False Advertising: Home Builder Renderings vs. Reality

“Lo Ball Jones” dropped a link in the Saturday Link Roundup to a local homebuilder website that caught my attention for just how ridiculous the rendered images of their homes are.

With a little help from the magic of Google Maps’ 45° view, I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few comparisons between what various builders claim their homes will look like sitting finished on their lot and what they actually look like. Note the lush greenery, long drive/walkways, huge setbacks, tall trees, and large lots shown in all of the renderings versus what the homes look like in reality.

Without further ado, I present the following home builder renderings vs. reality.

Lennar Homes

Rendering

Lennar Homes: Rendering

Reality

Lennar Homes: Reality

Centex

Rendering

Centex: Rendering

Reality

Centex: Reality

Bennett Homes

Rendering

Bennett Homes: Rendering

Reality

Bennett Homes: Reality

These are just a few random examples I was able to find. The practice is definitely not limited to these three builders. And of course, I’m sure they all cover themselves legally with fine-print disclaimers like this one on the Centex site:

This rendering is for illustrative purposes only and represents an artist concept of a model of this home and may not represent the home that would be available for purchase at the purchase price shown.

Still though, it seems like a highly deceptive practice to me. Of course, misleading advertising seems to be par for the course when it comes to home builders, so I’m certainly not surprised.


About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

34 comments:

  1. 1

    The bigger question for me is if that is something people want (10,000+ square foot lots), why do they accept what builders are offering (5,000- square foot lots)?

    I personally have a strong preference for older homes, in part because outside Seattle that typically means a larger lot. Some buyers though prefer brand new, even if they have to give up lot size to get that in their price range. Some of those buyers though actually prefer the smaller lot, because they don’t want the yard work.

  2. 2

    Good Commentary By Both Kary and Tim on This Topic

    A side issue they didn’t hit IMO, is predicting endlessly growing population density impacts on even major contractor home building by say 2025 or 2030….there’s a good article on Detroit in Popular Mechanics for October 2012 on just this issue. They try to save the greenlands, farmlands and forrests anyway in their cartoons of the future; and let’s put it this way, its just more bogus renditions like Tim documented IMO.

    My bet is we’ll become another India or China as this happens with walls and a police force separating the ghetto shacks and homeless from the security fenced elite minority.

  3. 3
    Hugh Dominic says:

    These mass-produced overdense homes are a blight.

  4. 4
    Pegasus says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 1 – What do your comments have to do with false advertising?

  5. 5
    No Name Guy says:

    The Tim, come on….this is exactly what our overlords / betters (e.g. urban “planners”) want. Density, density and more density so you can take the bus to your job for the next 30 years. The way you get it is to put a double tall cookie cutter box on a postage stamp lot.

    Get on board and quit the whining and just submit……. ;-)

  6. 6

    By Pegasus @ 4:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 1 – What do your comments have to do with false advertising?

    As I noted, that was a bigger question I had, but to connect up, when someone drives out there the situation won’t be anything like what was shown in the picture. If they want what was depicted in the advertising, why to they accept the reality?

    It is part of my long-held and continuing position that pictures should not create an impression that will leave the buyer disappointed when they actually see the property. That’s why I will sometimes include pictures of a mess in my listing photos. If that’s what the buyer is going to see when they visit the property, I don’t want them to see pictures that exclude the mess, or worse, the pictures from the prior listing where everything was pristine. That, btw, is something I came across last month. Great pictures but the family who lived there apparently ate wandering through every room without using plates, cups or glasses.

  7. 7

    By Hugh Dominic @ 3:

    These mass-produced overdense homes are a blight.

    Maybe not currently, but in the future that’s very likely. That’s another reason I like older homes. With a new home you don’t have as good of an idea what the neighborhood will be like in 5 years.

  8. 8
    David B. says:

    RE: No Name Guy @ 5 – Washington’s Growth Management Act was passed by a popular vote. It’s not some creation of bureaucrats completely unaccountable to the public.

    Personally, I’d rather have more density and less sprawl. It makes for less driving to get out of town to wild areas on the weekends. Whatever one feels about the issue, however, so long as the metro area continues to grow, density-vs-sprawl is a tradeoff that’s going to have to be made.

