Now is the best time to photograph your house if you are planning on selling in September. Late May to early June is the sweet spot for photographing homes, says Ed Hill, who, with Tony Murray, is the closest the industry has to the fashion photographer Mario Testino. “The gardens are green, everything looks lovely and there’s light, but not too much of it,” Hill says.
Hill was responsible for taking the pictures for the sales brochure for One Cornwall Terrace, a mansion overlooking Regent’s Park that sold for £80 million to Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser, the mother of the Emir of Qatar. It is said that when snapping the exterior of One Cornwall Terrace, he waited up a tree for three nights until he got a perfect, clear night-sky shot. The bill for the photography is thought to have been £20,000, although Hill — who works mainly in central London, “with the odd castle here and there”, is too discreet to say how much he charges.
Most estate agencies pay their photographers a fraction of this and it can show in the quality of the photography. However, some agencies are investing more heavily because, apart from the price, photography is the first thing a buyer looks at.
The London-based agency Brickworks, set up by an artist and an estate agent, employs two specialist interiors photographers, who can take a day to shoot a home. The company provides a stylist and can stage the home with furniture within a fee scale from 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent. A two-bedroom flat in Daltson, northeast London, that was stuck on the market sold within three weeks after being styled, rephotographed and relisted by the agency. “All the niggly bits that the owner never gets round to doing — the perpetual snagging list, as it were — must be resolved because the buyers will notice,” say Ellie Rees, the creative director and co-founder of Brickworks. “Selling is the time to fix the light switch, paint the front door, and get the carpets cleaned. All this narrows down the opportunity for negotiation on the price.”
So, how do you take pictures that sell a home for the best price?
1 It’s all about light. “You never understand the light in a house until you’ve spent time there,” says Hill. “I might shoot a room thinking I’ve got the perfect time of day, but when I revisit it later I discover the light is better, so I reshoot it. People think that what you want is a room flooded with light, but too much won’t make a great picture.”
2 Style your home. Declutter to the max. Move the bins so they are out of shot and book an industrial cleaner. If the paintwork is looking tired, repaint everything a brilliant white. Richard Barber, the director of the residential agency arm of JLL, recommends employing an interior designer. “Spending £6,000 to £7,000 will easily add £15,000 at the £1 million price level,” he says.
3 Don’t overstyle it. Hill says: “I work with interior designers who have strong views on whether cushions should be laid square, angled or bunny-chopped. Sometimes I’ll angle the cushions and a designer will say, ‘I can’t believe you are doing that.’ Many of the houses I work with have amazing dining rooms styled to within an inch of their lives. Personally, I think it’s too much — it’s trying too hard. I believe there’s a balance; don’t overstyle the property, or overflower it to the point where it looks like a flower shop. You need balance to appeal to a cross-section of people.”
4 Be patient and wait for the right weather conditions. “Interiors work better when it’s overcast, externals are better when it’s sunny,” says Murray. If your home is east-facing, you will get sun in the morning, and if it’s west-facing the sun will be there in the afternoon. There are apps, such as Sun Seeker, that will help you to pinpoint when the sun will land on your home.
5 Make sure the photos are seasonal. If the seasons change before a sale is agreed, ask for it to be rephotographed.
6 Dusk shots — usually about 4pm in winter and 9.30pm in summer — are back in fashion. These work well on modern homes with lots of windows.
7 Be honest. “There’s little point in disguising the huge block of flats next door,” says Becky Munday, the managing director of Munday’s estate agency. “If there is an issue at the screen stage, the potential buyer won’t book a viewing, and won’t be wasting anyone’s time.” Similarly, Photoshop can be a useful tool, but changing a sky to make it bluer won’t look as good as waiting for a sunny day to take the picture.
8 A good agent should commission good photography. Nick Leeming, the chairman of Jackson-Stops & Staff, recommends getting final approval on imagery before it is used. “And if they aren’t good enough, don’t be scared to ask for them to be retaken,” he says. The most important shots will be the living room and the exterior.
9 Drones. They are increasingly used to photograph large homes, but be careful. In the wrong hands the images can resemble the location shots we see of grisly crime scenes in the news. Alex Newall, the managing director and founder of the buying agency Barnes Private Office, suggests not using a drone right above your house, but to show the home in its setting.
10 Once a sale is agreed, photography still plays an important role. Buyers will show the brochure to family and friends and may obsess over the pictures. Good photography can reassure them that they’ve made the right decision.