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A picture is worth a thousand words, true or false? Redfin article

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Dollars. True or False?

by Redfin Blogger | 70 Comments

In our series of reports on The Real Estate Scientist we bring you data driven, no-nonsense answers to help you untangle the snarl of real estate advice you commonly encounter when trying to buy or sell a home. We’ve sifted through piles of real estate data to answer the following question: What is the true benefit of listing your home with professional quality photos?

Conventional wisdom would tell you that homes sell better when they have listing photos that were taken by a professional photographer, like the photo on the left.

Professional Photo
Professional Photo
Amateur Photo
Amateur Photo

Never ones to be satisfied with conventional wisdom, we turned to the numbers to answer the question at the top of every seller’s mind when deciding how to market their home. Is it truly worth the money to pay for professional photography? At Redfin we believe in the power of professional photography. Every house that is listed with our brokerage is marketed with professional photos, and we pick up the tab. So, is it worth the dough?

It turns out that in most cases the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

The DSLR Advantage

As The Wall Street Journal reports today, “listings with nicer photos gain anywhere between $934 and $116,076.”  The graph clearly shows that you are likely to receive thousands more if you list your home using DSLR photography than if you used a simple point-n-shoot camera to take the photos yourself.

Since the price of a DSLR camera (anywhere from $500 to $1,000+) is generally out of the price range of your average hobbyist, let us assume that photos shot with DSLR cameras are shot by professionals. Since professional photos could net you thousands more on the sale of your home, it stands to reason that spending the $100 – $500 on professional photos is a worthy investment of your marketing dollars.

Given this obvious upside, it is shocking that only 15.4% of homes in our data set were marketed using professional photography. The majority of listings, 80.9%, were photographed using point-n-shoot photography, and still another 0.7% used just a camera phone. Let’s not mince words: If you are not using professional photography to market your home, you are not really marketing your home.

A few more interesting tidbits that came from our analyses:

Homes shot with a DSLR camera:

  • Receive an average of 61% more views than their peers across all price tiers.
  • Have a 47% higher asking price per square foot.
  • Have an increased likelihood of selling for homes priced above $300,000.
  • Stay on the market an average of 10 days longer across all price tiers.

Homes with professional photographs get more page views and ultimately sell for a higher price, but they surprisingly take slightly longer to sell.

So, what does this all mean to someone selling their home?

Be sure that you, or your agent, invest in nice listing photos. A professional-looking photo dramatically increases the likelihood that a potential buyer will click through to view your listing, and drives more buyers to tour your home. Ultimately, the more people interested in your house, the better your chance of receiving an attractive offer. A photo really can be worth a thousand dollars.

How did we come up with these numbers?
We calculated two ratios of sale price to original list price for homes that sold in each price tier: one for homes with a primary listing photo shot with a DSLR, and one for homes where the primary listing photo was shot with a point-n-shoot. Photos shot with other types of cameras (camera phones, etc.) or where the camera type was unknown were excluded from the analysis. We then took the difference between the two ratios in each price tier and multiplied that by the average list price in the tier.
For example, homes originally priced $500,000 to $599,999 had a DSLR sale-to-list ratio of 93.85% and point-n-shoot sale-to-list ratio of 92.63%. The 1.22-point difference between the two was multiplied by the $556,828 average listing price for the tier to arrive at an average advantage of $6,811 for the tier.
For this report we filtered out distressed inventory (REO and short sales), which have even fewer listing photos shot with DSLR cameras. If you factor distressed inventory into the mix, the DSLR advantage declines slightly. This suggests that while marketing investments usually lead to higher selling prices, no amount of marketing is as effective at generating a quick sale as an owner determined to sell quickly at any price.
You can download a summary of the data in Excel spreadsheet form here.
Our data sample included over 100,000 listings that were listed for sale during 2009. The data was limited to the metros that include meta-tags in the photo data. This was based on information provided to and compiled by MLSLI and MLS Property Information Network, Inc. covering the period 1/1/2009 through 9/16/2010.
Engineer Extraordinaire: Redfin’s Stats & Trends Product Manager Tim Ellis (of Seattle Bubble fame) was the data wizard behind this analysis. He pulled the numbers in the office but his best ideas came to him on his bus ride home. Thanks, Tim!
Methodology Shout Out: A huge thanks to OKCupid for giving us the inspiration, and pointing us toward the script that allowed us to grab the camera information from the photos’ meta-data.
Comments for this thread are now closed.

