What First-Time Home Buyers Need To Know About Listing Photos

Looking at photos of houses for sale can be a lot of fun. Browsing through the multiple photographs on listing sites is easily one of the most easiest aspects of looking for a home. You get to see gazebos, picture windows, abundant sunlight, wide porches…whatever your fantasy is, you can picture it, advertised at 123 Mountain Laurel Avenue. Fortunately, this article provides several key things home buyers need to know about listing photos they may not otherwise hear about.

Plus, photos are a boon to busy prospective homebuyers. Back in the day before everybody had a smartphone, real estate listings might have displayed few or no pictures of houses for sale. You had to go to a home to see how it looked, inside and out. Now, you know what it looks like. You can nix a house you do not like and make a short list of those you do.

Photos make home buying much more convenient, because they have taken the necessity of going to each house you might like out of the equation. You can just look at the houses whose pictures you already love. You save time.

Below are several tips that educate and provide insight on things home buyers need to know about listing photos.

First Time Home Buyers Guide to Listing Photos

Buyer Beware? Exercise Caution About Photographs

I do not want to burst your listing photo bubble. But first-time homebuyers especially should be aware listing photos do not necessarily tell the whole truth about homes for sale. It is not that photos tell outright falsehoods. But it is good to be aware these are not candid home selfies, either.

As any real estate company will tell prospective sellers straight out, listing photos are one of their most effective sales tools. Buyers spend 60 percent of their online time looking at for-sale homes just going through the photos.

They are sales documents, and you should evaluate them as such. It is like watching the food channels on television or leafing through a fine cuisine magazine, right? Meals always look mouthwatering and perfectly plated. Results in an everyday kitchen may not look so wonderful.

Here are several things first-time home buyers need to know about listing photos when checking out houses online.

They Are Designed to Look Inviting

Like open houses, sellers and real estate agents stage listing photos with an eye toward making the home look inviting to you. The door may even be partially ajar. A fire may crackle in the fireplace. Flowers will be blooming. Everything will be clean and sparkling.

That’s not to say the homes aren’t inviting and can’t look that way once you move in. But your home is unlikely to be at that high gloss all the time. The danger here is that the inviting look will entice you to the point where you fail to notice the bedroom is too small for you and your partner to be comfortable, or that the bathroom only has a shower and you really want a bathtub.

They Can Be Staged

Real estate agents advise prospective sellers to stage their homes. Some even hire professional home stagers to do it. “Staging,” in this context, means setting them up like a movie set. Furnishings and appliances are color-coordinated, for example, to make the rooms look harmonious. Accent pieces get chosen carefully to draw the eye to great features, and minimize the not-so-great.

The danger of being drawn to a staged home is similar to being drawn to an inviting one. First, it may not look like that all the time. Second, it can cause you to fall in love while not noticing drawbacks or less-than-great features. Third, in the worst-case analysis, staging can conceal flaws. Rugs, for example, can hide scuffed or marred floors. Always look at a property carefully in all its aspects, not just its surface appearance.

Photos Maximize Optimal Lighting

Real estate agents know to take listing photos when the sunlight shows the property to its maximum advantage. Does a home get southern sun in the afternoon? Does it stream through the picture window or fall beautifully on the wood floor, for example? You can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be pictures of that time and that exposure in the photos.

The drawback here? You need to know how the house and rooms look at all times of the day. The northern exposure could be very depressing at 4 p.m. It is a good idea to visit a home you are crazy about in the morning, afternoon and night, just so you get a picture of how it looks throughout the day.

Plus, the sunlight in that photo you love might be the only sunlight the home gets. Keep an eye out for how much and where the sun comes in.

They Might Use More Indoor Lighting than is Natural

The indoor lighting in listing photos may not be representative of the real lighting in the home’s interior. Some restaurants, for example, use warm or even pink light bulbs so all the diners look good. Well, the real estate industry is no stranger to these tips and tricks, either. Pink lighting flatters skin tones and makes everything look rosy. Extra light — beyond the normal light bulbs in the lamps — brightens up dark rooms. Recessed lighting can brighten dark spaces. More light makes spaces look bigger.

