What Are The Important Current Trends In Real Estate Marketing?

December 12th, 2016

I’ve had a number of discussions recently on what the trends are in real estate marketing.

Rob in Boston asked:

Is there any unbiased information of some trends happening in real estate photography? In other words, is there a paradigm shift  – moving away from stills and doing more video? Conversely, keeping stills and using 3D technology such as Goiguide or Matterport?
My biggest client  invited me to speak to her team and she wants to make sure she is not missing the boat on some real estate photography trends.

Also last week I was in San Francisco and was able to have dinner with Scott Hargis and Wayne Capili. We spent some time talking about real estate marketing trends. Here is my thinking on the current trends in real estate marketing:

  1. Trends are very geographic (that is trends may not be the same everywhere):
    • Australia is twice as interested in real estate photography as Canada and the US is significantly behind Canada. The EU doesn’t even show up on this scale because of the language differences. Also, UK doesn’t show up because they call it property photography or estate photography. See google.com/trends.
    • Within the US, 8 states show the most interest in real estate photography see google.com/trends.
    • Even within these countries and states, real estate photography popularity is focused in the large cities.
  2. Local trends are driven by top Realtors in an area because other agents are watching what they do and copying them.
  3. Drones: the ability to get views of property that you can’t get any other way is significant and making a drone essential for most real estate photographers.
  4. Matterport: Matterport images are very popular and expanding in many upper-end markets. In some areas, Matterport isn’t paying for itself. I predict that there will soon be Matterport alternatives that are less expensive.
  5. Moore’s Law effect on photography: Many professionals are moving away from traditional DSLRs because of the reduced size. Moore’s law will continue to drive this trend. Eventually, camera software will start to even replace lenses. We see a hint of this starting to happen in the iPhone 7 portrait mode.
  6. Mobile device usage (SmartPhones and Tablets): The world is rapidly transitioning to mobile devices. All listing viewing will soon ONLY be done on mobile devices. We may be 50-60% there already. Adobe is working hard on moving Lightroom to mobile devices. Wayne Capili (click the photo on this post) already makes extensive use of LR mobile features.
  7. Video: Video usage continues to expand modestly but property video is somewhat constrained by the fact that it is hard or impossible to use good quality video on many MLSs and sites like Zillow. Many agents don’t understand how to use quality property video effectively on social media. Property video is also constrained by the fact that it is many times harder to produce great video than it is to produce stills.
  8. Floorplans: Floorplan usage is expanding but still constrained by the amount of work/expense it takes to create a good floorplan.
  9. 360 Images and VR: It’s much cheaper to create 360 images these days than it used to be but the demand isn’t huge. Many buyers don’t even like it. I doubt that VR will ever be significant for viewing listings. Property video is much more effective. To clarify, when I refer to VR it means using some extra device like the cardboard thing you can get at the NYTimes site. If you don’t need anything but your smartphone or tablet, it’s just a 360 image.
  10. Virtual Staging: As Dave points out I forgot this one initially. Many listings are empty and every listing agent is going want some of their listings virtually staged. I see more and more top real estate photographer doing virtual staging. It is clearly on the increase!

I’m sure many others have ideas about these trends or others that I many have missed. Let’s hear them.

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21 Responses to “What Are The Important Current Trends In Real Estate Marketing?”

  • Rob – great discussion. Like many, I shoot for some realtors as well as builders/developers and other commercial clients (better of course because they pay a lot more than Real Estate and you have more time
    to shoot your best work).
    Having their property professionally photographed is expected by most buyers here in Southern British Columbia, Canada. All the successful realtors use it. Some of my clients use video every shoot as part of their branding – others depends on the property, and some never use video even though they sell high end properties. I believe that applies to all realtors in this area – if you can call that a trend.

