and feels deceived, and unlike when they went on holiday they can stop feeling like that straight away and leave you standing on the street. Hardly a wise strategy when you want to foster trust and gain new business.

Is there ever a time where image editing could be employed? Recently one of our consultants took marketing photos inside a flat, and in one of the images we wanted to use there was a bag peeking out from behind a couch. In the end we photoshopped it out, because if the consultant had seen it at the time he would have moved it out of sight. It was a case of doing that or sending the consultant back to take the shot again – and that is quite different to cropping out a kebab shop.

That said, its not a good road to go down. We did it that one time and don’t plan on doing it again; much better to remind consultants to consider the shot that they’re framing when taking photos than to use resources photoshopping images that shouldn’t have needed ‘doctoring’ in the first place – in this instance, if a bag had been moved! In the case of doctoring images I’m not sure how many shades of grey there are, but my view is that our properties speak for themselves – we do not need to rely on falsifying bright skies to get them let. Risking the trust our customers place in us on an image just doesn’t make sense. Taking great photos is important, but by manipulating images to perfection are you not merely deceiving your customers?

What do you think?

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