Real Estate Photos and Videos – Quality Matters

In the words of a client – an actual buyer in the Charlottesville, Virginia real estate market – ie: I am not making this up. He had visited Charlottesville on his own several months before his wife, who was visiting without him. Because of this, she and I were revisiting some of the properties that he had previously seen. This is an email he sent to me about some of the photos and properties in the Charlottesville MLS.

No doubt, my wife had already informed you that I visited (the property*). Frankly, I was shocked and angered by revisiting the photos of that property. The property as it is today bears little resemblance to the pleasing pictures used to advertise it, which were almost certainly taken when the property was in better condition; one could even say the pictures are a hoax.

During my admittedly brief encounter with properties in Charlottesville, I learned that pictures of practically all the properties I visited were modified by a combination of software and choice of camera lens. I don’t know if there is a way out of this conundrum except by physical, onsite visit.

Incidentally, the video you provided on (another property) was an accurate reflection of the property, a far cry from doctored photographs.

I am not certain whether my wife expressed our combined gratitude for your effort in obtaining the video of (the home in Charlottesville), hence I mention it here. Broadly speaking, however, it is not practical to dispel the carefully constructed myth around each property of interest with the energy you have invested in obtaining the videos for (these two homes in Charlottesville).

You’ve seen them – the pictures in the MLS that look too good to be true, with colors that seem as if they were photoshopped by someone on acid or mushrooms, lights so unnaturally bright that the house can’t possibly have that many recessed lights, or it must have a wall of glass and the pictures were taken on an exceptionally bright afternoon … these pictures suck.

Nothing good can come from unrealistic photos –

1 – The seller suffers because the buyer is either disappointed or pissed off or both
2 – The Realtor has served to discredit him or herself and his fellow Realtors.
3 – I suffer because members of the public may assume that I practice real estate in the same manner – which I don’t
4 – It’s an opportunity for good Realtors (such as myself) to distinguish themselves by doing the job better.

I know which Realtors generally do a good job with marketing homes, and I know which ones do a poor job … and I really wish someone would tell these sellers what a disservice their “representation” is doing for them; but that’s not my place. I do however tell my clients this insight.

Sure, it could be construed as puffery, but why stoop to that level?

For an example of realistic versus marketing, take a look at these two videos for a property I am marketing in Parkside Village in Crozet. Both are valuable and un-puffed, if you will; the one on top provides a very good “marketing” video and the one below is a “realistic” point of view. I take a lot of videos for my buyer clients, particularly ones who are out of town (and quite a few international clients this year … more on this later), and put the videos on password-protected sites.

I’ve been experimenting with post-processing of listing photographs for some time. But the intent is always to provide a clear, honest and accurate representation of the properties I am marketing in the Charlottesville area. The absolute worst thing I can do in my capacity of representing the seller is to set potential buyers’ expectations at an unreasonable level – be it high or low.

I’ve been talking about how sellers need to check up on their Realtors for far too long, by the way.

It is the Realtor’s responsibility to do his or her job well. It is the client’s responsibility to check up on what their Realtor is doing on their behalf.

* As much as I want to write about specific properties and Realtors, there is the potential that doing so might be construed as being in violation of the Realtor Code of Ethics – even if what I write is true and accurate. So, I’ll save whatever capital I have for another day. I’ve learned to pick my battles. 🙂

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  1. Joe Vita September 28, 2009 at 08:36

    Good take on the use, or mis-use, of photos in real estate ads.
    I guess we buyer agents need to carefully review MLS photos just as we need to verify MLS property information for accuracy.
    In the long run, however, we display our value to our clients when we uncover facts that have been left out or inaccuracies in information provided by another agent on behalf of a seller. If we do all of our homework and take nothing for granted we’ll serve our clients as well as ourselves.

  2. Leif Swanson September 28, 2009 at 11:19

    The main question is:
    Is the role of the listing agent to entice as many buyers as possible to visit the house (and maybe disappoint a few once there) or to weed out prospective buyers beforehand?
    In a tough real estate market, I think most sellers would rather have many visits.
    I was told in my real estate training that the agent’s job is to market the house; once buyers show up at the house, it’s the seller’s job to sell the house (through cleanliness, neatness, staging, lack of odor, neutral paint, etc.).

  3. Joe Vita September 28, 2009 at 12:13

    Simply put, the listing agent should do all he/she can to market his/her listings as long as such marketing reflects an accurate presentation of the property and its amenities in a professional and thorough manner.

  4. Jim Duncan September 29, 2009 at 05:22

    Leif –

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It’s a thin line to balance; if the pictures are unrealistic, then the purchaser may not have the psychological opportunity to consider the house if they shut down emotionally as son as they get to the house.

    If the kitchen looks bigger, the grass (literally) looks greener, the living room is brighter … these things shouldn’t happen.

    I showed a house yesterday and my buyers said that the house looked exactly the same as they did online – it was a million-dollar-house, and that’s expected, but it was still surprising to hear.

    Sometimes a house is only as good as the pictures, but Realtors shouldn’t try to make it look artificially better.

    Joe – I absolutely agree.


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