    I shot 360 for a short while several years ago but no longer offer it – I think they look tacky, gimmicky, and annoying (sorry hope I’m not offending anyone). If anyone mentions 360 my reply is ‘like you, my clients are very successful or up and coming agents, or developers, and want only the best image for themselves, and best products for their clients – and that means a magazine style shoot and video’. This sales pitch for video within a compliment works well and is also my sincere opinion (video is classy and 360 etc are not). They always agree that they want the best. I often have homeowners say they are excited to be getting a movie of their home to save – they like to just sit and watch like a show and can’t stand those ‘things you have to twirl around’ (360’s).

    Drone is great and I need to get one soon – some photographers shoot only drone or drone and video – others all 3. Anyone shooting Drone charges well for it (I think standard here in Vancouver Canada is $400. for any type of drone shoot). Only a small portion of agents use it due to the fees – same reason not all use video.

    Some agents in this area use floorpans 75% of the time – some never or occasionally.

    I’m working on switching all my commercial work (or most) away from any HDR process (currently use Lightroom for that then photoshop) to properly lit rooms / ‘light painting’ as Mike Kelley calls it / masking and layering.
    Lighting as we used to do for film shoots. Not practical for the budget and time constraints of most real estate shoots but I’m trying to switch that as well to more flashes and rely less on HDR or at least less exposures – 1
    strong flash exposure for PS color blend on top of the LR generated and edited HDR – HDR made from 5-7 ambient+fill bounce flash. I just never really like the look of HDR (especially upon close inspection/blow up) – compared
    to well lit rooms.

    Does anyone know where to look for detailed instruction on ‘light painting’, walking around popping flashes at different areas – then masking/bliending in photoshop? Obviously only for commercial/higher paying shoots.
    In the film days I used to always take studio lighting for architecture shoots (worked for newspapers in those days). I’d rather not carry that kind of gear even for commercial shoots if there is a lightweight way to get similar
    results.
    This is a great site and the more I get into shooting architecture/RE etc the more I appreciate everyone here 🙂

  • Virtual staging.

  • Interesting topic. As part of the effort to update my website, I was reviewing NAR’s recently released “2016 Profile of Home Buyer’s and Sellers”. Noting four areas in Chapter3 ” Home Search Process” it reflects on the relative value or importance to RE Photography. For brevity, leaving out lesser measures that typically are low on the list and don’t pertain to RE Photography.
    *****First Step taken during home search***** Looked online 44%, Contacted Realtor 17%. Replies to other survey questions noted below have multiple instance overlap, but this was limited to the first action.
    *****Information sources used during home search***** Online Website 95%, RE Agent 92%, Mobile or tablet search 72%, Online video site 36%. Omitted here and all below 50% or in single digits were items such as open house, drive by, billboard, TV, newspaper, etc.
    *****Value of Website***** (Very useful/somewhat useful replies, unless noted, omitting not useful/did not use or not available). Photos 89/10, Detailed Info Narrative 85/14, Floor Plans 55/26, Virtual Tour 50/32, RE Agent contact info 42/33, Interactive maps 41/31, Video 26/34. Leaving out other areas for brevity as generally not specific to RE Photography. A couple things I found interesting is how high floorplans ranked as I consider them and videos not universal to every listing yet 10% fell into the “did not use/not available” category where video was 24% in the same category.
    Finally *****Where Found Home***** Internet only 50%, Internet plus Realtor 30%, Realtor and no internet 39%. Notably at the bottom of the list, Newspaper 3% and home book/magazine 1%

  • One thing to note when looking at google trends is that here in the UK, hardly anyone would search “real estate” or any form of that. It’s just not really the term used. Infact it’s pretty difficult working out what people do search for when looking for an interiors photographer. “property photographer” or “estate agent photographer” are possibilities. As are “architectural photographer” and “interior photographer”.

    I guess that and language would explain why the EU doesn’t appear on the list, so although Australia and the US seem to have the most interest in “real estate photography” that could well just be down to those countries being the only ones to use those words.

