Staging for Listing Photos | Katonah Real Estate

Pictures of bare walls and floors or dark, poorly lit spaces are not going to draw in many buyers. Learn how you can stage rooms effectively and inexpensively to get great shots of a home’s interior.

A listing’s photograph either makes or breaks a sale — a lesson many real estate professionals learn the hard way.

That’s why Joan Sliker, broker-owner of The Cream City Real Estate Co. in Milwaukee, doesn’t hesitate to take photos twice, maybe even three times, before uploading to her agency’s Web site.

“Most of your selling is online. You’ve got about five seconds to get them to look at the house before they go on to another one. That’s how critical photography is,” she says. “Sometimes the mood of a house is old and it’s going to drag down the buyer. People want to be energized when they look at a house.”

If the house doesn’t sparkle before she snaps her camera? No worries. She’ll stage each room for as little as $100, focusing on pops of color and a new, fresh look. “I went to TJ Maxx and spent less than a hundred bucks on towels, a shower curtain, shower hooks, soap stands, and even fancy soaps,” Sliker says. In keeping with the home’s all-white interior she stuck to neutral shades. “I wanted a modern spa-like feel with natural colors. You want something that looks current.”

Often what’s in the picture will inspire a potential home buyer to schedule a walk-through. This is almost as important as the number of bedrooms or whether or not a new roof was just put on. Sliker’s listings cultivate a cozy, lived-in vibe without personalization, featuring vases of fresh-cut flowers in the kitchen, cozy throws slung over the back of a sofa, or a bowl of fruit on the dining-room table.

Many real estate pros now shoot their own photos thanks to advances in digital-camera technology and the increased ease in using cameras. Chantay Clark, senior real estate specialist at Clear Choice Realty & Associates in Los Angeles, is a pro at taking photos of the homes she lists and believes these snapshots are extremely important. She starts with an inventory of the entire home, including the garage. “Look for possible furnishings that can be rearranged or added that will bring the best look to the house,” she advises. “Never photograph homes as-is. Remove personal items; declutter and straighten up before shooting.”

A wide-angle lens with zooming capabilities can easily capture beauty — even in a small, tight space. This is especially important for condos, cottages, multilevel homes in congested parts of cities, and tight quarters inside older homes. Taking photos at the right time of day (when sunlight pours in through the windows) naturally invites a bright, welcoming feel to the pictures.

“Once you discover the best places with the most lighting, you want to stage it,” says Clark. “Stay clear from filming large bulky furniture in small spaces. Show off the best spaces, such as a freshly painted area with new crown molding or windows.”

You don’t necessarily need an expensive camera. Accessories can amp up your camera’s ability. “Use a tripod,” advises veteran photographer Craig Swinson, of Craig A. Swinson Lightbox Photography in New York. Shooting for a variety of companies, he has lots of experience with tight spaces found in urban settings like Manhattan. “Make sure that the camera lens axis is parallel to the floor, which helps prevent bowed lines in the photo. Use either a cable shutter release or a wireless remote, because standing behind the camera just takes up more space.

“Multiple shots at slightly different exposure settings … or filters with longer exposures help balance out the light and color of the rooms,” he adds. A washed-out look could be the unfortunate result of too much sunlight or too much flash, creating the opposite effect of cozy and calm.

It’s that chill, relaxed vibe that Linda Miller, broker of Rosemary Beach Realty, tries to evoke when photographing her listings. Clicking through beachfront homes for sale at Rosemary Beach, Fla., a New Urbanism-inspired community of modern, stark-white homes, you can easily imagine breezes floating in through open French doors as you sip morning coffee or envision grilling locally caught fish on the wraparound veranda. The majority of her properties are sold as second homes and come fully furnished. Consequently, the steps toward a home’s sale begin remotely.

Recently, a home listed for $6.45 million went under contract in 32 days and sold for $4.75 million. Its quick sale had a lot to do with the photos, Miller says. The photos told a story of the home’s Gulf of Mexico setting even if the potential buyer was viewing them from thousands of miles away. Seashells and coral as centerpieces, framed art featuring sailboats, and beach-inspired colors in tapestries were just a few trinkets in the photos. Two wine glasses and a bottle of wine were suggestively set out on the breakfast bar.

“The back entrance area was lifestyle-staged so there were beach towels, totes, and toys for the children,” Miller says. “You felt like you could walk out the door and right down to the beach with your family.”

Sprinkled throughout the 4,000-square-foot home — featuring five bedrooms — was a blood-orange accent, picked up in area rugs, pillows, and floor-to-ceiling silk draperies. “Using an accent to promote the house gives people something to take away with them,” says Miller. “It attracted that high-end buyer, I think.”

Sliker agrees. For today’s buyer, there are more houses to choose from, therefore making it more difficult to recall each listing. “A lot of the houses are blurring together,” she says. “You want to have something they remember.”

Using just a quarter-gallon of bright yellow paint, the owner of a home she recently listed applied the new color to the trim around her front door. “People started calling it the house with the yellow door,” Sliker says.

Of course, not every home is picture-perfect. Some need a little bit of purging and primping before a photo shoot. Talk with the home owner about how much to spend — both in time and money — and it likely won’t take much to reach a compromise since the end goal, selling the home quickly, is mutual. “I always go for the least expensive fixes that will make the biggest impact,” Sliker says. Paint for the walls and towels for the bathroom are two quick, inexpensive fixes she often relies on. Objects, as opposed to furniture, are easier for the sellers to bring to their new house.  

Some middle-of-the-road tricks in prepping for pictures are to hang new curtains — Sliker is a huge fan of IKEA’s breezy, inexpensive drapes — or switch out lamp bases for ones from Target in bright, fun shades. Pillows in contemporary, colorful hues for the couch or armchair can quickly update a living room too. Purchasing furniture, even if it’s second-hand finds, can be costly for the home owner and should be considered a last resort.  

Above all, when taking photos, stay clear of the temptation to make the home look better than it might appear on a walk-through. A sure way to lose a client is to promote a house where the photos are more beautiful than the reality. And don’t be shy about coaxing a home owner into a few minor styling fixes. “I just had someone fix up her house, and we had two offers in the first couple of days,” says Sliker, referring to café curtains and matching dinnerware that brightened up an otherwise dull kitchen. “If I spent an hour [fixing up] that one house, or [several afternoons at] an open house, which is more productive?”

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