Your Take: Would You Demand Pro Photos From Your Realtor?

July 13, 2011 | by Ethan (email) |

I just read this interesting article by Chris Paulis that argues the importance of employing a professional photographer when selling your home.

Chris points out that it’s a real disservice when your home isn’t accurately represented to prospective buyers. He contrasts the photographs for a $1.7 million listing with a $600,000 listing (both from 2011). The $1.7 million home is probably a grand home, but you can’t tell from the pictures.

Meanwhile, the $600,000 home looks warm and interesting. If the prices on these two homes had been the same, a buyer would be far more likely to visit the one with better images. In this scenario, it’s obvious that the professional photographs make a difference.

Below you can see the difference between a point-and-shoot set to auto and a professional photograph using the appropriate settings, camera lens, and lighting.

Another interesting point in the article revolves around who hires the photographer. Many Realtors use a point-and-shoot camera, but have no understanding of aperture, shutter speed, or white balance. Chris says the result is often over- or under-exposed photos that don’t encourage someone to visit the property.

Chris argues that a Realtor is earning 3% or more of the selling price and should invest the $500 – $700 for better pictures. He goes so far as to say that homeowners should demand the agent hire a professional. Of course, Chris is a pro photographer whose business includes taking pro photos for real estate listings, so he’s got skin in the game.

What do you think? Would you demand a professional or look for a “middle of the road” solution? Would you pay the $500 for better photos yourself?

13 Responses
  1. I agree – it should become common practice to hire a pro photog, or the realtors should at least take a workshop class or two to take better photos themselves.

    You’ll see this all the time on ebay, Craigslist, and internet forums – someone will list a high-end item for sale, but the photos look terrible. I am much more likely to pay attention to something well presented, than an item shown in a shadowed, noisy, and poorly exposed photo.

    When selling one’s home, there should be no cutting corners. If I were selling a home and saw the realtor pull out a Kodak EasyShare or similar to take photographs (better described as snapshots in this case), I would find myself a new realtor.

  2. Rob says:

    It’s not the equipment, it’s the photographer. Ansel Adams photographs were, essentially, made with a wood box. A good photographer can take great photos with the cheapest of equipment.

    As one who just put his house on the market and had the same problems as shown in this article, the temporary photos by the realtor were no match for the pro who came in later.

  3. Fred says:

    I think the onus definitely falls on the Realtor to get good pictures of the house one way or another… As Stuey suggests, maybe taking a workshop is a good idea. I know that my personal photos got much higher quality when we bought the Nikon D90 SLR and the bounce flash. Basically it makes the lighting much better and the Nikon is just easier to get a crisp shot with. Point-and-shoot just really cannot compare, especially with indoor pictures.

    My real struggle here is the price. $500-700 is just too much for the service in my opinion. I can see going up to maybe $250. It should take the photographer no longer than 2 hours to take decent photos of the place. I would struggle with a consulting fee in excess of $125 / hr., and even that seems pricey.

    • Chris Paulis says:

      Fred, I concur with your perspective on the value of a good camera and bounce flash; however, I disagree that prices of $500-700 for a high-end property are excessive. To do a good job with large spaces requires more time than two hours and more skill on the part of a photographer than you seem to be aware of. The skilled photog has a large investment in equipment and his time is worth that small investment relative to the amount a realtor will earn in commission.

      • Fred says:

        Chris, arguing from the Realtor’s return-on-investment standpoint isn’t really viable. At $500 for the service, the Realtor would have to sell the house for $25,000 more because of the better pictures in order to recoup the investment. At $750, the sales price difference jumps to $37,500. Saying that it’s a “small portion of the fee” isn’t really a good argument – because the fee is otherwise the Realtor’s take-home profit. (Remember, selling Realtors walk personally with about 2% of the sales price of the home). I’m not a big fan of the Realtor fee structure to begin with, and have said so on this site, but it is what it is.

        The real argument has to be from the standpoint of the homeowner who the Realtor is trying to please. And in this case, it must be that the home will sell for for more money (or faster, equating to more money) – exactly $500 or $750 more – depending on the price of the photos in your example. Could quality photos make this difference? I think they could… especially compared to really terrible photos like the one you included.

        With this in mind, I think it’s very important for homeowners to consider whether it’s worth the investment to get professional photography or work on taking really good pictures themselves. At $500, some investment in equipment could be made on behalf of the homeowner, and they would continue owning that equipment after the sale of their home!

        Anecdotal story: our Realtor paid for professional photos of our home 6 years back. I believe they cost $90, and they sucked (you get what you pay for!). So we took our own using a Canon point-and-shoot. Those pictures turned out great, and we got 20 people to walk through the property. None of them made offers after they walked through, though, because the house was priced too high. Ultimately, we dropped the price to sell the house. But the problem was not photos not generating interest (in fact, quite the opposite – the photos generated interest from people thinking the house looked bigger than it was). If we would have paid $500 for pro photos of that home, I am most certain it would have been a waste.

