In a quaint suburban neighborhood south of Sydney, Australia stands a three bedroom brick home that looks like any other at first glance. It is sharp and modern. The image is bright and vibrant and definitely eye catching. At a quick first look, it is a pretty standard image of the facade of a home. The detail that isn't featured in this image is what has the entire real estate industry buzzing. A simple Google search of the home brings up a much different representation of the property. Which begs the immediate question; how far is 'too far' when using photo editing software to edit real estate imagery?
Studying the Google Street View images, one can make out a giant cement water tower in the background. The water tower stands obtrusively close to the home; a stark grey object along the skyline. To take an photograph of the home sans this structure would be at best 'very difficult', and more-likely impossible.
National property brand, Ray White, is the name behind the sale. They adamantly claim the images are an accurate and fair representation of the home. "The photos in question were not taken by a Ray White contracted photographer, but were instead supplied by the owner from a previous marketing campaign with another agent" claims the Ray White spokesperson. "It would appear from our own investigation that the photos have not been photoshopped, and are simply taken from an angle from which the house obscures the water tank,"
According to Breach Consumer Law, if these images were proven to be digitally altered they could bring a fine of up to $22,000 via the NSW Office of Fair Trading. According to Neville Sanders, president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, this type of behavior falls under consumer law. "A product cannot be inappropriately misrepresented in advertising material". Neville goes on to say "Whilst it may appear that a wide angle lens has been used as well as a particular angle, does it truthfully show what the general public would see if they turned up out front?"
The dichotomy of the situation can be boiled down to the ethics and legality of digitally altering an image for advertising. Is it right, or fair, is it legal to omit or include details that may influence the sale of a property? The fact is, anyone that has meddled in Photoshop can immediately tell you the image is altered. The awkward lines of perspective, the magic power lines fading into nothing, and the blurred right side of the roof all indicate artifacts and evidence of Ps.
As the buzz around this situation grows in the industry, it is entirely possible that there will be negative ramifications regarding the specifics of digitally altering images for advertising. "[This situation] promotes a bad look for the industry as a whole" says Sanders. "You're going to put off buyers from the very first impression, buyers who might have been ok with a watertank." This suggests that changing an image in the slightest, even with in the allowable parameters, does more harm that good in the long run. However, in the real estate industry, the images serve only as a first impression and arguably anything in the background of the image that enhances the home is fair game.