Before the days of the Internet and online real estate listings, a home buyer’s first impression of a new home for sale was often the “drive by.” An agent would see the new listing in his real estate book and would call or fax the buyer with the address. The home buyer would then go to the address and drive by to get a first look. Or, if a buyer was just starting to look, he would read a brief description of the home in the Sunday paper and decide whether or not to attend that day’s open house.
Either way, curb appeal mattered because it was usually the first glimpse a potential buyer would have of a property. If there were weeds, dead grass, peeling paint or rusty nails that stood out, the buyer’s first impression of the home was tarnished — no matter how great it looked inside. That’s why real estate agents worked closely with sellers on curb appeal before going on the market.
Curb appeal will always be important, but today, buyers are busier than ever and may not have the opportunity to do a drive by (unless they’re seriously interested). Instead, the first impression buyers most often get of a home is from the photos in the MLS listing, which they automatically receive in an email from their agent, or the pictures that accompany an online listing. With limited time and countless listings to review, buyers will quickly move on if photos don’t reflect well on a property.
Today the home buyer still will do a drive by if possible to see if the home as it sets now meets what was seen in the online photographs. If they can’t because they are out of state or out of country they could ask the agent they are working with to do a drive by or view the property to take photographs of the property to see what it looks like at that moment in time as compared to the photographs online.
Properly lit, high-resolution photos are the only type of pictures that should be used in a home marketing campaign. Like any other sales effort, it’s important to put your best foot forward. If an agent takes property photos with a smartphone, it’s often a red flag to the sellers. Smartphone pictures are fine for informally sending photos quickly back and forth between agent and buyer, but they can’t measure up to the quality of pictures taken with a good camera.
Don’t have photos of the property yet? Don’t list the home until you do. With so much information available online these days, you only have a few seconds to grab potential buyers’ attention. If they do an Internet search or check the MLS email and your home is listed without pictures, there isn’t anything for them to look at. Buyers will likely move on and probably won’t come back.
Staging and Preparation
Because of the importance of a good first impression, home sellers and their agents should spend as much time and energy on the photo shoot as they do on creating curb appeal or staging an open house. This means planning the shoot well in advance, sometimes as much as a week.
As a home seller, you know when your home gets the best natural light. Make sure the photos are shot during those times. Have the home fully cleaned and in top shape before the shoot, too. As with an open house, clear out all the children’s and pet’s toys and fully declutter the home. Imagine the photo shoots retailers and catalog companies do to showcase their products. Would they release a catalog with photos of stained living room furniture or with improper lighting? Of course not — and neither should a home seller. A home is a product for sale, just like any other, and should be marketed as such.
Often, after buyers have toured your home, they return to their computers and look at the property again online. This time, they can put together the floor plan and understand how the home flows and how each room relates to the next. High-quality photos that show the home well will keep them interested, perhaps even encourage them to go take another look. On the other hand, if you cleaned your home before the open house and got the buyer in the door, but then they go back and look at dark photos online or see imperfections, you can easily turn them off.
If your agent doesn’t have a good-quality camera and real estate photography experience, consider asking them to hire a professional who does. While it’s another expense, consider this: When you put a home on the market, you’re competing against a lot of other properties. If those properties are highlighted with attractive, well-lit photos and yours isn’t, you’re going to have more trouble getting potential buyers in the door. This could cause your home to sit on the market longer than it would have otherwise — making what would be seen as a “fresh” property look stale.
ASK YOUR AGENT TO SEE THE PHOTOS THEY WILL BE USING
Sellers often have some old-fashioned ideas about marketing their home that don’t include photography and that thing called the Internet
Home buyers ask for pictures and they want lots of them. They want great photographs that they can look at on their computer screens, tablets or smartphones.
The way buyers look for homes has really changed now that everything is on the Internet. Marketing homes on the Internet is old news for real estate agents and for home buyers, but home sellers have not caught on.
Homeowners who purchased their last home in the 1980s, ’90s or the early ’2000s remember going to open houses and looking at newspaper advertisements. For many homeowners, they think the process of selling a home hasn’t changed since then.
As a result, they may not even be asking their real estate agent the right questions. Instead of asking us how many open houses we plan on doing, they should be asking us if we plan to exceptional photographs.
Those same home owners don’t really pay much attention or even notice the poor photographs of their home on the Internet. You know, the ones with the dimly lit rooms and the bright yellow date stamps across the bottom of the photograph.
Technology really has changed the way homes are marketed. Effective marketing happens on multiple websites with photography and words. Each picture is seen by thousands of people instead of the two to 10 people who show up at the open house.
There isn’t anything wrong with having an open house. Many agents use open houses as a way to prospect, and real estate companies like it when agents put out all of those open house signs with the real estate company logo on them. It’s good for business.
Instead of asking us how many open houses we plan on doing, home sellers should be asking us if we plan to hire a professional photographer, we the agent can’t take exceptional photographs.
Open houses are also a great way for agents to represent both the buyer and the seller, which means more money for the real estate agent.
Home owners believe the open house is going to sell their house. They don’t understand that there is actually a much bigger pool of qualified buyers out there — including people who cannot get to open houses on Sunday afternoons.
Home sellers don’t really see us working unless we are holding an open house. Marketing on the Internet is still an abstract concept for most, and it doesn’t really seem like the kind of work a seller wants to pay thousands of dollars for.
Some home sellers will act all impressed when I talk about photography and the kind of visual marketing experience I need to create to get the attention of homebuyers. But if I asked them to choose between digital marketing and having open houses, many would choose the open house because they understand it not because it’s better.
If photography was important to home sellers, they would insist on better pictures. They would ask agents for samples of how they market homes on the Internet, rather than asking them if they will do an open house every weekend and if they will pay for print advertising.
As an industry, if we really want to improve the home buying process, we need to start working on the home selling process. We need to educate home sellers on how today’s home buyers will shop for their next home. We need to help them understand that things may have changed since they purchased their home.
Superb interior photographs displayed on the Internet will get more qualified buyers into a home than an open house. Home sellers need to get up to speed on how the Internet has changed the home buying process — even though it is probably easier and less expensive for real estate agents to just do open houses.
The home seller should:
Evaluate the agent: Look at a real-estate agent or broker’s current listings and evaluate their property photos. If the pictures are blurry, grainy, crooked or poorly composed, you may be better off choosing another agent.
Use compelling shots. Do the photos make you want to visit the home? Do they look like they are pulled from a home and garden magazine? Those are the kind of pictures that will appeal to prospective buyers.
Pick the right amount. How many photos does the agent post with each listing? One photo is too few and 30 is too many. The first several photographs in the listing are the most important, and should feature a front shot, main living area, kitchen, master bedroom and master bathroom, as well as another attractive feature.
Don’t do it yourself. The agent shouldn’t plan on shooting their own photos, unless they have the ability for taking exceptional photographs. This is a service that the agent should offer the home seller, and an important one.
Pick the best views. Before the photographs are taken, the home seller should present a list of various shots that might be helpful. Perhaps there is a view the seller loves from your patio, whcih may be what got them to buy the home. That’s helpful information for agent to know, before they get on site to take those photographs.
Give final approval. Ask the agent o see the photos before they are posted online, and compare them to homes that are similar to yours. If they didn’t turn out well, ask for a reshoot.