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Online Versus Reality — Real Estate Listing Pictures Can Be Misleading!

Have you ever experienced the excitement of finding the "perfect home" online? Likely you spent WAY too much time scrolling all of the beautiful pictures — already imagining yourself lounging in the beautiful vaulted living room and cooking in the kitchen (with all new appliances!) You can't believe that the asking price falls in your price range, so you quickly schedule a time to see the house in person. You can barely wait to arrive for the showing, but when you do, you aren't even sure it's the right house. It can't be, right?

misleading house listing pictures

It doesn't even look like the home in the pictures. Although hesitant, you decide it's worth going inside since you're already there. To your dismay, things are only worse once you're inside. The entire downstairs needs a paint job and new flooring, plus those "new" appliances don't look so new after all. This, unfortunately, happens all too often when it comes to homes online versus reality.

What gives?

You're probably wondering how this could have happened? How can a home that looks so amazing online be completely different in person?

Picture tricks

Most Real Estate Agents will use a professional photographer to take pictures for the home listing. These photographers are trained and experienced in making sure their pictures give the best possible representation of a space. Some examples of this are:

  • Perspective/use of angles — certain perspectives and angles can really enhance a space, make it appear much larger, or completely leave less desirable things out.
  • Type of camera lens used — photographers will use the best lens for the job and in this case, it's often wide-angle. This makes a space look significantly larger than what it would seem in person.
  • Photoshop or photo editing software — often used to brighten or retouch pictures, and while it doesn't outright add anything to the photo, it is a bit misleading by essentially making the space look the best it ever will (on its VERY best day).
  • Stretching photos — when all else fails, giving photos a little stretch will make a space look bigger than it actually is.

In the image below, the perspective makes the kitchen appear wide open. But what you can't see is the wall just outside the frame on the right, which separates the small kitchen from the other living spaces.

misleading house listing pictures
Image from Rune Enstad, Unsplash

Virtual staging

Staging a home is a very common process when it comes to selling a home, especially considering it can dramatically reduce the amount of time a home stays on the market. The owner either hires someone (or does it themselves) to clean, organize, rearrange and potentially replace furniture/furnishings to make the home more aesthetically pleasing. This is all done before taking the home listing photos or showing the home to potential buyers.

While there should be no issue with this process and is very common, a different method of "staging" poses major issues — virtual staging. This type of "staging" is accomplished using online platforms or software and requires no change to the actual home. New floors? Check! Upgrade the appliances? No problem! Make the room bigger and add crown molding? Done in a few clicks. Now all that's left to do is to upload these images into the home listing and you instantly have a much more attractive home that potential buyers will be lining up to see.

This practice is a highly disputed topic in the industry and while it's typically left up to the discretion of the listing Agent, there is a fine line when it comes to "sprucing up" an image versus total misrepresentation.

What to do?

In most cases, home listing photos are going to highlight the best of a house, and will likely leave out any negatives. Even if a home is basically flawless in person, chances are the photos will still look nicer. So, it's a good idea to just prepare for this fact. In the case of virtual staging, there is not much you can do aside from seeing the house in person. In other cases, you can be on the lookout for a few things.

  • Keep an eye out for things that look out of proportion or have odd shapes (appliances, windows, doors, bed frames, etc.); there is a good chance the photo has been distorted (likely by stretching).
  • If a photo only shows a couple of walls in a room, it's probably a small space.
  • Do things in the photo look overly vibrant? If so, the photo has probably been enhanced which makes everything look more fresh and new than it likely is.
  • Use an online search to see if there is a street view of the house which should give you a more realistic view when it comes to the size of the yard space/home.
misleading house listing pictures

Yes, it can feel very frustrating that a home you've found online does not match what you see in person. Misleading photos can really set the wrong expectations. Try to remember though, that in many cases the sellers and their Agent are simply doing their best to show the home in its best form.

By understanding some of the techniques used for home listing photos, you can be more prepared and have a better set of expectations when searching for a home. If you're ever unsure about a listing's photos you can always check with your Real Estate Agent who should be able to give some insight.

Want more advice about all things home — including homebuying or selling advice? Nestiny is a great place for homebuyer education and to help you gauge how ready you are to buy a home. Journey Homeward allows you to enter all your wants and needs while the True Affordability Tool will break down your budget, showing what you can comfortably afford. You will also receive a Ready Report that will give you a vital head start in the home buying journey, saving you valuable time and money.

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