Home Listing Photos: What You Can't Get Away With

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home listing photosBy Jeff Brown

As if there aren't enough hassles in selling a home, one more has come into focus: You really must have professional photos.

That's the advice in a recent Wall Street Journal story starting off with the point that a big part of home shopping is now done online. A listing with just one murky outside shot taken on a dreary day can't compete with one that has 25 perfectly lighted photos from just the right angles. Most homeowners and Realtors just aren't good enough to take quality shots on their own, the WSJ article suggests.

Another thing to worry about on the road to selling a home in one of the worst housing markets in history (even given the recent rebound).

Let's put this new concern into the big picture.

Spend a half hour on a major listing site, such as AOL Real Estate, Realtor.com, Zillow.com or Trulia.com, and you'll see that good photos really do speak thousands of words. The most appealing listings often have 20 to 25 shots covering the home's interior, exterior and grounds.

It quickly becomes irritating to see a listing with only one to three photos, and likely will spark some doubts about the property: What's the deal? Aren't they serious about selling? Have they skimped on other things, too, like maintenance? Do the sellers really think I'm going to drive all the way out there just to see what ought to be on the Web?

Good photos, and plenty of them, really are a basic requirement these days. They should be taken on a sunny day from plenty of perspectives, and the home should be tidy and clean.

But paying hundreds of dollars to a professional photographer might be going too far. The WSJ story quotes experts promoting photos that make the home look as good as possible, with wide-angle lenses making a home look bigger, for instance. But misleading photos can backfire.

Here's how:

1. Careful cropping can conceal the fact that the neighbor's home is too close for comfort, but buyers who come in person will see that right away -- or spot it with the satellite view in Google Maps.

2. A buyer who might have made an offer on a home with a few flaws might walk away if a tour is a letdown after the stunning photos.

3. Remember, too, that many home shoppers will be brought by their own agents, who in many cases won't have seen the home before. Embarrass too many agents with deceptive advertising and the home might not be shown as often, delaying a sale.

So what's the key to selling a home in today's buyer's market?

As one of the readers commenting on the WSJ story said, the biggest factor hasn't changed: price. Flaws make a home less valuable, even if you can Photoshop them into oblivion.

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25 PHOTOS
Terrible Listing Photos
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Home Listing Photos: What You Can't Get Away With

With all the hoops to jump through in selling a home, homeowners are bound to make a few mistakes -- but snapping subpar listing photos should never be one of them. Selling a house in today's market is difficult enough -- so why compound the problem by showcasing your one-of-a-kind office/bathroom? With an eye for the most face-smacking offenders, we've compiled a list of some of the worst listing photos to ever see the light of day.  Click on to see the most cringe-worthy listings on the 'net.

You'd have to be a "Psycho" not to want to live here. The fishbowl lens effect gives the room that warm and inviting I'm-watching-you-from-the-peephole vibe. Meanwhile, nothing says "move-in ready" like a trio of Elk heads staring down at prospective buyers. We're just glad photos of the shower weren't included.

What could have possessed the owners of this Hermosa Beach home to pose this creepy doll in nearly every shot of the listing? "To your left, our handsome wood-burning fireplace. To your right, our daughter's murderous talking doll." It turns out the home did eventually sell -- but only after the owners removed the pint-sized guide from all the photos.

Keep your eyes peeled, though. This isn't the last you'll see of Tina.

What is there to say? It's not a good idea to feature in your listing a photo of a shirtless, couch-bound man with a beer belly next to a Chihuahua. Well, on the bright side, the listing tells us the house is "lead free" and has "long-time tenents" [sic]. So, why exactly are we impressed that Joe Six-Pack here is a long-time tenant? Good thing the home is only listed for $38,500. The icing on the cake, though: "Owner is a licensed Realtor," the listing says.

If your establishing shot fits right in besides your toddler's macaroni picture frame, you may want to consider hiring a professional photographer. This is probably the closest you can get to real estate bedazzling -- it adds no value to the object and makes onlookers seriously question your life choices. 

What takes this uninspired photo from bad to worse? The photographer didn't even step out of his car! Did he even bother to park, or was this a drive-by snapping? It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the safety of the neighborhood.


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My, what a lovely home you have, Tina. Didn't we just see you in front of the fireplace a second ago? No matter. We love the color of the living room. What's that you say, Tina? Red Rum? Why yes, that is a pretty shade. 


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Either our entire staff is suffering from vertigo or this house is built on a sinkhole. Well, we suppose there's a third possibility -- awful photography -- but we're leaning toward "house-swallowing sandpit." Any takers?


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Is this a listing photo or a cry for help? To be honest, we've seen far worse, but something tells us this is what the living room looks like after a thorough afternoon of tidying up. The sad thing is, without the clutter, this is probably a well-apportioned and spacious room.


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The cardinal rule of home staging is to depersonalize the space before showing buyers around. This is especially critical when your "Malibu Barbie" bedroom is littered with anthropomorphic polar bears. Fingers crossed that this is a child's playroom.


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It's a small wonder the television doesn't have horns. This uber-masculine man-cave could be the ideal location for a hunting enthusiast. It's too bad that just about anyone else would run screaming for the hills.


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Oh God! Er ... I didn't see you there, Tina. You weren't included in the house sale by any chance, were you? You just stay right where you are. Your owners couldn't possibly have included you in any more listing photos....


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Adjust the blue-felt bench, the blue-felt chairs, the desk, the lamp, tweak all of it, go on, make everything just right. Actually, don't -- no sort of staging, short of eliminating the kitschy pattern blighting every corner, can render this room appealing. Or so you thought: Stare at it long enough to tease out the optical illusion. Keep staring. Just hang in there, you'll see it. Seriously, you will.

"Come hither, rich, wasteful businessman," whispers this photo. Putting suggestively-clad models in a golden canopy bed is, well, not so tasteful. But perhaps the Realtor has really thought things out here. Only the tackiest buyers (i.e., "new money") would choose to live in this gilded, garish mansion. This is a home fit for a sultan, his marketing insists, a home where you regularly solicit the company of part-time models. Only the best for tomorrow's captains of industry.

We get it. Make the most of the space you have. But when duty calls, is it really so much of a hassle to walk to a different room in the house? Throw in a shower head and you'll have the world's first self-cleaning office space.


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What a spectacular view of, er, a tchotchke on a toilet tank? Mostly, though, we have a drab shower curtain to stare at, one which, along with its uninspired color scheme, will be absent when the buyer moves in. The tub behind the curtain might be a real beauty -- but we'll never know for sure.


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The painting here may suit some, but it's definitely not for everyone -- namely, everyone who is not interested in having a nude painting above their heads when in bed. What should be noted here, however, is that, despite its carnal decor, the photo was well executed -- the bed is pictured at a nice angle and the lamps flank it with neat symmetry. 

This for-sale sign is one big curbside pity party. The theme appears to be "end my despair by buying my house," rather than "buy my house because it's a good deal" -- your more conventional pitch. You have to give the owner honesty points though: He puts his misery right on the table and caps it off with an admission that his house contains hazardous material. Cheers to that. Bartender, one whiskey for this guy. 

Snapped by someone who is either committed to candid portrayal or utterly indifferent to presentation, this photo captures the living room in its natural state of activity -- fan turning, television playing. The only trouble here is that the two devices hog our attention. Is that a pundit?


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This photographer apparently decided to try and sweeten up buyers by Photoshopping holiday cheer into his/her listing photos. But we would venture to say that superimposing objects evocative of Santa Claus will do less to woo the viewer and more to alienate him. 


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The amateur photog captured in the mirror's reflection is either an exhibitionist, or a stern believer of the maxim "sex sells."  Come to think of it, maybe we're talking about a different kind of amateur here...


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If you choose to ignore all the other staging tips we've provided, remember this: It's never a good idea to capture what appears to be a body-shaped bloodstain in a picture that you are using to sell your house. Period.


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Thanks for the hospitality, Tina. This is really a nice place you have. Please send our regards to its owners. What's that? The backyard? Well what would they be doing back there? Under what? You've done a bad thing, Tina. If only they hadn’t posed you in all these goofy listing photos, they might still be with us today.

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