- Primp the interior. Plump up the pillows, smooth out messy bedspreads. Needless to say, dirty clothes that spill out of laundry baskets or messy papers on the kitchen table will not make the home look desirable. Take magnets and children’s artwork off the fridge. Shut the toilet lid and arrange towels neatly on their racks.
- Put pet gates, dishes, and dog beds away. Remember, the potential buyers are not buying your pets. They want to be able to see themselves in the home, and that may not include animals. If a buyer is allergic to pet hair, the sight of these objects can be a subliminal turn-off.
- Don’t display any political or religious objects. Your potential buyer may not feel the same way that you do about these things, and overt displays of political or religious affiliation might turn them off, potentially without them even realizing it. There are also possible ethical pitfalls here (more on this below).
If your client can afford a stager, you can avoid most of these problems by relying on an expert who knows how to make the property look its best. It’s still your job, however, to do a last-minute walkthrough before the photographer arrives.
Don’t forget the impact of exterior shots. A home’s exterior is the first thing buyers will see, both in person and in photos. You want them to think that maintenance will be manageable and that the previous owners have cared for the home—including the outside.
- Curate the yard. Make sure the lawn has been mowed and that leaves are raked. Trim the bushes and place a pot of pretty flowers by the front door.
- Consider the street view. Put garbage cans away during the photo shoot and ask the owners to park their cars down the street. Remember that garage interiors are part of a photo shoot too, so you don’t want them to park there. If possible, block the front of the house the night before the shoot so that neighbors don’t park in front of the house either.
- Highlight the neighborhood. Many professional real estate photography services have a stock of neighborhood shots, including nearby parks and shops. These are great additions to your photo listings.
Other considerations. When making decisions about posting photos, be careful how many are included. Agents must find a balance between too many (buyers don’t necessarily want ten photos of the half bath), and not enough. Alternatively, if there isn’t a photo of each space, buyers may wonder what’s missing or what is being hidden. It’s true that some areas of your listing may not be as nice to look at as others, but if a buyer shows up and sees something in person that you haven’t photographed, they may feel as though you’re being purposefully deceptive. Trust is, arguably, the most important part of real estate transactions.
It’s also helpful to label your photos. A buyer will likely want to know if the bathroom or bedroom you’ve photographed is upstairs or downstairs.
Comply with regulations
It isn’t enough to just make your photos look great. Photos also need to comply with the regulations imposed on agents by the National Association of Realtors®, local associations, and Multiple Listing Services. Non-compliance can have a negative effect on your reputation and can also be expensive if a fine is imposed.
Don’t be deceptive. Yes, it’s okay to touch up a sky when the photo was taken on a grey day. But it’s not okay to add shrubbery that doesn’t exist. It’s also okay, for example, to add a fire to a working fireplace, but not to one that has been sealed up or needs repair before it can be safely used.
The use of virtual staging is allowed. However, if you’ve chosen to virtually stage, you must say so. It’s not okay to add a gorgeous virtual stainless-steel appliance to a kitchen that has ancient appliances from the 1960s.
Photos must not feel threatening to buyers. Another problem is including potentially offensive or racist items in a photo. Recently, NAR fined an agent who listed a photo with a Confederate flag in the background. A prospective buyer filed a complaint against the agent because she felt threatened by the image. As mentioned above, err on the side of caution, and don’t showcase items that are political, religious, or risqué in nature.
Other rules. Your local associations or Multiple Listing Service may have additional photo requirements. Some of them prohibit the inclusion of your For Sale signage in the yard, for example, or any other type of personal or brokerage promotion. There may be a policy in your MLS about how long a listing may be live without accompanying photos.
Copyright. It might seem obvious to say that agents may not use photos that do not belong to them, but it does happen. If you would like to use a photo from the last time the property was listed, and that listing belonged to another agent, you must get permission to use it again in any of your marketing materials.
There may be other regulations aside from the ones that are listed here, so it’s important to do your own research. Some of the fines that have been imposed on agents for non-compliance are hefty, and not knowing about violations is not generally an acceptable excuse.
Final words of advice
Remember that photos are likely to be the very first introduction that other agents and their buyer clients have to your listing. Make sure it is an impressive one!