Agent: Is It Possible To Make The Listing Photos Look Worse?

April 24th, 2012

Real Estate photographer Jukka Töyli of Tampere, Finland has a problem. His client he shot a listing for says:

“Is it possible to make the pictures look worse? The problem we are having is that people are coming to see property because of your pictures, but when they come to the property they are disappointed because it does’t look as good as your pictures.”

This buyer disappointment phenomena is actually more common than you might think. My wife is a 26 year listing agent and here is her analysis of the potential buyer disappointment problem:

“When a listing has any kind of obvious defect(s), location, condition or what ever, it is very important to use the listing description text to describe the defect(s) in an open and straight forward way. This will set home shoppers expectations about the defects and make sure you have the right people coming looking at the property. You want to attract buyers who don’t have a problem with the home’s defects. Use phrases like “fixer-upper” or “interior needs work” or what ever you need to. Photos frequently don’t illustrate the the defects well.”

When I translate this listing from Finish to English there’s nothing in the text that would give the least suggestion that this listing isn’t as fantastic as it looks in Jukka’s photos. Jukka has done his job well he’s getting lots of showings. It’s the agent that hasn’t done her part by setting expectations. What is it that is disappointing home shopper about this property? Let them know the problems in the listing text so you get people that don’t have a problem with the issues.

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20 Responses to “Agent: Is It Possible To Make The Listing Photos Look Worse?”

  • It’s called “marketing”. It happens in our world every day. Have you EVER seen a Big Mac on a menu board or advertisement that even remotely resembles what you get in the bag at the drive thru? Compare a Chipotle salad in real life with the picture on the menu some day! Not even close!

    The goal is to present the house in the best possible light and get a perspective buyer TO VISIT the house in person. If a buyer comes because of great photos: Mission Accomplished. If they don’t like the reality, they don’t buy the house. It’s that simple.

    It’s all a better option than the alternative: Lousy photos of the house that don’t represent the home well, and the buyer passing on it strictly due to bad photos as they’re making their initial decisions online.

  • I have to agree with Fred on this. There have been a few time when an agent has told me that a property has tons of showings and no offers because I only showed the nice areas of a home. I always say, “my pictures are never going to sell a house, they are only going to keep people interested. Once buyers walk in the door, it doesn’t matter what my pictures looked like, they are going to like the house or they aren’t.”

  • I agree. It is my job to get them in the house and the agents job to sell it once they are there.

  • I agree 100% with Fred Light and Drew Zinck. The point of all marketing for a listing, including and especially the photography, is to get showings. So much of the training we get to get our licenses is related to consumer protection that many agents go overboard in that direction and think they are creating a documentary instead of a marketing piece or advertisement. I’ve seen debates on Active Rain about whether it is ethical to Photoshop out a trashcan in the drive way. Like anything else, it can become a joke. I’ve recently seen photographs stretched out so much that a normal door looks like it was meant for a barn and a washing machine looked like a chest freezer.

  • Sorry guys but you don’t get the point. Should i keep my picture level and loose this agent because she is unhappy my pictures or do i drop my picture level and keep incomes. Thats the point, we have customers and we have to serve those, what ever they want? Do you listen your customers or do you just do without listening customers. That’s the point, my wallet likes idea to listen customers. I have allways said, i’m not best real estate photographer in the world or even in Finland but i do quite nice incomes because i have big ears…:0)…

  • Ah, the age-old dilemma of the artiste, money vs integrity. There is an easy solution:

    1. Continue working for her until you can find a replacement agent who actually understands the purpose of real estate photography.

    2. During this time, don’t put your name on any of this sub-par work. No sense tarnishing your reputation.

    3. Find a more successful broker who appreciates your images.

    Done deal. 🙂

  • Oh, and I’d like to add that your images on this property are perfectly fine, and I can’t imagine how they could possibly misrepresent how the house looks in real life. Maybe the agent is just confounded by her own lack of expertise and is taking it out on you?