  • Avatar
    meks • 3 years ago

    Sounds like a great excuse to buy a new camera!

  • Kirsten Robertson3 years ago

    I would stress the professional photographer over the DSLR. I have seen agents with a DSLR try to shoot photos and they really aren’t much better than a good point and shoot. A professional knows the right angles to shoot from, they have the right lenses, the right filters and often will bring in lighting to brighten dark corners and shadows. There really isn’t any substitution for that kind of experience. Professional photography has come down so much in price over the last few years, there really is no excuse not to use a pro.

    • The_Tim Kirsten Robertson3 years ago

      I completely agree, Kirsten. We think it’s relatively safe to infer that most photos shot with DSLR cameras are professional photos, but obviously there will be some that are not. Unfortunately the only information we can get from the available data is the type of camera used to shoot the photo, so we did the best we could with what we had.

    • Avatar
      Tcphotodesign Kirsten Robertson2 years ago

      Interesting data. I happen to be a professional Photographer here in Rancho Santa Margarita, my info can be found at www.tcphotodesign.com
      I’ve been in business for over 12 years and am licensed and insured.
      I use professional equipment including high resolution digital capture and strobe/continuous lighting for interior shots. Sometimes depending on
      the day, the client and the home I will use available light.
      I provide my service to both realestate professionals and home owners.
      Please contact me for an in home free consultation, at that time I can answer most questions you might have.
      I pride myself on exellent customer service and open communication, quick turn around on images.
      Tim Copeland- TC Photography & Design

  • Geordie Romer3 years ago

    I would agree with Kirsten as well. I used to be one of those agents with a fancy camera, but not the fancy imaging software to back me up. I would also note that it’s important to use a photographer with experience in real estate photography. It’s possible to have a pro-photographer who takes great photos that don’t show off a house as well as they could.

    • Avatar
      Eric Geordie Romer2 years ago

      Geordieromer is right about the so called “pro” photography… I have been photographing houses for my clients for 20 years, I was one of the FIRST Real Estate Agents in Denver, CO about 1990 to be using Digital Scanner technology scan photos and print them to photos flyers. The key in the early days may have been about photographic resoulution and “film” quality and as importantly reproduction quality… Todays technology with digital photos has solved most of the reproduction problems and abilty to get to print clearly, especially with straightening, cropping and editing software.. In the end however, there is no camera, wide angle or otherwise DSLR that can make up for bad “composition” in the shots…

  • Pauline Wiles3 years ago

    Photos are hugely important, and I’m often shocked by the ‘quality’ of pictures used by many agents. When selling an asset of this size, cutting that kind of corner is just crazy.

    • Michelle Broderick Pauline Wiles3 years ago

      Agreed, Pauline. Why would you cut corners on something this important? Hopefully we were able to help a few more people market their home correctly, and in turn get top dollar for the sale.

      • Avatar
        Mattie Michelle Broderick3 years ago

        I am a photographer and I go through the images of homes for sale in my area every evening. It’s easy to pick out the shots taken by agents. They leave toilets open (why even shoot the toilet to begin with, ug). They leave the clutter and so much more. Shots that are not level, poorly lit and of stuff like high power lines. I have spent a small fortune on my camera, lenses, lighting, tripods, ladders, the full suite of Adobe products but still the agents think that camera they can slip in their purse can do a better job. I could go on but I am probably preaching to the choir here.

  • Jeremy Miles3 years ago

    I think that we can safely assume that any professional will use a DSLR, and some non-professionals will also use a DSLR. But , no amateur will use a DSLR. The comparison is amateurs vs. a mixture of amateurs and professionals. Any difference is therefore going to be larger than the difference that is found. (And that’s the way it should be, you’d rather get an effect that’s too small than an effect that’s too large).

    If I wanted to be more convinced by these data, I’d try to control for a few other things. For example, foreclosures tend to have far worse pictures than regular sales – perhaps banks are prepared to drop more on the price of foreclosures. Hiring professional / using a DSLR might just be a proxy for the seller trying harder to sell, and that means that they might also do a number of other things to try harder to sell, hence it looks like a camera effect, but it’s something else.

    I’d also be interested in seeing if there were an effect from the number of photos – some listings have 1, some have 50.

    • Michelle Broderick Jeremy Miles3 years ago

      Good points Jeremy! We did control for distressed inventory, as you suggested. Hopefully the bit of information below is what you are looking for. I agree it would be interesting to see how the number of photos impacts these stats.

