Does the picture tell the whole story?

by The Real Estate Faction on October 11, 2012

By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

Today more than ever, it’s the photos that sell a home, as buyers spend evenings and weekends on their couches poring over slide shows on iPads or laptops. We asked one of the nation’s top visual-marketing experts for advice on evaluating listing photos so buyers can whittle down their list of must-sees.

In this installment of Buying Advice, we’ll also check out the latest housing statistics and take a look at the much-maligned adjustable-rate mortgage: how it’s changed and who might benefit from this type of loan.

Smarter online home shopping It’s easy to spend hours a week clicking through listing photos on real-estate portals or your local multiple listing service. But are you looking at the right things?

Brian Balduf, chairman of real-estate photography firm VHT, says most home shoppers will take two or three quick passes through a set of photos before they go out to see a home. But those buyers aren’t examining the shots closely enough, and that could waste their time in the long run.

“They need to look at those photos again with a more critical eye,” Balduf says. The photos can help prepare you, so you know which rooms to measure or where you need to worry about your larger furniture.

Photos could also steer you away from visiting certain properties at all. Photos tend to be focused on what the seller or agent thinks are the best parts of the home. If there are only a few shots and those look tacky or dated, it’s a pretty safe bet that the rest of the home is in even worse shape and you can cross it off your list, Balduf says.

“If this is their best foot forward, everything else is downhill from there,” he says.

Worse still are listings that feature only a shot of the outside. This could signal a home that needs serious work, or even a bad case of hoarding.

“It’s so simple to take photographs,” Balduf says. “There’s no excuse not to have six to eight photos of every property. If they are not there, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why not?'”

Likewise, if the listing shots show overflowing ashtrays or junk stacked up on a bathroom counter or in one corner of the living room, you should question how well the home was taken care of. That photo probably shows the house at its cleanest. How bad was it at its worst?

But don’t be distracted by elaborate staging, either. That pristine midcentury dining table may look great, but it won’t come with the house. More important is the home’s footprint and features.

Consider how the space is used, Balduf says, and don’t fall in love with beautiful wide-angle shots.

  • Is there enough room in the kitchen to sit down and eat a meal?
  • Is there enough wall space in the living room for your TV, sofa, etc.?
  • How does the size of the furniture in the home compare with yours? Some homes are staged with small furniture so they look larger.
  • Does the layout of the home fit your lifestyle and daily routine?
  • Can you see a view out of the windows in the listing photos?
  • Does the house get much light? Is adequate lighting installed in the house?
  • How do these pictures compare with satellite pictures available online from Bing or Google? Has anything been edited out or changed recently?

Also, it’s worth noting that some vacant homes are virtually staged, meaning that agents insert images of furniture and artwork into listing photos to make a home seem more homey or to show how the space could be used.  That should be noted on the listing, but sometimes it’s not.

For a look at some of the best and worst in listing photos, you can check out VHT’s blog, including this recent photo of one home’s life-size Harry Potter cutout. Whaah? Other entries in the listing photo hall of shame can be found at


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