    As far as trends, I think there are always going to be new innovations, ideas etc but I’d be very suprised if the still image isn’t still the primary marketing material required when selling property. There is nothing else that can show me a property as quickly and conclusively as photographs. I could flick through 15 shots in less than 10seconds to get an idea if a property was for me. 10 seconds of video would never be able to compete with that.

  • @Alasdair – Thanks for pointing that out. Of course!

    @Dave – Yes, I overlooked virtual staging. I’m sure it is on the increase.

  • I have to say, I love this site, and I am almost always right in line with the things said, but as an IT person, and a photographer who is always looking to the future, I have to disagree this week. Item #9 has totally missed the mark in my opinion. First, Matterport only opened a door that many others are already stepping into. There are numerous products that are much cheaper and easier to use, but create similar VR style images. They can also produce incredible floor plans, which jumps back to #8. I teach technology to Realtors, and currently work for about 500 agents, with that number growing constantly. I spend most of my free time trying to prepare for the future, and I have to say that VR and AR ARE the future. If you can (and you did) say that all (or most all) property viewing will be done in the mobile space in the future, I don’t see how you can discount VR and AR. All major mobile companies are investing heavily into both realms, and in the next 2 years I see the way people view EVERYTHING changing. I see a future where walmart doesn’t post prices of products with stickers underneath them, but instead you look at the product with your phone’s camera, and it shows the pricetag. This will make Walmart (and every other big name store that follows) a lot more efficient, and faster to remodel/reface. While that “has nothing to do with Real Estate Photography” it actually does. When people get accustomed to AR and VR in their daily lives they will come to expect it. We are already seeing AR in Real Estate apps, in particular when driving around looking for houses you can point your phone at a listing (you see a for sale sign and point your phone at it) and you see augmented information, list price, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. As Google’s Daydream becomes more popular and widespread I think the same will be true of VR. To truly walk through a house is WAY more powerful than any Video product could ever be. I see an age where you have “Virtual Tours” where an virtual agent is walking through a house with you in VR and describing the house, if you so wish, while you look at it. This is already possible, but it will take time to become mainstream.

    In my opinion AR and VR will rule the Real Estate Photography space within 5 years, and the only remaining tool we have right now will be drones, just to capture a view that VR can’t easily accomplish, yet. As a photographer it makes me a little sad, but, that is life, progress cannot and will not be stopped, and Real Estate Photography is one area that the trend is not set by the photographers, but by the agents and their clients.

  • hi all… Zillow is now allowing professionally created video to be added to listings. Agents or Zillow photographers must contact their reps, submit the youtube link via email and pay $149. A bit steep, but at least we have an option. They place it in the same position as the video taken with the app. Having video increases the ranking. Our videos also appear in our virtual tour link also. Having video increases the ranking. No getting around Zillow.
    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2720-Hambleton-Rd-Riva-MD-21140/36008437_zpid/?view=public

    Regarding floor plans…my agents love these and have been providing for 6 years. I have Home Depot do the measuring…too boring for me. Always thankful for Larry and this forum. Happy holidays to all!

  • I’ve been keeping my eye on 360 degree VR photos and started offering it just to see if people are interested in it. I have my doubts about people actually using VR goggles to view content, but Facebook has a slick interface that allows people to view 360 straight from the browser or mobile device. Here’s my sample image as it’s shown from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarkGravesPhoto/posts/1250716968284981:0

  • Larry – this is such an important topic that perhaps it could be made a regular ongoing feature and structured in a way to be constantly updated. Maybe a series of surveys. One of the great benefits I get from this blog is not only learning what technologies and trends are emerging, but which ones are actually profitable. Pursuing hot new trends with time, talent, and treasure only to see them die a natural death is an investment as business owners we are wise not to make.

  • Ryan,

    I gotta say I totally disagree with that. I think the monumental change we’re seeing now and will continue to see in the future is the sheer volume of photos and video people are being exposed to on a daily basis. Every very popular app or website is heavily photobased it would seem, places like Instagram for example.

