A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words (AND Several Thousand Dollars!)

Real Estate Agent with Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty 0596165

We all know how valuable first impressions are in virtually every situation.  And I think we also know that the vast majority of buyers start their search for a new home online (I've heard figures as high as 94%).  So it goes without saying that many buyers judge a home based on a quick glance of the pictures they see.  Let's face it.  This is a buyer's market and I'm sure many buyers are whittling down their searches based on appearance first and fundamentals second.     

If you were marketing yourself on an internet dating website, I doubt you would post a picture of you stuffing your face with pizza that a friend happened to take while you weren't looking.  Obviously, you'd want the best picture possible - in a nutshell, a picture that sells.

I'm not a realtor, but I know it's the same for real estate.  I've bought two homes and I clearly remember seeing them on MLS sheets for the first time.  I can't really remember what it was that sold me, but both had good pictures that peaked my interest. 

Recently, my best friend and his wife traveled to McAlister, Oklahoma to visit his in-laws that were trying to sell their home.  They got into a conversation about why the showings had not been going well (average of three per month). 

Once he saw the poor quality of the pictures, he decided to try and help out by taking new photos and staging the home properly.  Judging by the look of the last pictures, the other agent obviously did not make a good effort to effectively present the home. 

Of course, my friend doesn't just dabble with photography as a hobby, it's his full time career.  He is a pretty well known and established professional photographer in the Dallas area.  His name is Jason Janik, and whether you realize it or not, if you live in the Dallas area you've probably seen some of his work in print in one of the many publications that he shoots for (Dallas Morning News, Quick Magazine and others).   Aside from that, he's also shot numerous commercial and wedding prints, so he's got some major photography experience under his belt. 

So I asked him if he would share his experience with his in-laws home and provide some tips to realtors to help take better photos.  Here's what he sent me:


I am a professional photographer based in Dallas, TX, shooting for major local and national publications.  However, I do have enough corporate clients that need environmental and architectural photos, that I get a lot of practice shooting buildings and rooms.  When my mother-in-law's house sat on the market for months without a single bite, I knew it was time to help her get proactive about selling it. 

What could I do to help?  Well, I couldn't show the house or write up contracts, but I did have one ace up my sleeve - great pictures!  Just like many other prospective home buyers, we searched the net and previewed countless addresses, studying the pictures for potential new homes.  I knew the importance of the images online and on her flyers.  I could help her attract more interest by replacing the terrible images with fabulous ones.  Here are five you can apply to your photos...



Many homeowners may feel like it's a personal attack on their style and their possessions, but it HAS TO BE DONE.  When we started staging and photographing my mother-in-law's house, she was having a lot of trouble removing any of her collectibles.  Here's the deal - These items are interesting to house guests who know you and want to be involved in your life.  However, a prospective home buyer is looking for a house THEY can fill with THEIR interesting objects.  The fewer of YOUR items displayed, the better. 

A good rule of thumb is to start by removing half of anything on display.  If you have ten teapots out, five of them need to go in a box and into a temporary off-site storage space.  If you have five plants in the window, two need to go out back or off the property.  Why?  Well, three items in real life will look more like five items in a picture.  It's easy for a small pile to look like a mountain of mess on a flyer or computer screen. 

Once things have been reduced by half, you need to scan the room and ask yourself why EVERY SINGLE ITEM is in there.  You spot a container of dish soap next to the sink.  Why is it sitting there?  Put it under the sink until the house is sold.  You see several coats and hats hanging on the coat rack.  Why are they there?  If the coat rack itself needs to stay in the front hall (taking up space and making the hall seem smaller), you should not have more than one coat and a couple small accessories hanging from it.  All other outerwear should be put away behind closed doors.  Get the idea? 



While shooting my mother-in-law's kitchen, it looked very flat and boring on film.  It's a great kitchen in real life, but just didn't read well in pictures.  The previous pictures made a wonderful, gigantic pantry look like cheap rental house.  The counters seemed to look like a sea of tan, and the honey oak wood looked boring and bland.  Everything looked like the same color on film.  An easy fix was to add a bowl of oranges and an ice tea pitcher to break up the countertop area. 


And, as far as other accessories go, we almost always displayed them in odd numbers.  Does that sound odd?  It might, but for some reason it just feels more natural.  Four Hummel figurines displayed can often look more distracting than three or five on display.  Combine this with the "less is more" plan from step one, and that should tell you three may be the perfect number of Hummels (though zero may be even better, unless they HAVE to stay out - again, ask yourself why they have to stay in the room in the first place). 



Never make a final decision without looking at the picture itself.  This means viewing it on the back of your camera (hope you are shooting digital), and then zooming in and inspecting the details.  There is a simple reason for this.  A table may look straight and normal in real life, but may look awkward and crooked in the picture. 

We had to move several items in the house to odd angles, so they would look normal in the picture.  In some cases, the item might have been blocking an important room feature, or made the space feel smaller than it really was.  The kitchen table needed to be set at an angle to feel "right" in the photo.  The couch needed to be turned into the hallway path some to show off the living room more, making the image more appealing.  In short, move and mess with any item in the picture that looks less than perfect, until you get it right. 


  • USE A TRIPOD!!!! 

This is a must, if you plan to take advantage of the natural beauty of a room.  If the room has beautiful available light coming in from the windows, you need to use it.  Many people pop up the flash and shoot, but a room filled with camera flash will most likely look flat and boring.  The "before" pictures that my mother-in-law's realtor graciously took looked less like a $300k house and more like a $30k double-wide trailer, thanks to a quick flash pic. 