      “For this report we filtered out distressed inventory (REO and short sales), which have even fewer listing photos shot with DSLR cameras. If you factor distressed inventory into the mix, the DSLR advantage declines slightly. This suggests that while marketing investments usually lead to higher selling prices, no amount of marketing is as effective at generating a quick sale as an owner determined to sell quickly at any price.”

  • Alex Loddengaard3 years ago

    Excellent post! What’s most interesting for me is the relationship between visits and time on market vs. photographs for houses in the same price bracket and neighborhood. This post reminds me of OK Trends, a blog powered by the popular dating website OK Cupid. Those guys come out with awesome data-driven posts, and the internet drools for days. I imagine if you could do more posts like this one you’d start seeing data junkies visiting the Redfin blog more often. Here’s OK Trends: http://blog.okcupid.com/

  • Michelle Broderick3 years ago

    Glad you liked it Alex! You are spot on about the OKCupid posts,they are the ones that inspired us. We even gave them a shout out at the end. Cheers to data junkies!

    “Methodology Shout Out: A huge thanks to OKCupid for giving us the inspiration, and pointing us toward the script that allowed us to grab the camera information from the photos’ meta-data.”

  • Avatar
    Tom • 3 years ago

    I’m going to be a professional golfer, so I’m going to go out and buy the exactly same clubs that Tiger Woods uses.

    I wonder where Shakespeare bought his pen?

    Please – good photos don’t come from DLSR cameras. Good photos come from good photographers who understand composition and light. From someone who knows how to USE their camera. A good photographer can take a fantastic photo with an iPhone. A bad photographer can take a bad photo with a $6000 DSLR.

    It’s NOT about the gear… it’s about the person behind the camera

    • The_Tim Tom3 years ago

      …and if there were data in the photos that revealed any sort of useful information about “the person behind the camera,” we absolutely would have analyzed that as well. Since camera model was the only hard fact that we could analyze in the data, that was what we went with as a decent proxy. As Jeremy Miles points out above, if anything the existence of amateur shots in the mix most likely under-represents the true effect of professional photography.

      If you have any ideas for how we can analyze over 100,000 photos and determine with certainty the skill level of the photographer, I am happy to entertain your suggestions!

      [Edit: Sorry if this came off as snarky, that was not my intent. Tone is difficult to convey on the internet.]

      • Avatar
        Guest The_Tim3 years ago

        I dunno. I just looked at the 13 residential Eastside houses that Redfin has listed. Clearly these homes had professional photos … but in my opinion, the photos are sharp, bright, but stilted/stiff feeling. I also find the verticle clouds in the blue-sky photos very, very distracting. Plus, we rarely see this cloud formation in our region.

        Here are the nwmls numbers.

        107876
        57257
        22532
        123746
        125195
        107026
        89910
        104033
        107855
        126224
        90092
        93827
        112934

      • Avatar
        Touresq The_Tim2 years ago

        Tim, any chance lens data is available in the metadata you pulled for this study? While it won’t correlate precisely as to who is behind the camera or the caliber of the photographer’s skill using it, higher quality glass, and even the type of lens (wide angle or tilt-shift) could give an additional clue as to whether or not the photos were shot by a pro, as they are most likely to invest in quality lenses. Unfortunately, many real estate photographers like myself also do post processing that often strips out EXIF data so that may work against the ‘lens data’ idea. At any rate, thank you for sharing this informative and enlightening study. Cheers, Joel

    • Avatar
      Thomas Scott, Realtor Tom2 years ago

      I have studied and practiced photography most of my life as a hobby. Not a pro. I earn more as a pharmacist and Realtor than I can as a photographer. But I really enjoy it.

      I take all my wife’s listing photos. And do sports and dance photos for my daughters’ high school. I use a Canon EOS 7D, Speedlight 580EX II, 3 different lenses, a WhiBal white balance reference card and Photoshop RAW editor.

      While I can certainly take a better photo with a cell phone or point and shoot than the average bear, I cannot get even close to the quality I can with my high end equipment.

      It is both. The talent and skill of the photographer and the equipment.

      Tom Scott
      TomScottPhotography.com

  • Avatar
    jc • 3 years ago

    for real estate, architectural and commerical photography it really is about the gear, to some extent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…

  • Avatar
    Anthony • 3 years ago

    It is so important to hire a professional photographer on every single listing a Broker takes, and if you can get that photographer to sketch a Floor Plan, priceless. The seller loves nothing more than to show off how “fancy” there home is represented, and engages the seller to help get the word out about the new listing. The buying consumer appreciates the photo quality, and the angles that represent the home as if they’re at the property. Add-in the floor plan, and buyer can see right away if the layout works for their style of living. All of this even makes the worst listings shine.

