• Sex sells in real estate, too, but the line between edgy and offensive is a shifting one.
  • Silicon Valley agent hired female models to spice up one of his listing’s photo spreads.
  • Statewide MLS policy is vague about whether people are allowed in listing photos, at least in California.

You’re deep in the heart of Silicon Valley where young, rich techies thrive like the water-starved native grass blanketing the area hills. You snag a retro midcentury listing.

How do you market it? Hire female models to give its listing photos a sexed-up, “shagalicious” flair, perhaps?

Agent Stephan Marshall decided to do just that with a ’60s-era, three-bed, two-bath $1.7 million Belmont, California, listing that came with original 1965 furniture. The hypersexualized comedy movie franchise “Austin Powers” served as inspiration.

The models — interspersed among traditional listing photos — adorn the home wearing high heels and striking suggestive poses. The listing hit the market on Friday.


The home’s 28 listing photos include some featuring models.

It’s not the first time a real estate agent has used titillation to help sell a home, and it won’t be the last. Sex sells.

Stephan Marshall

Stephan Marshall

But the lines between edgy and sexist or successful and offensive are blurry and shift depending on whom you ask, as well as the market. (Marshall’s marketing might resonate for the rich bros of Silicon Valley, but fall flat in Minnesota, for example.)

Racy marketing is no doubt a difficult strategy for agents to employ.


Marshall’s provocative listing photos struck a nerve with members of the Inman Coast to Coast Facebook group.

Shelley Rossi, vice president of communications at Windermere Real Estate, felt the marketing would turn off female buyers or the female half of a homebuying couple.

“What Realtor would exclude an entire gender from their target marketing?” she asked.


View more of the home’s listing photos below.

Others, such as Silicon Valley agent Jeff Colon, thought the marketing clever. “I see this property posted everywhere and the buzz on it is going wild,” Colon wrote.

Tiffany Kjellander, broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate PorchLight in New Jersey, pointed out that the eye candy did nothing to deflect the stale vibe the home gave her.

“The girls don’t distract me from the distinct feeling that someone grew old and died in this house,” Kjellander wrote. “I can smell musty bedding and mothballs through the screen.”

Justifying the sexy

Marshall knows the home’s listing photos are polarizing, but they’ve gotten results, he said. Plus, the sellers are totally on board; he said he would not have employed the sexy stunt without their support.

The open house over the weekend was busy. Several potential buyers showed up just because of the photos, Marshall said.


Marshall also produced an eight-page flyer to market the home. “It’s formatted like a fashion magazine from the ’60’s with vintage fonts, psychedelic colors and period slang,” Marshall said.

“My marketing has been theme-driven for many years, and I have been wanting to use models for a while now but have been waiting for the right house,” Marshall said.

“I was also hoping to draw some extra attention because I have never seen models used in this way before,” he added.

Are people allowed in listing photos?

Several agents in the Inman Coast to Coast group pointed out that their local MLSs don’t allow listing photos to include people.

Sunnyvale, California-based MLSListings — whose market covers Marshall’s listing — doesn’t explicitly prohibit the use of people in listing photos.

However, the firm did recently adopt the California Association of Realtors’ model rules, which gives it the ability to “unilaterally remove objectionable content,” MLSListings’ CEO Jim Harrison said, citing section 11.9. “This gives us the ability to use our better judgment.”

“Generally, the photos for a listing should be of the property,” Harrison added. “When the focal point is not property-centric, then it’s generally not appropriate.”

The National Association of Realtors’ MLS policy, likewise, has no rule prohibiting people in listing photos, NAR spokeswoman Sara Wiskerchen said.

Some local MLSs do, however, have rules that “prohibit irrelevant information from appearing in MLS photos, like the sign of the listing firm or other promotional items; a local rule prohibiting people from appearing in MLS photos would be acceptable,” she added.






Email Paul Hagey.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information about NAR’s listing photo policy.

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