12 Unprofessional Listing Photograph Mistakes Real Estate Agents Make
Kick off the fall with Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. We’re going deep on agent branding and best practices for spending with Zillow, realtor.com and more. Top marketing executives drop by to share their newest tactics, too. It’s all you need to take your branding and marketing game to the next level.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and in today’s time-starved attention economy, a new listing has a few seconds to make a first impression on potential buyers and their agents. Photos (along with price) are one of the most powerful reasons a property sells quickly or languishes on the market.
It used to be the first showing always happened online, and the second showing happened in person. It’s still often that way, but in numerous situations, as we’ve seen over the past couple of years, properties have been selling sight unseen, which could continue long into the future given low inventory and high demand.
This means that having your best marketing plan for every listing is essential, as there are fewer listings to go around and stiffer competition in getting them.
If buyers won’t waste their time coming to see your listing based on the photos, you shouldn’t be wasting your time on those photos either. It’s time to step up your listing marketing game, so avoid these 12 photo faux pas that no agent should ever commit, regardless of the market.
1. Not primping the interior
Excitement is highest for the sellers and listing agents when a property becomes active in the MLS. The excitement needs to match the proper preparation for the photoshoot.
There’s nothing worse than seeing a new listing go live only to see the couches, pillows and bedding look as if someone just got up. Mashed pillows, bunched-up bedspreads, tossed blankets, books leaning on shelves, or other objects not neatly in place create a less than buttoned-up appearance as if the seller and the agent didn’t feel the need to pay attention to details and go the extra mile.
With just about every new listing today commanding top dollar, taking time to straighten up the pillows, couch cushions and bedspreads goes a long way in spreading the message that the property matches up to the asking price’s expectations.
The same goes for window treatments that look haphazardly opened. Lastly, no one likes to see pictures of toilet seats left up.
Pro tip: Take a little time to primp. The details matter.
2. Lack of exterior preparation
Speaking of prep for sale, getting the exterior ready for the photoshoot is critical.
After all of the effort sellers put into getting a home ready for the market, I’m amazed at all the listings with exteriors that look like afterthoughts.
When buyers pull up to a house, the first thing they think about is how much upkeep would be involved if they purchased the home.
Leaves all over the driveway, walkways, patio, on the pool deck, and in the pool are not things buyers want to see.
There’s no excuse for not keeping a blower on standby for last-minute photo styling of outdoor spaces, and the same goes for tools to clean the pool. Pools should be clean in photos, period.
And make sure to schedule photos to mesh up with a fresh cutting of the lawn and any trimming of bushes so everything will look well-manicured in pictures.
Pro tip: There’s no excuse for having an ill-prepared exterior. Have the tools you need to take beautiful pictures.
3. Displaying vehicles and garbage cans
Leaving a vehicle or two on the driveway or in front of the house that will show in photos is another faux pas agents often commit.
The same goes for garbage, recycling bins and yard waste containers being visible in photos. They should be moved into the garage for pictures, even if the homeowners usually keep them outside.
If the property is in an urban environment, it might not be possible not to have any cars parked on the street in front of the property.
Pro tip: Be sure to coordinate with sellers so that you don’t schedule a photoshoot on the same day as garbage and recycling pickup.
Although Fluffy and Fido (or a few of them) may reside on the property, buyers don’t want to see evidence of them in photos. Remove the pet beds, gates, toys, cat tree and especially the litter box! Some buyers might find it repulsive that the litter box is in the laundry room.
Last but not least, though pets are adorable and people love to show them off, please don’t put them in photos with captions referencing how the dog looks right home, but he’s not for sale — or anything of the like.
You never know who the buyer is, and they may not be into furry creatures or have allergies. That might cause them not even to bother scheduling an appointment to see the home.
Pro tip: Be aware that any sign of pets could be a major turnoff for buyers. Remove all pet items.
5. Showing off the clutter
Buyers are buying a home, not the stuff in it. There’s nothing worse than detracting from the space and features of the property with too much clutter in photos. Various collections, too many pictures on the walls, artificial plants on the top of kitchen cabinets, tons of magnets on the refrigerator, etc., don’t belong in listing photos.
The pile of dirty laundry sitting on the bedroom floor and the detergents and cleaning supplies crammed on top of the shelf in the laundry room are also areas that don’t look great in photos. The same goes for that pile of towels sitting on top of the washing machine. Clutter never photographs well, and it distracts buyers from the home and causes them to click off or swipe right onto the next listing.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to tackle the clutter in any spaces that might be photographed, like closets, basements and garages.
Unless there is a specific reason for showing off the particular feature to demonstrate or create value in the property, there is no need for close-up pictures of things like run-of-the-mill faucets, plumbing fixtures or shower heads with the water running out of them.
The same goes for standard water features like a decorative fountain or a firepit. We get it — water or fire comes out of it. Certainly, water features or a fire pit are pleasant to be turned on for showings whenever possible.