  • Avatar
    Dbltapp00 • 3 years ago

    Those two photos are not of the same exact scene. It appears some landscaping differs between them, and probably some Photoshopping.

    • Avatar
      Ira Serkes Dbltapp003 years ago

      A professional photographer will frame it better than an amateur. At the very least these two photos were taken at different times.

    • Michelle Broderick Dbltapp003 years ago

      It’s the same house, but not taken at the exact same time. The one on the right was taken by the seller with his point-n-shoot camera. The one on the left was taken by a professional photographer with a DSLR camera and processed with photo editing software.

    • Avatar
      Guest Dbltapp003 years ago

      There are some photographers doing false advertising with photoshop landcaping, home condition, daylight, etc. While you want the best possible photos, truth is also critically important.

      Adding or changing landscaping isn’t appropriate. Using color to highlight is fine.

      • zbreeze Guest3 years ago

        So — landscaping added in photoshop here? I was wondering how a pro-photographer could make plants grow. I completely agree that taking a better photo in the first place (sharper, better focused, better light) and correcting it in photoshop (sharpening, contrast, color balance) are a real plus. Adding things (or taking away things) that aren’t there is dishonest.

        For a high end house, though, taking photos throughout the year might be part of the staging.

  • Shawn C3 years ago

    It’s frustrating when I approach agents with offers to take their photos for them and their response is “Times are tight right now, I can’t afford to pay for professional photography”. They are set in their ways, and no amount of trying to convince them that they can’t afford not to have professional photography gets them to change their minds. I even offer a free first shoot so they compare. They’ll also say they have “someone in the office” that’s very particular about the photos and they want to keep it that way. This tells me they have no idea what the difference between professional photography and point and shoot photography is.

    • Michelle Broderick Shawn C3 years ago

      Hopefully you can bring them this chart and they can see exactly why they can’t afford not to pay for professional photography.

    • Avatar
      Guest Shawn C3 years ago

      Or it tells you to talk to someone else. You’re in sales, and if you cannot take rejection, you will fail. It won’t be the real estate agents fault.

      Your last statement “this tells me they have no idea what the difference … ” tells me that you may have some kind of “attitude” when you approach agents. People don’t like to be told they are stupid or clueless, either directly or by inference.

  • Avatar
    Artur • 3 years ago

    I think the assumption that good photographs are taken with a DSLR is wrong. There are plenty of non-DSLR photo-cameras that allow for photography with interchangeable lenses and in the RAW formant. The photo camera is a tool. The photographer is the one taking the photos and one with knowledge will be able to create good photos with a point and shoot camera as well. Professional don’t get paid for having a DSLR, they get paid because they are better a using these tools. Seller certainly need to be aware of how their home is being marketed and whom they hire to sell the property. From the looks of it, most sellers don’t care about good marketing. They do need to know it’s costing them money to choose unwisely.

  • Avatar
    Andrew Mattie • 3 years ago

    This is a super cool analysis and is something I thought about doing myself in the recent past, but I think it’s important to remember the oft-mentioned phrase that correlation does not imply causation. In this circumstance, just because homes photographed with a dSLR sell for more doesn’t mean that the dSLR was the reason.

    For example, if I were to tell you that, statistically, the crime rate is directly proportional to the rate of vanilla ice cream sales, you wouldn’t believe that the crime rate was directly tied to ice cream sales. Just because there’s a correlation doesn’t mean that one thing causes the other. In this case, the ice cream sale rate and the crime rate are tied together because of the weather, nothing more.

    My point is that the higher sales price could be due to better agents who know how to better market homes, go over and above for their clients, AND tend to have their photographs taken with a dSLR. I’m not saying that they aren’t related, but rather that one should be very careful when quantifying the data in a chart with a title of “How much more do listings shot with DSLR cameras sell for?”

    I just think the data needs a disclaimer.

    • Avatar
      Guest Andrew Mattie3 years ago

      Valid point Andrew. Would an agent choose to pay a professional photographer on a house that is in poor condition, incredibly ugly or full of grandma’s red-flocked wallpaper?

      A well priced home will sell quickly if the photographs are reasonably good. Amazingly enough, people do still buy homes that they have seen in person.

  • Avatar
    Wchutt • 3 years ago

    It’s all about the light.

