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:
FIVE TIPS FOR REALTORS FOR TAKING PICTURES THAT SELL:
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...
- REMOVE CLUTTER, NO MATTER WHAT!
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?
- STAGE ITEMS AND ACCESSORIZE FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT.
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).
- THE PICTURE IS THE FINAL JUDGE AND JURY.
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...
- IF ALL ELSE FAILS, HIRE A PROFESSIONAL!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Give him a call if you need a professional touch with your marketing photos!