Photography for Real Estate Listings

By
Real Estate Agent with Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC

As a licensed Real Estate Agent here in Washington State, and as a Realtor, well... you can imagine that there are a lot of rules and regulations about marketing properties.  A lot of legal requirements, such as the exact words that are used to describe a property.

What you may not imagine... are the new rules about photos for a listing that appears on the MLS system - the state-wide database that all of us Real Estate agents rely upon.  As recently as a year ago, the Washington State MLS (NWMLS) would (for free) send someone out to take a picture of any new listing in the MLS!

Well, those days have passed.  Now it's the responsibility of the Listing Agent to take the digital photos that accompany a new listing.  And that same Listing Agent has up to 5 days to post those photos to the MLS, so other agents can see them.

What does this mean to you, as a property owner?  Lots!  Simply stated: when you list your property with a Real Estate Agent, you should ask about their background in photography.  You should ask to see examples of the work they've done in the past.  Again: there's only a 5-day 'time window' for the photos to be taken and uploaded to the NWMLS database.

What if its raining?  Dreary-overcast?  Can your Listing Agent compensate for weather conditions, and make the photos look great?  Will your Listing Agent come back on a better day, and take new pictures?

Kellie and I take pride that all the photos of our listings show the properties to their best advantage.  Personally, I have a lot of experience in digital photography (in the past, I've written user's manuals for a wide range of photo-enhancement software for both Windows PC and Macintosh computers). 

Let me show you a couple of examples.  The first is one of our recent listings, taken on a sunny day.  The sky was average, and the lawn (as captured by the camera) didn't look so hot:

Next, I fixed the lawn (how it really looks), and added some clouds to the sky.  A bit of touch-up here and there... well, see for yourself:

Check our website.  You'll see what I mean.  It's your property, and your listing.  Remember: 79% of all home buyers begin their search in the Internet.  First impressions are everything!

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Ambassador
529,077
Rich Jacobson
Keller Williams West Sound Realty - Poulsbo, WA
Your Kitsap County WA Real Estate Broker
Hey Jim! Nice photos. I think I would be concerned about possibly misrepresenting the property by manipulating photos. I can appreciate your intentions, and certainly some of the properties we sell can all the help we can give! I do try to take good quality pictures and incorporate a full photo gallery in my listings. It's amazing how many agents still do not post pictures of their listings, or take such poor quality photos.
Sep 09, 2006 05:34 PM #1
Rainer
11,247
Ex Realtor
Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC - Mount Vernon, WA

Thanks for your comment, Rich.  I've checked and double-checked with the NWMLS (our local MLS), and the Official Word is: YES - make it look good.  If the lawn is really green, make it look that way.  Adding clouds is certainly OK, as per the folks at the NWMLS.

What is NOT okay is: photo-retouching to remove salient property features, such as power-lines, fire-hydrants, telephone poles, and like that.

It's very important to me that I show my listings at their best.  But I won't "step over the line" and remove things that potential buyers need to know about. Make sense?

Sep 09, 2006 05:41 PM #2
Anonymous
Anonymous
I definitely agree with you that pictures can make or break a listing. The quality (and quantity) of pictures posted on our MLS is pretty pathetic. I do wonder where the line is between enhancing a photo and misleading a buyer. I am not implying that you pictures are misleading. Clearly adding clouds to the sky and returning the lawn to its natural color is acceptable. But with the power of digital imaging software, a person could do a lot of "enhancing", to the point of ethical liability. What are your thoughts on enhancing vs. altering a photo?
Sep 09, 2006 05:42 PM #3
Rainer
11,247
Ex Realtor
Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC - Mount Vernon, WA

Boy, what a can of worms I've opened here!  My thoughts?  Enhancing = good.  And, Altering = good... within limits.

Earlier, I posted my thoughts about Enhancing a photo.  Add some clouds.  Fix the color of the lawn so it really appears as the eye would see it when you view the property.