  • Avatar
    PJC • 3 years ago

    +1 on Andrew Mattie’s comment. Correlation does not imply causation! Redfinners, try to figure out a way of isolating the DSLR decision from all the others that go into selling.

  • Avatar
    meks • 3 years ago

    I followed a pro around taking pictures when I sold my last place. She did a whole lot of HDR shots (High Dynamic Range, taking multiple shots at different exposure levels then combining them). I’m not sure they look great, but they do seem popular for the professional RE shots.

  • Kelly Thomas3 years ago

    “wow, that was a great meal. I’ll bet you have a really nice set of pots and pans.” —

    Shooting a DSLR is not the key, it’s the person pressing the button. Photography is about capturing photons of light, not shooting with a nice camera. Using your thesis, then if I’m shooting with a Hasselblad or Mamiya then that property will sell for much more than a with a point and shoot. It’s a shame you can’t identify agents using pro images. Maybe in the next round. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Douglas • 3 years ago

    I dont think the premise was photo’s with a DSLR were better, the assumtpion was it was most likely taken by a professional (or at the very least, someone who knew what they were doing) Even though there are no data points to back that up, I think it is a reasonable assumption.

    I’m sure someone who know’s what they are doing can get decent photo’s with a P&S, but they can get better ones with a DSLR. I’m a Pro, I don’t shoot real estate, but there is a reason I use a DSLR.

  • Avatar
    Dboquet2 • 3 years ago

    Good points! Great visual representation is a requirement in properly displaying real estate online and in print.

  • Avatar
    Shoreview MN Homes for Sale • 3 years ago

    There is no question a marketing advantage when your marketing is polished with professional pictures boasting wide-angle lenses, correct lighting, and even panoramic pictures. Great points in this post. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Sisterprise • 3 years ago

    Am I reading this right? Does that say 47% higher asking price??? Could that possibly be correct? Even in the high priced markets in Long Island and Boston, I can’t imagine that there is that kind of variation in asking price??

    • Michelle Broderick Sisterprise3 years ago

      You are reading it correctly, but I think you are assuming they are comparable homes. That bullet is just what type of a listing uses a DSLR camera. Not what they get for using a DSLR camera, that information would be in the green graph. Hope that helps!

  • Avatar
    Joe • 3 years ago

    It’s a viscous circle…the Brokers/Agents say they can’t pay a professional photographer because times are bad, but their inventory sits for months on end because these homes are being marketed with lousy photographs. I’m a photographer, and I’m always scanning through listings. I can’t believe the amount of bad photographs out there representing homes in the 400-1M range!

    If you were in the market for a 70,000.00 luxury vehicle, would you give the listings with just photos of the gas cap and a tire a second look? It’s no different than product or modeling photography, the better image gets the look, ask any advertising agency.

  • John Hildebrand3 years ago

    i shoot all the time and the clients never get it until they see the final images. Most real estate agent bitch about paying $150 for photos. its a crazy world

  • Avatar
    Tcphotodesign • 2 years ago

    Interesting data. I happen to be a professional Photographer here in Rancho Santa Margarita, my info can be found at www.tcphotodesign.com
    I’ve been in business for over 12 years and am licensed and insured.
    I use professional equipment including high resolution digital capture and strobe/continuous lighting for interior shots. Sometimes depending on
    the day, the client and the home I will use available light.
    I provide my service to both realestate professionals and home owners.
    Please contact me for an in home free consultation, at that time I can answer most questions you might have.
    I pride myself on exellent customer service and open communication, quick turn around on images.
    Tim Copeland- TC Photography & Design

  • Avatar
    Tcphotodesign • 2 years ago

    Sorry to chime in again but reading over the above posts remind me of the old story, a woman needed something fixed on her wash machine, she could not figure out what was wrong, after having several people who she thought could fix the problem, look at it…she called a professional, she asked how much to fix it, the man said, $55.00 for a house visit, ok, she said, that better fix it for that kind of money. He arrived, 5 minutes later he gave her the bill and said, it’s fixed. She said, how did you do that so fast and, all that money for 5 minues, he said, yes… you have to know what screw to turn.
    The moral of the story is, those of us in this case who are professional photographers charge what we charge for a reason. After all, have you seen some of those photos on real estate sites? whew!
    TC Photography & Design
    Give me a call when your ready for professional, creative photography. From your basic 3/2 residential to high end and commercial real estate, I can make your home look like it should be on architectural digest.