The Market

Dear Brokers: Please put the "real" back in real estate

By Mayra David  | January 21, 2013 - 10:28AM

Dear NYC "real" estate brokers,

How are you? How's the market doing? I know it can be tough out there, selling Manhattan real estate, especially apartments that could use some work.

And I know that much like a dating site, the web is the first point of contact for buyers and listings. The first impression can mean the difference between clicking on the "more info" button or moving right along.

It's only human to want to do everything you can to catch the eye of that special someone looking for a long term commitment. Still, go on any dating site, and when it comes to the profile pic they always advise: Look like yourself. Keep it current, keep it honest.

Mind you, I have nothing against a quickie paint job to cover up a seller's misbegotten and distracting color scheme.

And I do see the merits in "staging" an apartment so that prospective buyers can see the potential of a space. 

I didn't even blink an eye when real-life, physical "staging" morphed into photoshopping, or "virtual" staging as you call it. As long as there is a very obvious disclosure that a photo on your website has been virtually staged as a visual aid, I don't mind it. In fact, I thank you for that, because sometimes it really is hard to see how a king sized bed will fit into a room until I can see it in scale.

I don't even mind the practice of "popping the view into the window" so people can see that there is some kind of view out there (it goes without saying that an entirely different view should NOT be substituted in where, say, a brick wall actually stands).

Here's what I do mind: Virtually renovating a place.

Take a recent example in my own building. I had walked through an apartment that was for sale. It was in a "bring your contractor" sort of condition, and, in fact, the renovation costs were what turned me away from an otherwise great apartment.

Browsing around online afterward, I saw the photos in your listing. I thought, "That can't be right!"

The floors were still glossy, the light super bright, the walls and counters smooth and sleek.  I would have bought that apartment instead if it had actually been in that condition! 

Look, the apartment sold, and I'm happy you made a match. But it would have really irritated me to see the photos online and then come to an open house only to be let down. I know you're just trying to generate interest and traffic. But why waste my time and yours by setting up unrealistic expectations?

I like my expectations managed.

Unlike that time I was super excited for that apartment with the open park views and endless square footage. The listing, understandably, didn't state outright that the previous resident had had a mental episode where he found it necessary to completely caulk shut every duct, vent and crevice throughout the entire space. When I got there, it looked like caulk was actually leaking into the apartment. 

Contrast that to the pictures: The pictures of the space were so exciting. They showcased the view, of course. Rarely did we see a shot of any wall up close, probably because the photographer was following the basic rules for making spaces look larger in picture: shoot from a corner, avoid including walls in the frame that may "crop" the view.

But the walls we did see consisted of smooth, saturated white expanses wherein it would have been impossible to discern paint from the caulk oozing along and down the baseboards. A short line in the description mentioning the place needed work would have tempered my enthusiasm. But no. "Incredible views" and "great condition" was all we got.

Do you know how hard it would have been to get rid of all that caulk and then repair the damage? Neither do I, because neither did any of the contractors I asked. "Inestimable damage" is how one described the situation.

Remember how I (and everyone else who's ever searched for a NYC apartment) learned not to trust euphemisms like "cozy space"? Well, I'm again starting to not trust my own eyes. Because I don't know what is real and what is not anymore. Look at this picture. Sure, there’s a 'virtually staged' disclaimer there,  but where is that warm afternoon light supposed to be coming from? The opposite solid wall? Lighting has nothing to do with "showing scale" anymore.

In fact, I think adding sunlight that can never be is pretty deceptive.  And while we're at it, please be careful with that color saturation.  (Super-saturated sunflowers that look like they need to go back to the nuclear reactor they came from are a dead giveaway, btw.) 

Put it this way: mascara is fine, but if you've ever seen the transformation of a face after someone takes off their false eyelashes, you know the shock and confusion it triggers in the beholder.

Decorating is a much different thing from renovating. If I walk in thinking we're going to be talking about sofas and instead end up talking about floor sanders, I may be too disappointed to agree to a second date. 

Sincerely Yours,

Sick Of CGI

Related posts:

How to buy a NYC apartment

How to sell a NYC apartment

The 20 deadly sins NYC rental agents should never commit (but do)

Navigating the (rocky) relationship between broker and buyer

Ever wonder why agents don't talk about square footage? Here's why

Sellers: How to make a killer video of your apartment (and why you should)

12 ways to spin an apartment flaw, for fun and profit

Insider tips for selling/renting out your apartment in the "slow" season

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