Author: Tony Colangelo
Carla, of Denver, CO, writes:
“Recently, I’ve had a few shoots where the homeowners didn’t do a great job of cleaning prior to the shoot. At one house, after the homeowners left to give us the run of the place, my agent client was clearly very upset, muttering under her breath as she was tidying up. Given how ticked off she was, I wanted to help (want to be seen as a team player, right?) but I’m mindful that if I do this once, then I’m locked in to do it all the time. Thoughts?”
Thanks Carla. Yes, that can certainly be a sticky situation. Before I give you my two cents on this issue, it’s important to note that one of the key responsibilities held by all real estate agents is to ensure that the house is in ship-shape when it comes time to hold an open house and/or be photographed. While most agents (and homeowners) are quite diligent about this important responsibility, there are variations regarding commitment levels to clean-up and de-cluttering before a photoshoot.
One of the most important things you can do to support your clients in this regard is to offer a “home preparation checklist” of things that the homeowner and agent should do to prepare for a shoot. In fact, not doing so was listed in a recent article that I wrote, as being one of the top-10 mistakes a real estate photographer can make. You’ll find that good listing agents will take this seriously and won’t need to be reminded about it. With a brand new client, it definitely pays to have a brief conversation about home preparation. In both scenarios, the importance of a tidy home for a photoshoot should be discussed in the “agent’s language”; not yours. In other words, rather than highlight how an untidy house will disrupt you and your workflow, make it clear that an untidy house will impact the quality of their marketing efforts which in turn, may impact the speed with which they end up selling the house. When you present the consequences in a way that impacts them directly, they’ll be more likely to respond well!
I know there are many in our community who believe that we should offer zero help in tidying the place while at a shoot because it is not our job to do so. While it’s not our responsibility to clean-up and de-clutter, I personally believe that there are little things that we can do during a shoot that can make a positive impact on the final shot. For example, moving distracting elements (tea towels hanging from appliances drive me crazy!) and organizing magazines/books on a coffee table will often go a long way to improving the shot. When I’m shooting a kitchen, which is usually the "hero-shot" room in the house, if the scene lends itself to it, I will ask the homeowner for a coffee mug and a magazine to place on the kitchen island and then make a decision on flaring out a stool closest to these props. This creates the sense that someone had just finished having a cup of coffee while reading. I think this serves to increase the sense of “livability” for the prospective buyer who’s going through your client’s listing.
I actually feel strongly about the importance of helping the agent tidy up a bit. Why? Research in the field of cognitive neuroscience has found, repeatedly, that the human brain prefers organized over disorganized and tidy over untidy. The way I see it, it’ll take just a few seconds to do any of the sample tidying/staging that I’ve just noted and by doing so, I’ll probably end up with an image that will more likely resonate with the viewer. And by the way, I’m not advocating doing this in every room in the house, as I know this would add up. I’m simply suggesting that in the hero-shot rooms, it’s more likely to make a greater impact on our final images if we take just a few moments to tidy/straighten-up a bit.
My final point is a word of warning... beware of shooting homes being sold while renters are still living there. The photo that’s at the top of this article was taken by me at one of my first real estate shoots. The homeowners had told the renters just two days before my shoot, that I was going to be there. My agent client told me to expect the worst and she was right! The renters were furious at getting booted out and they went out of their way to leave a messy place ... including not flushing the toilets! In fact, the photo that I’ve listed here was the neatest room in the place!
So, what other advice can you offer Carla? I'm looking forward to seeing your comments. Thanks!
Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.