Top 10 photographic ‘crimes’ agents commit

Realtor Notebook

Real estate agents take snapshots to document homes for sale as if to say, "This home has a dining room." What their photographs should be marketing is the dining room as a great space to spend time dining with friends and family.

Photography can be used for marketing real estate, but often agents just take a few quick snapshots instead of hiring a pro. I have never seen poorly photographed shoes on the Zappos website. It’s also rare to see poorly photographed products on Pinterest, or in the Target store flier that comes with the Sunday newspaper.

When are we going to have standards in the real estate industry for photography? Why do we allow our MLS to watermark and publish bad photographs for all to see? Don’t we have an ethical and moral obligation to do everything we can to make our clients real estate look fantastic instead of frightening?

It isn’t unusual to see the logo of a major real estate brand right next to a poor property photograph. Photography is one of the least expensive and easiest ways for agents and brokerages to really stand out.

What do poor photos say about real estate brands? Doesn’t better photography create a better user experience on our websites?

It seems so simple and obvious. Yet photography is rarely even mentioned at real estate conferences or offered as part of continuing education. Video has been a hot topic in real estate for years — it’s been the next big thing since about 2004 — but still isn’t used much in real estate.

Cameras keep getting better, and so does the technology we use to process images. My phone is capable of taking better pictures than the digital camera I had 10 years ago. Technology keeps improving, yet we still have poor photographs in the MLS.

Some pictures are too dark and others are too light. Some show the top half of the room while others show the floor or a small corner of the room.

I should not have been surprised when our state association of Realtors recently published an article about using Instagram for real estate photography.

In doing so they are supporting and encouraging the use of camera phone photography and square photographs that only show part of a room. They are helping us maintain our low standards when they should be helping us raise the bar.

Our MLS has all sorts of rules about data and data accuracy. We are fined if we don’t follow these rules. There is a rule that says that each listing has to have at least one photograph.

If, as an industry, we were at all serious about raising the bar, brokerages would insist on better photographs. Our MLS would have stricter rules for photos, and perhaps fines.

Here is a partial list of photographic crimes that agents should be fined at least $100 for:

1. Photographs with date stamps. The fine should be doubled if the stamp has a date that starts with 19 (as in "1998").

2. Partial room shots where the agent either zooms in and just gets the corner, or takes the picture with a phone or lens that covers only a small area.

3. Blurry, out-of-focus photographs.

4. Rooms with people or pets in the shot.

5. Interior photographs with an orange or yellowish tinge because the camera’s automatic white balance setting got it wrong.

6. Exterior shots taken into the sun.

7. Crooked photographs.

8. Interior photographs taken at night.

9. Pictures with open toilets in them.

10. Pictures with mirrors or windows that show a flash of light or an agent with a camera.

We market our listings all over the Internet, and we need photographs to do it.

Those pictures not only market listings, they market real estate agents and brokerages.

Agents obsess over mobile technology and having "responsive" websites that look good on those devices. Yet some of those same agents don’t care how terrible the real estate photographs on their website look, regardless of the device that’s used to view them.

An MLS won’t accept inaccurate data. Why do they accept bad photographs and watermark them for all to see?

Why do brands spend a ton of money on marketing their brand yet allow agents to market real estate under the same brand with marginal photos taken with a camera phone from a moving vehicle?

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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