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Your real estate photos can make or break your home sale. In fact, 79 percent of recent home buyers shopped online to find their home, according to Zillow. Nearly half said viewing professional photos was extremely or very important to their home-buying experience.

It’s no secret that thoughtful staging and professional photographs can help sell a home. However, some people take a few too many liberties with both. Maybe they use an area rug to hide warped wood. They might paint over mold. Or they smooth out a crack in the foundation with some photo editing.

Staging and photo editing bring about an important ethical question: Is it OK to hide home defects in real estate photos?

The short answer? No.

However, there’s much more to it than that.

Here are some considerations:

Disclosure Laws on Home Defects Differ By State

Each state has its own laws regarding disclosure forms or disclosure statements. It’s important to familiarize yourself with state property and real estate laws (or hire a lawyer who can help break it down for you). Generally speaking, state disclosure laws typically require sellers to disclose material defects in a property. That might entail writing out the material defects and explaining them to the buyer. What happens if you don’t and they can prove you knew or should have known about the material defect? There is a possibility that the sale may not be considered valid.

Material Home Defect vs. Non-material Home Defect

First, it’s important to understand how a home defect is defined. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), a material defect is a specific issue with a system or component of a residential property that:

  • May have a significant, adverse impact on the value of the property.
  • Poses an unreasonable risk to people.

Not everything is considered a material defect. For example, if something is approaching its lifetime use, it’s not necessarily going to be considered a “material defect.”

Inspectors are only required to report material defects, according to InterNACHI. However, it adds, many over-report lesser problems, such as a gutter with rusted seams. Overreporting is a personal decision, the organization says, driven by economics, time, customer service, and other factors.

In other words, you might see unexpected items show up on the inspection, which you may end up having to address to make the sale. It certainly gives the buyer room to negotiate.

The Consequence of Altering Photos to Hide Problems

In one specific instance, a real estate agent photoshopped mold out of a property advertisement. He altered photos for a house he was trying to sell back in 2011. After taking over the property, the new owner was notified by tenants that the mold returned. The buyer was never told about the mold in the upstairs living area, even though the agent was aware, the New Zealand Herald reported. The Real Estate Agents Authority found him guilty of unsatisfactory conduct. A hearing was expected to take place to determine if any orders would be made against the real estate agent for unsatisfactory conduct.

When a material defect is hidden, the liability could even extend beyond the seller to either party’s real estate broker, real estate agent, or home inspector. Each case is completely different.

In some states, for instance, the seller may be responsible for the cost of the defect if it was not disclosed on the list of potential defects and the buyer can prove the seller knew or should have known.

Photo Editing Ethics

Obviously, some amount of editing is typical for real estate photos. How do you determine what’s OK and what’s unethical? One real estate photographer takes the position that it’s OK to remove or clean up anything that could be done with a broom, hose or picked up (e.g. trash cans or dirt on the driveway). Generally speaking removing or modifying temporary things, like turning an overcast sky into a brighter one or removing a personal garbage from a shot, may not be seen as an issue.

However, removing permanent objects, such as power lines or a neighbor’s unappealing home, could be seen as misrepresenting the property.

Sometimes, it’s tricky to determine what’s considered “temporary” or “permanent.” For example, there’s much debate about landscaping. Some people may think it’s OK to fix defects in the grass while others don’t.

If you’re unsure, it’s best to treat it as a permanent feature that shouldn’t be edited out.

Bringing Out the Best in Your Property

It’s not OK to hide material defects — period.

Sprucing up your home for a sale is typical (and can be done ethically), however. For example, you might have a kitchen window that looks out to nothing, but your neighbor’s concrete house. It’s not a material defect, but it’s not that enticing either. You might consider adding open shelving within the window and placing potted plants or decorative jars on it.

Additionally, you might have unsightly bright blue or yellow recycling bins outside. Consider staining wooden boards and creating a box, like this one, that the bins can fit inside.

There are also creative ways you can store hoses or keep AC units from being an eye sore.

Have bleak white walls, but don’t want to go through the hassle of picking out a color palate and painting just for the sale? Consider adding throw pillows, décor or area rugs with pops of color or interesting patterns. That pulls the attention away from drab walls and can help breathe new life into the room.

Refreshing your home’s décor for a sale is typical and well within the realm of what’s acceptable and expected. Just don’t use any of the décor or changes to cover up a material defect.

Does your home have material defects that you’re worried will impact its sale? You might consider an alternative to listing it on the market.

The Buy Guys pays cash for houses “as is” in Florida, Georgia and Texas. That means we buy properties in any condition. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars fixing your home’s defects just to sell it.

In as little as five minutes, we can make you a cash offer using our advanced buying tools. When you sell your house to us, you get paid as quick as 5 days after we receive the signed contract. Compare that to the 65 to 93 days your house may spend on the market when you list it — and that doesn’t even account for issues that may arise due to home defects. You could go through all of the hassle of putting your home on the market, only to discover that the sale can’t go through until you fix costly home defects.

There’s an easier, faster way to sell your home for cash. For a free, no-obligation estimate, call (888) 204-7603 or fill out this form on our website.