    Cameras have been around almost a couple hundred years and I believe if you look at the prevalence of photos in marketing and media it has probably plateaued a few times, but in general it has been on the rise for those 150 years or so.

    I think Real Estate marketing tends to lag a quite a bit behind mainstream marketing. Take the use of overcooked HDR for example, we still see it being used in real estate even though major trends in interiors magazines are completely void of it. So, I’d look to other marketing campaigns as indicators as to whether we’ll see vr more in real estate, but I don’t see it anywhere. Is there a car somewhere being marketed using these vr tours? Is there a vacation package being sold this way? Of course there may be exceptions, but the general trend that we are all exposed to everyday is the same and has stayed the same for more than 100 years. Again, if we do see major changes in real estate marketing strategies I think we’ll see the changes as mainstream marketing strategies in corporate America first, and I don’t think we are even beginning to see that at all. I think video and photographs are becoming a lot “better” in terms of the control and production value offered to its producers by way of compositing and computer graphics. In short, if you can pay good money and make a drop dead gorgeous set of photos, or an amazing video production with model, lighting set production etc, why on earth would a producer even think about using an option like Vr? I feel like vr is dizzying at best. I mean, why don’t we see full feature movies being made in vr? I’m telling you it’s because the medium is discombobulating at best; we’ve got the technology for it but I think there are very obvious reasons why it’s stopping there.

  • @Alasdair & @Dave – Thanks for pointing out my oversite!

    @Michele – Awesome video. This is the best video I’ve seen on Zillow! Good job. I had heard they were going to allow professional video from Wes @iPlayerHD but had not seen one. Now if they just syndicate the tour links from the MLSs and not be so greedy we’d have something.

    @Mark Graves – The image you reference on FB is just a 360 image. That has nothing to do with VR. To be VR you have to have a gadget that you can use to put your smartphone on your face see: http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/nytvr/ Real VR is never going to work for real estate because home buyers aren’t going to have those gadgets. I got one a couple of years ago when the NYTimes first started the feature yet none of my friends, family or real estate agents have ever heard of it or are remotely interested.

    When I did 360s for all my wife’s listing 15 years ago in the Seattle market. I polled buyers and seller about what they thought of them and fully 1/3 of buyer and sellers didn’t like them! We eventually stopped doing them and now I doubt that anyone uses them in that market.

    You are probably getting more attention because it’s on FB than because it’s 360.

    @Ray Kenney – Great idea. I’ll make a page with polls on these subjects on it. The biggest problem is that people always want to simplify this complex subject and assume that trends are the same everywhere.

  • Agree with Andrew. All this talk of trends and gimmicks in RE Marketing fails to take into account one huge elephant in the room and that is, what will the agents pay and for what? With out that factor, all of these “cool new marketing products” are going to come and go with only the super high end markets utilizing any of them on a regular basis. For the 90% of properties, photos will be the top marketing product

  • I second Jerry Miller’s remarks. There are agents in my area that have (horrible) aerial photos on their listings, but when I talk with my existing and potential clients, they are not willing to pay much for them if anything at all. If I have to throw them in, I will have lowered my income/hour and added more liability. If I am losing a substantial amount of work by not offering aerial photos it will be time to re-evaluate. Video, 3D scans and floorplans are the same. They are not valued enough in my local market for agents to be willing to pay for them.

    @Larry Gray, was the website in the survey a property specific website? The ones that I come across aren’t much different than a Zillow or Realtor listing. Same photos, same text, etc. The main difference is a cheesy soundtrack and the Ken Burn’s effect slideshow that I personally dislike. It’s also heartbreaking that agents go to the trouble of putting these sites up and are still using images taken with their phones.

  • Andrew,
    I do understand that Real Estate tends to follow other Marketing trends, but VR and AR are very different, in my opinion. First, how in the world would/could you use VR to market a car? No matter how luxury it is the only thing VR could do is “put you in the driver’s seat”, and to be honest, who cares? With Real Estate it is different, being “in the home” is the ultimate way to view it, whether that is in person or virtually. Currently VR is very dizzying and difficult to work with, but that is going to rapidly change.

