Real estate has always been about the dream more than the reality. In New York City, the gap seems to be getting wider.
I recently saw a surprisingly affordable townhouse for sale online that sported marble counters, a wine refrigerator, under-cabinet lighting and stylish pendant lights. It was decorated with Millennial potted plants.
When I arrived for a tour, the reality was stark: a large, unfinished, dust-laden room that required a complete gut renovation.
Upon reexamination, I realized the online presentation carried a barely visible disclaimer in white font at the bottom of the photo: “Virtually Staged.”
Staging has been around for some time, but it seems we’ve reached DEFCON 2 levels.
I “staged” the first apartment I sold by removing furniture to a storage unit. Later, I remember seeing places where the desks and dressers and such had been replaced by more fashionable furniture.
More recently, I sold a property and the real estate firm digitally added furniture to empty rooms to provide scale. But the rooms were fundamentally the same. They weren’t digitally altered.
This attached photo shows the reality versus the dream of a townhouse I toured in upper Manhattan.
Digital renovations should probably be labeled more prominently, but they do help the imagination.
I asked the realtor how many people failed to realize the images were “aspirational.”
He said most people see the low price and realize there is probably something amiss.
They come anyway. Hope tides them over.
There’s no point in getting irritated with the brokers who are playing on your hopes and dreams.
A friend of mine has a good saying for situations like this: “Don’t hate the players, don’t hate the game.”
And anyway, the AI revolution forged by sites like Open.AI and powered by GPT-3 is going to take this to DEFCON 1.
In that new world, the images in real estate listings could be individually customized and spun up on the fly.
Two people could call up the same gutted, vacant shell of a building and see it decorated either as a sparse Chelsea loft or Victorian estate based on their online profiles and browsing habits.
That brave new world promises that the dream you are seeking won’t be a dream, but your dream.