How to Take Real Estate Photos When Selling Your House

Here are a few tips and tricks as well as mistakes to avoid to get the most out of real estate listing photos.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Take Photos to Sell Your House

Professional gas range and range hood, white cabinet,  antique ceiling lamps, fine bone china teacups in cabinets. Chalk paint hand-painted stools. Antique brass fruit tray. Antique cherry wood tea tray.

Finishing touches in a room should be impersonal for real estate photos, like a bowl of fruit or vase of flowers.(Getty Images)

As much as 84% of homebuyers search for homes online, according to the National Association of Realtors' 2020 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report. This naturally raises the question for sellers on how to best market their properties online. Although appropriate pricing is the most important tool to sell a home, many buyers get most excited about homes with attractive photos, and from there, set up in-person showings.

Good photos can turn online views into showings, but conversely, bad photos can dissuade potential buyers from giving a great house a second thought. Put another way, listing photos are the first impression your home will make with buyers, and their quality can determine whether your home will score an appointment with potential buyers.

Once customers come for a showing, the home should mostly sell itself (with a little help from your talented real estate agent). But it’s tough to get people in the door without good photos. So if you’re ready to list your home for a realistic price and you’ve taken on the necessary repairs and staging, taking photos is among the next crucial steps.

Your listing agent should have access to photographers who specialize in helping to create images that motivate buyers to come and visit. The photos should make your home look as spacious and beautiful as possible, but in a neutral, straightforward and almost simple way, so that prospective buyers can visualize their own lives in your home.

With this goal in mind, here are a few tips and tricks as well as mistakes to avoid to get the most out of listing photos:

  • Declutter and depersonalize.
  • Leave it to the experts.
  • Show the bathroom in its best light.
  • Take the weather into consideration.
  • Focus on photos instead of the decor.

Declutter and Depersonalize

The need for a decluttered, depersonalized home cannot be emphasized enough and should be one of the first things real estate agents tell their sellers, and it’s paramount on the day of the photo shoot. Photos must whet the appetite of buyers before they see the property in person while also managing not to be misleading.

“Nothing should distract the eye from the best parts of the room,” says Michael Molinoff, a freelance photographer based in the Hamptons in New York. “Knickknacks and tchotchkes not only cheapen the look of the space, but they also divert the focus from the selling points of a home. If a beautiful marble kitchen counter is covered with appliances, cooking utensils and pantry items, the photo won’t capture one of the nicest features of that kitchen renovation. Photos should be defined by the most attractive aspects of each room, not by the seller’s quirky decor or mess.”

When staging a home for sale, less is almost always more, and the photographs should showcase the environment at its cleanest and simplest. All surfaces should be clear, and any objects or books on shelves should be purposefully arranged and styled prior to the shoot.

“Unless the sellers are obsessively neat, their definition of decluttering is never as extreme as what we are ideally going for,” Molinoff says. “The home should look like a clean, elegant hotel suite. For the photos, it should be even tidier than if you were hosting your boss or your fiancee’s parents for dinner. For a finishing touch, fresh flowers can add a lot to residential photography, but in moderation. ... They should complement the room, not be the subject of the shot.”

However, the same vase of flowers or bowl of lemons should not be making cameo appearances in every shot.

Leave It to the Experts

Once a residential property is listed, there’s a strong argument that it’s now a product for sale and no longer a home that endures the mess of daily life. To achieve as high a price as possible for this product, which likely is your largest asset, you’ve hired a broker to advise and shepherd the process.

Let them do their thing – the agent and their team should be experts at what they do, so take their advice. They understand how to show off a property’s selling points, as well as minimize its flaws, as should the photographer. Even if you’ve painstakingly staged the property with your agent, the photographer will likely rearrange things for the shoot in order to get the right shots.

“We want to optimize the space,” says James Smolka, a freelance photographer in New York City who specializes in residential photography. “It’s mandatory to rearrange furniture and decor for each shot, no matter how perfect it might look in person. The camera reads it differently and has its own translation, so we don’t just walk into the space and shoot, even if it’s been staged by the agent and client.”

The shoot may take a few hours, depending on the room count, and a good photographer will continue to tweak the staging, moving things in and out of the frame, often with the assistance of the listing agent, until the last moment.

“We fluff all the pillows on sofas and beds right before we take the shot,” Molinoff says. “For the purpose of listing photos, a crocheted pillow from your kid’s art class doesn’t belong on a $12,000 sofa, even if it’s fine to stay there for showings.”

Show the Bathroom in Its Best Light

Unless a bathroom is big, it can be tough to get a good shot. Small bathrooms don’t allow much space for the photographer to position and set up the equipment, and surfaces like mirrored medicine cabinets and glass shower doors may create added reflections and shadows. If a bathroom is really special, maybe renovated with imported materials and spa fixtures, then it should be photographed. In that case, make sure all unattractive toiletries are out of sight, that the bathroom looks squeaky clean and, above all, that the toilet seat is down.

Take the Weather Into Consideration

Sometimes a hazy day is fine for the photo shoot if a home gets great natural light, but if the wow factors are sprawling views or beautiful grounds, it might not be a bad idea to reschedule. Your listing agent should look at the weather report in the days prior to the shoot and communicate with you and the photographer about what a sunny versus cloudy day will mean for this particular property’s selling points. That said, modern technology in post-production can lighten an overcast sky, and an experienced photographer with the right equipment can still take nice photos on an imperfect day.

Even if you're in a rush to put your home on the market, if there’s a monsoon on the day of the photo shoot, it may benefit the bottom line to wait until the weather improves.

Focus on the Photos Instead of the Decor

Don’t forget: Although the photos should tell a story and draw in buyers, these are not photos for a furniture catalog or decorating magazine. Many newer photographers or greener agents who come from a strong design background get this wrong. Remember, all the furniture and art is leaving with the seller. Ideally, the photos motivate buyers to visit the home, and not just ask, “Who was their decorator?"

“If I am hired by a magazine to shoot a room, I go in with a completely different mindset versus if I am shooting a house for sale,” Molinoff says. “Artistic photos are interesting and can create a mood, but decor details shouldn’t overshadow the space.”

Good photographs will create buyer intrigue and spur the traffic needed to sell your home. They are a crucial step on the road from the launch to the closing table. Make sure that you, as the seller, hire experienced and savvy professionals to paint the right picture and craft a compelling story to generate interest. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

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