    As to your comment about why don’t we see major motion pictures using VR, get ready, search Google for Motion Picture and VR, and you will see there are major companies, producers, and directors VERY interested in the VR space, and some have even started recording VR motion pictures. Most of those will never be released as true VR, but they are using the VR recording to create other opportunities in the regular motion picture spaces. It will also take a massive paradigm shift to get to VR movies. Where would you watch them? Not in theatres, it would be impossible. Do 100 people go into a room together and put on VR headsets to watch a movie? How do you turn around? Until these things are nailed down it isn’t possible. As Mark mentioned Facebook is great at handling these VR style images and videos and YouTube is getting better too. Go to YouTube and search 360 videos. There are already short feature films there, shot in VR.

    However, Real Estate isn’t like that. The vast majority of Real Estate viewings are done on a cell phone or tablet. And that is growing. Just look at how many different VR headsets there are that use your phone, and the number grows by the week. To be able to be in the house, looking around, and seeing what you want to see, is very powerful. I love photography, and quality videography, but I can say, for certain, that I would rather be able to “move through the house” and turn to look at what I want, at my pace. A videographer captures what they want you to see (or what the agent wants you to see). With VR you can actually see what is there. It is very different, and will take time, and the right people involved to show it’s potential, but I truly see this as a game changer.

    The biggest issue I see with VR in Real Estate is staging. How many photos/videos look bad simply because the owner of the house didn’t clean up enough, or at all? Way too many. Imagine that with VR. There is no where to hide. Everything will be seen. I think, at least in the beginning, it will be reserved for the best properties, just like Video has been (which is changing, I have agents who do video on EVERY listing) in the past. 5 years the best houses should be using VR, 10 years I think the majority of houses will use it.

  • We have to remember that the purpose of the marketing from the agent’s perspective is to get a buyer to make an inquiry and visit the home in person (if possible). VR and excessive amounts of photos may turn up something that a viewer doesn’t like about a home and cause them to not contact the agent. Even a floor plan might be a distraction if a buyer doesn’t like the layout on paper but there is another feature of a home that the buyer finds desirable when they see the home in person. Yes, the agent needs to impress the sellers even more to get the listing, but there is no sense in marketing overload. Step one is really good stills.

  • Time for me to weigh in. I think about this a lot. I have over 40 years in IT. Many years in marketing. 10 years in RE photography & marketing RE.

    I use a few rules to judge theses trends.

    1) If it’s a gimmick and “way” outside of the current user experience users (viewers) will not like it. They may be curious but it will not positively influence their buying decisions.

    2) Moves in the viewer experience will be dictated by the support of multiple major presentation platforms like Zillow and the MLS community. Without those support moves the market will not be there. None of those platforms are early adapters nor will they be. A trend or technology must first prove itself to be main stream before they put their spin on it and integrate it into their platforms.

    3) Buyers browse through and view hundreds of properties before they visit any. They need and want a consistent viewing experience. That experience must be fast and responsive and easy for them to move from one delivery platform to the next. By the very nature of “the next wiz bang thing” to come along the user interface is confusing and not conducive to marketing the property. In other words if the user has to stop and get into another viewing mode while browsing they will more than likely pass it by or be irritated. I call this the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” syndrome.

    So in conclusion you must first look at the technology that is currently mainstream and accepted. Tech that is not already in a broad swath of users in the age groups of 30-60 main stream use will not be supported by the platforms and will not be accepted by the users. So first it goes main stream full time and then it might be adopted if it fits RE marketing. RE presentation technology is not driven by the innovators or photographers RE marketing successfully adopts only mainstream technology. We waste our time trying new gimmicks. It’s fun but except in small local pockets the response of the market will be “Ain’t nobody got time for that…” You will have time to prepare by looking at what are the big platforms preparing for. Be ready for that not spinny thingy nausea inducing goggle wearing experience that some 20 year old is excited about.

