"That's a great looking house," I wrote to a colleague of mine, whose e-flyer had just landed in my inbox. "Where's it going to trade?"
"Not as high as you might guess," she said "unfortunately, there's a power tower directly behind it."
Ahhh, got it (that item WASN'T in the flyer).
While it's often true that a picture is worth a thousand words, it's also true that the photos we post online are carefully curated and don't begin to show the WHOLE snapshot of a house or its surrounding neighborhood.
Whether it's photos or videos on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, there's a fair amount of editing that takes place before the public unveiling. Just as important as what's in a photo, is what's missing!
It should come as no surprise that these carefully selected photographs are NOT showing you the neighbor's house next door that's in disrepair, the bus stop out front, or the gas station on the corner. They're NOT showing you the traffic driving by, the freeway within earshot, or the noise from the schoolyard across the street. In other words, Listing Agents are only posting what we believe will attract prospective Buyers to the property . . . as we should.
Furthermore, with the technological ability to lighten, brighten, add color, and photoshop away the most egregious offenses, photos can often be misleading. By way of example, wide-angle lenses almost always make rooms appear much larger than they are, and uncooperative sunsets are sometimes given a helping hand. Gloomy day? No worries, there's an app for that!
Given the choice between reality and romance, experienced Listing Agents will undoubtedly choose the latter, focusing on a property's most-coveted assets. Remember, our goal is to make the property as "emotionally compelling" as possible, and why sophisticated staging and skillful Realtors are critical to the outcome. In other words, your ultimate success is fairly dependent on the images we present. (Strong negotiation skills are equally as important.)
Carefully selecting the most complimentary photographs of a property is not only our prerogative as the Sellers' representatives, it's our job. A thorough review of the reports including the "Agent's Visual Inspection Disclosure" (AVID), will undoubtedly point out the aforementioned power tower, the sloping hill, or the impacted road, but we won't purposely place these shortcomings front and center, at the top of the newsfeed, or predominantly on the website. (Would you?)
To be clear, Realtors aren't legally allowed to "doctor" the photos of homes - even if we want to (unlike those 10-year-old headshots we treat as current). If there are telephone wires in the background, so be it, but that doesn't mean we won't delete the photos altogether that place the telephone pole smack dab in the foreground. We'll also eliminate the ugly bathroom and basement shots of funky, dark, or dank spaces. If there's a leaning fence, a cracked retaining wall, or a dilapidated garage, you can be sure it's NOT showing up in any public photos, except on the home inspector's report. (You want the nitty-gritty on a house? That's where you'll find it.) In short, we are romancing the property, not laying it bare.
On the other hand, Buyers' Agents should, in fact, raise the alarm where appropriate: "I'm glad you like the house, but you might carefully consider that it's in a 'creep zone'." Then it's up to an informed Buyer to decide whether or not that's a material issue for them and if so, what to do about it. (Some folks will overlook a severely sloping lot, but pass on a house because of its paint colors - go figure.) When acting as the Buyer's advocate, our roles change completely; we earn our keep by pointing out such flaws. Not so on the sell-side. Yes, we'll encourage FULL disclosure when representing a property, but we won't necessarily advertise the blemishes. (Get the difference?)
Finally, in our new Covid-19 reality, focused primarily on "virtual showings," one of the requirements before crossing the threshold is that you get in your car and drive by first. (On behalf of fellow Agents everywhere, we appreciate this nod to our safety.) If there's a red flag on the street or a GINORMOUS RV next door that's going to dissuade you, let's move on; they'll be other houses to consider. With new and more contagious strains of Coronavirus surfacing, there's no reason to put anyone at risk on a house you already know isn't going to make the grade.
So yes, a picture IS worth a thousand words, (I write words so I know there's only a handful of you who read these missives to the end), but let's also focus on what's in between the frames. Let's look at the ENTIRE landscape.
How can we help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.