Curb appeal traditionally refers to how a home appears from the street. Today, with more than 90 percent of buyers shopping online, the curb is most often a virtual one. Online, a property has only seconds to grab attention before a viewer moves on to the next home; there are no do-over’s for first impressions.
“Buyers are looking for homes to eliminate. Online photos are the one thing you can’t afford to do wrong,” says Thomas Holmes, owner of Staging Homes in Wayland, Mass.
First impressions online can launch a home to thousands of potential buyers or turn off an equal number.
“It may be the best house in town and everyone who sees it will fall in love with it, but that’s all irrelevant if the consumer never makes it to the front door because they are discouraged by the photos,” says Stan Barron, an Austin real-estate broker and author of “How To Photograph Houses.”
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Grainy images, rooms that are not camera-ready, limited information about the property won’t do the job. To create high-quality photos, Barron urges real-estate agents to upgrade to a full sensor camera so they can adjust exposure and use a wide-angle lens.
Not only does a wide-angle lens capture more of the room, it also conveys the proportion of the space. Also, he advises using a tripod to keep images level and steady.
Forget the flash, which splashes light in the center of the photo leaving the outside of a room in the dark. Instead take interior pictures at the brightest time of day. Open shades, turn on the lights and, if necessary, bring in additional lighting. Often a shop light will add just enough extra brightness. Take exterior shots when the sun is at your back.
Be selective about what is shown online. Although most experts suggest using a lot of images, they also caution that rooms such as additional bathrooms don’t add to the overall impact unless they are exceptional. Make sure images are oriented so the focal point and the best aspects of the space are highlighted.
Most important, hold off on photos until the house is ready for its market debut. Real-estate agents tend to take exterior pictures when they first visit the house. Often these images end up as part of the listing online and are the first thing potential buyers see.
Owners need to ensure exterior shots reflect the home at its best after the front entry has been staged. Also, pay attention to cars, trash cans and toys that might end up in the shot.
Change photos with the season. Be aware of anything such as holiday decorations or mounds of snow that automatically date an image, delivering an unspoken message that the home has been on the market for a long time.
Depending on the property, still photos are often the foundation of multifaced marketing campaigns incorporating photos, videos, virtual tours and floor plans as well as mapping and links to community information. Suzanne Koller with Suzanne & Co., Keller Williams in Bedford, Mass., uses both still photos and video tours to market properties in suburban Boston.
Designed to reach relocating buyers, her videos begin with an aerial view of the city and then zoom to the property’s town and street. The video takes viewers down the street, arriving at the curb in front of the house. The tour moves along the walk to the front entrance, throughout the house and continues outside.
Unlike virtual tours, videos do not have to be a slick production and can cost less than $400 depending on the region and size of the house. A number of real-estate agents also produce their own.
The magic of video is the personal sensibility the camera imparts. Viewers get a sense they are touring the house. Unlike inexpensive virtual tours, videos don’t distort images. Owners and agents can be selective about what is shown and highlight the most positive aspects of a room.
Additionally, the camera can zoom in on any special features and bring them to the viewer’s attention.
No matter how a home is portrayed online, floor plans add an another dimension. They are a great tool to orient potential buyers to a property, particularly if the layout is unusual. Some agents combine still photos with a floor plan so viewers can click on an icon in a room and see special features or simply the overall space.
Whether you use still photos, videos or virtual tours, how a property is presented is as critical as the quality of the images. Towels slung over a shower curtain, dishes in the sink, toys crammed into the corner of a room are as unappealing as poor quality images. Small details like a bed skirt tucked into a mattress are easy to glance over but jump out in photos and distract from the overall impression.
Some agents will have a professional come in to help set up scenes for the photographer or videographer. Koller works with a videographer and moves furniture to open up shots. She brings in accessories to create vignettes.
When getting ready to list a house, be sure to ask potential agents about the online presence they create for their listings and where they appear. Savvy owners work with their agent to ensure their property creates a strong first impression.