As I’ve always said, virtual tours can be a nice enhancement to a listing photograph, but too much enhancement should be considered an unethical practice and should also be considered fraud. Here is an example of too much enhancement.
ABC News reported this week about a Manhattan real estate broker, starring in the Bravo TV series “Million Dollar Listing New York,” being investigated by the State of New York. During a May episode of the program, Luis Ortiz, a Broker with Keller Williams, and his brother used Photoshop to enhance listing photos. During that episode, Ortiz referred to the enhancements as, “a harmless, little white lie.” They altered the listing photos of a five-bedroom Greenwich Village listing by digitally adding marble countertops, hardwood floors and kitchen upgrades to the listing photos. This episode of the show must have caught the attention of the New York State Division of Licensing Services because Luis Ortiz’s business practices are currently being investigated by the State.
In my opinion, this isn’t a case of digital enhancements. It’s a complete digital renovation that I think should be considered fraud. By changing these photos into something they’re not, he’s basically doing a “bait and switch” tactic to lure prospective buyers into his listing. Not only are actions of this type fraudulent and misleading, they don’t sell houses and they destroy the agent’s reputation in the process. Once the buyers go tour the listing and see the real kitchen and flooring, they’ll immediately realize that they’ve been duped. Digitally altering a listing photo to the point where it shows features not offered does not sell houses. Sure, it lures buyers into the listing, but once there, they will immediately realized they’ve been fooled. Deceitful practices, like this, do not put buyers in the buying mood nor do they build trust.
Was Luis Ortiz pressured into making these alterations by the show’s producer or writer? Who cares. The fact he thinks it’s no big deal should make you question his integrity as an agent and Broker. And, the fact that he bragged about it on a nationally syndicated reality TV show is just stupid. This “little white lie” aired on the show might have destroyed his reputation because it portrayed him as an overeager agent with questionable integrity and an abundance of stupidity for airing it.
What digital enhancements would have been acceptable? I don’t have a problem if an agent removes shadows, brightens up the photo, or plays with the lighting effects a bit to make the home look brighter, warmer, or more inviting. Don’t use digital enhancements to change the paint color, carpet colors or to hide flaws. If I see a listing picture with a beautiful Central Park view, I’d better not get there and discover it only has a neighbor’s fire escape view. And if a feature like marble countertops is pictured, it had better be there when I get there otherwise you’re just wasting my time. How is this not lying?
UPDATE: Luis Ortiz is no longer with Keller Williams