Altering?  Well now.  In the past, I've been in a time-crunch to finish the listing, take the photos, and etc.  Get back to the office to submit... know what I mean?  And in those cases, I've been guilty of using Photoshop software to remove kid-toys from the front lawn... bicycles leaned up against the house... well, you get the idea. 

I agree: legally, it's a fine line.  Legally, I present my listings to their best appearance.  On a perfect day, when the kids haven't trashed the lawn with tricycles, toys, and worse.  Make sense?

Sep 09, 2006 05:56 PM #4
Anonymous
Anonymous
So adding that hot neighbor washing her car in a bikini may have been out of bounds?
Sep 09, 2006 06:07 PM #5
Ambassador
667,801
Kristal Kraft
The Berkshire Group Realtors - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - 303-589-2022
Jim,  I think clouds and grass enhancements are just fine.  It's when you add things like a mountain or a tree that get you in big trouble!  :)
Sep 09, 2006 06:10 PM #6
Rainer
11,247
Ex Realtor
Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC - Mount Vernon, WA

What fun!  Bikini car wash gal?  Good idea!

Adding a mountain or a tree?  Probably not so good.

Sep 09, 2006 06:35 PM #7
Rainer
7,593
InSite Virtual Tours
InSite Virtual Tours - Eugene, OR
If you don't have the time or experience to take the quality photos you need, there are probably some local photographers that MLS or your agent association can recommend. I specialize in virtual tours, but I often also take MLS photos for agents while I'm at it, or on the side.
Sep 09, 2006 06:45 PM #8
Rainer
202,439
Eddy Martinez
Nationwide Funding Group - Highland Park, CA
Is this practice really legal?        
Sep 10, 2006 05:24 PM #9
Rainer
36,473
Sara Lipnitz
Max Broock Realtors - Birmingham, MI
Well I guess that I'm lucky that we have the option in our market to either take our own photos or have someone from the MLS do it (for free).  If adding a bikini model will help me sell the home, I'll take the slap on the hand.  WINK WINK
Sep 10, 2006 05:50 PM #10
Rainmaker
246,193
Gena Riede
Riede Real Estate, Lic. 01310792 - Sacramento, CA
Real Estate Broker - Sacramento CA Real Estate (916) 417-2699
Honestly, I don't think anyone should be altering photos. Some folks out there may not just stop at the clouds...There is a very fine line and if that is crossed and for any reason the deal goes to litigation, altering photos would be just another nail in your coffin. In my opinion, you need to present the property as it is and not alter. But, nice job on the clouds and grass.
Sep 11, 2006 08:26 AM #11
Rainer
32,022
Ken Stampe
iBrandPlan.com - Grow your e-Profile & Brand - Dallas, TX
iBrandPlan

With the number of people that can't take a photo which turns our representative of what the subject really looked like, I think that photo enhancements are a must. Adding clouds is a nice effect but just that, an effect. You aren't buying clouds.

I have assisted Realtors with cropping and sizing in the past which you would "think" is elementary but unless you have taken courses in photography, composition, etc. you may think that a picture is a picture.

If a homebuyer or Realtor visits a home listed on the MLS which has a misrepresentative photo it can be removed and the Realtor who posted it reprimanded. We had a case several years ago where an agent was putting MLS photos of different properties to produce more traffic (of course, they were very easily busted).

In places like Dallas, where I live, we have dormant lawns which are brown for 4-5 months of the year. There is no reason I can see that a picture taken during the summer would not be acceptable as long as the house hasn't changed. So what is the issue with "greening" the grass?

Ken Stampe HomeLoanDFW.com

Sep 11, 2006 01:27 PM #12
Rainer
86,874
"JT" Prevatte
Century 21 Family Realty, Relocation/Recruitment Director - Fayetteville, NC

I completely agree with you on this subject.  I have often made the comment that if the house does not look good in the MLS how can it attract buyers?

I too am a hobby photographer and love my camera.  I have even told my wife many times that I bet there is a business opportunity here for MLS photography.

Some of the pictures in the local MLS are horrid.  They are blurry, too far away, wrong angle, bad lighting, etc.

