Did this Mississauga mansion photo go too far?

Did this Mississauga mansion photo go too far?

Online controversy brewing over whether Saxony Manor home’s advertising images are the real deal

Ritchies Auctioneers has found itself in the middle of a controversy over the thorny issue of truth in advertising — just what’s acceptable in those glitzy real estate photos meant to sell a dream, and a home.

The Canadian auction house, which has been trying to expand its business beyond exquisite gems to exclusive properties, plans to go ahead with the Jan. 26 auction of an 18,000-square-foot Mississauga mansion.

But that’s after a day of investigating online allegations from real estate watchers and amateur photographers that a key image in the marketing efforts around so-called “Saxony Manor” was photoshopped.

The show-stopping photo, with most of the home’s 30 front windows softly lit against a deep blue twilight sky, appears to double the length of the heated cobblestone driveway.

The end effect is millions of dollars’ worth of added curb appeal — at least at first glance — and makes this Mississauga Rd.-area mansion appear more sprawling country home than what it really is: a builder’s dream that got much too big for its Saxony Court cul-de-sac neighbours.

The professional real estate photographer is angry about the nasty comments. He says he spent more than eight hours over three days adjusting shutter speeds, longing for 18 flashes — he had just three — and snapping hundreds of indoor and outdoor shots with his 16-mm lens.

Robert Holowka was hired by high-end realtor Sam McDadi last year, after the house had been listed for almost three years and dropped in price from $11 million. Ritchies was recently asked to give an auction a try and expects to fetch about half that, $5.5 million.

Legitimate questions have been raised about photos and 3D renderings on the website of the home’s builder and owner, Michal Cerny of Ambassador Fine Custom Homes. He could not be reached for comment.

“If someone was buying off of the picture, I’d say that’s a problem,” says Ritchies managing director Kashif Khan. “Cleaning up” photos is a common marketing tool, but this is the first he’s seen a suggestion of photo effects that are misleading.

“The person who is going to buy this house is going to be a serious business person. They’re going to come and see it, they’re going to inspect it. They’re going to care about the real deal, not a photo.”

Holowka acknowledges that the photo is a “blending” of a few different exposures that capture the bluest twilight, the whitest façade and most even lighting of the mammoth property, which was a challenge to shoot because of its width, as well as intruding tree branches and a huge real estate sign.

The photos were all taken with a wide-angle lens that created a sort of fish-eye effect — which appears to elongate the outer edges of the photo.

“The intention wasn’t to make the house look like it was on a huge piece of property,” says Holowka, owner of Birdhouse Media. “It was to portray its grandeur.”

“When you’re standing in front of a house like that . . . well, you don’t see a place like that every day.”

Holowka says he’s proud of the image and considers real estate photography an art form — like architectural photography — meant not to deceive by making a room or a home look bigger, but to capture as much as possible that gives a sense of the place, both for proud homeowners and buyers whose first glimpse of a home now is usually online.

McDadi, who’s marketed thousands of homes with glossy brochures, was stunned by the online outrage: He, like the Star, which used the photo to illustrate a story on the auction this week, only became aware of the suggestions after seeing online comments.

Veteran real estate lawyer Bob Aaron called the controversy “very unusual,” but likened it to the airbrushing and touching up that happens in fashion magazines.

“The question is, does it cross a line between acceptable and misleading, and that’s a very fine line.

“It’s a bit of a come-on, and the photographer has used all his skills before and after clicking the shutter, but real estate is all about buyer beware. The bottom line is that no one is going to buy a house, and especially not a multi-million-dollar house, without walking in and seeing it for themselves first.”

Original Article: https://www.thestar.com/business/real_estate/2014/01/17/did_this_mississauga_mansion_photo_go_too_far.html