        And that is the big question: is the pro premium worth it? It’s definitely a tough call, and it depends on other factors present.

        • Chris Paulis says:

          Good perspectives, Fred. I will add that I only charge in the range of $200 for the more typical home. $500 is my fee for the large home over 5000 sq ft., which requires more than one strobe, placed off camera. These homes also involve photographing many more spaces than the small home.

      • Chris Paulis says:

        Actually, Fred, I disagree with your argument that the “realtor’s return-on-investment…isn’t really viable.” First, my original argument posed that charging $500-$700 for photos for a $1.7 million property represented a reasonable investment, considering the realtor’s take of $51,000 (3% of the selling price, which I’m told by a reputable realtor is the realistic rate) and an assumption that the home is listed appropriately. Yes, I do think that this is a small price to pay, given these numbers. For the $250,000 home, a 3% commission would yield $7,500; my $200 fee (guesstimated) would still be a reasonable investment to increase traffic and chances of an early sale.

        I’ll also clarify that my original post was NOT arguing, as OPC’s article wrongly summarizes, that I charge that rate on all properties. My fee structure –set at the urging of a realtor who has chosen to use me as his exclusive photographer — begins at $150 and averages $200 for most homes, including the home to which you referred in your reply. Your realtor is the one who told me that charging $90 for my services was selling myself short… He referred to his experience doing that very thing 6 years ago as justification for charging more, since I can deliver a quality product.

        As for the suggestion that a homeowner would do better to simply buy a camera and work on taking good pictures themselves may apply to you, who are willing to do everything in your power to save money; but many buyers and realtors out there are not willing to do what it would take to get effective photos in these challenging circumstances. This explains why there are so many deplorable images being used to list properties by professionals who should know better. The fact is, what matters more is the skill in the photographer, rather than the quality of the camera, for unless the user is willing and able to get out of full-auto mode and control the exposure, the results will be the same.

        Finally, you recently sold a townhome (in under a week?) for which I did the photography. I think those photos helped the realtor git ‘er done!

  4. Peter says:

    I agree that good photos are extremely important when listing a home as they can make a decent house look great, and a great house amazing. By the same token bad photos can make a great house look ho-hum.

    Personally I think I would feel comfortable taking our own photos of our home, mainly because I’ve got some decent camera equipment and some know-how. For other folks I think hiring a professional is a good idea. I did think that $500-700 seems like a bit much as well?

    In a pinch, find a friend with some high end camera equipment – a wide angle lens, and some know-how and have them take some nice pictures for you!

  5. Icarus says:

    Realtors will tell you that you must properly declutter and stage your home to sell it in this market. Therefore, since you are getting rid of everything that makes your house your home, it’s only fair that the realtor do their part and provide professional quality photographs. I’m willing to bet they can get volume discounts with a good pro photographer to bring down that $500 price point.

    Also, not only should the photos be good: not too dark or bright, in focus and white-balanced, they should also feature the property in the best possible way. I’ve seen listings that show 5 shots of the same kitchen at slightly different angles. I’d rather see 4 more pictures of other rooms.

  6. George says:

    When selling my house in 2003, I looked at the listing and saw that the realtor had taken a photo that looked horrendous for posting online and there were none showing the interior. I took several photos and sent them to her for the listing, all giving attention to the character of the house. Due to the economy at the time it did take a while to sell, but inquiries to view the house went up greatly after decent pictures were posted.

  7. chyld says:

    well photoshop does wonders but I dont think making the house look better in pics than say in person will help matters. Maybe a tad nicer to get buyers in the home, dont want them to think they seen another house in the pictures. Its kinda like internet dating in a sense lol.

  8. I never saw a picture of our current house. I just went to the neighborhoods that I wanted to live, noted the houses for sale, and then told my realtor which ones I wanted to visit.

    In my opinion as a buyer, you can barely trust the information the realtor provides about the house, why would the photos be any different. They often stage the home for selling, painting it and renting furniture. I’d rather see the house as the people lived in it, if not that then empty.

    I grudgingly admit as a seller I’d probably pull every trick in the book, short of deception to make my home sell better. I’d make sure somebody who understood photography, like my wife, took the photos.

  9. paintergal says:

    I have never heard of a realtor hiring a professional photographer to shoot the rooms. Granted it’s a good idea. We, however, live in a tiny rural town and I can’t see the local realtors doing this. We are lucky to see photos of rooms without dishes in sinks and clothes strewn all over. True! What are people thinking posting photos online of their homes like that? Let alone when they are trying to sell.

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