Devil is in the Details of Online Listing Photos


It was difficult to pick out the worst no-no in a recent set of photos posted with a Chicago condo listing.

Was it the haphazard collection of magnets on the refrigerator, or the clutter that effectively cut in half the amount of kitchen counter space? Was it the opened toilet lid? The toothbrush lying sideways on the bathroom sink? Or the full-size lime green bath towel draped over the footboard on the bed?

Perhaps the bigger question is if this was how sellers allowed their home to be photographed for a listing, when it’s presumably in the best shape, how will it look when a potential buyer comes to look at it?

The answer: A lot of buyers probably won’t even come through that condo because what they saw wasn’t what the condo had to offer but all the things that littered the pictures.

You’d think more real estate agents would turn to home stagers and professional photographers now more than ever, since the supply of properties on the market dwarfs the number of interested buyers. But spend some time looking at pictures online (and remember that 90 percent of buyers start searching for a home on the Internet), and it becomes readily apparent that not everyone has gotten the message.

Professional photography can cost a few hundred dollars; it doesn’t have to be magazine quality. Some agents with a good eye and a good camera do a fine job themselves. But those aren’t the agents who post pictures of a listing with the family dog standing in the kitchen (dog hair, anyone?) or worse yet, show their own reflection in the bathroom mirror.

“The thing that strikes me is the condition, just how the house isn’t clean,” said Chris DeBoo, owner of SimplyStaging in Naperville. “I see some houses already on the market. Toilet seats are up, the plunger is sitting next to the toilet right next to the wastebasket filled with stuff. That makes a really lovely picture for the homebuyer.

It’s not just real estate agents who are to blame. So are cantankerous sellers, who aren’t willing to depersonalize a home just because it’s for sale. That’s why those toothbrush holders are still on the bathroom counter and why there’s a worn rag rug by the back door covered with children’s rain boots.
Mary Billish, owner of Staging Works Wonders in Palos Park, encourages clients to grab the possessions they need on a daily basis and stash them in a box under the bathroom sink or in a closet before the pictures are taken. Keep the boxes handy, and after using the items, put them back in the boxes and out of sight. That way, what potential buyers see in the photos is what they get when they walk through the front door.

“People don’t get it, especially men,” Billish said. “Once you put pictures on the Internet, then people see it. If they have terrible pictures, no one is going to want to come and see it and they’ll have to reduce their price.”

DeBoo suggests sellers preparing properties themselves do the same thing she does when she’s helping someone stage a house and thinks a room is presentable. She stands in the corner and takes a picture to get a true sense of how the room will look online.

Since the Multiple Listing Service for the Chicago area allows up to 16 pictures, that means a lot of detail in pictures, especially for smaller properties, and the possibility of a lot of dark corners.

One other tip for the pros: Invest in extra lamps to brighten a room. It’ll help with the pictures and showings.

“I judge the quality of the agent by the picture,” said Sue Hedlund, an agent at ReMax Suburban. “I figure they must not care what they’re doing or they don’t know how to sell a house. You want to capture and captivate them. Looking at a toilet is not good for feng shui.”


This story was first published on July 30, 2010 by the Chicago Tribune.  This article from Tribune Company news outlets has been republished for additional  education purposes.  Please note that this editorial content was produced by Tribune news staff who are not employed by or  by Tribune Digital Marketplaces.  This article is not affiliated with any links or products that appear on the on the same pages.  Read more about our editorial policy.