Put your hand up if you can guess where most people start their home search. You win if your answer is “online”—turns out, more than 90% of buyers scroll through hundreds of listings on a mobile device or laptop, clicking only on the ones that grab their attention.
So if you’re listing your home for sale, your goal is to make it a “thumb-stopper”—the listing that makes a buyer slow down, take a good look and read about how fabulous it is. The secret is to make sure that the photos showcasing your home are up to the task. Here are nine tips from the pros that will help you set up a picture-perfect house, and snap the best shots possible. (Need a little extra help? Here’s how to find a real estate agent in your area.)
1. Tour your own house like a buyer
Before grabbing your camera and tripod, walk around your house and imagine how it looks to people who don’t live there, advises Buddy Mountcastle, a real estate photographer in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
“I don’t ever walk into a house with my equipment ready to shoot pictures,” Mountcastle says. “I ask the homeowners for a tour, so I can capture the passion and emotion of the house.”
Assess each room from a variety of angles. Keep in mind you’re not photographing your home; you’re photographing a prospective buyer’s home, adds Mike Small, a Phoenix, AZ, real estate photographer whose website features a “Wall of Shame”—disastrous home photos that probably scared buyers away.
Good photos will reveal every little detail, he says, so it’s important to show off your home’s best features, while minimizing its flaws.
“If you can see it, the camera will also pick it up,” warns Small, who offers a checklist, so homeowners can prepare their property to be camera-ready.
2. Choose the best day and time to shoot
Yes, photographing your home’s exterior on a partly cloudy day will minimize shadows in your shots. But Small believes a bright blue sky packs a substantially bigger punch, especially if you live in a location where you’re trying to sell the weather as well as the home.
When it comes to what time of day to shoot, you might be tempted to shoot exteriors in that sweet spot just as dusk is falling; twilight shoots can highlight your property’s stunning landscaping and make the home look bright and inviting. But they’re a bit more complicated to get right, because they’re dictated by what the sun is doing on that particular day.
“If the sun sets at 6:30, twilight will start about 6:40 and be over in 20 minutes,” Small explains.
So if you’re an amateur photographer, it’s better to leave twilight shoots to the pros and stick to shooting your home during a more predictable window of time.
“I try to schedule so that the sun is shining in the front of the home, so ideally, I’d shoot east-facing homes in the morning,” says Small.
Pro tip: If you’re shooting with a smartphone (although we really, really recommend using a high-quality digital camera) use the high dynamic range (HDR) setting to capture greater detail without having to use additional lights.
3. Make a clean sweep outside
Before snapping a single frame outside, clear away anything that detracts from your curb appeal, Mountcastle suggests.
“This is the ultimate first impression everybody gets about your house,” he says. “You don’t need perfect grass, but you want your yard to look nice and neat, with your bushes and trees trimmed.”
Hide the trash cans, garden hoses, and kids’ toys, and remove cars and bikes from the driveway so they’re not in the photos.
“Clean up after your pets, and pull out any dead things from your garden,” Small adds. “Lots of people have empty flowerpots everywhere; fill them up with something to add some color.”
Set up your patio umbrella and outdoor dining area. Have a pool or a hot tub? Turn on pool lights, water features, and spa bubbles.
4. Undo that ‘lived-in’ look
Sure, your busy family lives in the house. But it doesn’t have to look that way in your photos. Excess furniture and knickknacks distract from your home’s features, Small says—plus, they don’t photograph well. So lose the magazine piles, remote controls, framed photos, books, and stray shoes. Clean off the front of your fridge so your images don’t capture every school note, magnet, and shopping list. And keep the toilet lid down!
“I don’t think you can declutter enough. Once you think you’ve decluttered, go back and do it again,” Small says. “You can’t neglect the toiletries on the bathroom counter, the toaster and five appliances on the kitchen counter. You don’t want the message to be, ‘Look at how much stuff this counter holds!’”
5. Don’t let home-staging tricks backfire
Yes, home stagers rely on visual tricks to draw in potential buyers and point to a room’s best attributes. Think: a large plant near a window with a view, or a cluster of pillar candles next to a gorgeous stone fireplace.
They’re smart tactics, to be sure, but some of them are best employed after you shoot photos. You want to help buyers see the entire room in your photos, so avoid setting up obstacles that visually impede your home’s flow, Mountcastle suggests.
“For example, some people put beautiful flower arrangements on a coffee table or a dining room table, and while it may look good, it stops the eye from flowing through to the other side of the room,” he says.
Another tip: Ditch the rugs and runners—you’ll expose your floors and create the illusion of more space.
6. Let in the light
Got great views? Highlight them in your images. Wash your windows, and leave curtains and blinds open so natural light can flow through. (If you’ve got heavy drapes, go a step further: Take them down and replace with sheer linen curtains—or just leave your windows bare.)
Small advises homeowners to turn on lamps and lights—inside and out—but to turn off ceiling fans.
“Make sure all your lights work,” Mountcastle suggests. “If only two out of three light bulbs work, that will show in the photographs, and it sends the wrong message—that something doesn’t work.”
7. Shoot from the right spot
You want to showcase as much of every room as possible. But that doesn’t mean lots of close-up photos of every corner (or any corner, for that matter). Instead, aim to include three walls in your image, to give each room depth. Often, that means shooting from the doorway or a corner, Small says.
“You have to take into consideration furniture placement, location of windows, other doorways, and the amenities you want to highlight,” he explains. “Portray that room as expansive, roomy, airy, and inviting, not closed and narrow.”
8. Avoid odd angles
Everyone knows that the key to taking a good selfie is to shoot from above (goodbye, double chin!) But the rules are different when it comes to getting your home’s good side: In real estate, Mountcastle says, you want to keep your camera at about chest height and shoot straight on (no fish eye, no aerial shots, etc.).
“The goal is to show the home as it is. Low or high angles can distort and misrepresent things,” he says. “Shooting down or up minimizes the room’s size and appeal.”
9. Don’t count on editing to improve your photos
The key to a clean-looking photo is a clean house.
“There’s a huge misconception about Photoshop—it’s an amazing tool, but it’s not a magic wand,” Small cautions. “Yes, you can Photoshop out weeds and maybe some dangling cords, but to do more takes a lot of work.”
Bottom line: Buyers scan house photos very quickly, so make yours stand out.
“If they’re blurry or dark, or it’s a very messy house, they’re not going to want to look further,” Small says. “Photos of a house that’s been cleaned and decluttered attracts attention, and gets buyers to slow down enough to say, ‘Is this one that I want to go see in person?’”
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