Why is the tripod necessary?  Usually, a room won't be bright enough to photograph with available light only.  The tripod allows the camera to hold still during the longer exposure needed.  Once you've taken a picture, look for lamps or lights that can be turned on to add ambiance.  I usually take a first "test" picture with only available light, then add a few lamps or room lights to liven up any dark spots or boring areas.  I also use some extra professional lighting to increase the image dynamics, but that is an advanced step that can be covered in a future tutorial... 



I used to have a commercial real estate client that paid me $500 to $1,000 per office building, just to shoot the exterior in a professional and pleasing manner.  When selling a multi-million dollar property, this expense can seem miniscule, but necessary.  Especially, when you consider that many buyers will make first contact (and a first impression) from internet or flyer photos.

The same can apply to regular home sales.  To hire someone like me will cost about $200 per hour, but a few key images can be taken per hour.  $200 to $400 spent on a home that will net a $4,000 to $8,000 commission is worth the money, considering the alternative is to not sell the house and receive zero dollars commission. 

You don't believe the cost is worth it?  My mother-in-law's house sat on the market for months, with two or three showings per month - and this was considered a good number of showings in their tiny town, where her home was in the top tier for real estate.  After the new images went up on the net, they received five showings in one week and sold their home in two weeks.  I'd say that is a much better alternative to the other option - letting the house continue to sit on the market, month after month with no interest and no sale.


Jason Janik can be reached at (214) 535-1062 or by email at janikphoto@yahoo.com

His website is www.janikphoto.com and his photography blog is at www.janikphoto.com/blog

Give him a call if you need a professional touch with your marketing photos!  


Posted by

John Jones, Realtor

Dallas City Center, Realtors


3100 Monticello Ave., Suite 200

Dallas, TX 75205

Dallas, TX Real Estate and surrounding areas of Richardson, Plano, Addison, Frisco, Carrollton, Farmers Branch, Garland, Allen, Irving, Rowlett, and Rockwall.

Dallas, TX neighborhoods and subdivisions of Lake Highlands, White Rock Lake, Lochwood, Eastwood, L Streets, M Streets, Hollywood Heights, Lakewood, Coronado and Gastonwood, Forest Hills, Lochwood, Eastwood, and Preston Hollow.

Copyright 2008-2013 by John Jones, All Rights Reserved.  You may reblog or republish with links back to this post. 

* THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT http://www.homesourcedallas.com  *




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Show All Comments
Chuck Carstensen
RE/MAX Results - Elk River, MN
Minnesota Real Estate Expert

Definately makes a big difference and helps increase the money a seller can make on a sale.

Apr 01, 2009 07:00 AM #1
Lori Reid Gardner
Century 21 Simpson Realty - Litchfield, IL
The Reid Team

Good points.  It also always amazes me when an agent only puts one exterior picture of the home in the listing.  I've had many buyers tell me that they assume the seller is hiding something or there is something wrong with the house if there are no interior pictures.

Apr 01, 2009 07:06 AM #2
John Combs
Alan Deblat Real Estate Corp. - Oceanside, NY

Thank you for the great advice. I intend to try some of these suggestions.

Apr 01, 2009 07:09 AM #3
Connie Case
Platinum Realty Group - Fountain City, TN
Realtor, Knoxville Tn.


Thank you for taking the time to give us a lesson in taking pictures!  I certainly will use your advice!


Apr 01, 2009 07:41 AM #4
Jackie DeShazer
Montana Country Real Estate - Libby, MT

Hello John,

Great pictures and thanks for sharing the tips I will try to put them to use next time I am shooting pictures for a new listing. I would have never guessed that odd numbered accessories would look better in a photo.

Apr 01, 2009 08:14 AM #5
David Henke
Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc - Newtown Square, PA
Realtor, Homes Just West of Philadelphia PA

Thanks for the tips.  I've had the same problem with things looking out of place.  I hate to admit it, but I've always moved to a different angle - in the future, I'll just shift the items to a new angle.  Like the tea in the kitchen.

Apr 01, 2009 08:53 AM #6
Angel Thomas

Great and Useful!

I love information in a nutshell!  So much comes at me so fast, I love how you

are getting to the point with your blog!  Keep em coming John!

Apr 01, 2009 08:54 AM #7
John Jones
Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty - Dallas, TX

thanks for all the comments everyone!  I figured this topic would be of interest to many of you, and who better to dispense the advice than a pro photographer.  Anyway, I hope this helps with your listings, especially in this market that is saturated with an oversupply of homes.  If you have any questions, please email me or Jason.  His email is janikphoto@yahoo.com 

Apr 01, 2009 09:50 AM #8
Chris & Karen Highland
eXp Realty - Frederick, MD
Integrity, Experience, Enthusiasm!

Thanks for the tips John. I value a photographers take, because as you know, most of us realtors aren't photographers.  I haven't used a tripod much before, but now I will.

Apr 01, 2009 11:25 AM #9
Richard Weeks
Dallas, TX
REALTOR®, Broker

Good pictures do make a big difference.  Here is one picture a agent had on a property.  The listing did not sell

Apr 02, 2009 02:36 AM #10
John Jones
Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty - Dallas, TX

wow Richard, that's a bad picture.  reminds me of a scene from "Deliverance". 

Apr 02, 2009 08:42 AM #11
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