If there’s one thing you won’t sell a property without, it’s photographs. Whatever agents think of floorplans, videos, or which portals they ought to use, no one in their right mind would try to sell a home without good property photos.
Brian Farrell of Metropix says, “Good strong photography is worth its weight in gold.” But what makes a good photo? Do agents have what it takes, or should they call in the professionals?
The technology exists for agents to take their own photos, with most smartphones and tablets now including high megapixel count cameras. But Ray Dowling, at Dowling Jones Design, says “Megapixels are not enough. You need good optics, too,” and that’s something most smartphones don’t have. His photographers might use smartphone pictures as a reference, for instance on a building site, but in his view professional cameras are vital for good photos. So is a selection of different lenses. While a 12mm lens is useful for bedsits, for instance, “it would make a big dining room look like a football pitch,” Dowling says, so for that room a 17-18mm lens would be better. But then it’s back to the wide-angle lens for the smallest room in the house. “The bathroom and kitchen are the features that add most value to a house,” he explains, “therefore they need good photos, and a wide angle lens really helps here.”
But just going out and buying a digital SLR and a load of lenses won’t get good photos.
“It’s not just the kit,” Ray Dowling stresses, “it’s the photographer’s nous.”
It’s a difficult balancing act between delivering pictures that are realistic and useful, but it’s also to convey an inviting atmosphere; “You’re trying to sell a lifestyle to somebody, and creating that atmosphere is important.”
Good lighting is also important for bright photos, particularly for throwing light into shadowy areas. Professional photographers will take portable lighting with them, such as remote triggered flash, which (unlike a camera-mounted flash) is capable of being directed wherever the photographer desires; this sets their photographs above what most agents can achieve.
Natural lighting also needs to be taken into account. Andrew Cole, at Floorplanz Ltd, says often, a property will only look its best at a particular time of day – the most convenient time for the client might not be the best time to take photos. His tip? Let the photographer make the appointment.
The Professional Premium
However, better photos do come at a cost, if you outsource. Still, most photographers are efficient in their use of time. Alan Bookless, at Floorplanz, says his company is used mainly for photographing larger properties, which could take half a day in the case of a larger equestrian property; but he’d guess an average might be one and a half hours, down to half an hour for a small flat.
Professional photographers can also deliver services that an agent couldn’t handle viably in-house, such as aerial and mast photography. Mast photography is particularly useful for larger properties, where by using the mast to gain height, it’s possible to give an impression of the whole property including outbuildings and gardens. It sells particularly well to property developers aiming to give an overall view of a site. Alan says the price has more than halved, and as it has got cheaper, more agents have begun to use it. That’s not the case for aerial photography – still a luxury.
While taking a good photo is important, retouching is just as crucial. John Durrant at Doctor Photo has 500 estate agents around the UK using Doctor Photo to smarten-up their photos. Adding blue skies, correcting colour, exposure, distortion etc. and sometimes removing cars and other agents’ boards. “Some might have the skills to do it themselves but most realise they’re better off on the ‘phone selling houses,” says John. “As an ex-agent I know the importance of a fast turn-around so we try to get them back in under five working hours, there’s a speedy facility as well (at a small premium) to get them back in 90 minutes. We are aware that we’re helping to create the best first impression of the houses our agents are selling, so we do our best to make their photos significantly better.”
Retouching might also mean airbrushing out the wheelie bins, or an old car in the drive, or correcting converging verticals in shots of tall buildings – though it wouldn’t be legal to airbrush pylons or wind turbines out of the view. “For taking photos you need a person with the eye for it, the right equipment and time to do a proper job,” Alan Bookless says, “but the retouching takes the photo to a whole new level.”
That level is important for online viewing but it is crucial for printed property details, which need to impress the vendor and the buyers. Ravensworth’s new Photofixr service, allows agents to upload their photos to the website and choose enhancements from a “basic”, to more complex object removal. Ravensworth edits the photographs accordingly and returns them within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the complexity.
