- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

Whether in print publications or on the Internet, photographs can be an eye-catching and often necessary component to any real estate advertisement. “Having a photograph is very important,” says Yolanda Muckle, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Bowie. She adds that if prospective buyers don’t see photos with a listing, they may think that the home doesn’t show well.

In fact, a 2007 study by the National Association of Realtors found that 80 percent of the people who purchased a new home used the Internet while researching their purchase and rated photographs as the single most useful tool in their search.

The fact that potential buyers want to see photographs before visiting an actual home has become the norm. However, many agents say that the proliferation of real estate browsing online before contacting a Realtor means that the photos are often the first - and sometimes the only - chance to make a good impression.

Good photos can make a difference in how long a home sits on the market. Real estate agents are taking note as more buyers form their first impressions of homes based on the quality and presentation of the images. Any old snapshot will not work. High quality photos can give a listing an advantage over those without any or poor photos.

“Lighting is key because some photos are so dark that you can’t tell what room they’re in,” says Ms. Muckle.

Bert Goulait, a photographer based in Alexandria, has more than 15 years experience shooting homes for real estate feature articles. “I use natural light from windows and turn on lamps and lights in the room. Different types of lighting, if mixed correctly, will give the room a natural look.”

Although having photographs to accompany a listing is smart, having more photos doesn’t necessarily translate into faster sales. There can be too many bad photos on the Internet and in marketing materials, which can hurt instead of help the chances of attracting a potential buyer.

“If the photographs capture the home’s predominant features and do not [make the home] appear cluttered or in need of repair, they may attract more buyers,” says Carol Harriston, a Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. agent in Silver Spring. “On the other hand, if there were many photos taken of a home that do not properly showcase it, there may be much less appeal to a buyer.”

Ms. Harriston says that two of the most common mistakes made when photographing a home include not adequately preparing the house by removing clutter and neglecting to rearrange the furniture to obtain the best shot.

It’s important to consider how the furniture can make the room appear more attractive, spacious and comfortable in a photo. Photographers say that the agent and homeowner should do the rearranging to give a clutter-free appearance, but many times the photographers find themselves in the position of having to move items in order to get the best picture.

When Mr. Goulait shoots a house, he says that he tries to include windows, skylights and fireplaces in the photos because those are the features that will help sell a house.

“I use a special wide-angle lens that shows almost an entire room in one photo,” says Mr. Goulait, who adds that he stands in corners of the room to shoot.

“Most real estate agents are not expert photographers,” says Mr. Goulait, admitting to seeing a lot of bad home photos on the Internet. “Unfortunately, you can have a great house with bad photos.”

Robert Whetzel of SRG Realty Tours in Glenn Dale says that the photos should be clear, sharp and well-exposed. He adds that they should also be straight and not angled.

“I shoot the property to ‘walk’ the prospective client through the house - starting with the exterior, foyer and then progressing through the rest of the home,” says Mr. Whetzel.

He agrees that good, quality pictures are necessary to successfully market a home. “The mistake some Realtors make is that they put photos on the Internet that aren’t staged properly.”

Homeowners who live with clutter may not realize what shouldn’t appear in a photo of their home. Mr. Whetzel says that there shouldn’t be dishes in the kitchen sink, toys on the floor or cars in the driveway. He also says that all clutter and debris around the home’s exterior should be removed before the photo shoot.

Ms. Muckle recalls an scenario where a prospective buyer visited a home she’d seen on the Internet. She had no idea that it had a two-car garage because the photo was taken from an angle where only one garage door showed. Apparently, the homeowners’ car was in the driveway and the agent wanted to avoid asking them to move the car for the photo.

“Other considerations include ensuring that the exterior photo does not show inclement weather (such as snow) after the seasons have changed,” says Ms. Harriston.

Snow - which can also hide a nice lawn - or leftover Christmas decorations can draw attention to the fact that the home has been on the market a long time.

Most listings include both photographs and virtual tours, but Ms. Muckle says that some agents invest only in virtual tours and not photographs. She says it’s imperative to have pictures with a virtual tour because home seekers may not want to watch a tour video or may not have the computer capacity to do so.

Real estate agents vary on their picture policies. Some only use professional photos and others are armed with digital cameras to take the photos themselves.

While using a professional photographer is a surefire way to get expert-looking pictures, Ms. Harriston says that professionals are not always needed to get good shots because it’s more important for the rooms to show well and be clutter free.

Ms. Muckle agrees and says that every agent should invest in buying a quality digital camera. She also says that the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors offers digital photography classes for agents.

However, in some instances, Ms. Harriston says using a professional photographer is essential - maybe even expected.

“This may be true if the property is substantial in size and the agent understands that his or her photography skills and equipment are not sufficient to capture the home’s features in the best possible way,” says Ms. Harriston.

Since photos are relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, Mr. Goulait believes that agents trying to save a few dollars shouldn’t skimp on the photography.

“Good photos are like bait,” says Mr. Goulait, adding that they are what get people into the home.

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