It’s almost like the photographer is reaching to show off something about the property that is far from extraordinary but rather horribly ordinary. If the item is a rare luxury component or has a story, then that is a different story. An antique faucet that was brought from Europe that’s 18K gold could be photo-worthy. The same goes for an antique clawfoot tub that was original to a historic home, etc.
Pro tip: Only take pictures of the truly interesting facets of your listing.
7. Overprocessed photos
Listing photos should be true to life. When they are overprocessed, everything has an artificial appearance, from the flooring to the interior finishes.
This is especially true for yards. Lawns can be colored to look overly green and like artificial turf (unless they really are). Skies made robin egg blue, fake sunset-colored skies over a house only create an unrealistic portrayal.
These artificial enhancements lead to buyer disappointment when they pull up to the house, and the yard looks nothing like pictures. And even worse, then they go inside. Not depicting realistic photos leaves a buyer feeling deceived and not interested. And it’s also an ethical violation if not portraying a property accurately and truthfully.
Pro tip: Portray your listing accurately in photos to avoid frustrated potential buyers and agents and ethical violations.
8. Not enough photos
Speaking of depicting a property accurately and truthfully, it is frustrating when there are limited photos of critical areas of a property, including yards, the kitchen, great room or the owner’s suite.
Unless there has been some clarification provided as to why — perhaps the sellers didn’t want photos included for privacy reasons, or the property is tenant-occupied or otherwise cannot be adequately prepared for showings and photos — this can be a massive source of frustration for buyers.
Many buyers and agents are conducting their search from afar, searching for a needle in the haystack of low inventory. It always begs the question: What is the seller hiding, or what does the listing agent not want people to see it?
If a yard is small, it needs to be shown in ample photos so a buyer can decide if it is worth a look. Limited interior pictures for no apparent reason also can create mismatched expectations of what buyers and their agents think might be a potential fit, only to determine it wasn’t at all. This ends in wasted time by all involved, including frustrated sellers.
Trying to hide that leaning fence or deteriorating shed in the backyard will eventually be seen by buyers in person who may not like being surprised in less than a good way.
Pro tip: Agents are using aerial photography today to provide an accurate exterior view of the home and what surrounds it.
9. Too many photos
Although it can be frustrating not to have enough photos, having too many of them posted with a listing can also be overwhelming. A buyer doesn’t want to swipe through numerous shots of one feature of a home to move on to the next feature in the photostream.
Going through 15 pictures of the exterior before seeing what the inside looks like is a frustrating consumer experience. Attention spans are short and getting even shorter, so having 50, 75 or 100 photos will cause buyers and agents to click off.
Although a tremendous amount of time went into taking and uploading them, viewers won’t likely appreciate the sheer number the way a listing agent hopes.
A better approach is to post the best photos that capture the property’s essence on the inside and out, to hit the main points that people care most about and reference that the listing agent can provide additional pictures to agents and prospective buyers interested based on what they see. Video makes a great supplement to photos.
Pro tip: Only post the best photos selectively, and offer to share more with interested parties.
10. Not labeling
No matter how fast a listing may sell, is it too hard to take the time to label each picture for a listing properly? Agents need to take a hands-on approach and not leave the photographer’s caption, which is often nothing more than a sequence of numbers or the name of their company intertwined with it for each photo.
Leaving the photographer’s captions tells buyers nothing about any features or details, which are helpful references as the buyer scrolls through the photos. Buyers likely scan a listing description, not taking much time to read it, instead of jumping right to the photos, so the labels should provide some direction and context of what they are looking at.
Pro tip: Although it might seem like a trivial step, take the time to go the extra mile on labeling.
11. Whirling ceiling fans
The listing pictures posted with ceiling fans in motion don’t accomplish anything other than a blurry blob at the top of the image.
There is no need to demonstrate that a ceiling fan runs while pictures are being taken.
Pro tip: If there is a light as part of the ceiling fixture, make sure to turn the light on but not the fan in its entirety.
12. Any signs of: politics, taxidermy, risque artwork
These items should never appear in photos for numerous and obvious reasons. You never know who a buyer might be, so it’s best to keep the home neutral for photos and showings, no matter how prized some of these items are. It is best to move anything questionable offsite to a secure storage facility or a trusted family or friend’s home while the property is on the market.
Objects like these only serve to distract, potentially upset or alienate a future buyer. Furthermore, you don’t want the center of discussion about the house focusing on chatter about “can you believe all the distracting artwork on the walls” instead of potential buyers discussing whether the property is the right fit.
Pro tip: Don’t let anything take buyers’ attention away from evaluating whether the home is right for them.
Photos (along with price) are one of the most powerful reasons a property sells quickly or languishes on the market, especially today. Buyers love to analyze how a home looked nothing like its photos, common buyer feedback.
Sometimes buyers are disappointed to learn the space looked nothing like how it appeared in photos and get cold feet, especially if they have made an offer physically sight-unseen and don’t see the property for the first time until inspections.
Paying attention to details will create a successful photoshoot, which will hopefully lead buyers to see what they want and make an offer quickly.
Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.