Seeing the world through a wide angled lens.
Or Perception vs. Reality. (With a nod to Rolling Stone)
We decided to sell our house. Not for any specific reason. But for several. The taxes in our horsey Westchester town are astronomical — and likely to go up. Our 4400 square foot, modern Adirondack situated on 7 wooded acres — while fabulous — was feeling a bit too big for the 2 of us and our 3 dogs. But more importantly, we had lived in our town for well over 35 years and we wanted a change. A change of location. Of community. Of lifestyle.
Since we didn’t need to move and could financially swing it, we could be picky. Take our time. Find the next home of our dreams. And, so, started house hunting before listing our current one. During the early part of Covid, many people fled the city. Manhattanites bought up Millbrook. Brooklynites scooped up houses Rhinebeck. Hudson became the must-have location. Hence, inventory was in very low supply. We knew our home being in pristine condition was likely to go fast. Faster than we could find a new one. And with 3 big dogs and me running my business from my basement office, we couldn’t rent — or be homeless.
Three times a day I’d check the listings on the various real estate websites. Some interesting prospects would pop up. NEW — 52 minutes ago. 17 Hours ago. Open House today.
Pictures would show us the perfect place. Bright, spacious kitchens with commercial, master chef appliances. 3–4 Bedrooms that could be converted to a home office or gym. A gorgeous en-suite with newly renovated bathroom. And a large basement with a walkout that could easily feature a doggie door. All situated on a perfectly flat 1- acre lot with wrap around porch, deck and patio.
The property details would be seductively well written: “Pulling up to the grand house on the circular drive, you realize a magical home and grounds await you. The covered front porch welcomes guests in, and the wonder begins. The formal living room with its large wood burning fireplace, rich custom-built ins and hardwood floors, create a warmth for cozy winter evenings. The masterpiece of a kitchen is a true wow feature of the home. The longest Carrera marble peninsula you may have ever seen, with no expense spared. Soaring ceilings, with dramatic beams, top of the line appliances, this memorable kitchen is where everyone will be.”
Sweet, right? Who could resist?
And so, almost every Saturdays and Sundays for over 3 months — and occasionally at the drop of a hat on a Tuesday or Wednesday — we’d hop in the car and make a mad dash to Rhinebeck, Millbrook, Tarrytown or Ridgefield — or anywhere on our list of possible locations — to check out the next home of our dreams before it was gobbled up in a tight, hot market. We had no intention of getting into a bidding war, so we tried to be first to see it. Up and down the Hudson from Hastings to Cold Spring we’d travel. We drove 2 hours north to Chatham, Ancramdale and Millerton. Too far from NYC for me. In an abbreviated timeframe, we figured that we clocked well over 1500 miles.
Except in 9 out of 10 cases, the houses we raced up to see would be the Nightmare on Elm Street. At one location, there was a pile of garbage in the backyard. Another house smelled of cat pee. The hardwood floors were badly stained. Paint was peeling. And the smooth flat yard was all frontal. The backyard was a mere sliver of land on a steep incline. One property described as gracious was situated on unusable wet lands with reeds growing wildly and who knows what living in them.
The truth — the whole ugly truth — was photoshopped out. The fully enhanced photos were shot with a wide-angle lens taken from a more pleasing angle. The perspective made tiny, narrow rooms look significantly larger than they were in reality. A kitchen the size of a stamp postage was pictured as palatial. Or a cramped bathroom with ancient fixtures was shown as spa-like. An en-suite described as luxurious was so small you could barely fit a twin bed in it. We’d eagerly arrive at location after location only to find that the soaring ceiling was falling down. The layout was a bit of a rabbit warren. And the house was situated on the corner of an extremely busy road. No mentions. The photos had conveniently cropped out the adjacent street, driveways and spitting distance, nearby homes. In one instance, the house which had been vacant for some time was dilapidated — literally falling down.
Now we watch enough HGTV to appreciate — and enjoy — carefully crafted staging. But most of these would-be fabulous homes were more like fixer uppers that begged for some TLC from Joanna and Chip Barnes. We soon found that MLS actually was an acronym for Misleadingly Lit and Staged rather than Multiple Listing Service that was of no service at all. The expression “looks can be deceiving” is a common adage in our Instagram age. And it appears true in the real estate market.
I’ve been in advertising all of my adult life. And while some might say we take creative license from time to time, (okay, yes, that Whopper looks exceptionally juicy and delicious), we generally are held to some codes and legal regulations that require a moniker of truth.
“Real Estate photography isn’t photojournalism.” I read in one blog. For sure.
The fact is Article 2 of the National Association of REALTOR® Code of Ethics
reads: “Realtors shall avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction.”
And Article 12 reads: “Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations.”
Whoopsie. Seems some listing agents and websites forgot to read the manual.
Yet, in this tight market despite the false representation, houses are selling like hot cakes. With extremely aggressive bidding wars on anything decent. Twice we arrived at a location only to find that bids had been made on during our drive to see them. Of course, those were the 2 best homes we saw.
Some people are even purchasing homes from these photos — sight unseen. Surprise!!! Although how someone would do that is beyond my comprehension.
Smoothing out a rough patch on a wall is totally kosher. Helping those with limited imaginations see the potential of some diamond in the rough is indeed inspiring. But duping the public? Not cool.
Luckily, we now have an “honest broker” who has taken the time to understand our taste and objectives. When we ask about a certain property she will say “It’s not for you.” “It’s in a wet lands”. “The street is not great.” “The value is not there.” While the process is slow and frustrating, we appreciate the truthful touch.
In the 1980s, Rolling Stone with the help of the famed Fallon McElligott Rice created the “Perception. Reality.” campaign with powerful and iconic visuals. And classy, clever body copy demonstrating that the typical Rolling Stone reader was actually not who he or she was thought to be. Real estate could use a little reality check to balance the perception.
We need another perspective. An accurate one. And when we finally list our home, we’ll insist it is an authentic representation. Shown in a flattering light. No exaggeration. And, then we’ll pray we get our price.