A Positive Image - When it comes to real estate, good photos can make the sale by Jennifer Gish, Albany TImes Union, published August 21, 2011
Homebuyers often fall in love with a photograph.
And when the majority of house-hunting is done on the Internet -- the National Association of Realtors says at least 90 percent of homebuyers use the Internet in their search -- badly lit, ill-staged photos won't do.
"You need to stand out above all the rest," says Jonathan Beach, a Realtor with Select Sotheby's International Realty in Saratoga Springs who uses his background in architectural photography to shoot his own listings and listings for other agents. "You need to create an emotion from people, so when they see (a house), they fall in love with it."
An October 2010 article in REALTOR Magazine discussed the payoff of high-quality photos with listings, citing a study by Redfin, a Seatle-based real estate brokerage.
"Redfin found in an analysis of more than 100,000 listings in the Boston metro area and Long Island, N.Y., that homes with professional photographs sold anywhere between $934 to $116,076 more than those shot from cheaper, point-and-shoot cameras," according to the article. "What's more, homes with professional photographs were found, on average, to be viewed 61 percent more online than others in that price range shot with a lower-end camera. The listings that used digital SLR cameras also commanded a 47 percent higher asking price per square foot."
If sellers want the highest-quality photos, they can hire a professional who specializes in real estate photography. Sometimes, real estate agents will hire photographers themselves.
Despite the data by Redfin, an expensive camera might not always be necessary, some say. Neil Bindelglass, owner of Saratoga Home Staging, often takes photos for his clients. He says when it was time to replace his camera he searched the internet for "digital cameras for Realtors" and found a bunch of reviews. He says the $120 camera he purchased takes photos that are even better than his old, more expensive camera.
Regardless of who's behind the lens, there are several ways to create photos that will make buyers fall in love.
"The first and the biggest mistake, which is all over Realtor.com is that people just photograph the room without making the bed, with the towel hanging across the vanity, with the garbage bag on the kitchen floor," Bindelglass says. "Even if the room isn't perfect, the field of the camera needs to be perfect."
That's why homeowners shouldn't feel compelled to take photos of every room in their home, he says. That cluttered office or dated bathroom isn't going to make a homeowner fall in love. Bindelglass recommends choosing the best-looking rooms and using those to entice buyers into scheduling a showing. Close-up detail shots of interesting features, such as Tiffany stained-glass panels or an ornately carved fireplace mantel, can make a real estate listing look like a magazine spread.
And once buyers have fallen in love online with that stunning fireplace and vaulted ceilings in the living room, they're more apt to forgive an unsightly office.
"It's not about hiding imperfections," Bindelglass says. "You can't do that. It's about presenting the house in the best light."
The lighting used in the photos is also important and key to any good photography, Beach says. Using lights and utilizing natural light can create a sense of warmth, drama and emotion in that photo of a kitchen, living room or bedroom.
Windows should be open, and photos should be taken on a sunny day, Bindelglass says. And taking photos of a house may be more than a 20-minute project. An entire day might be required to get the right light in each room as the sun sets, filtering light into different areas of the house at different times.
Good lighting is all part of making spaces look inviting. Real estate rules prohibit the use of people in listing photos, so Beach says he has to turn to other tools to make spaces come to life. If he's shooting a deck, he may set out a glass of iced tea with fresh ice cubes. And in an arrangement of neatly positioned deck chairs, he may leave one chair askew, as if someone relaxing in the sun just left the setting. In photos of kitchens, he may use a coffee cup or open book on the table to create the same lived-in sense without seeming like clutter.
Just like in home staging, de-cluttering and depersonalizing spaces also is key to good real estate photography, Beach says.
Bindelglass says the same rules apply for setting up photos as they do for preparing for an open house. Bathrooms should have fluffy white towels on the towel bars and a white shower curtain, which makes even dated bathrooms look fresh.
Because the first opportunity to impress a buyer doesn't come at a showing or open house anymore, but through a photograph.
Beach says his office recently sold a high-end home to some buyers from Manhattan after they looked at photos of the house online.
"They jumped in the car right there and then, came up and bought that house," he says.
Don't: Take photos of your home on an overcast day. It makes rooms seem uninviting and cramped.
Do: Use natural light to your advantage. Rooms will appear open, inviting and bright.
Don't: Leave your bed unmade, dishes in the sink or paperwork on your kitchen table if you're going to photograph those areas of your home.
Do: Clear the clutter to show off your space.
Don't: Make your home look like a sterile hotel room.
Do: Leave a neatly placed open book or cup of coffee on the table to make the photograph feel like someone has just stepped out of it. It makes your house look like a home.