    Well, I suppose we could play the California game of refusing to allow both more density or more sprawl, and then pass something like Prop 13 so that the current crowd of homeowners can be made immune from the natural consequences of such a decision (skyrocketing housing costs). No thanks.

  9. 9
    Lo Ball Jones says:

    Here’s the irony.

    I’ve been cross pollinating ideas between SB and Seattle Transit Blog.

    At STB they criticized the first image because the houses weren’t densely packed enough! And so I linked to the real world image you provided (and gave you credit).

  10. 10
    The Tim says:

    By Kary L. Krismer @ 1:

    The bigger question for me is if that is something people want (10,000+ square foot lots), why do they accept what builders are offering (5,000- square foot lots)?

    5,000 square feet? Hah! The lots in the first example appear to be roughly 60′ x 32′ = 1,920 square feet. The second example gets bigger lots at 88′ x 46′ = 4,048 square feet, and the third appear to be about 73′ x 37′ = 2,701 square feet.

    5,000 square foot lots. That’s rich.

  11. 11
    Marc says:

    I’m not a fan of new construction primarily because of the ridiculously one sided contracts builders insist upon. But also because of things like undersized lots and over priced “upgrades.” Like Kary said, I have plenty of clients who only want a new house and are willing to put up with these aspects of buying a new home so I do my job and help them the best I can.

    I am no fan of builder’s marketing tactics either but I will not accuse them of anything shady by virtue of their artist renderings. When the buyer goes out to the subdivision they can see for themselves how tight the lots are going to be and that’s especially true when they’ve already started building units.

    So if someone decides to pull the trigger and buy one of these homes I have no sympathy for them when they later realize they can reach out their kitchen window to borrow a cup of sugar or have a neighbor stare into their bathroom.

    Personally, I don’t want to buy one of these homes and not because I prefer older homes. I have a house built in 1941 and am tired of the upkeep so I’d love to have a new(-ish), well constructed home but I won’t put up with the crap that comes along with buying new construction.

  12. 12
    Bernie says:

    I’m first of all amazed at how accurate the rendering of the actual house is. The paint colors, the reflections, shadows and topography are truly photorealistic. To be fair the “as built” photos show yards in a summer drought condition without much care. They could look like the pictures with a little water and elbow grease. That is the yard immediately in front of the house. It’s too bad they don’t use the powerful rendering to figure out a better way to pack the homes into the space available. It’s likely code restrictions but the idea of a side “yard” that never sees the light of day and is barely wide enough for a ladder when you need to paint or replace the LP siding is ridiculous. With small lots space is at a premium and every square inch should be planned for to be useable.

  13. 13
    ARDELL says:

    When buying new construction you buy the house and pick where it will go separately. If there are a few corner lots available where that photo would in fact be accurate, then it is not likely false advertising.

    Just finished a new construction project with a client and the lot we picked was 13,000 sf on a corner with an open field behind and a green belt on the side. While almost ALL of the homes in the development were on tiny lots, there were a few lots that had considerable setback and greenbelt to be even better than the renderings.

    If there are NO lots in the development a buyer can choose to replicate the rendering, then yes it would be false advertising. But if there are 24 lots and the buyer chooses the lot that has little to no space around the home, interior lot vs corner lot as example, then that difference is by choice. The buyer chooses the lot and the lowest cost would be the smaller interior lots.

    I would have to see the full development plan with lots identified to determine whether or not it is false advertising. Even if the lots that match the rendering have already been sold and are no longer available, the rendering usually would not be changed to reflect the reality of the last few and usually undesirable lots, until the homes were built as spec and the rendering is replaced with the actual existing structure.

  14. 14
    Marc says:

    The marketing tactics I most detest concern the practices of the builders’ site agents. I know of one builder where the site agent is the listing agent for the development and homes in it but describes herself as a “buyer’s agent.” She even told me that as I was waiting for my clients to arrive. I almost threw up in my mouth a little and wanted to correct her but decided what was the point, I knew otherwise and would (and did) advise my clients otherwise.

