Hands down, the most important part of any real estate listing is the photos. If they’re good, hordes of buyers flock to the house and make bids. If they’re bad—really bad—the property will likely sit with no takers, regardless of price.
But what does it actually take to make the listing picture magic happen? To find out, we talked to professional real estate photographers to get a sense of what really goes on behind the scenes.
Spoiler alert: It’s a lot more than you think!
Since this property was located in a nice area, “I was expecting it to be updated and easy to shoot, with white walls and excellent lighting—a real estate photographer’s dream,” Kent recalls.
However, she knows from experience that homes are rarely as pristine as she hopes.
“You truly never know what surprises are waiting inside,” she admits. “I’ve seen strange pets like potbellied pigs and giant tortoises, and homes that probably should have just been demolished instead of put on the market.”
To prepare for any challenges, Kent checked online for photos of the house. She found some “poorly lit, grainy pics from the last time it was listed in 2014.”
These listing photos were from nearly a decade ago. Surely, the house must be in better shape today, right?
Read on to find out what she saw, plus some valuable lessons that all home sellers should take to heart.
The entrance: Show off tall ceilings
“I knew when I walked in that the ceilings, archways, and pillars were going to be a point of interest,” Kent says. “Typically, real estate photos should be level. However, here I had to get creative and throw in some artsy tilted shots to show the ceilings.”
Beyond the entrance, though, this shoot got a lot more challenging.
The living room: Clear the clutter
“This home is a little over 4,000 square feet, which I know I can get through in about an hour and a half if everything is ready to go and the lighting is good,” Kent says. “Here, I was met with dim lighting and a messy home that was absolutely not ready to photograph.”
While the homeowners were “kind and thankfully left the scene so I could work,” Kent says, she wishes they’d been told to clean up and put away their possessions before the shoot.
“The real estate agent and her assistant were scrambling to make beds, hide trinkets, and stuff things in closets. Honestly, I would rather shoot a hoarder house than have real estate agents trying to stage a home as I am shooting. This house was chaotic, with the agent going from room to room in a zigzag frenzy while moving pillows and blankets and knickknacks and chairs.”
Once the living area was cleared, the next challenge was creating an inviting ambiance, what Kent calls “lifestyle shots.”
“This is usually for vacation rentals,” but they can also work for any home, particularly if it has some vacation-worthy features such as a fireplace.
The kitchen: Clean all shiny surfaces
In the kitchen—another make-or-break listing shot—Kent encountered more problems.
“There were crumbs and small things all over the countertops, and coffee still in the coffee pot,” Kent recalls.
While it might not seem like much to the untrained eye, “Even small flaws like smudges and streaks will show up in photos,” Kent explains. This is particularly true for a kitchen’s many shiny surfaces made of stainless steel and chrome.
Kent’s workaround was to alter the angle: “I lowered my tripod so the countertop grime was hidden.”
Still, ideally, kitchens should always be thoroughly cleaned before a shoot. The same goes for all mirrors and windows.
“There is a lot that goes into getting your home ready before the photographer arrives,” Kent explains. “This is the real estate agent’s job, but homeowners can really help by decluttering and hiring a cleaning service beforehand.”
One option for home sellers who don’t have the time or energy to clean and clear is to invest in some virtual staging.
“I have shot homes in the past that were a mess, but the real estate agent wanted it shot like that and they were going to do virtual staging,” Kent says. “It’s less of a headache for everyone.”
The bedroom: Make your bed
Home sellers, take note: Even if you lack the energy to make your bed every morning, try to do it before a real estate shoot. In this home, Kent was vexed to find the beds unmade, so the real estate agent stepped in to handle this task, adding an upgraded comforter and more pillows.
Another oversight was the lighting.
“One of the bedside lamps was not working,” Kent recalls. “The agent had to step out to get another one.”
While the primary bedroom ended up looking “beautiful” after these adjustments, the other bedrooms were so cluttered it was tricky to create the minimalist, Zen-like ambiance these rooms truly need.
“This was one of the bedrooms that was completely redone,” Kent says of the photo below. “The agents and I moved a box around out of my shots as I moved through the room. There are still some things on the nightstand that did not get moved.”
Bathroom: Keep it light and bright
Bathrooms are another area where lighting is key, and for the bathroom Kent shot in the photo below, “all three lights were out,” she says. “Luckily, there was a skylight that added some natural light.”
Outside: Lighting matters here, too
Kent was thrilled to see that the backyard had a huge pool, outdoor kitchen, and batting cage. But none of these features would look all that great without the right light.
Luckily for Kent, the sun was high and showed off this backyard beautifully. Home sellers will want to pay close attention to the timing of their shoot.
Generally, it’s best to avoid long shadows that can be cast in the morning or evening, although twilight shots can be magical if the house has artificial lighting in the outdoor areas and hin the pool.
So what happened to this house?
This house was listed for $1,389,000—much higher than Phoenix’s median of $469,838. Nonetheless, this property was on the market for just 22 days before receiving an offer. While the final sales price and other details of the deal are unknown, Kent is not surprised that this home ended up getting an offer fairly quickly. In fact, in a slow market like today’s, it’s all the more crucial for a home to look its best to stand out.
Although everything turned out well for this house, Kent hopes her experiences help show home sellers that pretty photos don’t happen without plenty of preparation on the part of the home sellers.
“Be 100% ready! I cannot stress this enough,” Kent concludes. “Even if you think you are ready to go, there’s probably something you are missing. The majority of the time when I walk through a home, there’s at least one thing I need to move or tuck away, and that’s fine because my eyes are trained to catch things that homeowners miss. But I am not there to move boxes, make beds, or clean windows. A photographer’s time is valuable. We may have five shoots that day, and if you are prepared, it makes our day go a lot smoother.”