The Big Picture

Photos and videos are playing an increasingly larger role in how buyers shop for homes and how real estate agents and home builders market their products.

Back in the day, real estate agents often drove up to a new home listing, rolled down the car window, and took a quick photo. That was it. Done. Finished.

But the Internet changed all that. Now prospective buyers do their homework online. They can sit in front of their computers and “walk around” homes they are looking at without driving to a home or going to an open house. And agents, architects, and home builders have had to step up to the plate to entice those prospective customers, who wait until they literally want to walk around a property of interest.

The focus has indeed changed. “We used to look at small black-and-white photos of the front exterior of homes for the Multiple Listing Service (MLS),” says Rick Wanamaker, who markets many high-end homes for Iowa Realty. “But now the genie is out of the bottle; buyers can spend a few minutes on their computers and decide if they want to visit a house in person. Literally, about 85 percent of prospective buyers look at photos online and start their search there.”

There’s an upside to this for the agent, though. As Wanamaker points out, “It’s a time-saver for us. We don’t have to show as many houses to buyers. They have already eliminated the homes they don’t want to see in person because they have done their preliminary homework online.”

Home-building photos

Builder Dan Sparks, owner of Genesis Homes of Iowa, knows the importance of photography. “As soon as I can get photos of homes we build, it’s a priority. My goal is to have 40-plus photos, which I can put on Facebook, on Houzz, and on our own website. It’s important to highlight features and details of the homes we build to attract prospective customers.” Sparks builds about 36 custom and spec homes each year in the greater Des Moines, Ames, and central Iowa areas.

Local photographers who focus on architecture know the importance of quality work for print or for online display. “For a real estate agent, it comes down to the fact that he or she needs to have the seller in mind at all times and do the best for that seller,” says Tim Abramowitz, in the photography business for 15 years. He shoots for several agents, as well as for architects and interior designers, and also for Welcome Home Des Moines magazine. “ allows 36 photos per property. The longer you can engage the prospective buyer, the more likely he or she is to call to explore a property further.”

Technology has leveled the playing field in some ways, says Abramowitz, with the opportunity to put more information about houses online. “Beyond still photography, videography—for virtual tours—gives prospective buyers an even broader picture of a home. And it’s more than the scrolling of still photos. With true video, they can see the transition from space to space and room to room more easily. It’s an important tool for the agent. These days, social media, from Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, sells homes.”

Photographer Paul Gates, in business for 25 years, has seen a return to quality photography in terms of homes and commercial properties. “Anyone can own a digital camera, and for a time everyone was just snapping their own photos.”

And during the recession of the past few years, Gates says there was a cutback on paying for quality work, but now that has changed. “Agents, homeowners, architects, and builders want quality photos to show their properties. You can see the difference in quality photos. Such photos need to be intriguing enough to pull in potential customers.”

Social media

Jake Boyd, the owner of Jake Boyd Photography, has been in business since 2009, when a Realtor called him to shoot a condominium for listing purposes. Since then, his business has grown and he recently hired a third photographer for his business.

“There’s no doubt that social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, is playing a huge role in the market,” says Boyd, who shoots for agents, builders, and commercial entities. “Not only does having these photos online save time for agents and prospective buyers, but it’s fascinating work for those of us who absolutely love to photograph existing or new homes. My work is so rewarding. I absolutely love to shoot the details of architecture. I can truly say I’m friends with every agent and builder I have worked with. It’s great.”

Kerry Bern of Professional Real Estate Photography has been doing custom work for real estate professionals, homeowners, builders, stagers, and interior designers for more than two years. He, too, sees a return to quality work after some down years of the recession. Because many real estate agents have photography services provided for them or use specific photographers, he tends to focus on the home building sector.

Bern offers a strong caveat: “Be sure to hire a photographer who knows how to shoot architecture. For example, just because you know a wedding photographer doesn’t mean that person should shoot photos of your home for listing purposes. There’s a very real difference.”

New local player

As part of this overall picture, Iowa Realty recently announced its partnership with Obeo, a 12-year-old Utah-based marketing company. Obeo’s photos will be on the listings of Iowa Realty and also those of Berkshire Hathaway (First Realty), which is owned by Iowa Realty. Obeo has already had a presence in the real estate market in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and the Quad Cities since 2010.

Terry Manning, director of marketing for Iowa Realty, says, “We want the photos on our listings to look great. We started working with Obeo in January, and sellers love how their properties are being shown.” Once the listing and its photos are entered into the MLS, Obeo’s EasyEdge technology activates a variety of media platforms for the home listings.

When it comes to prospective home buyers’ online “homework,” the bottom line, says Wanamaker is this: “It all makes for a better ball game.”