(Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of our “Outside the Frame” series that offers the insights of Dallas’ leading real estate photographers on subjects that are both important and often controversial in the industry. Check out our first and second installments for more.
Today we are chatting with Evan Godwin, founder of Chateau Shooters. For Evan, hiring a professional photographer is a no-brainer, but he explains in detail why his company provides a valuable service even in a hot market.
Read on for more, and stay tuned tomorrow for our final interview in our “Outside the Frame” series.
CandysDirt.com: Scan MLS and you see plenty of unprofessional photographs. Do you have any tips for sellers and Realtors that for whatever reason are not using professional photographers?
Evan Godwin: The biggest tips I have in regards to trying to do it solo are more in preparation than in the actual taking of the photo. There are so many technical things that go into properly photographing a home, from the physical photographing to post processing, that it would be better to delve into the preparation, which anyone can do, regardless of circumstances. I tell every Realtor who uses us for the first time the same thing: The more effort you put into your listing, the more you will get out of it. A hot market naturally leads to people cutting corners, thinking it doesn’t matter, but when you are building your personal brand there is something to be said for consistency paying dividends over the long run.
The biggest thing I see in some of the less-than-stellar homes we photograph is it doesn’t look like there is any motivation to sell the property. A good rule of thumb is to prep your home as though you plan on entertaining. Make it look presentable, declutter the countertops in the kitchens and bathrooms and put everything in its place. Too often I will walk into a listing with random stacked boxes in a corner that would better be served in a closet. The object is to showcase the home, not how much stuff you can fit in there. A house without clutter will lead to photos without clutter! The circumstances may be dire, but an hour or so of tidying up can go a long way, even if the Realtor does decide to tackle it on their own.
One of the biggest misconceptions is value. I don’t mean the cost alone, I’m talking about the cost-benefit ratio. Competitive real estate photography companies charge about $100-$150/ listing. For Realtors paying out of pocket to market their homes, this might seem to be a stretch, especially if you are selling less expensive properties. Using professional real estate photography as part of your marketing strategy leads to a number of benefits. While increasing virtual and in-person traffic (and subsequently shorter DOMs) being the most obvious, having all of your homes professionally photographed provides a consistently high level of service to your clients. With professional photography becoming increasingly more accessible and affordable to agents that specialize in all markets, the last thing you want is to not be competitive with your fellow agents. All of these things assist in building your brand as an agent and leads to more referrals and business down the road from clients that felt you went above and beyond.
CD: What is the most important shot and why?
Godwin: Easily the front exterior. That single shot is the identity of the home to EVERYONE! It’s the first thing people see when the pull up and usually the first photo that is presented when on MLS.
CD: What is the least important shot and possibly one to avoid at all costs?
Godwin: Toilets. I’ll shamefully admit that I learned the hard way when I first began photographing homes that buyers know there is a toilet in the bathroom, no need to focus on it.
CD: How much alteration of a shot is acceptable? Greening the grass? Adding blue sky? Getting rid of cords? Are there quick fixes you can do if a client requests? Where do you draw the line about representing the property?
Godwin: When it comes to altering a shot there is a pretty defined line in regards to what I deem morally acceptable. Grass greening is something we include at no charge because at the listing’s best the grass would be green anyway. We photograph a ton of homes during the winter months, so no need to penalize home sellers that need to sell their home during that time of year. However, when it comes to physically altering the interiors that is something we don’t do. Removing cracks in the walls, adjusted shoddy paint jobs, etc. The last thing you want is a buyer to walk into a home with those things altered out of the photograph and be annoyed that the listing looks NOTHING like it did in the photos. We highly recommend and encourage staging homes, but fabricating and twisting reality can be looked upon as deceptive to buyers and make the showing agent look bad in the process.
CD: What is the optimum height to shoot a room photo from? There seem to be lots of creative angles, wide angles, shots from the hip, literally, these days. Are those helpful or a hindrance?
(Here’s a good example of how perspective can change how you perceive a room. The photo above is shot straight ahead with no color correction, while the photo below is shot at a wider angle with color correction.)
Godwin: Height depends on a couple of factors. Things such as how high the ceilings are, what type of furniture is in the room, whether you are outside or inside all play a role. For instance, low shots that get the entire pool are better than eye-level shots in the same place that would cut off the bottom half of the pool. I teach our photographers to start with the base of the camera 40″-44″ from the ground and adjust accordingly based on the features that you are trying to highlight in the in the frame.
CD: So we have 25 photos we can put on MLS. What if there are not 25 good shots? Do you shoot more angles of the same room? Add photos of the neighborhood?
Godwin: Yes and yes. As as standard, we include up to 30 images for that reason. We want Realtors the chance or opportunity to pick which ones they feel showcase their home the best. One trick is taking two to three frames of the master bedroom — one from the doorway looking in towards the bed, one from the other side of the bed looking back towards to doorway to showcase how the home flows into the bedroom. We also take three different angles of the front and back, so you can see how just the master bedroom and exterior can easily be nine photos right off the bat. For smaller townhome and condo listings, it is standard to include exteriors of the entire building and amenities that the community provides to make up the difference.
CD: Have you ever had to decline a shoot or walk away because a home was not ready?
Godwin: About once a week I personally get a listing that drives me up the wall. In every confirmation email we send out it asks to have the listings prepared for photography prior to our arrival. Most Realtors have worked with us before and respect that our time is valuable and that we work for multiple Realtors on the same day. Like I mentioned before, the more effort the Realtors put into prepping their listings, the more they will get out of the photography. With that in mind, the ball is in their court in regards to whether or not they want to maximize the value of their photos. We won’t walk away from a listing, but we will shoot it as-is. We don’t mind doing small things such as removing toothbrushes from countertops or hide soap under the sink, but we also aren’t maids and aren’t going to take the laundry out of your front-loading washer that we see sitting there, either.
CD: Any funny stories about having to avoid shooting something unusual in a home?
Godwin: Ah yes, definitely. There was a situation once where a gentleman (who was going through a divorce) had hung his big game heads all over the wall in the family room and hallways. When I showed up to photograph his home we actually had to spend about an hour removing all of the taxidermied heads from the walls with the understanding that his soon-to-be ex-wife would kill him if she saw that he had hung these heads all over her house. She had of course moved out prior to this.
CD: Parting shot?
Godwin: One thing I train all of our photographers on is this: You never know why people are selling their homes. For some, it’s a great step forward to a larger dream house down the street or a killer new job in a different city that they are relocating for. For others it could be due to divorce or a recent passing. It’s important to be sensitive to the situation at hand and make sure that you are prepared to showcase this home at its best. Honestly, the most rewarding thing I get is when I receive weekly emails from Realtors who are ready to set up their next shoot, providing status updates on how the home we just photographed last week is already under contract. They always send a lot of the credit my way, which is fantastic.