  • I agree with Frank G.
    In South Carolina, many realtors are price conscious and having to spend more money on gimmicks, well, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

  • A trend I see coming is the larger franchise companies having an on-staff photographer. I’ve seen a few try it – sorta flopped – but I think they did it wrong.

    Personally, based on over 20 years an agent and 2 photographer, if I owned a large real estate brokerage my agents would be required to use a good photographer. Who on this thread wouldn’t agree?!? Because we’ve seen first hand, and know, the marketing power of a good photo.

    Companies will up their brand/ and recruiting for new agents (and keep the old ones breathing!) with the attraction of strong marketing support – a staff photographer is an obvious piece of that.

    So sayeth my crystal ball 🙂

  • I’ve said this so many times here. VR is coming and will play a very big role in all kinds or marketing and entertainment in the near future, including real estate. I still believe photos will always be the main show, but VR will be a very powerful tool. Somebody above mentioned that there are no major companies using VR right now. Are you hiding under a rock? Google/youtube, Facebook, Samsung, Sony, Lowes. Any of those companies ring a bell? Those are just a few companies investing huge money into VR. Are car companies using VR for marketing? YES. Toyota, Volvo, Infinity, Mitsubishi are all using VR. Volvo has a beautiful virtual experience for the XC90. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of VR gear today. But embrace it, watch it, and be ready when it becomes affordable and most importantly when realtors start asking for it. Its coming. The younger generation will force it upon us sooner or later. My opinion anyway!

  • Anders Carlson… You did not quite understand my comments about no major company. Yep I heard of all of those companies. They are not major real estate marketing companies. They are technology and infrastructure companies. They are selling VR they are not selling Real Estate. You miss the point. embracing it early like any other gimmick wastes time and money when there is no market demand. There is no market demand for VR. Think “3D” How often did we hear that 3D was the thing in TV. It turned out that anything that requires the viewer to step outside of “what is normal” just does not take off. When VR doe snot require special glasses and equipment then it will take off. You can’t prepare for it.

    So lets look at the companies that are putting huge money into it. Sure, did you hear yourself “huge money” They are selling a brand. They are selling cars. There are less than a hundred car companies out there. Each home stand on it’s own. The money invested in VR for a car brand makes some limited sense. It is reusable and they have the world as a market. VR in Real Estate is not. Just like “3D” Gee wouldn’t it be great to se any listing on a 3D TV screen. it turns out people don’t look for real estate on a TV screen even if they can project their phone to the TV. And they sure aren’t going to find those glasses to look at a house. And realtors and sellers and photographers are not going to invest money and time into 3D productions. It’s a gimmick that you must view “outside the norm”

    VR production are even more time and equipment intensive. Boy they are cool. We are not selling VR we are offering services to help market homes.

    No the younger generation will not force it on us. How’s that google glasses project working out for you. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just tap your glasses and see information about where you are?

    Nope VR is not coming to RE. The supporting infrastructure is not there and the format has not even been standardized. It’s a technology that is looking for a home and right now is looking for early adaptors. Early adaptors means deep pockets. There are no deep pockets in RE sales or photography. Because of that it can not be the next wave.

  • Wow Frank, so sorry if I offended you but I’m pretty sure you and I are not the end all be all on this subject. I understand your comments very well. I just happen to have an opposing opinion and will continue to watch the technology as it advances and the prices become more affordable. Pay particular attention to Lowes who is using VR in showrooms for virtual staging. As I said, still photos are not going away and I am not rushing out to buy any VR equipment today, but when the time comes, I will be ready for it. Virtual tours were considered a gimmick and a fad but I made a living off of them for a few years because that is what sellers and real estate agents were asking for at the time. However, I believe this is not going to be a gimmick or a fad. As I said before, that is my OPINION. FYI, I never bought into google glass!

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