Are Your MLS Pictures Preventing Your House From Selling?


Great house pictures attract buyers while bad pictures repel home buyers.  Make sure your next agent follows these tips to get great looking pictures to make your house stand out from the competition.

You’d be surprised how bad some MLS photos look.  I have even found websites that make fun of bad real estate photos.  While pictures featured on that site may be extreme examples of bad photography, many MLS pictures do not do the featured house justice.  If your agent uses a pocket-sized camera with a built-in flash or worse yet, a phone camera to take pictures of your house, you are in trouble.

 The biggest problem with pocket-sized cameras and phone cameras is the size and power of their built-in flash.  A flash on a small camera can light up only about 6 – 10 feet of area in front of the flash.  A phone’s flash is capable of even less.  For a portrait of a person, this is okay, but for a large room there’s no way that’s going to be enough light.  The resulting picture will make your room look dark and shadowy.  That’s not a selling feature.

When I take pictures of properties for sale or rent, I use a Nikon D70 digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera with a wide angle lens, top mount strobe flash and tripod.  Don’t forget the tripod.  This setup produces great results.

Tricks that work…

(Note, I use film terms to describe the process. Most digital settings mimic film settings & terminology)

DEPTH OF FIELD: If you want to shoot a room and be able to get a clear view of the scenery through the window, use a higher F-stop (F-11 to F-22) or if you must use a pocket camera, use a different mode that shows both foreground and background.

TO MAKE ROOMS BRIGHTER: To make a room look brighter, turn on all lights, open all blinds and use a professional strobe flash.  If your camera supports it, use a higher film speed rating like ISO 1000. Also if using a wide angle lens, don’t go wider than the flash’s light area.  If you do, you can always crop the photo later.

WHEN USING WIDE-ANGLE LENSES: If you are using a wide-angle lens, use a tripod and only shoot perfectly level to the horizon.  If you tilt the camera up or down, you’ll get convergence and doorways will look narrower at the top and wider at bottom.

TO MAKE HALLS LOOK DEEPER: Do not use a wide angle lens to shoot a hall. Turn off the wide-angle setting and shoot in normal mode.  A wide-angle lens makes the room look wider by pulling the center background closer to foreground to create a wide effect.  This works great for wide, but poorly for depth.

TO MAKE ROOMS LOOK BIGGER: I like to shoot small rooms from just outside the door. Don’t go too far outside because that would block part of the flash.

SHOOT A FEW ARTISTIC SHOTS: Your house may have a few “sizzle” features that can attract buyers.  Highlight them.  Shoot across a kitchen counter to show the details of granite and the designer faucet.  Got stainless appliances?  Shoot the reflection in an artsy way.  Find a creative way to show off your fireplace too.

STAGE YOUR SHOTS: If your house is empty, put towels and a bathmat in the bathrooms, throw a set of containers and a towel on the kitchen counter.  Put a few objects on a set of shelves, bar glasses at the bar, etc.  Just add a few nice things for closeup shots.  Crystal bar decanter set makes the bar look nicer and adds details to photographs that attract attention.  Also reducing clutter helps too if you have too much furniture.  Your agent can advise you on all that stuff.

NATURAL LIGHT: Be aware of when your house looks its best in natural light.   If morning sun shines in one section of the house, photograph that side in the morning.  Photograph the other side when the setting sun shines through.  May take a day, but it’s worth it.  Especially if you have hardwoods. They look beautiful in direct light.

Make sure your real estate agent takes the time to make good pictures.  Very few agents do and your house brochures and MLS listing will stand out from your competition.

