- This is a tough
topic to address. We have friends who are Realtors and we don't
wish to offend anyone, but this issue has escalated to the point
where we, folks who hate to see new laws passed, feel that there
needs to be a law. When business people show so little integrity
as to put forth blatantly misrepresentative advertising, somebody
needs to oversee the situation. The Boards of Realtors, here
and on the mainland, are apparently not the ones to do it.
- In recent months,
the use of very-wide-angle lenses and digital photo enhancement
techniques has become commonplace in real estate ads. We hear
complaints from others about this and being in a business that
puts us in the middle of the situation ourselves makes us acutely
aware of how this intentionally-misleading advertising technique
has gone mainstream. Where a few months ago, it was only certain
Realtors who used these kinds of photos, it is now more common
than not to see them in online ads.
- When a Realtor
uses grossly exaggerated photos in an ad here in Hawaii, people
from the mainland spend a lot of money and commit a lot of time
and inconvenience to come over here only to be very disappointed
when the mansion they saw online turns out to be a plantation
shack with a fresh Home Depot quickie makeover.
- Rooms that are
in fact 10' x 12' are made to look like auditorium-sized spaces.
Six-foot wide decks become 20' wide. Tiny kitchens morph into
ginormous designer meal-preparation facilities. Where does it
- Since the industry
does not seem to police itself, the only recourse we, as clients
have is our own due diligence. It is our recommendation that
if you get turned on by the elegant photo tour (with beautiful
music in the background) presented by a Realtor online, before
you drop everything and book a trip to Hawaii, ask the agent
to take his/her pocket camera to the house and take some real
photos of what it actually looks like. The s/he will not do it,
find a different agent or assume the reason is that s/h knows
the real pic would be a deal breaker. A conscientious Realtor
who has your best interests in mind will take the time to do
- If you want
an example of how hugely this new generation of uber-photos actually
misrepresent reality, just check some online ads for properties
near you that are offering an open house. After looking at the
photos, go look at the real thing. It's pathetic.
- In fairness
to the few Realtors who have not adopted this process yet, there
are still some out there who do their own photography, some good,
some not so good. But most have now gone to hiring a photographer
who specializes in "enhancing" the photos. Most of
the work is pretty obvious once you get a feel for it. The wide-angle
lenses distort vertical lines, making rooms look like the walls
slope in at the tops and like some rooms are trapezoidal in shape.
In kitchens, a dishwasher will be as wide as it is high. Refrigerators
look to be six feet wide. Also, the colors are, in some cases,
almost cartoon-like in their enhancement to impossible hues.
- We've been looking
for a vacation rental home in California's Russian River area
(Sonoma County). It's about having a place to stay when we go
see family. The misrepresentation in the Internet ads for the
homes there is unbelievable. We've looked at listings for some
of these seemingly gorgeous homes, with photo tours that make
them look like a 1800 square foot jewel, only to read the fine
print and find out it's a 750 square foot cabin! No exaggeration!
- Our advice:
Check the square-foot size of the house and compare it against
what you think you see in the photos. Another new technique on
some of these listings is now to withhold the size data from
the listing! We're eagerly awaiting the time when the Boards
of Realtors who are supposedly overseeing these practices finally
come down on false and misleading advertising.
- While we're
at it, when you see an ad for a house you really like, look it
up on Google Maps. Some of these "great deals" will
turn out to be on conspicuously busy roads, back up to school
yards, across the street from some high-traffic business park,
or any number of other deal breakers. If you find it on Google
Maps and still like where it is, go to the "Street View"
and see what the house actually looks like from the street. "Walk"
down the street, look on both sides, see what your potential
neighbors' places look like.
- Google Maps
has disqualified lots of properties for us in our searches, eliminating
many hours of driving and a lot of disappointment when we would
find a wrecking yard right next door to the great-looking house
we saw on the Internet. In Hawaii, where many there is typically
little consistency in the types of houses you'll find in a community,
you can learn a lot using Google Maps. It is not uncommon to
find a beautiful and expensive home flanked by very humble dwellings.
This is "Island Style," and can be an issue with newcomers
not used to it.
- Then when you
think you've really found something worthwhile, Google the name
of the community, neighborhood, subdivision or wherever the property
is. Skim through everything that comes up and see if you find
anything of interest to you. We fell in love with a property
in Sonoma County and Googled the street name only to find out
that there are chronic low-water-table issues with the private
wells in the area. Our Realtor was aparently unaware of the problem.
Due diligence! Don't depend on your Realtor or on the Disclosure
Statement you get from a seller. The Internet is an amazing resource
for information. Use it!
- I'm expecting
to hear from some Realtors who will try to defend this new photo
policy by saying they owe it to their clients to represent the
homes to the best of their ability. Hey, if you want me to sell
your Toyota, would you want me to advertise it as a Lexus only
to have customers walk out (or worse) when they come see the
car in real time?
- With much aloha,
- You are also
welcome to check in to the Affordable Paradise
Blog and respond to this article and to talk story
about your concerns. You can read some of the many postings there
and learn from the conversations of others, too. You can also
go on konaweb.com and punaweb.org and either participate in the
discussions or just eavesdrop for a while!
- We wish you
all the best, and never forget to
Thomsen & Ohana