Skimming through a large real estate website the other evening, I noticed that the photographs seemed to fall into three categories. First were the fabulous photographs that drew my attention in a good way. The second were the terrible images that drew the eye in a bad way. Third were the ones that I didn’t even really notice. It got me thinking “Who takes the photos you see in a listing?” which then prompted a cascade of other questions.
Do Real Estate Agents Take Their Own Photos? Some agents take their own photos, while others hire a photographer. Those that take their own have a range of skills and equipment, which is reflected in the quality of their images. Generally speaking, the quality of the photos in a listing reflects how hard your real estate agent is working to sell your home.
Who takes the photos is just the start. For example, who owns the images and who has the right to use them? If a professional is hired, do you pay for it or does the real estate agent? And what do you do if your real estate agent posts horrible photos of your property?
Do Real Estate Agents Take Their Own Photos?
There was a time when getting a home ready for sale was all about the curb appeal. That special something that hooked a potential buyer when they drew up outside a property and were instantly drawn in for a viewing.
Curb appeal is still an important factor but today it might be more accurately called “screen appeal.” This is because most of us now start our property hunt online. Today our first impression of a house is usually through the photos posted on the web by the real estate agent.
This is where the skills and experience of your real estate agent come into play. Are they going to go all out to present your property to the world in its best light possible? Or will they give the camera on their phone a quick workout and throw whatever comes out on the internet?
If you experience the second scenario, what can you do? How do you approach your agent about awful images? Is it reasonable to expect a professional photography session for your house? Who pays for a photo pro to work their magic and what happens if the photos of your junk filled garage end up in unauthorized places on the web?
Let’s take a look at the world of real estate photography and discover the answers to these and other questions, plus discover more about how to get the best photos possible.
Why Real Estate Photographs Are Important
Every good real estate agent knows that good quality photographs are critical in today’s property market. Those people who are just wondering about buying might skim through listings to see what is on offer in their price range. If enough homes catch their eye they might take the next step and commit to the house-hunting process. Meanwhile, potential buyers who have made a firm decision to purchase a new property will view the listings with a more critical eye, aiming to get the maximum bang for their buck.
One thing is certain. No matter how committed a photo browser is to their property search, listings that show a home at its best are going to draw more interest than those with foggy, badly framed, or out of focus images.
The “front of house shot” is, today, usually the first time a buyer will see a home. The structural details and general look of the property cannot be altered, but, just as staging the inside of a home can make it more appealing, photographing the outside the right way can make the difference between the buyer booking a viewing and the house hunting equivalent of swiping left.
What Else Is Lacking?
This first perception bias generally happens because we are visual creatures at heart. The first photograph doesn’t just say “this is the house” it also gives a general impression of how much the seller and their agent care about their house and the sale. If they can’t be bothered to present the listing well, what other things have they not been bothered about? Has the home been badly maintained? Will there be problems lurking behind the drywall? Will they be difficult to deal with through the buying process?
Time Is Precious
Not only do real estate agents photos give the first impression but they can also act as a filter for the kind of busy house buyer who has limited time for their property search. While some people have the time to go through months of viewings and can afford to look at homes that might not tick all of their boxes, others have to aggressively filter out any houses that look less than optimal. Time constraints may be due to:
- Busy couples who work long hours and have little time for viewings.
- Families who have a large number of conflicting commitments, especially on weekends.
- Buyers who have to move by a certain date because of a new job.
- Families who want to move before the new school year starts.
- Out-of-town buyers who have to squeeze viewings into their property search trip.
When a potential buyer is limited in the number of viewings they are going to choose a well photographed, well-presented property to look at. Meanwhile, they will skim right past what might on paper be the perfect house, but which doesn’t “speak” to them because of awful images.
It’s The First Showing
In some ways, the photographs that a real estate agent posts online is really the first showing. If a buyer is interested enough to click on the homes “head shot” then they will tour the house, forming an impression of the layout, how the home works, and what it might be like living there. If the photographs do not show this clearly or give a confusing impression, the buyer is likely to move on.
