How to Improve Your Listing Photos — Without Breaking the Bank

According to the National Association of Realtors, 90 percent of home shoppers use the Internet to search for their new home.
Many home shoppers start their search online — that’s why quality listing photos are so important.

That means that the first impression of a home will likely come from the photos you include in your online listings.

“If you want to grab a buyer’s attention and make an impression, you’ve got to do it online,” says Grace Keister, online marketing specialist for First Team Real Estate in Irvine, Calif.

“When buyers see a house with no photos online, it’s like it doesn’t exist. Without photos — and good ones, at that — your home for sale is invisible to all of those buyers who are searching online.”

So, how can you get quality photos without breaking the bank? It’s simple with these pro tips from real estate agents, a professional photographer and a home staging expert:

Keep It Clean and Uncluttered

This is perhaps the most important tip of all: don’t use photos of an unclean, cluttered home. Pictures of a messy home will not entice a buyer to imagine living there (even if they are lacking in cleaning and organizing skills themselves).

“Nothing is a bigger turn off for potential buyers than a dirty, cluttered home,” says Lori Matzke, a home staging expert with Center Stage Home, Inc., based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., area. “Take the time to prepare the house for market. Stage the property — or, at the very least, make sure the sink isn’t full of dirty dishes, the countertops are clear and a pile of shoes is not heaped by the door.”

This advice is the same for the home’s yard — if there are weeds galore, get to weeding or mowing.

Your Phone’s Camera Isn’t Really an Appropriate Camera

In a pinch, your phone’s camera may be the only option. However, a mobile device’s phone can’t really capture the same kind of photo as a 35-mm digital camera, even with all of those filters. Imagine hiring a professional photographer for a wedding who showed up with only their smartphone camera — you’d think, “Do I really have to pay for this?”

Display the same professionalism when it comes to photographing a home. “If you have been hired as a professional, act like one,” says Charleston, S.C. Realtor Kim Boerman. A user-friendly 35-mm digital camera, like the Nikon Coolpix, may be worth the investment; after all, you will be able to use it for the next five years or more.

Let There Be Light

By understanding how to properly photograph a home, you’ll effectively display the highlights and features of your listing — and get the home sold in record time. No, really — the proper lighting makes a big difference in the quality of your photo. You don’t need to purchase expensive lighting equipment to do so, either. To get a high-quality photo, take them during the day, when you can take advantage of natural light, says Peggy Farren, a professional photographer in Naples, Fla. “Take photos during the golden hour, which is within an hour of sunrise and sunset,” she says. “The light is softer, so the light from the windows won’t appear (to be too bright).”

Farren says you can evenly light the room by strategically placing lamps or by turning on overhead lights to brighten up dark areas in the home. Take four or five shots of each room to give yourself options.

If you snap a good photo that is a little dark, you can brighten it up with photo software. If software such as Adobe Photoshop is too costly, try programs that are already loaded onto your computer or download something like Picasa to edit photos. While editing photos, be sure to edit lightly. You don’t want your photo to look completely different than the home — you simply want to enhance it.

It’s All About Angles

This seems like a common sense tip, but it’s one that is often neglected in the photo-taking process: take photos from the entry point of the room. “This is the way a potential buyer will view it for the first time and the best way to get a feel for the overall space,” Matzke says.

Matzke also suggests holding your camera at mid-level of the room to get an equal amount of ceiling and floor in the frame. Once you’ve taken a photo, review it to make sure that the angle doesn’t make the room look smaller.

Still Reluctant?

If you’re still reluctant to take your own photos, but can’t afford a pro photographer, hire a college student. Photography students will be grateful for the experience — and extra cash — that comes with the job, Boerman says.

Depending on your area, there may also be a cost-effective residential photography service available to you. These types of services provide packages where you pay one price for a set amount of photos that are usually delivered in a few days.

Tell a Logical Story

Don’t forget that ultimately, you’re telling a story. Your goal is for potential buyers to imagine themselves in that story, so help it move along smoothly. When you upload photos, make sure they’re in a logical order. “Display the photos as if you were walking through the home,” says Lindsey Litton, a Realtor with Keller Williams City View in San Antonio, Texas. “I can’t tell you how many MLS properties I see where the second photo is the backyard.”

And, to prevent confusing the prospective buyer, keep all people, pets and kids out of the photo (this is especially important for those rooms where mirrors or windows are in the photo). If you end up with a grainy or blurry photo, don’t include it — this will create more questions for those viewing the listing.

A picture is worth a thousand words — unless it’s a bad picture. The power your listing photos play in getting a home sold quickly cannot be understated. By understanding how to properly photograph a home, you’ll effectively display the highlights and features of your listing — and get the home sold in record time.

About the author 

Patricia Garcia

Patricia L. Garcia is an award-winning freelance journalist and former content manager for NewHomeSource. She graduated from New Mexico State University in 2003 with a major in Journalism and Mass Communications.

Garcia has worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press and several daily newspapers in New Mexico, covering a variety of topics including breaking news, arts and entertainment and home and garden/lifestyle features and was associate editor of the Texas Bar Journal. She has won three awards in the National Association of Real Estate Editors' annual competition.

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