    I believe this sort of conduct is fairly common place and probably works on many buyers to lull them into a false sense of security. Especially when these agents talk about their earnest desire to get you the best possible deal and that they don’t care about the builder. Uh huh.

    Then they promptly tell you the builder will never come off his price or won’t do a certain upgrade or will charge a bazillion dollars for it such as ditching the standard carpet in the dining room and extending the hardwood floors there instead. It’s shocking what many of them charge for this simple change.

  15. 15
    psf says:

    The overheads really show how important alley’s are.
    The centex and bennett home views are completely dominated by the hideous garages and driveways.

    I wish Seattle would fix their current setback requirements for SF5000. The 20′ setbacks are really limiting and neighborhood unfriendly.

  16. 16
    ChrisM says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 7 – “With a new home you don’t have as good of an idea what the neighborhood will be like in 5 years.”

    Well.. as discussed in the well/septic thread recently, Seattle & Portland permit razing a house and putting up to 3 new houses in the existing lot…

  17. 17
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: ARDELL @ 13 – There is no way any of these examples could ever be deemed ‘accurate’, at any time in the development lifecycle. Take the first one, for example. Let’s assume that is a corner lot depicted in the rendering. Where is the sidewalk and road? Where is the back alley? These are non-trivial details.

    This has real impacts. Not everyone knows how to use Google maps to find out the truth. I know of an elderly woman, a friend of the family, who traveled four hours round trip to look at a development near me. She was horribly disappointed that the renderings had little resemblance to the real development. Just more shady behavior that adds to the aversion to the real estate industry.

  18. 18

    By The Tim @ 10:

    By Kary L. Krismer @ 1:

    The bigger question for me is if that is something people want (10,000+ square foot lots), why do they accept what builders are offering (5,000- square foot lots)?

    5,000 square feet? Hah! The lots in the first example appear to be roughly 60′ x 32′ = 1,920 square feet. The second example gets bigger lots at 88′ x 46′ = 4,048 square feet, and the third appear to be about 73′ x 37′ = 2,701 square feet.

    5,000 square foot lots. That’s rich.

    I’m using 5000- as meaning less than 5000, as it’s searched for using Matrix. Some websites don’t like the greater than symbol, so I don’t use that.

    But yes, some lots are very small.

  19. 19

    By wreckingbull @ 17:

    RE: ARDELL @ 13 – There is no way any of these examples could ever be deemed ‘accurate’, at any time in the development lifecycle.

    What if the development fails, and they only sell the one lot and house? ;-)

  20. 20
    No Name Guy says:

    RE: David B. @ 8

    And as we know, GMA has been an absolute disaster where ever it’s been implemented. Popular votes don’t always result in good policy.

    Portland and greater Seattle saw massive bubbles as supply was artificially restricted (just one aspect, in the bubble, of course, but A important one, at least locally), while Texas (no zoning, no GMA) saw a far more mild run up during the peak of the bubble as supply could enter the market quickly and without tens of thousands in over head on each lot that GMA imposed here and in Portland.

    Oh – your authoritarian, “I have mine and to heck with every one else” attitude is clear when you say “It makes for less driving to get out of town to wild areas on the weekends.” Typical of a city dwelling Seattle type when some one else’s undeveloped private land becomes an entitlement for your recreation. If you want that land in an undeveloped state, buy it, at full price, and donate it to the public. Or better still, take a dose of the medicine folks with your attitude like to dish out to rural land owners: How about razing all that evil development in say, the Denny regrade area and on up all of Queen Anne and restoring the land to it’s natural state – 90% restoration by area without compensation sounds just about right, don’t ya think? (you know, the same deal that the rural land owners are getting.) Then there will be no need for you to drive to “wild” spaces – you’ll have one just down the block.

  21. 21
    joe dirt says:

    The problem isn’t the lot size, it’s the house size. If these were 2br 1ba with single garage it would look proportional and have a chance of being sustainable desirable neghborhood in the future. A 3 story 4br 3ba dbl garage structure on these lots will hardly be worth the cost to tear it down some day. It will be the equivalent of HUD project high rises.

