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Here are some tips to get the most out of your listing photos:
Evaluate an agent or broker's current listings and their property photos. If the pictures are blurry, grainy, crooked or poorly composed, you may be better off choosing another agent.
Decide whether the photos would make you want to visit the home. Do they look like they're pulled from a home and garden magazine? Those are the kind of pictures that will appeal to prospective buyers.
How many photos does the agent post with each listing? One photo is not enough, 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 perhaps another attractive feature of the home.
Don't plan on shooting your own photos, unless you're a professional photographer. This is a service that the agent should offer you, and an important one at that. Ask the agent for the credentials of the person who would be snapping shots of your home.
Before the photographer does the shoot, present a list of various shots that might be helpful. Perhaps there is a view you love from your patio, for example. That's helpful information for the photographer to know, before he or she gets on site.
Ask to 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 with another photographer.
Good pictures are crucial in marketing a home for sale. Just ask Clarissa and Mark Padilla, who were able to get a contract on their Sherman Oaks, Calif., condo unit in less than two weeks -- and at a price they wanted.
Clarissa Padilla attributes the quick sale to the professional photography that marketed the home and was able to lure about 20 to 25 people to an open house the first weekend.
"When we saw the photos, we fell in love with our place all over again," she said. "The colors were so bright, and it made it look fresh and very spacious. It's only 950 square feet. [The pictures] made it look huge."
Most people who have shopped for a home lately understand the impact of quality pictures in marketing materials -- especially when looking at listings online. Ninety-eight percent of home buyers who searched for a home online said that photos were among the most useful features of real-estate websites, according to research from the National Association of Realtors.
And given that highly visual sites such as Pinterest have become so popular lately, pictures are beginning to take on an even greater importance, said Brian Balduf, chairman of VHT, a provider of photography services to agents and brokers, based in the Chicago area.
"Photography is at the center of all your marketing," Balduf said. "It's not just documenting that there is a house for sale. You want people to say 'What a house,'" and be motivated enough to take action, he said.
Listings with photos taken by professionals have about 61 percent more views than other homes -- and that's across all price tiers, according to research from Redfin, a real estate brokerage.
"When people are searching for homes, they search by price range, location, bed and bath. But then once they have the list, the visual piece becomes a larger and more important part of the decision," said Jani Strand, spokeswoman for Redfin. "Photos are the first impression, and can generate interest and excitement, which leads to good offers."
In fact, Redfin believes so much in the power of professional photography that it has been paying for their clients' professional pictures since 2008, Strand said. Redfin also is in the process of revamping its website, and larger photos are a predominant new feature, she added.
Of course, some real estate agents have become pretty good at taking photos on their own. By using a wide-angle lens, a tripod and making sure that the rooms have the best possible lighting, even nonprofessionals can get decent-looking pictures, Balduf said. But while you might not need the most sophisticated camera on the market, agents shouldn't even attempt to shoot photos using a cellphone, he added.
It's important for sellers to evaluate the quality of the photos that an agent typically posts with listings before even hiring someone to sell their home.
"Personally, I think that homeowners aren't as demanding as they should be because they never write a check to the agent -- it all comes out at closing," Balduf said. People should be more particular, demanding quality pictures to market the home, he said.
Clarissa Padilla said that a condo unit in the same building, and comparable to hers, sat on the market for five or six months before her home was listed. But the photos of the other unit weren't taken by a professional.
Meanwhile, some of the prospective buyers who walked through their home thought that theirs was a staged model home. The Padillas had multiple offers right away.
"We were so proud of the photos; we showed our parents, we showed everybody," she said. "We kept a brochure for a souvenir."