Shopping For A Lifestyle
In a similar vein, buyers are often shopping for a lifestyle, whether they know it or not. Very rarely does that lifestyle involve a washroom bleached of all character by the reflection of a flash in the mirror, or hosting a party in the garden that appears to be one foot deep because the real estate agent has used a fish-eye lens.
Bad photographs can also affect the final deal. If a property looks “rough” in the images then it is more likely you will get more interest from:
- Buyers who are looking for a good deal.
- Those who plan to flip the house so want to pay as little as possible
- People who are looking for a “fixer-upper”
Rather than those who are looking to pay top dollar for a high-quality house.
What Makes A Good Real Estate Photo Portfolio?
So. Now we know the why of good quality real estate photos, what constitutes “good.”
Although skill and experience are always important elements when taking real estate photos, rigorous preparation, attention to detail and persistence are all important ingredients. If you are a real estate agent who wants to take their best photos here are some important nuggets of advice. If you are a seller who wishes to ensure your real estate agent does the best possible job, perhaps you can share this article with them and ask about their own process.
The images of your home should be brightly and evenly lit with, wherever possible, plenty of natural light. Whether or not to turn on the room lights depends on the natural light available. If you use a flash make sure it bounces off of the wall behind you and is not directed straight into the room.
Unless you are photographing the view, photos should usually be taken with a window at the edge of an image. This will prevent them from coming out as dazzling rectangles that bleach out other areas of the room.
Photographs should show how the rooms relate to each other, giving an idea of flow, especially in open plan, or semi-open plan areas.
In the same way that you stage for a viewing, you should stage for a photo shoot. Images with lots of distracting items will draw the viewers eyes away from the highlights of your home and to the details of your life. However, small props, like a vase of flowers, can bring warmth and life to a room that might otherwise look drab or dreary.
Good composition is important, Taking the photographs from the doorway or the corner will make a room look bigger. In addition, make sure the furniture is “balanced” so that one area isn’t stuffed full while another is empty.
At a minimum the portfolio of photographs should include:
- One to three shots of the front of the house, depending on how large the property is and if a different angle will provide a clearer idea of how the property is laid out.
- Three to five photographs of the landscaping if it is average, more if there are special features such as an especially nice deck, a herb garden, etc.
- If there is value in the view then there should be at least three images of the outlook.
- Two to three wide shots of each bedroom, the kitchen, and each living room. Additional, detailed shots are only necessary if there are some particularly unusual features that would benefit from highlighting.
- One photograph of each bathroom, again, unless there is a special feature.
Photographs should not include:
- People or pets
- Garbage, clutter or the contents of a closet spilling out into the room etc.
- Odd close-ups of details such as the electrical panel or the dishwasher buttons.
- Any items that are overtly religious, political, or intimate.
- Odd angles, random shots that are unconnected to any others
Should Your Real Estate Agent Take Their Own Photos?
The not very helpful and indirect answer to that question is:
It all depends on a lot of different factors.
When you and your real estate agent, are considering if they should be taking their own photographs you should ask:
- Will the cost of a professional photography shoot be proportional to the asking price of the house and the commission being charged by the real estate agent?
- Do other homes in the same price range have professionally taken photographs?
- Is the type of buyer to whom we are marketing, going to expect good quality images?
- Is the speed of the sale more important than the price obtained?
- What photography experience do you have?
- Have you been formally trained in photography training, under the tutelage of a professional photographer?
- Have you taken any photography courses?
- Do you undertake any professional photography work outside of your real estate listing?
- What equipment will you be using?
- Will I be required to stage the property before the photoshoot?
- What post-production techniques do you use?
- Can we review the images together and opt for a professional if I am not happy with them?
What To Do If The Images Are Awful
The best way to manage terrible images is to avoid them in the first place. How to do that is listed in the next section, but what if you are already in that situation or, despite your best efforts your home looks awful in the photos?