  22. 22
    wreckingbull says:

    You know, even though we bash the first example, they do deserve kudos for getting the garage where it belongs – on a back alley. I can’t stand it when the garage is the centerpiece of the home design.

  23. 23
    joe dirt says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 22 – The house is too narrow for a double garage next to an entry.

    Code should require provision for scaffold suspended from the roof for maintenance. You can’t get a ladder in there.

  24. 24
    wreckingbull says:

    By joe dirt @ 23:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 22 – The house is too narrow for a double garage next to an entry.
    .

    Indeed it is, but look across the street – same size lots, front garages. No way I would work on a 30 foot ladder. Scaffold w/ pump jack it is, or see if The Tim could get you a deal on a Genie lift.

  25. 25
    mukoh says:

    Lennar project is best, even has its own police station just for the area right behind Everett Mall Public Housing Project all for $289k :). And it literally is walking distance to the Theater.

  26. 26
    David B. says:

    RE: No Name Guy @ 20 – “And as we know, GMA has been an absolute disaster where ever it’s been implemented.”

    No, we don’t “know” that; it’s merely your opinion.

    “… while Texas (no zoning, no GMA) …”

    Wrong; just Houston. The other major cities in Texas are all zoned. Even most of the Houston suburbs are zoned, in fact; it turns out that people tend to _like_ having some idea of what might get built next door to them. Moreover, I’ve seen the Houston metro area; hardly the paragon of livability. No thanks. Texas has also had real-estate bubbles of its own (made worse by how easily one can build during speculative bubbles); in the 1990s you could drive through mazes of suburban streets outside of Dallas that were doing nothing but gradually crack and grow weeds. And “see-through buildings” (glass office buildings which had never had a tenant since they were built, with the result that you could see right through their open floors) were recurring local landmarks.

    “Oh – your authoritarian, “I have mine and to heck with every one else” attitude”

    What’s authoritarian about wanting a metro area that sprawls less? Either it’s given free rein to sprawl (backed up by government infrastructure paid for in part by my tax dollars) or it’s not. Either way, it’s a choice, and we can’t have it both ways.

  27. 27

    RE: David B. @ 26 – I don’t know about Texas zoning issues, but as I’ve mentioned in the past they do have sky high real estate taxes, and that did shield them quite a bit from the bubble.

  28. 28
    The Tim says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 24 – Hah! You must be a long-time reader to remember that I used to work for Genie. I sure got out of there just in time. Just a few months after I left they began layoffs that repeated every quarter for a year and a half. By the time they were done the total headcount had been cut by around 2/3. Not a great time.

    Bringing it back on-topic… Yes, a Genie lift would be ideal in a space like that. Assuming there’s at least 8 feet between homes and no fence (not necessarily a safe bet), I think a GS-3369 would be the right machine for the job.

  29. 29
    chuck c says:

    For perspective:
    I often travel to Hong Kong on business. Want to talk about small lot size? How about none at all???? 3BR/2BA apt on the 43rd floor with a view of the high-rise next door (which is a huge place, BTW). And let’s not even mention the price! What a nightmare…. Thankfully I get to live here in the south sound region, which honestly is still too over-crowded for this mid-western boy.

  30. 30
    redmondjp says:

    RE: The Tim @ 28 – Nah, that requires a delivery & pickup from the rental place on a commercial truck.

    I’d go with a TZ34 or TZ50 – towable by a pickup! And that horizontal reach will deal with any fences in the way.

  31. 31
    Peter Witting says:

    Maybe the developers should also provide a photo-real depiction of the house after five years: peeling trim paint, black stains along the siding, a bunch of crap in the front yard and on the decks, and weeds growing from the gutters. Lake Stevens has alot of ready examples to draw upon.

  32. 32

    RE: The Tim @ 28 – I don’t remember where I was, probably somewhere in Bellevue, but one condo complex a lot of owners had installed a lift so that they could park two cars in one spot.

  33. 33
  34. 34
    Feedback says:

    Thank you! I am very upset that builders have advertised their homes falsely and I appreciate your work in exposing this malicious behavior.

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