The pictures below are of the same house that was pictured at the top of the article.  The top photo is before sprucing up and the only things change in the photo below it was a little yard clean up, brush removal and a better photography angle.A Bad House Photo

A Better Photo of the Same House

A Better Photo of the Same House

A Bad House Photo

A Bad House Photo

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This entry was posted in Real Estate Technology, Selling Your House by Bill Petrey, Realtor. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bill Petrey, Realtor

Bill Petrey, the CEO and Founder of AgentHarvest, has been written about in the Los Angeles Times, Inman News, AOL Real Estate, and Inman Next, among others. He founded AgentHarvest for the sole purpose of making the process of finding a good Realtor better and easier. Bill Petrey is an author and editor of both The AgentHarvest Blog, Real Examples of Really Rotten Realty Blog, and the creator of Really Rotten Realty.

22 thoughts on “Are Your MLS Pictures Preventing Your House From Selling?

  1. I can easily spot twelve things wrong with this photograph (if it were going to be a listing). I’m sure there are more. Who can name them? Better yet, how many can you find?

  2. Excellent advice as I just helped a friend with home selling photos. And I might also recommend doing a major inside clean up and decluttering prior to selling. It’s amazing the difference it will make when prospective clients come by and see a nice, neat, organized home.

    • Wendy:
      Right you are. Even good pictures won’t help if there’s nothing worth photographing. People run away from cluttered houses because you can’t really see the house from all the mess and it screams lack of storage. However, sometimes it screams HOARDER!!!

  3. It is indeed true that if you want to sell something, a house, a product, or a service,it must be attractive enough to get the attention of potential buyers.How would a person buy if he or she sees a not-so-good photo of your house or item?

    • Ailene:
      You’ll appreciate this… Last week, on a beautifully sunny spring day, I got a flyer from a Realtor advertising a newly listed property. The picture they used on the flyer was a snow-covered house. Snow is rare in Dallas, Texas, so I know that the picture was at least 4 months old. Other than being able to identify it as a house, little else could be seen. The clients got their money’s worth from their agent.

  4. Amazing what a different angle and a little sunlight can do to spruce up a house. I’m curious – you left a cheapo and easily moved “For Sale” sign in the shot. While usually, these shots are taken before the guys come to install the realtor’s sale signs, if there is a sign present is is better to work around it or OK (or better) to leave it in?

    • Dave:
      Thanks for commenting. From a photography standpoint, I agree that signs are ugly and should be removed if you want to create the most beautiful picture. However, I’m not trying to take the most beautiful picture possible, but I’m trying to sell a house. That’s why I like leaving signs in the photograph. Signs make it harder for scammers to use the photos for a Craigslist rental scam and signs prevent photos from being used for another purpose. I tend to think of it as a self-promoting watermark because the signs have my name, agency and contact info clearly visible in the photo. One thing you can do to make the sign more photogenic is to create a small flower bed around the sign and have some blooming flowers, decorative pieces or rocks, to make it more appealing.

      • Excellent point. I hadn’t thought about the scamming and reuse issues. Thanks.

        • Dave:
          Scamming has become a really big problem. Craigslist scammers love to use MLS photos in their “For Rent” scams.

  5. @ Dave and Bill. I was looking to rent a house last summer and saw several of this type of scams on Craigslist. When the “owner” has a foreign email address or their names don’t match public records, time to move on.

    • Linnie:
      These scams can be easily avoided by scheduling a showing of the property before paying ANY money. If they can’t get you in the front door then they don’t own or manage it and shouldn’t get any of your money. If you’re going to rent the place to live in, I wouldn’t even consider renting from anyone that didn’t have someone local to manage it. Try getting a guy who lives 5 hrs away to fix your air-conditioner in a timely manner. Recently we rented a condo for a week in HI and I naturally approached the rental from a paranoid perspective. Before sending the deposit, we verified ownership with the management company.

  6. Bill, Those are all excellent points! I’ll keep them in mind if I decide to rent again. Right now I’m waiting for the market to turn. Here in AZ we have not yet hit bottom due to the high number of foreclosures.

  7. It is amazing at some of the bad pictures on MLS. One photo tip I used is to take indoor pictures at dusk so the windows are a glowing blue. It cuts back on the glare inside, too.

