Marketing

10 listing photo pitfalls for real estate agents, home sellers and photographers

Broker Notebook

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We sell real estate on the Internet, on third-party sites and through the multiple listing service, using photography. It’s just assumed that if a person has a real estate license they are also a photographer, capable of commercial-quality work.

Some agents are not very good at photography, but of course every agent reading this takes great photos.

Making fun of pictures taken by real estate agents is a popular pastime in the real estate industry. Now that our phones have such great cameras in them, it’s possible to take more bad pictures with less effort than ever before.

It is very easy to aim a camera and depress the shutter button, but some days we even screw that up. The very best practice is to hire a pro, but even pros don’t always get the results the agent or the home sellers might be looking for.

Here are 10 pitfalls real estate agents, home sellers and photographers should beware of when photographing a house or hiring a pro:

  1. If there is a cat in the house, it will end up in at least one picture. They are natural photo bombers and cannot help themselves.
  2. Yellow rooms are hard to photograph. The pictures may look yellow.
  3. Dirt and dust shows up in photographs.
  4. Small rooms can be photographed with a wide-angle lens. But they may still look small.
  5. Photography and staging are two separate operations. Often real estate agents and sellers think that part of the photographer’s job is to rearrange furniture.
  6. Photoshop is a great tool. But be warned: It is much easier to Photoshop a unicorn INTO a picture (sitting on the couch, perhaps) than it is to Photoshop OUT the tree in front of the sun-dappled house. Chopping the tree down and removing it is the best way to keep it out of the picture.
  7. Most bathrooms are almost impossible to photograph because they are too small.
  8. It is possible to use a flash in a room with a mirror or a window and not get any flash back in the glass.
  9. Nighttime interior shots look freaky. Don’t even try to take them.
  10. Figure out which way the home faces, and where the sun will be, BEFORE making an appointment to go photograph it. It is best if the sun is behind the photographer, or to the side. Shooting into the sun messes up the shot.

As a photographer, I meet all sorts of people. I’ve found that clear communication and written contracts are as important to photographers as they are to real estate agents.

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Our clients make assumptions, and so do we. But it is up to us as professionals to be the grown-ups in the relationship, set expectations and supply the contracts.

Sometimes photography clients assume that I know things that I do not know.

A client on one project knew that there was something wrong with most every room I photographed, and he expected me to fix it. I’ll never get the time back I spent on that project, and I won’t get paid for most of the work. But the life lesson was invaluable.

I will never again do any type of photography for hire without a signed contract even if it is a friend who is asking me to do it.

Sellers or their agents often call and say the house is ready to photograph. But when I get there, it usually does not look ready. It doesn’t matter if the homeowner has had an hour, a day or a month to have it ready — they rarely do.

My job is to quickly and tactfully determine if they know that the house really isn’t ready. If they think it is ready I have to tell them it is not, and explain why. If they can’t get it ready quickly, I have to let them know when I can come back so that I don’t end up spending an afternoon helping someone clean a house.

Real estate pros who hire photographers should have an understanding with the photographer ahead of time about what the deliverables are, and it should be in writing.

Most photographers will not move furniture, but some do offer that service. If possible, agents should always meet the photographer at the house, or check to make sure the house is ready to be photographed before the photographer arrives.

Agents who take their own photographs should have an understanding with the homeowner and let them know upfront what to expect. I like to have a conversation about which rooms I will photograph, and which I will not, and why.

I point out potential problems like yellow rooms and dirty windows. I also ask the homeowner what it was that attracted them to the house and if they have any suggestions about what should be featured in the marketing. I may not follow their advice, but it never hurts to ask.

Sometimes it helps homeowners to take some pictures of their house with their phones or a camera. When they look at the pictures they may start seeing their home in a new way, which may help them get it ready to photograph and sell.

Agents can also take some quick pictures and send them to the sellers so they can get a look at their home from a buyer’s point of view but warn them ahead of time that small rooms will look small and pictures of yellow rooms may look yellow.

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