  • Jukka – is this feedback you’re getting from all of your clients or just the one?

  • I think it’s really hard to say how to handle this. Obviously, the pictures look reasonable but how do we know how they compare to reality? I know another agent in my office recently had the same problem. The pictures were TOO GOOD. They didn’t reflect accurately the condition of the house even though her description did. People would come in and see how bad the house was and never make an offer. A camera just can’t show properly subtle details like in an old house when the trim has 100 layers of paint on it. When I have a listing that’s more of a fixer upper or at a lower price point I dumb the photos down a bit. I don’t use HDR, I don’t put as much time into editing, I don’t mask the windows . . . basically I want the pictures to reflect the condition of the house and not make it look too good. It’s nice as an agent to have a lot of showings, but as convincing as I can be I can’t talk someone into buying a house that needs a large investment when that’s not in the buyer’s budget.

  • “Sorry guys but you don’t get the point. Should i keep my picture level and loose this agent because she is unhappy my pictures or do i drop my picture level and keep incomes.”

    Actually we do get the point and we’re telling you to go with the first option. Why do so many real estate photographers insist on trying to shoot for any agent with a pulse?? Make your photos look bad on purpose? What a ridiculously stupid concept. If an agent is telling you to dumb down your photos because they can’t get people to buy the house then they are not very good at their job. Ditch this agent and find others who appreciate your work and what it can do for them. If you’re making so much money shooting real estate then losing one client isn’t a big deal at all.

  • Could be worse – I once had an agent complain that the photos were so good, the owners changed their mind and decided to stay. He wasn’t happy!

  • I don’t think it’s an either/or situation… either great photographs or terrible photographs. And artistic integrity should take a back seat to garden variety integrity. I agree that people know a photograph of a Big Mac bears little resemblance to the dreck you get at Mc Donalds. But they cost next to nothing and people generally don’t care. A home is often the largest expenditure a person ever makes and they have a level of vulnerability that puts them on the defensive. There are problems far worse than prospective buyer disappointment. Like agent reputation and seller fatigue. Or the subtle change in the nature of the relationship between buyer and seller should they buy in spite of feeling they were duped into visiting the property. The “what else are they being dishonest about” problem that can impact negotiations and final sale price which takes time, and money out of the agent’s pocket. And who is our client? I see my job as two-fold: help sell the home & help the agent get new listings. I think this is best accomplished by driving tons of traffic to the property with photographs that look great but also look like the property. The key is balance.

    @Jukka – I think education and communication go much farther than “I took great shots – the rest is your problem.” Before you shoot ask your client up front if they want buyers who are likely to actually make a purchase or if they want to expand their contacts (possibly at the risk of short term gain) by having a zillion people visit the property, knowing many of them will be disappointed but might take a card. Take the lead and show them you can do both. Great for building long term clients which is better for you and better for them.

    @Jeff – The hdr inside is heavy handed and does not look like real life. I agree that you can get away with this but it ain’t reality and could certainly be viewed as misrepresenting the house.

    @Fred – Go easy on the Mc Donalds & Chipotle…. that stuff will kill you 😉


  • I have had similar problems and the way I have chosen to deal with this is to use a point and shoot for properties that are in need of a lot of work and to downplay the photography. I do a similar thing with houses in different price points some I will do 25 pictures and a virtual tour, while others I do a dozen pictures for a slideshow. You could charge accordingly to give the agent different options.

  • I’ve was in the automobile wholesale and retail business and started using photos when I moved into exotics in 1981.

    Unless the car actually was fairly nice, the pictures were always are better than the product. And these were just well shot 35MM snaps from the cheapest local photo processor; there was no such thing as PhotoShop and the only light source was daylight. The trick was to balance a few close ups of the defects with an accurate description that didn’t ruin the appeal of the car.

    Perhaps well written listing copy that infers that the pictures lean toward a representation of how the home will look with a little TLC.

