Most U.S. listings don’t include a virtual tour or floor plan and don’t use best practices in professional photography, according to a new study released Thursday.

The vast majority of real estate listings are not giving consumers what they want when it comes to visual marketing, according to a study by real estate image enhancement company BoxBrownie.

The study analyzed about half of the listings on realtor.com and Zillow from March 2021 to June 2021 — more than 25,000 U.S. listings total. BoxBrownie looked at whether the listings included virtual tours and floor plans and whether the photos used best practices in professional photography.

The study found that 94 percent of listings do not include a virtual tour, which BoxBrownie general manager Peter Schravemade defined as an “immersive 360-degree tour. Specifically, not a slideshow or PowerPoint display of images (that in most cases form part of the listing), and not a video.”

Only 16 percent of the studied listings included a floor plan. Narrowed down to single-family homes, only 10 percent included a floor plan. Apartment listings were twice as likely to include both best practice professional photography and a floor plan than single-family homes, BoxBrownie said.

Fewer than 30 percent of studied listings used best practices in professional photography, the company added.

Peter Schravemade

“It is important to us here at BoxBrownie.com that we make it easy for agents to enhance their listings, since a recent [National Association of Realtors] survey concluded that 67 percent of buyers want to see floor plans and 58 percent virtual tours,” Schravemade said in a statement.

“The results have been very enlightening and unexpected, with less than 30 percent using best practices in professional photography is surprising, and flies in the face of what we are led to believe.”

Asked what “best practices” the study evaluated, Schravemade told Inman, “There is only one globally-recognized technique of photographing a property in order to best represent it for sale. It is a bracketing/HDR [High Dynamic Range] method. This method can be combined with other shooting techniques, (flambient, rule of thirds, exposure triangles etc…), but the common denominator is bracketed shooting.

“If bracketing as a method has not been employed the photo editor will find it nearly impossible to return the image to what the eye actually sees when it gets to a property. It is a fool-proof method, it is incredible easy …, it takes no more time than other techniques (in fact, less) and the overall cost should be the same as other methods.”

Here’s a short video of children using the method:

He added, “[I]t has always been my opinion that not shooting using the bracketing method to exposure the exterior window detail is not in the best interests of the seller (is there a multimillion-dollar view?) and can actually inadvertently misrepresent the home to the purchaser (is there a sewerage plant outside the window that the purchaser cannot see?).”

Though based in Australia, Schravemade noted that he had spent the better part of three years touring the U.S. at real estate conferences. He spoke at events in 36 states and at each one asked attendees how many of them were using professional photography for their listings. At each one, some 80 percent of attendees would put their hands up, he said.

“On booths, or stands at trade-shows and definitely in online groups, there are very, very few American agents [that] were willing to admit that they are taking their own pictures despite what the portals are visually telling us,” he said.

“I suspect the majority of agents may think they are using professional photography. But the resulting image is visibly different to a best-practice professional outcome. Professional photographers define professional photography output to be the sum of three main parts; 1) the preparation of the property for shoot (not considered in this research) 2) the shoot, angles, equipment, particularly the technique involved with the shoot 3) the editing of the images photographed, in order to return the images to what the eye sees when it gets to the property (and obviously other forms of acceptable editing e.g. replacing the sky).”

Schravemade acknowledged that some might consider BoxBrownie’s study self-serving, given that it is a visual marketing company. But, he pointed out that BoxBrownie is best-known for its virtual staging, which was not part of the study, and its image-editing services are a by-product of what the study touches on, not its subject.

“A large portion of the study was focussed on photography, which is a service we don’t offer,” he said. “Another focal point of the survey was virtual tours, and whilst we offer those as DIY basis, they are not a core focus of our business. In many respects the findings of this survey benefit other providers of virtual tours more than us.

“We are on the public record multiple times … being completely agnostic to our product, including stating a) that you should always use a professional photographer b) every agent just needs to include virtual tours regardless of platform or fear factor.”

BoxBrownie will release the full results of its study on July 20. That report will offer agents guidance and insight into how important it is to get visual marketing right and show which regions and states are doing what and if it is effective, according to the company.

For instance, the company found that New York leads the way among the states in having the highest percentage of properties featuring best practice professional photography, floor plans, and virtual tours.

BoxBrownie’s education and marketing in the U.S. has always encouraged agents to focus on delivering better visual marketing for a listing that serves the seller better and also that does not misrepresent the listing to the buyer, according to Schravemade.

“For example, one outcome might be to take a look at the types of marketing that is happening in New York and set that as a possible target to attain for your brokerage,” he said. “Or to discuss bracketed photography with your professional photographer. Or to look at ways of incorporating a floor plan in every listing.”

“Whilst its wasn’t the intention of the survey to throw shade at listing agents or to come between them and the buyer’s agent, it would stand to reason that a successful listing agent would more than likely be one who was at the top of their game with regards to visual marketing for a listing,” he added.

In a statement, Vanessa Bergmark, CEO of Oakland, California-based Red Oak Realty, said, “We have found that buyers are more receptive to listings when they have professional photography, virtual tours, and floor plans. Homes that offer these features to prospective buyers almost always sell quicker than those that do not.”

Schravemade pointed out that BoxBrownie undertook its study in a very “hot” seller’s market in the U.S. and that could be affecting how agents market listings.

“For example, it’s fairly safe to assume that right now agents are cutting corners on visual marketing for listings because of the speed of sales right now,” he said.

“We intend on releasing this report at the same time annually, so I guess we will know more about the previous point in 2022.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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