Note: Pardon the interruption from the normal format (1 big photo & a short-ish caption), but this long-form post was the best way I could think of to shed some light on what should be an important topic. Back to your regularly scheduled program next time!
The big picture. The point of this post is to highlight the importance of having quality photographs for a real estate listing when the time comes to move (hopefully you stay in town!) and to try to knock down some of the barriers to getting good photos in and around Millbury.
The most important stuff by far is the information, but being a photo-centric blog, interspersed within the text are photos I took of my sister-in-law's summer rental house on Cape Cod so she could shift from relying on a real estate agency (and their mediocre photos) to listing and renting it herself. Did the photographs help? Well that's hard to say but, she went from partially-rented for the summer of 2012 (with an agent) to fully-rented in 2013 (independently) which made her happy, for whatever that is worth.
The math makes no sense. In a typical real estate transaction, the seller pays their agent and the buyer's agent 2.5% of the selling price. Each! For a $250,000 home, that totals $12,500! That's a lot of money. People go to great lengths to sell their home, between real estate agents, re-modeling, re-painting, repairing, etc. All that money spent, and often times you see blurry, poorly-lit, crooked, hastily-shot photos posted for potential buyers to make their all-important 1st impression on when, for a fraction of what a real estate agency gets paid, nice photographs could present an entirely different story. That makes zero sense to me!
Rather than blabber on with my uneducated opinions, below is some real information from a local person with actual experience.
Millbury real estate photographer Joan Pearsall. A quick Google search along with talking to a few town residents pointed me to Millbury's Joan Pearsall, a professional real estate photographer at Best View Imaging. I reached out to Joan and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Our (paraphrased) phone conversation went something like this:
(Me) Thanks for making some time to answer my questions. Do you still live in Millbury?
(Joan) For the next 2 days, I do. I'm moving to Newton. My business operates mostly out of my home but my office is currently in Worcester.
(Me) Will you still cover the Worcester / Millbury area after you move?
(Joan) Yes. I'm expanding my business, both in coverage area and I've just hired an additional photographer to be able to keep up.
(Me) How long have you been shooting photographs for real estate listings?
(Joan) Well, I've been a photographer for ~30 years, but I started in real estate in 2008.
(Me) Who is your typical client?
(Joan) My clients are almost exclusively real estate agents, with a handful of homeowners and/or for-sale-by-owners per year mixed in.
(Me) Are big, expensive, fancy houses needed to benefit from quality images?
(Joan) Larger, higher-end homes are certainly easier to photograph, but I find (and research has shown) that having high quality photographs is actually more beneficial to properties at lower price points. They tend to sell more quickly and closer to asking price than those with mediocre photos. Having nice photos is something less and less listings at lower price points have, so the ones that do really stand out.
(Me) We've all seen non-flattering photos in some real estate listings. In your experience, why are sellers/agents not opting for professional photography services in these cases? (Perceived costs? Tight timelines? Simple ignorance?)
(Joan) It's not often a concern over the timeframe for turning photos around. In most cases, the real estate agent simply believes their photos are good enough, but the starting point for most potential home buyers is on the internet, where the photos are what draw people in to take a closer look. They look at the added cost of paying for photographs and they don't feel like it is worth it - their photos are good enough. What the general public doesn't realize is that despite the relatively large dollar amount that goes to the seller's agent in a real estate transaction (5-6% of the selling price), after they subtract all of their costs including the buyer's agent's portion, their own cut is much smaller. Every dollar they have to subtract, like marketing dollars used to pay for photography, matters. Typically, it is the agent with not bad, but mediocre photos who comes asking for my services. They know photos are important and are at least trying to make quality images, they just don't have the expertise and equipment to pull it off and they realize this. But at least they are trying!
(Me) What's the biggest hurdle to a DIY homeowner photographing their own home (my guess: lighting equipment & know-how)?
(Joan) Knowledge, equipment, expertise… They just don't have the wide-angle lenses and off-camera flash equipment or an understanding of how to use it.
(Me) Since you've been a photographer for 30 years, I don't have to tell you that creativity plays a big role in how photographs turn out. Does shooting houses for real estate listings still give you the opportunity to be creative in your work?
(Joan) That depends on the real estate agent and the seller. The typical seller simply wants to convey how big and how nice their property is. But I recently had a client who came to me because the seller was not happy with the photographs that their agent provided, via another photographer. The homeowner went out and found a listing with photographs they liked and asked their agent to find out who took those pictures: it was me. The seller turned out to own a lot of nice artwork and in that case, I was able to deliver more creative, artistic images which the seller liked very much. I usually try to slip 1 or 2 more creative photos into the edit I deliver, just to see if they make it onto the listing website - sometimes they do!
(Me) I'd ask how expensive your services are, but seeing your 2013 pricing, I can't believe they start at $125 for an entire house. Knowing some of the work involved, I might expect that price was per room! Are those prices correct?
(Joan) When I started my business (real estate photography in 2008), the real estate market had taken a downturn and using professional photography services for real estate listings was a relatively new concept in Worcester County. I had to price my services at a point which clients would actually go for them. Now that things have started to turn around in the market, my phone is ringing off the hook. I had to develop a style and a workflow that allowed me to shoot the photos and turn them around quickly - high volume, quick turnaround was the key.
(Me) How long do clients typically have to wait for your photos?
(Joan) One day is routine. I shoot one day, deliver the finished photos the next day, and they are listed on the MLS the day after that.
(Me) Can you actually shoot more than one house in a day?
(Joan) I've gotten to the point where I can comfortably do 2-3 in a day, 4 if necessary, and deliver the finished images the next day. Depending on the size of the home, it usually takes me 1 to 1.5 hours per home. Since the MA MLS allows no more than 30 photographs, most agents just ask for the best 30. In that case, I usually edit it down to about 50 photos, deliver 40 or so and mark the best 30 from my perspective.
(Me) Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. I hope and think this will really benefit people looking to sell their homes in Millbury.
(Joan) You're quite welcome.
If you're interested in seeing Joan's work or contacting her for more information, check out her website at Best View Imaging.
DIY. So, can real estate photography be a Do-It-Yourself type of thing? In my opinion, certainly. But you need a basic understanding of photography, lighting, a creative imagination, and some gear beyond the basic "nice camera" to get started. If that's not your thing or your timeframe is too short to learn this stuff, I'd hire it out. But if you are interested in learning, here is a great primer on DIY real estate photography to get you started.
Why am I writing this? Simple. I enjoy using photography to make my town a better place to live, for me and everyone else. Increasing awareness of the "why" and "how" of real estate photography in Millbury is a no-brainer and a win-win for everyone: People selling their Millbury homes will (hopefully) get more interest and ultimately higher prices for their properties, which drives up other home values in town, which drives tax revenue, etc. A local business like Joan Pearsall's gets some well-deserved attention and (hopefully) a little more business, which will feed back into the local economy as well. And folks in Millbury may learn a thing or two to help them out which, if you're anything like me, is always a good thing.
Many positive feedback loops, all because of photography. Boom! How awesome is that?!?!