  • My couple of comments:
    – Be careful using HDR, because that extra layer of processing can add an almost ethereal-quality to the photos that makes them seem more dreamy. I use HDR a lot as well, but tend to do additional post-processing in Lightroom to bring back some of the contrast & clarity.

    – Also be careful using the wide-angle lens. The wide angle distorts, and wider = more distortion. It can make the room look bigger than it really is. I read somewhere that standard architectural photography uses 24mm focal length (35mm equiv), so I try to not drop below 14mm (lens) on my crop-sensor camera (except for bathrooms). Your’s look considerably wider — probably in the 10-12mm range (on the lens)?

    Other than that — I agree with the other commenters, that our job is to get the buyers in the door, and its the agent’s job to sell the home. But we want to be honest, too — it’s a fine line between making something look nice and “false advertising”.

  • Now we are talking right things….first of all, i’m not doing HDR,it’s my camera….:0)…reason is, for example this house was done 2 hours, including driving, shooting and editing. We have really low prices here, so i don’t want to use any extra time for my shooting or editing. I have used Sony cameras now 2 years and
    pictures are average level, but why i use this system is price. Maybe somebody else is faster but if i start to use radio triggered flashes etc, my working time will double and it’s not anymore business. So i just think, how much i get/hour and that’s why i choose this system.

    Low prices is from se360 and zentuvo, biggest real estate photography companies in scandinavia. They have photographers, who does driving and shooting 80 dollars. So to me it’s not so easy to sell my work because my basic shooting is about 140 dollars, about same what these companys takes. They have 15 pics, i have only 7 and i try to sell some extra pictures everytime i can…

    But these are the reasons, and you have to remember, if one agent start to say in their office i have done bad job, i could loose whole office (15 agents). So i’m not sure what i do, i’m not ready to drop down my level, because i think those pictures are not so good even now. But we’ll see what happens, thanks to Larry pointing this out even topic was not so common…:0)..

  • Honestly, it really doesn’t matter if the photos are too good.
    And if that happens it’s the agents fault. Agents should qualify their clients, not making tourism with them. I never show a house that a client calls for before at least meeting him in person at his house or at my office. I don’t want to waste my time and money.
    Then I will make sure that the house he called for is the right for him, if it’s not, I won’t show that one and I’ll show others that I known for sure he will like. Only if he really insist I’ll show it, but that very rarely ever happens, and usually when it happens the client already has made is decision and just wants to see to have a peace of mind that he made a good decision.
    Actually I never show more then 5 houses to a client. And 90% of the times, they buy the first one I showed them.

    Either way, the great photos gave me a client.
    Win-win situation.
    If an agent complains about photos being too good it’s because he’s not a good agent.

  • It’s a numbers game guys. Marketing means getting fannies across the threshold for showings. If there are 30 similar homes on the market, few buyers are going to visit all of them. Get on the showing list and you have a much better chance of selling. The ironic thing is that half the time the offer comes from somebody that fell in love with something you didn’t anticipate or photograph…like the busy jungle gym in the neighbor’s yard or all the people they saw walking dogs in the evening…but they never would have bought if they hadn’t been there to see it.

  • […] when we read on the Photography for Real Estate blog that one property photographer had been asked to make photos look worse we were stunned. Why […]

  • I agree with many of the commentors. Selling real estate is as much about selling a dream as it is about selling a product (property). For fast food companies, the product is clearly misrepresented in their advertisements, but a home requires little gray area. If the property photos are so over-the-top that prospective buyers can’t find the house when driving past the area, you’ve failed your agent as a RE photographer.

    Remember, it’s not only your agent’s reputation on the line — it’s your own. Agents talk and a successful listing can land dozens of referrals for months down the road. One bad listing can wipe that slate clean and leave you back at square one.

    Think about all the cold calls to real estate agents you had to make before getting your foot in the door and I think you’ll quickly tone back the HDR and Photoshop work.

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