Chicago Tribune: Quality Photos Make All the Difference in Marketing Your Home

July 31st, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve added any significant newspaper articles to my list of real estate photography links on my Delicious page but Dave Williamson sent me a link to a recent article By Mary Umberger in the Chicago Tribune and I added it to the list of important links.

Mary asks a key question:

Companies that sell products tend to be meticulous about the photography of the merchandise they’re advertising — the pictures are almost always crisp, detailed and attractive. So why is real estate photography so bad?

She suggests some reasons and solutions and points out that things are getting better:

You’re starting to see more progressive real estate firms saying this is important, and they’re having their listings professionally photographed. But it varies a lot, regionally, and the number of professionally shot houses is small, maybe 10 to 20 percent of the market.

I think she is partially right, there is much more and better marketing for homes than there was just a few years ago just because there is more exposure of the benefits. But “real estate firms” are not the ones making marketing decisions. Individual agents make their own marketing decisions. That’s how this industry works. The real answer to why is real estate photography so bad is that real estate agents are all independent contractors and they each get to make their own marketing and spending decisions themselves and there’s nothing forcing them to make good marketing decisions except their home owner clients. It’s like expecting to get a bunch of cats to do the right thing. Some will, but most won’t and it’s impossible to make the do anything as a whole.

The message for real estate photographers in this is you need to convince each one of your agent clients individually. Except for a few minor exceptions there is no “real estate firm” you can go to market. Of course there are also some strategies to educate and market to home owners.

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10 Responses to “Chicago Tribune: Quality Photos Make All the Difference in Marketing Your Home”

  • Thanks to blog owner for the valuable suggestion. I really like your blog.

  • So very true about the agent being an independent contractor ultimately calling the shots. At my previous brokerage the parent statewide franchise provided all agents free tours, enhanced, and even unlimited photos on their corporate based individual web sites. They even gave free software and inservice education on how to create panos and assemble the tours. Less than 10% actually took advantage of that as the “independent cotractor” agent developed their business plan (or lack of). It is not just limited to that firm. Locally, the MLS provides ultra-lowcost tours (RealBiz360 – $2 individual, $5/mo unlimited tours) to all realtors as a member benefit, yet few people use them. The excuses I have heard from realtors border on amusing and contrast sharply from some of my clients who note that my photography on prior properties is what landed them the listing. The self serving excuses avoiding admitting being cheap/frugal noting don’t want to show too much of the house so will contact for more info to my clients reporting back how not only the photos looks but also how the Realtor looked positive to the client – a core ingredient to future referrals.

    This article is very timely and so accurate. While I wear 2 hats, realtor and photographer, unfortunately this won’t be my listing. My client had me scheduled to shoot a $1m property today, but had to reschedule as the stagers aren’t quite finished. I looked it up on MLS and it was an expired listing (and why I am kicking myself for missing it) and the former agent had 2 photos – front with P&S and a floorplan jpg) and no tour. I guess the frugal agent who was with a national firm didn’t get enough “contact for more info” in their failed marketing approach.

  • I don’t think the statement “Individual agents make their own marketing decisions” is entirely true. This is what I often say to the agency principal/licensee/manager: “Have you considered that the quality of the photos that you use in your listings also affects potential SELLERS, as well as buyers? When sellers are looking around for someone to sell their property, they will often go online and check out all the local real estate agents’ web sites. All things being equal, if one agency’s listings have great photos and the others listings are terrible, guess which one they’ll choose? The problem is the agency that misses out will never know that they’ve lost that seller to the other agency.” If they’re convinced, I then suggest that they really should insist that ALL their individual contractor agents get their photos taken professionally (by me of course!!).

  • Thanks Larry : this report actually made me feel quite optimistic: just 10 -20 per cent of properties being professionally shot? Very small properties/ rental apartments aside, this means that as agents start to come round to the idea of the importance of good visuals on their listings (and I think that we will see a change for the better there) then there’s going to be a whole lot of new opportunities for RE shooters. It won’t happen overnight I know, but people have never been exposed to such plentiful imagery before, mainly thanks to the web: maybe in the coming years we’ll see a more visually switched on type of homeowner starting to put pressure on their agent to come up with marketing material that looks good and at the very least readable.

    I second Larry G’s observation that agents don’t always want to show too much of the property in the photos in case the client decides not to view based on the photos being just too comprehensive: (this is an issue I think confronting video, but that’s another story). Hopefully these agents will see that five or six quality shots will spark viewers’ interest while leaving a little more for the actual viewing: two shots with a camera phone, on the other hand, speaks cheap!