Clean, declutter and stage your home to the best of your ability and then ask for new images to be taken. If your real estate agent is unwilling to reshoot, consider whether or not you should end your relationship and choose a new real estate agent who will work with you.
How To Avoid The Situation
Prevention is, as they say, better than cure. So let’s look at the ways in which you can avoid having to have an “I think your pictures of my property suck” conversation with your real estate agent.
- Although recommendations are important, don’t just sign-up with the first real estate agent somebody says good things about. While they may have been a perfect fit for your sister and brother-in-law and their property, the same real estate agent might not be the right person for you.
- Check an agent’s previous listings. Go through as many as you can, working backward from their most recent. If the photos you see are not of consistently good quality then it is unlikely you will be satisfied by that particular real estate agents images.
- When you interview an agent, question them specifically about how they will market your home and ask who will be taking the photographs, what experience they have, and how you will be involved.
- Include in your contract, the provision that you must see and approve all photos before they are published and that you will have the power of veto over any you are unhappy with.
- When you review your homes portfolio, look at it through the eyes of someone who has never been there before. Do not focus on whether or not your artwork shows well or your knick-knacks look good. Ask yourself things like “Can I see how the kitchen connects to the dining room?” “Do the rooms look inviting?” and “If we saw these photos, would they make us want to view this house?”
Who Should Pay For A Photographer?
Theoretically, it should be your real estate agent who pays for the photographer. Listings and their accompanying images are part of the marketing of your home and as such are the responsibility of your real estate agent.
Ensure that when you engage your real estate agent, you are both clear about what marketing will take place, how it will happen, and who is responsible for what.
Who Owns The Images?
Property images are sometimes retained and reused by real estate agents to save time and money if the same property is relisted. In addition, photographs may be uploaded to a variety of real estate sites, the local MLS or saved from the internet by people who like the pictures and plan to reuse them, either in the field of real estate or to illustrate other online content.
It is often assumed that when you employ a photographer the rights to use the images are automatically given to you when you receive the photos. This is not true. A short and snappy explanation of how photography and copyright works is that:
- The person who presses the button owns the copyright to the photograph that results. This is true even if you borrow a camera, or camera phone, and take one image among a series taken by another person. Again – The image belongs to the person who presses the button.
- This only changes if the photographer signs an agreement to say that the images that result from a photo shoot, and the copyright to those images belong to someone else.
- Copyright gives the authority to use an image. Copyright can only be transferred through the use of a signed document clearly handing over ownership. In legal terms, this document is called an “instrument of conveyance.”
- Some MLS’s mark the images on their site with a copyright notice. Unless the owner of the copyright has signed over ownership of the copyright, the MLS’s has no legal right to do so and no legal standing in any copyright infringement issue.
Please note: This is not written by a legal professional and should not be considered legal advice. If you have a question about copyright or any other legal issue, please contact someone qualified to advise you. Do not take any actions or base any decisions upon what you have read here.
What Can You Do If The Images Are “Hi-jacked”?
I recently read of a case where a couples real estate agent had hired a professional photographer to take images for a listing. The photographer wanted to be able to plan their shoot and provide advice, ahead of time, of how to stage the home is such a way that the photographer could get the very best shots. The real estate agents took a series of “before” shots and sent them to the photographer.
Several months after the home had been sold the sellers saw an online article, on a popular architectural site, that focussed on the “before and after” images of home staging. The sellers found comments on the “before” images upsetting and insulting.
The sellers contacted the real estate agent who in turn spoke with the publication and the photographer. The website had assumed the photographer had taken the “before” shots and when it turned out that they had been taken by the real estate agent, who did not give their permission for use, the photos were taken down.
If your images are hi-jacked then ask for the copyright holder to request their removal. If you want to ensure you have full control over where images of your home appear, then ask for a clause in any contract which will have the copyright transferred to you.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.