Insider Secrets to Making Your Listing Photos Shine

If you’re listing your home for sale, your goal is to make it a “thumb-stopper”—the listing that makes a buyer slow down, take a good look and read about how fabulous it is. The secret is to make sure that the photos showcasing your home are up to the task. Here are tips from the pros that will help you set up a picture-perfect house, and snap the best shots possible.

Choose The Best Day And Time To Shoot

Yes, photographing your home’s exterior on a partly cloudy day will minimize shadows in your shots. But Small believes a bright blue sky packs a substantially bigger punch, especially if you live in a location where you’re trying to sell the weather as well as the home.

When it comes to what time of day to shoot, you might be tempted to shoot exteriors in that sweet spot just as dusk is falling; twilight shoots can highlight your property’s stunning landscaping and make the home look bright and inviting. But they’re a bit more complicated to get right, because they’re dictated by what the sun is doing on that particular day.

“If the sun sets at 6:30, twilight will start about 6:40 and be over in 20 minutes,” Small explains.

So if you’re an amateur photographer, it’s better to leave twilight shoots to the pros and stick to shooting your home during a more predictable window of time.

“I try to schedule so that the sun is shining in the front of the home, so ideally, I’d shoot east-facing homes in the morning,” says Small.

Pro tip: If you’re shooting with a smartphone (although we really, really recommend using a high-quality digital camera) use the high dynamic range (HDR) setting to capture greater detail without having to use additional lights.

Make A Clean Sweep Outside

Before snapping a single frame outside, clear away anything that detracts from your curb appeal, Mountcastle suggests.

“This is the ultimate first impression everybody gets about your house,” he says. “You don’t need perfect grass, but you want your yard to look nice and neat, with your bushes and trees trimmed.”

Hide the trash cans, garden hoses, and kids’ toys, and remove cars and bikes from the driveway so they’re not in the photos.

“Clean up after your pets, and pull out any dead things from your garden,” Small adds. “Lots of people have empty flowerpots everywhere; fill them up with something to add some color.”

Set up your patio umbrella and outdoor dining area. Have a pool or a hot tub? Turn on pool lights, water features, and spa bubbles.

Undo That ‘Lived-In’ Look

Sure, your busy family lives in the house. But it doesn’t have to look that way in your photos. Excess furniture and knickknacks distract from your home’s features, Small says—plus, they don’t photograph well. So lose the magazine piles, remote controls, framed photos, books, and stray shoes. Clean off the front of your fridge so your images don’t capture every school note, magnet, and shopping list. And keep the toilet lid down!

“I don’t think you can declutter enough. Once you think you’ve decluttered, go back and do it again,” Small says. “You can’t neglect the toiletries on the bathroom counter, the toaster and five appliances on the kitchen counter. You don’t want the message to be, ‘Look at how much stuff this counter holds!’”

Let In The Light

Got great views? Highlight them in your images. Wash your windows, and leave curtains and blinds open so natural light can flow through. (If you’ve got heavy drapes, go a step further: Take them down and replace with sheer linen curtains—or just leave your windows bare.)

Small advises homeowners to turn on lamps and lights—inside and out—but to turn off ceiling fans.

“Make sure all your lights work,” Mountcastle suggests. “If only two out of three light bulbs work, that will show in the photographs, and it sends the wrong message—that something doesn’t work.”

Don’t Count On Editing To Improve Your Photos

The key to a clean-looking photo is a clean house.

“There’s a huge misconception about Photoshop—it’s an amazing tool, but it’s not a magic wand,” Small cautions. “Yes, you can Photoshop out weeds and maybe some dangling cords, but to do more takes a lot of work.”

Bottom line: Buyers scan house photos very quickly, so make yours stand out.

“If they’re blurry or dark, or it’s a very messy house, they’re not going to want to look further,” Small says. “Photos of a house that’s been cleaned and decluttered attracts attention, and gets buyers to slow down enough to say, ‘Is this one that I want to go see in person?’”

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