Is it Ethical for Real Estate Agents to Photoshop a Listing?

By June 14, 2013Home Staging

I just saw the clip on Good Morning America about Luis Ortiz, one of the stars of Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Listing New York”. As posted online on The Real Deal, The New York Post reported that he’s under investigation for doctoring listing photos of a Greenwich Village townhouse. I can understand why he did this.  According to the article, the listing was in horrible condition so he Photoshopped hardwood floors, marble counter tops, a new oven and bookshelves.  Ortiz said during the show, “If I put the real photos out there, nobody would come inside. A little white lie isn’t going to kill anybody!”  Well, it might not kill anybody but it may hurt his career. Six days later, the New York Department of State, which oversees the real estate industry, launched an investigation into his business practices.

So, back to my question, “Is it ethical for real estate agents to Photoshop a listing”? There ARE virtual staging companies out there and I know agents who have used them. I’ve never heard an outcry that this is unethical.  As a matter of fact, I often see these companies with booths at real estate conventions and events. As a “hands-on” home stager, I obviously don’t believe in staging properties in this way. It’s misleading. Imagine seeing beautiful pictures of a property only to visit it and see something totally different.  The argument is that the prospective buyer is given the opportunity to see the potential of the property.  I’ve seen an example of this firsthand. It was a virtual staging with furniture added and some “structural” changes made to enhance the property. I must admit, the virtual staging was extremely well done. But it didn’t sell the property. People were disappointed when they saw the actual property and it languished on the market for 6 months. Ultimately, NJ Home Staging and Redesign was brought in to make the necessary changes. The clients agreed to paint, add sheet rock over dated wood paneling, do minor repairs and additions, and to rent furniture  to stage the property. The result? Read on…

My feeling is that home sellers and agents who don’t want to spend the money to properly present a property should post the real pictures along with pictures showing the property’s potential (and stated as such). Will the property sell?  Of course but at what cost? Usually, the cost of the staging will never equal the cost of the first price reduction…or the second…or the third. Staging is an investment to PROTECT an investment – in this case, the equity in a house.

Let’s get back to that New Jersey property I mentioned earlier.  The CLIENTS wanted the virtual staging done, not the real estate agent. She wanted to properly stage the property but the home sellers were not willing to take the time nor spend the money. In other words, they were not willing to invest to protect the equity in their home. So, the agent did the only other thing she could do…virtually stage the home. It backfired for the home sellers. The house sat on the market for 6 months while they paid the carrying costs AND reduced the price on the house. Finally, they were willing to listen.  And what was the result after the house was properly staged?  It sold in 2 weeks with multiple bids!


Join the discussion One Comment

  • This is such a problem. there are a number of big NYC brokerages where the house will pay for virtual staging, so the broker doesn’t have to. It sets up false expectations and looks ridiculous. They make no accommodations for simple things like human legs!! You just can’t have a coffee table that close to a sofa; no-one could fit their legs between it. I’m interested that you present the ethical viewpoint. It’s a great perspective..

Leave a Reply