What role do photos play when buying/selling a house? #740

#740 in a series of true experiences in real estate

There’s a lot of house shopping going on these days on the Internet. Buyers, agents, neighbors and those who are simply curious see photos on the screen before, and often instead of, seeing houses in person.

People probably see many more houses this way than they used to the old fashioned way. I know that I do. Every day I sit at my computer and spend an hour looking at new listings, many of which are posted with as many as 30 photographs.

Here’s one in North Berkeley, cute little stucco bungalow, the outside seems in good shape. Click. Living room furnished, stone-look fireplace, drapes on windows. Click. Dining room has been staged. Original light fixture, nice. Click. Looks like the kitchen was redone in the 1960s, lots of orange, and it’s got an electric cooktop. Next.

It’s a fairly fast way for buyers and their agents to narrow the possibilities: If you want to live in Berkeley, you probably aren’t looking in Hayward. Families of 6 are unlikely to buy a one bedroom house.

In the olden days (not so long ago), we didn’t know much about a house before we went to see it because there were no photos. At 2 p.m. a house on Prince Street would show up as a new listing. Clues were offered: Built in 1910, lot size 6000 square feet, 3+ bedrooms. But in order to know more, how crisp the paint, how pretty the trees, if the floors were hardwood, we had to go see for ourselves.

If we thought we had a client for that house, we got in the car and drove right over. Or, if it wasn’t immediately compelling, in a day or so after the photographer got there, a photo of the house front would appear. We could decide then if we wanted to visit in person.

Nowadays this information and far more is available simultaneously on multiple listing and on numerous websites such as Realtor.com and Zillow and Trulia. A good percentage of listings are accompanied by photos, some even as slide shows set to music. What I’m wondering about is whether having lots of photos is a good thing.

Because I find that I’m visiting fewer houses in person. With so much information instantly available, is traffic cut down? Or is the opposite the case? I’ve been told by some buyers that when they come across a listing without photos, they simply skip that house and never go back. But do they visit the open houses? I don’t know.

Each week I look at the agent tour and select which houses we will go to see. Houses that our buyers might be interested in, yes. Specific and special houses we know we will enjoy seeing, yes. Houses near future listings, yes. What else?

“Not this one,” I say to Anet as I look at photos on my computer. “We’ve seen that house.” Sometimes I mean that we’ve seen similar houses built about the same time with approximately the same layout and detailing. But more often I see no reason to go in person because I’m no longer curious.

Anet and I have people come to our open houses all the time who know quite a lot about our listing before they get there. Sometimes they even have our flyer in hand; they’ve printed it out from our website or from the site for that particular house. These people have designated our listing as one they might want to buy. They can afford the price (plus whatever overbid they are anticipating in this insane market). The house seems to meet their needs in terms of size and amenities, location and outdoor space. Some have already received the disclosure package. That’s why they have shown up to see it in person: to confirm their interest.

And it does turn out right much of the time. The buyer first saw the house on-line. He visited, liked what he experienced, and he made an offer to buy. Proof that the system works. But I wonder what houses he didn’t go to see, ones he crossed off his list because he looked at the photos and decided never mind. Some houses, I know from experience, are more photogenic than others.

It’s interesting to me that many of my favorite houses, ones that I so enjoyed being in and dreamed about living in, don’t look that good in photographs. Often as not, I look at the photos and think something like this: this room looked so much more beautiful than it looks here. Something about the light and the textures. I can remember what it was like by looking at the photo but the photo doesn’t do it justice.

And sometimes it’s the opposite: This room looks great in this picture but not so much when you’re standing inside it.

I know that I react positively to good proportions in rooms, whether the rooms are large or quite small. The placement of windows and their construction makes a huge difference in a room, as well as views and light from those windows. Porches, screen doors, trellises, too.

Some houses just feel good inside. They have some indefinable something that makes me want to stay, something words cannot describe. Some houses I would like to spend my life in have a feeling, a comfort, something like a love pat on my arm from someone who cares about me.

Anet is our photographer. She takes many different views for possible placement on our listing website, usually taken on several different days. She spends hours poring over them before deciding which to use. As she works at it, and this happens every time with every house, I tell her not to show everything. I’m hoping that people will look at the pictures but will still be curious. I want them to come to the house, to feel themselves what the spaces, the air, the feeling is like.

This entry was posted in Information for Both Sellers and Buyers. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: