Ugly Real Estate Listing Photos: How to Avoid Them

Bad photos can ruin your chances at selling your homeInternet real estate listings are full of photos of homes for sale, allowing buyers to spend hours looking at pictures. With such a large selection, you'd think that real estate agents would think twice before allowing poorly photographed homes to appear in their listings. But still, there are plenty of ugly listing photos out there.

A home described as a "charming opportunity" doesn't look so charming, lawns need to be mowed, and cameras need to be focused. A website in Seattle keeps track of such detrimental listings, and the photos should be enough to turn a potential buyer away. Even multimillion-dollar homes aren't immune.

But good photos can help a home sell fast, San Francisco photographer Herman Bustamante told HousingWatch. He photographs real estate and has seen $1 million homes sell within a week with professionally taken photos in the listing.

Too many real estate agents will take listing photos themselves to try to save some money, but it will cost them in the long run, Bustamante says.
The most common mistake is to use a point-and-shoot camera with a flash on the top, which can make the picture look flat and one-dimensional, he says. The cameras aren't as wide, so an entire room can't be shown.

Here are some other tips for getting the best real estate listing photos:

Clean up.

Mowing the lawn and cleaning up the front yard sounds like basic advice, but too often this isn't done on homes being put up for sale. First impressions count, and the front of the house is where the first impression starts. If the front yard is a mess, then move in close to cut the mess out if you can. Also, clean up the inside of the home, and if the home is still occupied, move everything out of a room before photographing it.

"Basically you need to get everything out of there," says Bustamante.

Get a good exterior shot.

This is the equivalent of curb appeal, according to the Journal story, and could prevent users from clicking further. Take it about 10 or 20 feet above street level and put away anything else that can distract from the picture -- car, garbage cans, "for sale" sign.

Scott Vlha, owner of Doorstop Photography, told HousingWatch that more experienced photographers might try adding foreground elements, such as tree branches or flowers, if the front yard has more "curb appeal."

Getting out of the car is necessary, believe it or not, even for busy photographers with a list of houses that they need to get to. "Just getting out of your car instead of shooting out a window can really help," Vlha says. "Foreground elements such as fences, ugly curbsides, etcetera, can really detract from the selling points of the home."

Stage it.

Home staging, especially on empty homes, can help give buyers an idea of what the home would look like with the best furniture available. Move your outdated furniture out, get good lighting, open the drapes and use a wide-angle lens.

Inside photo tips.

Vlha recommends using available light because it's much softer and appealing than a straight strobe light, which can wash out subtle textures in wood, flooring, and cabinets. You might benefit from having a tripod and using that to aid you in low-light situations, in which a longer exposure is needed in order to use available light.

Watch the weather and the sun.

The time of day that you photograph the house can be very important, especially if you are shooting into the sun, says Vlha. This makes the photo very "flat" with no contrast and the appeal of the home is compromised. A professional photographer can make your home look great in the sun or rain, although too much of either may not be a good thing. If you're selling your ski house in the winter, try to get an exterior shot in the snow. But if it's still for sale in the spring, take an updated shot in the sun.

Try a few angles, not just straight-on.

Sometimes moving just a few feet from the center of the home can really show off the expanse of the property as well as create a more interesting photo to look at.

No pets.

Keep your pets, or any signs of them, out of listing photos since they can be associated with bad smells, allergens and patchy yards. "The worst one is when people leave cat food dishes on the counters," said Linda Monforton, virtual tour photographer for Coldwell Banker Select in Tulsa.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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