How to Make Every Pixel Count in Your Listings

by Bradley Feiner

The data tells the story: Nine out of 10 home buyers are using the Web to search property listings, and 98 percent of them say that photographs are among the most useful features on real estate websites, according to the 2012 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

Why, then, are so many real estate pictures mediocre, or even just plan awful? Poor lighting, grainy quality, off-color tint, walls that look bowed and “burned-out” window views are not uncommon. And to make it worse, in many cases it appears that agents try to make up for lack of quality with sheer quantity, simply taking more photos rather than better photos. Despite the availability and affordability of professional photographers specializing in real estate shoots, it’s estimated that roughly 40 percent of Chicagoland agents use professional photography. The other 60 percent are still hastily snapping pictures with their handheld digital cameras or cellphones.

Using Photography to Stay Competitive

Interestingly, Chicago is considered one of the nation’s more sophisticated markets in its attitude toward real estate photography. Several prominent Chicago-based brokerages utilize professional photographs for each and every listing. Other leading national real estate franchises heavily invest in professional photographs for their agents in Chicago.

Using professional photography is a matter of staying competitive in the Windy City. But even so, listings are rife with amateur photos that are a turn-off to buyers. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. The first is historical: For decades, agents marketed their listings to other agents using multiple listing services. Photos were provided by agents for other agents, so size, quality and composition weren’t that important. When homebuyers began using the Web in their searches, the simplest way to get photos onto the Internet was to copy them from the MLS, which compresses, reformats and basically mangles the images. That unfortunate practice persists today, resulting in a slew of bad photography on real estate sites.

Consumers, meanwhile, are accustomed to being dazzled by the abundance of stunning photography on the Web. In today’s wired world, agents are marketing their listings directly to consumers, who are fast embracing tablet devices and image-sharing sites such as Pinterest and Houzz to satisfy their love of photographs and rich-media experiences.

Those image-savvy consumers expect no less when they’re shopping for a home. Homes are the most expensive item most consumers will ever buy or sell and homes are a very visually appealing product.

Web appeal is as critical as curb appeal. Buyers are visually oriented when searching properties online. Photographs are the first thing they look at – and they form an immediate opinion based on whether they like what they see. So having the best photographs, videos, floor plans and even virtual staging is a must to draw prospective buyers to your listings and entice them spend more time looking at them.

2. The 80/20 Rule: The other, and perhaps more important, factor impacting real estate photos is the old 80/20 rule. So here’s one of the industry’s best-kept secrets: those top-producing agents are the ones using professional photographers on all their listings. And, it’s not just for luxury listings. Top real estate professionals rely on photography professionals for listings in all price ranges.

A real estate shoot is one of the toughest types of photography. Inside a home, lighting changes drastically from room to room as you go from natural to incandescent to flourescent lighting, and from overly-bright rooms to dimly-lit rooms. Another challenge is the size and depth of different rooms.

Small rooms look even smaller in photos, while large rooms tend to lose some of their grandeur. Having the right camera, lenses and lighting – and the skills to make the necessary changes from room to room – are critical. Knowing how to achieve color balance and manage lighting and flashes takes experience.

Top agents understand the connection between being successful and always putting their best foot forward. They know that professional photographers have the right stuff for making their listings look picture-perfect. Those top real estate professionals are experts at marketing themselves, and view professional photography as a key strategy in making a great impression on their clients. In real estate, professional photographs can be worth thousands of dollars to agents and sellers.

Research studies by both VHT Studios and Redfin indicate that whether a listing contains professional photographs or amatuer ones can significantly impact the number of clicks on a listing, as well as sales price. A consumer survey by VHT found that professional photography increases the perceived value of a home by nearly 13 percent. On a $500,000 home, this equates to a rise in perceived value of $65,000.

The bottom line is that professional photographs are a critical tool in marketing both your listings and your professional services to potential buyers and sellers. Good photographs will raise the likelihood that buyers will click through to view your listings. They’ll help create an emotional connection that will make buyers want to visit the properties. And in the end, that can result in more leads, increased sales and higher offers.


bradley-feiner-vht-studiosBradley Feiner is director of Account Management at VHT Studios in Chicago, which features the nation’s largest network of top professional photographers; VHT has photographed more than $200 billion worth of real estate and processed over 10 million images for the real estate, hospitality, retail and health care industries.