  • Being a Realtor what I see are 2 issues regarding MLS photos .1. The agent takes their own photo and looks at the finished job and in their mind the photo is acceptable. 2. They think it’s too expensive and want to save the $$$. Once homeowners demand better pictures things will not change.

  • Thanks Larry for the blog. Thanks Dave Williamson who always points out really relevant and cool items to me in our overseas discussions.

    Just a quick note – This spring Brad and I went to contract to be a photography provider for a firm with 1300 agents in the Metro Phoenix area doing mid-high end business. We were contracted (signed in paper) by the parent marketing firm to be the photographer and tour provider to provide a consistent, professional presentation for the agents at a set price so that it was affordable for the agents, but would allow us to earn a living as well. The contract allowed us to visit the agency offices once a week to give an educational session or just drop in and talk to the agents. We were extremely excited about this opportunity – especially since the marketing firm set up their own list of “rules and shots” and delivered it to every agent. Dave Williamson can vouch for how excited we were at the opportunity – it warranted a special facetime to share the news!

    After 3 months, we decided not for us. Why give up the opportunity of a life time for a real estate photographer – THE AGENTS WOULDN’T USE US. They considered themselves individual contractors (1099’s) with choice and didn’t want us being forced down their throats despite the fact that what we were offering was a great price. There is a law about exclusivity of marketing firms here in America, so rather than being “exclusive” we were “preferred” in the contract. We were offered this contract because several of the top agents had already been working for us and the head office thought we did an incredible job of photography and agent handholding.

    Another reason agents chose not to use us was that they already had photographers (for less money) or did the photography themselves. Agents seemed to work out of their homes and were not interested in our coffee and bagels at the office. Finally, they didn’t use us because in Phoenix which is the second worst market in the United States according to Fox News, houses go on the market on a Friday, have a cash offer on Monday and close two -three weeks later. All they were providing to the MLS were the front photo of the listing. That’s not every home, but inventory is low right now and houses are selling (even though the prices are very low).

    The lesson we learned – find a few good agents who use your services regularly, keep adding new agents one at a time from referrals and do the best photography you can. Our business thrives because of our repeat business from the agents we serve, our good photography and the satisfied agents that make referrals to other agents in their office.

  • @Simon – you make a very good point about too many photos or video showing too much of the property ahead of time. We have our 10 shots that we add to a tour or use for panoramic or video. If you watch TV commercials or look at advertisements (other than pharmaceuticals) you always get the taste and then the teaser. The taste being a picture of what might be on sale at the store this weekend – the teaser the amount of the discount, but if you want to see all the items – you’ll have to go to the store.

    The goal of the photography is to schedule a visit to the home or at least a phone call to the agent. This is the real trick to good photography and good tour building or video production. As a provider of marketing materials, we should be able to suggest and implement several marketing plan ideas for the agent. The better a home sells because of what we suggest and provide, the more that agent will come back to us.

  • Hey Larry, thanks for posting the article. Everyone here at VHT enjoys reading your blog and it was great to see this included. I agree that agents usually make the final decision and usually only the real pros get it. Ideally homeowners will start demanding better visual marketing. We constantly evangelize to agents ‘yes shooting it yourself might be quicker and cheaper but so is cutting your own hair. The goal is affect, move and motivate consumers to take action, not to document that it’s a house’. If you are trying to justify a 6% commission because you are a full service real estate professional, pulling out your own consumer camera or worse, cell phone camera, is just going to make the seller say “I could have done that, what am I paying this person for?”

    We have also spent considerable time advocating to brokerage firms that while their agents may be independent contractors, it’s the broker’s name on the door and more importantly on the website. If the photographs on the brokerage website look bad, it’s a poor reflection on the entire brand and hurts everyone at that firm. Baird and Warner in Chicago was one of the first larger brokerages to mandate professional photos on every listing 10 years ago and they still do today. Basically their attitude is, if you want the listing to say Baird and Warner, it has to be up to Baird and Warner standards and look stunning.

    There are a number of other large brokerage firms that have followed suit. It’s not as easy for them now during the downturn, but if we all keep pushing and raising the bar, professional photography for real estate will be the norm, not just for the 10-20% to that know it gives them a competitive advantage.

  • One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the Trib article, is that this interview arose from a VHT white paper recently published on the topic of real estate marketing. It’s a really interesting read. They give some good tips, like those in this article, on how to truly market your listings to consumers.

    If anyone is interested, you might find the white paper useful towards your marketing efforts. Thought I’d share.

  • @Nick & Brian – Thanks for the link to your original white paper… nicely done!

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