7 Ways to make sure your property looks picture perfect (before the photographer gets there)

While hiring a professional photographer sure is a good start, if you really want to make an impression on potential buyers, you need to go the extra mile. Culled from my real experience in the field, here are a few tips for listing agents to make sure real estate looks perfect for photos.

1. Hire a cleaning crew to do the dirty work. 

Unless it has been meticulously cleaned on a regular basis, any home for sale could stand a good deep cleaning. Lots of agents instruct their clients to "tidy up" before a photo session, but rarely do they clean to the level that a professional cleaning crew can. Bringing in the cleaning pros right before a shoot ensures that the property will look as good as possible. If you really want to present a high end listing, this step is a must.

2. Put it all in storage

Everyone is surely familiar with the saying, "less is more." While it's not ideal to shoot a property that is completely empty, it's much worse to shoot a cluttered home that is overstuffed with owners' belongings. As much as it all may be organized and neatly put away, large amounts of personal items tend to be a major distraction for potential buyers.  We'd rather not see closets stuffed with clothing, knick knacks, and small appliances - we want to see the home. Advising a buyer to spring for a short term storage solution kills two birds with one stone: it de-clutters the property in advance of a photo shoot, and it helps sellers get organized for the eventual move out.

3. Schedule for when the owners are out

One realtor I know has a genius plan for any time she does an open house or a photo shoot when the owners could potentially be home: She keeps a stock of "Open House Survival Kits" for her buyers. Inside each kit is a gift card for the local movie theater along with some additional marketing material and helpful info for the buyers. Whenever she needs to show a home for photos or an open house, she gives one of these to the sellers so they can have something to do that will definitely get them out of the house. Sometimes she does restaurant gift cards or other fun things, but it's a really great way to say, "get out of here, you're in the way," in the nicest possible way.

4. Empty house no more - hire a stager

What happens when the owners are already moved out? What about new construction? When you're faced with the prospect of an empty house, consider professional staging. Stagers can be in and out quickly, and with a warehouse full of furniture, they can make an empty house look just the right amount of "lived-in" without seeming cluttered.  Don't believe me? Check out the difference:

New construction before staging.  Not bad...

New construction before staging.  Not bad...

The room really pops when staging is brought in.  Thanks to Brenda at  Staging Design Concepts  for this one!

The room really pops when staging is brought in.  Thanks to Brenda at Staging Design Concepts for this one!

5. Schedule for the middle of the day

This one might seem obvious, but it's extremely important and bears repeating. Depending on the time of year and your location, the best times to shoot real estate tend to be between 10:00 a.m and 2:00 p.m when the sun is directly overhead. Shooting too early or too late can produce strong shadows, unevenly lit rooms, and worst of all, it makes the photographer's job more time consuming. The less time you spend waiting for a photographer to grapple with the light, the more time you have to spend on more productive activities.

6. Don't wait until the last minute

I know, I know: the real estate market moves quickly, especially in the Boston area, and sometimes houses are gone within a week of listing. Often times buyers will call an agent to get their property listed that same week, and I can see the temptation to jump on the opportunity. Resist that temptation if at all possible. Give yourself as much time as you can to get your listing in tip top shape before listing. If you spend the extra time putting together a complete, polished marketing package for your property, it will hit the market with a splash. Rushing photos at the last minute can result in pictures of a home that may not be photo ready. Top tier real estate agents know this and put it into practice regularly.

7. Don't rely on Photoshop

Okay, so I'll admit, I'm pretty proficient when it comes to editing undesirable things out of photos. I have been known to remove carpet stains, cables, and other stuff from real estate photos in post processing, but there are limits. It's sure tempting to say, "you can just photoshop that out, right?" when eyeing a large crack in the wall, missing window casings, or something equally grievous. Don't give in! Removing large flaws from a property in Photoshop is a borderline deceptive practice. For example, I had a client ask me to remove a large telephone pole from the front of a house in Photoshop. That's not exactly a red wine stain on the carpet. It's not something you can clean off when you move in, and such a blatant edit may leave potential buyers wondering what else may be hidden. It's always best to get the property in the best shape possible before photos so Photoshop isn't even necessary.