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The Visual Representation of Real Estate

Next up at ANZCA 2017 is Chris Chesher, who begins by pointing out the increasing role of real estate agents as media producers. Agents selling homes produce public representations of private spaces, portraying the home to be sold as personal and family space, and offering it up for (mediated as well as in-person) inspection. In Australia this occurs mainly through one or both of the duopoly sites Domain and

The search interfaces of these sites – already highly image-centric – become the first point of entry for prospective home buyers; eye-tracking shows that users almost always begin by viewing the image, before reviewing associated data and text. This is even though there is more text associated with the sale entry than has commonly been the case for print ads. Further, there are also visual map interfaces that show the location of the property as well as of other similar properties in the same neighbourhood.

The common interface used by these sites presents the houses as technically equivalent to each other, and so it is the images used to represent them that set them apart from each other; this signals divergent levels of class and aspiration that address different segments of the audience for these sites. The presentation of such houses (empty, semi-furnished, or furnished) also speaks to the imagination of prospective buyers, variously inviting them to place themselves into these pictures.

Most such images have traditionally followed a standard visual approach, shot from a uniform, mid-level height to depict the interior space; however, more artistic approaches – unusual angles, narrow depth of field, artificial blurring, people in shot acting as if they lived in the house – are gradually becoming more common. Videos – of agents talking about the property, accompanying tracking shots through the house, or even drone imagery – are also increasingly prominent for high-value properties, however; some agents are also offering virtual reality experiences or 3D models of new construction projects that have yet to be completed.

Such representations also serve to perpetuate the ideology of real estate – but the reality of real estate, especially in Sydney, is now increasingly out of reach for the majority of prospective buyers, and this advertising targets a narrower and narrower audience.