Suzie Pattison, Ravensworth’s MD says, “Good photography is imperative, especially as the average dwell time on an internet summary advert is less than three seconds. The quality of images is increasingly important to stand out on both small and large screen formats.
“We design and print thousands of brochures, window cards and canvassing materials for agents, so we see first-hand how dramatically the impact of their brand is affected by the quality of the photos. We wanted to establish a service that gives agents the chance to easily enhance their photos – particularly useful for those who don’t use professional photographers and don’t have the time or ability to amend the photos themselves.”
New technology brings new possibilities, from interactive floorplans and computer generated walkthroughs to full video. Metropix, for instance, offers computer generated 3D video walkthroughs, which can show alternative furnishing ideas for the same property to stimulate viewers’ imaginations. Other firms create 3D walkthroughs by using the agent’s photos together with powerful software. However, James Davis of The Mobile Agent says that so far, 3D walkthroughs haven’t turned up on Rightmove; he thinks they’re more appropriate for developers selling off plan.
Full video, naturally, is more expensive – particularly since it needs professional handling. Brian Farrell says that, “whereas with interactive floorplans, the technology does it for you, video needs a unique human resource,” and the consequent costs are likely to keep video an option only at the top end of the market.
What happens if you don’t get a professional in? Ask Jane Danser of Pure Brand Media, which creates both walkthroughs stitched together from agents’ photos and floorplans, and full video. She’s seen some horrors; wobbly filming, inaudible soundtracks, videos where the agent has taken shots of the floor. Bad scripting is common, such as reading out the property details rather than talking about what the user’s actually looking at. “You have to script to the pictures,” she says, “and you have to make it sound like real speech so that you can engage people.” That’s something her ex-broadcast team can do – and some agents can’t.
Video is proving slow to take off, probably due to cost. Alan Bookless thinks “There’s only a certain budget to spend on a property to put it on the market – when you pass £200, that’s too much.”
Innovation In 3D
And yet video is old hat compared to some of the ideas out there. Google Glass appears to offer the prospect of clients actually looking through an agent’s eyes, or seeing the property in 3D while they are at home. Ben Robinson of ETSOS finds it a fascinating idea. “With a regular viewing, if the viewer doesn’t like the property, you have to make an appointment for them to visit another one another time. With a virtual viewing, you could say ‘do you want to do a virtual tour of this one instead?’ and go straight there.” He points out that unlike virtual tours, this has the advantage that the agent is in control of the interaction. Video provider Vistabee has already started working on an agency application, with agents such as Douglas & Gordon and Aston Chase as early adopters.
Still, Google Glass has only been made available to the public in the last month, and at the crazy price of $1500, and then only if you’re a US resident, so it may not make a huge impact very quickly here.
All these types of technology are getting much easier to use. Most suppliers are willing to provide media in whichever file type is required, including both high resolution photos for print and lower resolution for web use; Andrew Cole says, “We only have one bugbear and that’s WMF [Windows Metafiles, dating from 1990] which are completely outdated.”
Jane Danser says PureViewPOD produces eight different versions of the video, “so it plays the right type of content for every device.” (something agents making their own videos need to consider; nothing more frustrating than being unable to view a video because you’ve got an iPhone, and the video needs Flash.)
But whether agents are taking still photos or making videos, all that media needs to be integrated into the property marketing campaign. Jane Danser says, “People tend to think that you create a video, put it on your website and instantly you get traffic, but it doesn’t work like that.” Her company has now created an integrated marketing envelope around its videos, creating Youtube channels for clients, putting the videos on portals, and creating text and QR codes to direct potential buyers to the videos. All this marketing activity, she says, generates as much value as the basic creation of the video.
That’s a basic truth that estate agents should bear in mind. However good your photos and however much you spend on snazzy new technology or excellent video production, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Doctor Photo www.doctor-photo.co.uk
Pure Brand Media www.purebrandmedia.co.uk
The Mobile Agent www.themobileagent.co.uk