I am thinking of putting together a class for our campany on basic improvements to these photos and maybe that can at least help others. 

Sep 11, 2006 01:51 PM #13
Rainer
11,247
Ex Realtor
Preview Properties, Skagit, LLC - Mount Vernon, WA

THANK YOU ... all who have posted comments about Photography for Real Estate Listings.  I really appreciate it - the good and the bad.

There were several comments along the lines of "Is this legal?" and "Is this ethical - is it right to change the way the property looks?"

Well, let me say, right off - it was NEVER my intention to change the way the property looks... I mean, if someone drives up to our listing(s), and looks at the appearance.

What I do for my listing clients is a part of my job as a Listing Agent: to make their house look attractive in the pictures that appear online, over the Internet.

Add clouds... as on a picture-perfect day?  Why not?  Deepen the green of the grass, to make it appear as it actually looks?  Of course! 

What I will NOT do is make what I consider to be 'physical changes' to the property.  I will NOT remove hanging power lines, fire hydrants, electrical utility boxes, power and/or telephone poles... you get the idea.  All of these changes could be made with some skill at Photoshop (or other image-editing software) - but such changes clearly step 'over the line.'  Making the overall appearance of the property different from how it actually looks.

I've received several 'private' e-mail messages from other Real Estate Agents, saying that what I do is wrong, and I should only post and use the pure photographic images as generated by a digital camera.  After reviewing their websites and their listings, it's clear to me that their complaint is based on the simple fact that - they have no clue as to how to edit and enhance the images from their camera!

Does this give me an unfair advantage... with the pictures that I provide for my Listing Clients?  Yes.  Why?  Because I've taken the time to learn about photo retouching, and digital image enhancement.  Should these complaining agents also learn these skills, to provide the same advantage to their Listing Clients?  Yes. 

Sep 11, 2006 02:08 PM #14
Ambassador
667,801
Kristal Kraft
The Berkshire Group Realtors - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - 303-589-2022

Jim, I know perfectly well what you are talking about and agree.  I think many folks just don't take the time to understand some of the powerful features of Photoshop Elements or other photo enhancing tools.

Beautiful bright color photos make all the difference in the world.  Enhancing (not changing) a photo is part of a professional presentation to sell a property.

 

Sep 11, 2006 04:57 PM #15
Rainmaker
226,829
Craig Schiller
Baird & Warner - St. Charles, IL

Oh how I know the joys of photoshop.  I can not tell you the number of times I left a camera case or a clip board in an after photo. 

Photo shop too the rescue for sure. I also find that a camera will capture things that the eye does NOT see typically... for example lamp cords. Again... photo shop to the rescue.

 

Sep 11, 2006 07:37 PM #16
Rainer
53,620
Michael Price
MLBroadcast / Zillow / Sitetraffic.com - Houston, TX
Here are some tips to better real estate photography. Wider is better. Use a wide angle lens if possible. Kodak has a nice new camera with a dual lens that is a great consumer grade camera that should have an easy learning curve for Realtors. 

http://www.dpreview.com/news/0601/06010201kodakv570.asp

Also, remove barrel distortion and correct alignments easy with this free photoshop plug-in

http://www.epaperpress.com/ptlens

Happy clicking. 

Sep 11, 2006 09:09 PM #17
Rainer
10,732
Norm Fisher
Royal LePage Saskatoon Real Estate - Saskatoon, SK

I'm way late to this party but I just wanted to say you did a nice job of "enhancing" that image.  There's a big difference between enhancement and alteration and I think you're on the right track as far as making your images look good.

If I may be so bold, I'd encourage you to explore the shadow/highlights tool in your editing software.  The shadows on the front and side of that home open up quite nicely with a little slide.

Nov 14, 2006 09:33 PM #18
Rainer
51,441
John Hruska
Homes Charlotte, LLC - Charlotte, NC

JIm,

You do good work.  Keep it up! 

 

Jan 15, 2007 01:37 PM #19
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