There is no law against a seller or real estate agent having large arrays of lights in the rooms when they take photographs. They can make the house look bigger and brighter than it is. So always follow your eyes in assessing how a house and its individual rooms look.

They Can Make Spaces Look Bigger

One of the most venerable selling techniques in real estate is making rooms look bigger. First, rooms will look larger if furnishings and other items are at an absolute minimum. That’s why rooms in open houses are often bare, if no one is living there. If the sellers still reside in a home, believe us, their listing agent will tell them to declutter and strip the house of non-essential furniture. Rooms furnished sparingly look larger.

Second, photos can be taken from vantage points that make spaces look larger. Far-away shots make a home look larger than ones taken up close. Certain angles make rooms look larger. Rooms may also have mirrors, which make them look larger, because your eye takes in the reflection as well.

The remedy for this is several-fold. First, get the specifications on the house’s size. It’s easy enough to make sure all your furniture would fit. Do not rely on your eyeballs alone here.

Second, mentally add furniture to the rooms. If possible, use an online “place furniture here” model, if available. A bedroom can look massive until you move in a bed and chair. Then you realize there is no room to walk around, or you cannot also fit your dresser.

Third, stand in other vantage points than the one the photographer did. Does the room still look large, or is it smaller? Do not let the angles fool you.

They Might Be Old

Some folks try to use photographs of their homes that are decades old. Those photographs do not show shabby paint, crooked downspouts or patched window screens. They also do not show the home is of 1960s vintage.

It is always a good idea to drive by homes you like before making an appointment to tour them. You can easily cross homes off your list that look much older or shabbier than the pictures. In addition to being unrepresentative of the current condition, it is just not a good sign overall if a seller tries to use these.

They Might Be Photoshopped

While most sellers are above-board and simply trying to show their homes in the best light possible, you may occasionally run across a Photoshopped set of pictures. In that case, the retouched photos are not representative of the house.

Why would this happen? Using Photoshop is quite widespread. Some home stylists use it to try out staging designs. It is possible the photographer might get carried away. Avoid a home where this technique has happened, though, because it might be a sign of something that needs to be concealed.

They Give You a Sense of Abundance

It is not uncommon to see tons of pictures on real estate sites. The more pictures the better, right? Inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs…of the stairs, going up and down.

The risk here is that photos give you a sense of abundance. The house is overflowing with views and good things! Remember, it is just a house with a certain number of square feet. It will not always yield bright, shiny new vistas.

They Will Not Show Any Drawbacks

This point is implied by the staging, but it is worth saying explicitly. If the home has any drawbacks, from a small laundry room to a rotting roof to a 1950s refrigerator, a photo will not show it. That is not what the photos are there to do.

Keep your eyes open as you tour every room of the house. Get a thorough, professional home inspection, and make sure to pore over the inspection report. Do not rely just on visual appeal. You need to be certain the house is in good shape physically. It should be safe and well-maintained.

They Can Affect How You Perceive the House

It is worth saying this out loud, too: Tons of beautiful photos can affect how you perceive the house. They can make a decent home appear fantastic, and an OK home look like a fabulous deal. You can fall in love sight unseen, and that kind of love is hard to fall out of.

There is no substitute for having a checklist of what you need in a home. If you need two bedrooms, do not buy a one-bedroom home that looked photogenic online. Keep a separate checklist of what you want. If you want a dog park within walking distance and the 20-photo nice house is 10 miles away, think long and hard.

See a home at least twice before you decide to buy. The second time is to break any lingering spell of the initial photographs.

Have fun house hunting! Looking at listing photos is part of the journey, and can save you time. But be aware of the 10 points above as you look at both the array of photos and the actual house.

More Listing Photo Resources

Michelle Gibson: Picture Day Tips

Conor MacEvilly: Reading Between The Lines with Listings

FitSmallBusiness: Real Estate Photography Tips To Avoid

Key Things Home Buyers Need To Know About Listing Photos

About Anita Clark Realtor

Anita Clark has written 596 posts on this blog.

Anita is a residential Real Estate Agent in Warner Robins Georgia, with Coldwell Banker SSK Realtors (478) 953-8595, aiding buyers and sellers with all their real estate questions on her Warner Robins blog.