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How Using Photo Filters and Editing Property Photos Can Lead to a Real Estate Lawsuit

It’s 2023 and filters are everywhere. There are filters on Instagram®, Snapchat®, and TikTok®, and photo editing tools on smartphones. That’s even without professional tools like Photoshop®. But, while it might be appropriate for you to “improve” photos in your personal life, you need to be very careful when using filters and editing property photos in your real estate business. 

What Could Go Wrong?  

Editing property photos may be construed as “misrepresentation”, which is providing an inaccurate representation of the property. Misrepresentation is misstating the facts and can lead to litigation against the seller and the real estate licensee. 

Misrepresentation also doesn’t have to be intentional. A licensee may find themselves facing a lawsuit even if the publishing of heavily edited photos was accidental. Imagine a scenario where a real estate licensee engages a photographer. That person provides edited photographs misrepresenting a property, and the licensee doesn’t realize the photos were heavily edited. The property sells to a buyer, sight unseen. After closing, the buyer sues the seller and the licensee because the photos were dramatically different to the actual property . In real life, the color scheme is completely different, there are power lines at the front obstructing the views, and the exterior of the property has extensive paint peel which was smoothed out for the photos. The buyer launches a claim against both the seller and licensee on the grounds of misrepresentation. 

A discerning buyer may be able to quickly see that heavily edited listing photos are different from the actual property upon inspection. However, buyers who are purchasing sight unseen are relying on the listing information, and if it’s not correct, it can be misleading.

Real estate licensees need to remember they have a responsibility to ensure any images and property descriptions are an accurate representation of a property.

Alternatives to Using Filters and Editing Photos 

It’s better to properly prepare the property for photography, rather than edit out anything undesirable in the photos. For example, if there are ugly bins at the front of the property, then encourage the owner to put them out of sight for the photographs. If there is a mountain of washing in a bedroom, you could politely ask the seller if it could be moved out of the shot briefly to capture a photograph. 

Professional property styling can make a big difference to property photos. A professionally styled home can show off its features, minimize its faults, and create a great first impression for prospective buyers. A decluttered and professionally styled home allows prospects to visualize how the property can look and feel. 

Checklist for Licensees When Editing Photos 

To avoid a lawsuit because a buyer feels you have misrepresented a property, follow these simple steps:

  • Never remove existing objects when photo editing. For example, if there is a street light or a power pole, these should not be removed in photo editing.
  • Never remove or retouch a neighboring property as this may misrepresent the neighborhood  and potentially make a property more appealing.  
  • Do not make major changes to images that could mislead a buyer
  • Do not change the dimensions of photographs or “stretch” them to adjust the shape, as this may make rooms appear more spacious or smaller. 
  • Have guidelines in place about what is acceptable and not acceptable when editing raw property photographs and provide these to your real estate photographers. 
  • Review your listing and marketing materials and ask yourself, “What impression does this information give to a prospective buyer?” and “Could this information in any way be misleading?”

Real estate licensees should disclose all information to potential buyers that could affect their decision to purchase or the purchase price. For buyers purchasing sight unseen, licensees should remind buyers to do their due diligence. They should encourage the buyer to undertake property or building inspections before deciding to purchase. Licensees might consider providing sight unseen buyers with an opportunity to view the property through a live virtual tour, where they have the opportunity to ask questions and zoom in on anything in particular they would like to see up close. 

Protect Your Real Estate Business

As a real estate licensee, real estate E&O Insurance is essential to protect your business. CRES has been a specialist in real estate errors and omissions insurance for more than 25 years. As part of one of the largest insurance brokers in the world, we have access to more real estate E&O and other insurance options than anyone else. Let us find you the best coverage at the best price.  Contact the friendly team at CRES at 800-880-2747 for a confidential discussion today.

Read more on our ClaimPrevent® Summary: Real Estate Licensee Responsibilities When Creating New Listings

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