    • Louann:
      That’s a great tip. Sunlight at dusk and sunrise is a bit softer than morning light and it’s easier to take pictures at 5:00 pm than it is at 6:00 am. You can also fill in dark areas with reflected light and overhead lights but make sure you don’t photograph the light source since it’s brighter than the rest of the subject being photographed.

  8. I had to re-do all of my house pictures when i tried to sell it, visitors didn’t like them… So I agree.

    Dr John Fornetti

  9. Of course great pictures really matter for great advertisements. Since, housing depends in its designs.

  10. Wonderful article. I am doing research on property photography, because I was recently downsized out of my job. Since I am nearing middle age, I have a “reality check” that my next job, though it may be in the same field, may be further than just around the corner. So I have decided to go on my own. I love photography, although I am just the “family event recorder”, so I have decided to take the love of my hobby to the professional level, & photograph homes/apts that are for sale/rent. What are my odds of landing such a job with realtors in my area? Or any other area, as far as others who may want to do this type work? And finally, is the pay ” livable”?

    • The odds of your landing a job with Realtors is based solely on quality of the photos, speed of delivery, and price. Especially the latter. You may want to consider finding a special niche to specialize in. Best of luck in your new career.

  11. This is an excellent article. I have a Nikon D40 and wonder what specifications I should consider before buying a wide-angle lens to show case my house? Cost is a consideration, I would like spend the least amount of money for the best lens. But if the cheap lens will not do the job and the cost goes up – so be it.

    Thanks in advance for your time.

    • I use Nikon too. Spend the money. The equipment will last the life of the camera, and hopefully the next few model upgrades. Before buying an expensive lens with your budget limitations, I’d consider buying a cheaper lens AND a good strobe flash. Also consider additional lighting to make the home look brighter. With a wide angle lens, you’ll need to shoot on a tripod with a bubble level so you can make sure you’re shooting perfectly horizontal. If you tilt up or down, you’ll get a fisheye effect from the wide angle lens. It’s minimized if camera is level. For your budget, make sure you have the entire shopping list composed before you start pricing. I’d rather have cheap versions of every item than just half the items needed.

  12. I really hate it that real estate agents use tricks and certain lenses to make rooms look bigger. You are setting up potential buyers for some pretty big disappointement and wasting everyone’s time. Don’t you ever get sick of hearing “it looked better in the pictures…” ??

    • Not necessarily. It’s hard to photograph rooms without these special lenses in most cases due to the distance needed to get a depth of field. Remember, you’re in a confined space trying to photograph as much of that space as possible. Bathrooms are the hardest to photograph because of the narrow distance between walls. Without a wide angle lens, you can’t really see all of the room. At best, you’ll only get to photograph the opposite wall, and that’s not an interesting picture nor does it give you ANY idea what the room looks like. Normal lenses make the pictures look too confining. In my opinion, wide-angle lenses don’t really make the room look bigger, they just show more of the room to give the viewer a better idea of what the room looks like.

      There are several tricks that agents use to make rooms look bigger. The best way is to minimize furniture. Open space always makes a room look bigger. Another trick is to add more lighting and fill in with a strobe flash or multiple flashes. Shadows and darker spots shrink a room. However, the sneakiest trick is to stand outside and shoot the room through an open window, positioning the shot so that the window frame is barely out of the picture. The farther away you can get from the room, the more of the room you can get into the frame.

      To be fair, real estate pictures are more representative of the subject matter than on-line dating profile pictures.

      If done well, MLS pictures will always look better than real life. With MLS pictures, they’re taken in the perfect time of day when the room is full of natural lighting, every piece of furniture is positioned perfectly, additional lighting is brought in as necessary and the most attractive points of reference are center stage and the unattractive features are left out of the picture. That’s just good photography. It’s the same techniques used in wedding pictures, portraits, etc. What I hate is when they digitally touch up or hide defects.

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