Allen Norwood

Is that chair really there?

If you were shopping for a home online, you might appreciate a listing picture that showed virtual furniture, with sofas and chairs added to the image by digital software. You’d be able to see how your furniture could be arranged in the space.

On the other hand, if you fell in love with the granite countertops in listing pictures, you’d expect the house to have granite countertops. You’d be disappointed to visit – only to discover laminate counters.

In this digital age, manipulating pictures is easier (and more tempting) than ever.

So, for Realtors, which tweaks are OK – even required – and which ones are improper?

The answers are evolving along with the technology, say Michele McCaskill, vice president of risk management for Carolina Multiple Listing Services, and Debbie Wey, assistant director of MLS policy.

The Code of Ethics is straightforward, McCaskill said. Listing information, including pictures, should be honest and truthful. The code says Realtors can’t deceive or mislead. “That would include offering a true picture of a piece of property being listed for sale,” she said.

If the yard is raw dirt, and someone used digital tools to add a lush carpet of fescue, that might upset clients and Realtors. Or if someone erased a power line to enhance an exterior shot, that might cause grumbling.

In some cases rules actually require that elements be removed from listing pictures. “For Sale” signs aren’t supposed to be visible. Signs would have to be erased before the pictures were used in the MLS. Images of agents aren’t supposed to be in listing pictures, either. If an agent shot a picture of a bathroom, and her reflection appeared in the mirror, that reflection would have to be blurred or removed.

If you peruse listings, you might have spotted this photographic trick: The agent or her photographer is shooting pictures of a kitchen. Through the sliding glass doors is a view of an unkempt backyard. “So the agent might have that window with a lot of glare on it, so you can’t see out,” Wey said.

No complaints about that one, Wey and McCaskill said – or about the virtual staging furniture I mentioned.

Instead of staging a house by adding furniture and accessories, some services add virtual furniture to room shots. Indeed, pictures of virtually staged homes appear in the MLS.

Google “virtual staging software” and you’ll get 1.8 million results – which equal lots and lots of sofas and chairs.