The Psychology of Real Estate: What does Victoria’s Secret have to do with the Real Estate Industry?

The other day I came upon an article titled “Confessions Of An Anonymous Victoria’s Secret Photoshopper”. Everybody knows that most fashion advertisements are photoshopped, but I like to be reminded every now and again that photos of the world’s sexiest women are usually fake.

The article is a real guilty pleasure if you have some time to read it click here, but these are the Coles Notes:

http-::jezebel.com:5951863:when-perfect-isnt-enough-the-unretouched-images-victorias-secret-doesnt-want-you-to-see:

  1. Retouching existed long before Photoshop: If a model is wearing a colour that doesn’t look good on a computer screen, a retoucher will flat out change the colour for the ad.
  2. Body-fixing starts on set: Hair extensions are a staple at any photo shoot and a swimsuit model wears push up bra underneath the swimsuit, the push-up bra is later photoshopped out of the image.
  3. No one’s body part looks like that: The model knows her skin will be photoshopped to look hairless, flawless and perfectly tanned anyway, so she may as well not bother shaving.
  4. In the end, it’s just about selling: If consumers didn’t buy into the “sexy-fake” imagery, there wouldn’t be a need for Photoshop.

It’s a sad reality, but we as consumers are emotional, irrational and impressionable.

We see this kind of editing everywhere, in every industry. Whether it’s a lipstick, a car or a sports drink, every product is made to look more beautiful or desirable in one way or another.

Well, we’re seeing this in the real estate industry too. 

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I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had a client lured in by beautiful MLS photos, which were captured using a special filter and good lighting. 

…By the newly renovated flooring, which is actually a sloppy quick fix for cosmetic purposes.

…By the designer furniture, that is in no way practical for actual living.

Sellers have to think about what image will create the strongest emotional response from a Buyer.

Psychologist Ernest Dichter who studied consumer behavior in the 1930s can help explain what motivates a Buyer. “Dichter understood that every product has an image, even a “soul”, and is bought not merely for the purpose it serves but for the values it seems to embody. Our possessions are extensions of our own personalities, which serve as a “kind of mirror which reflects our own image”. Dichter’s message to advertisers was: figure out the personality of a product, and you will understand how to market it.”[1]

If a Seller is effective in home staging and photography, the presentation of his home will create an image for the Buyer of the kind of life they will live if they buy the home. Thoughtful marketing of the kitchen, with high end Wolf appliances, fresh cut flowers and the right placement of hard cover cookbooks, can make a Buyer think she will become the next Julia Childs. Her guests will think of her as a sophisticated chef and posh hostess.

If the bathroom is staged to look like a spa, the Buyer might think she will never be stressed out again. She will forever be calm, and zen because any time she is faced with a problem all she has to do is pour herself a bubble bath and the problem will go away.

I fall for this over and over. Every time I buy an Adidas by Stella McCartney tennis dress, I do it because of how darn good Caroline Wozniacki looks in this dress. Heck, I might even hit a ball as well as she does! Of course, it’s never the case after I bring the dress home. I’m still lumpy and I still can’t serve a tennis ball properly. I know deep down that I may as well save the money I spend on the brand name and go for the generic no name athletic apparel, but I am an impressionable human being and I just can’t help it, I still think I will become Caroline if I wear the same dress.

adidas-by-stella-mccartney-barricade-dress-caroline-wozniacki-femme-blanc-jaune_00542606038000_1000-1000_90_7

“You would be amazed to find how often we mislead ourselves, regardless of how smart we think we are, when we attempt to explain why we are behaving the way we do,” Dichter observed in 1960, in his book “The Strategy of Desire”. He held that marketplace decisions are driven by emotions and subconscious whims and fears, and often have little to do with the product itself. Trained as a psychoanalyst, Dichter saw human motivation as an “iceberg”, with two-thirds hidden from view, even to the decision-maker. “What people actually spend their money on in most instances are psychological differences, illusory brand images,” he explained.[2]

This happens all the time for Home Buyers. They are willing to shell out thousands of extra dollars because of the perception that a home which shows beautifully is worth more. Once the staging is gone and the home is vacant, it feels bare and underwhelming and they can’t help but feel disappointed.

We can blame the marketing, but what lessons can we learn from this? 

As a Seller, you want to take every measure you can to appeal to a Buyer’s subconscious desires as Dichter proposes and give your home a desirable personality.

As a Buyer, you want to look beyond the bells and whistles of the home. Strip off the personality, examine the home closely and envision it without the furniture and décor. Don’t be so quick to dismiss a home that doesn’t show well either. The interior can always be improved, what can’t be changed is the physical location and layout of the home.

As a final analogy, when a model wears make-up at a photo shoot, the make-up hides her flaws and consumers don’t ever really know what she truly looks like. It’s the same for Home Buyers, in a Seller’s market they spend only minutes reviewing a property before they need to make a decision about it. Buyers aren’t always qualified to judge a house beyond all the make-up and glamour. It’s always valuable to bring in a Home Inspector to uncover the make-up and help the Buyer see the property for what it truly is. 

 

 

 
 

THE PRECEDING COMMENTARY IS THE OPINION OF HANNA MACDONALD AND DOES NOT REPRESENT THE INTERESTS OR OPINIONS OF RIGHT AT HOME REALTY INC., BROKERAGE OR THE TORONTO REAL ESTATE BOARD. THEREFORE, RIGHT AT HOME REALTY AND THE TORONTO REAL ESTATE BOARD WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE AND/OR LIABLE FOR ANY OF THE OPINIONS HEREIN.

THE AUTHOR IS NOT LICENSED TO PRACTICE PSYCHOLOGY. THE RESEARCH FINDINGS REFERENCED IN THE COMMENTARY ARE USED TO MERELY UNDERSCORE THE AUTHOR’S OPINION AND OBSERVATIONS.

 


[1] The Economist, How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing, December 17th, 2011.

 

[2] The Economist, How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing, December 17th, 2011.

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