Realtors’ listings often fall short in visuals to induce buyer interest

·4 min read

Sellers whose listings do not include virtual tours, professional photographs and floor plans are being cheated by their real estate agents. Not “cheated” as in being ripped off, but in the sense that, without the proper visuals, homes will likely take longer to sell and fetch a lower price.

That’s according to a recent study by BoxBrownie, a listings enhancement company based in Australia. The study found that, of the 25,000 properties for sale on two major U.S. listings websites, 94% lacked an immersive, 360-degree online tour of the house. Less than 30% of listings appeared to use photos taken by a pro, or that at least followed photographic best practices. And only 10% contained floor plans. Altogether, only 1.5% of all the listings studied had all three of what BoxBrownie calls these “essential elements.”

Yet research from the National Association of Realtors indicates that 89% of all purchasers, regardless of age, want to see photos; 67% want to view floor plans; 58% want to take a virtual look-see. The BoxBrownie study does not say so directly, but it implies that without these techniques, would-be buyers are likely to move on to the next listing until they find one that offers the information they are seeking.

Another study, this one by Chicago-based real estate photography network VHT Studios, found that agents who used professional photos sold their listings 32% faster than those who didn’t. And that was seven years ago, before buyers relied so heavily on visuals to decide which houses to visit in person.

NAR surveys show that buyers want to see five items when they view a listing: photos, written descriptions with essential details, a floor plan, a video tour and additional videos. Visit almost any builder’s website and you’ll find all of those elements in spades. They may have to use renderings instead of photos in the early stages of construction, but even at that, builders are marketing experts.

Real estate agents, as it turns out, are not so accomplished. The listings BoxBrownie studied were woefully lacking in three key features:

Immersive video tours. This is defined as a 360-degree, 3D virtual tour, and only 6% of the listings featured one. Photo-based slideshows, while certainly better than nothing, did not count as full-blown video tours in the company’s survey.

Virtual tours came into vogue during the pandemic, when buyers feared visiting properties for sale (at least initially). Sellers shunned personal visits, too: They didn’t know who might be sick or contagious, and didn’t want to take the chance.

These virtual tours are still important. Buyers can take these tours anytime, anywhere on their computers, tablets or phones to help them weed out the houses they don’t fancy and select the ones they do.

NAR recently reported that 35% of its agent-members rely on video tours to sell homes, but the BoxBrownie study refutes that figure as way overblown. And “despite the hype” surrounding virtual visits, its report says their prevalence does not appear to be advancing very quickly.

Floor plans. The study found that just 17% of all listings showed a floor plan, which helps people visualize how the house flows from one room to another. Here, even landlords do a better job than agents. BoxBrownie found that only 14% of listings for single-family properties contained a floor plan, compared with 38% of those for apartments and condominiums.

Quality photos. When it comes to still pictures, agents do better, yet only 30% featured what the report calls “best practice” photography. One reason is that some agents use their smart devices to take pictures rather than hiring a pro — or at least using a better camera. BoxBrownie found a 76% probability nationally that the agent is paying a photographer. But even at that, “professional photography across the country really should be better,” the report says.

It’s doubtful most sellers want to pay the extra cost for a pro to take pictures of their house, no matter how important it is. But the study says the difference between the photos shot by some amateur photographers and those taken by pros who follow the best practices protocol is visibly apparent.

By “best practices photography,” the company means using globally recognized techniques to best represent a property for sale. Without this, it says, it is “nearly impossible” for an image to show what the human eye truly sees.

Agents can fill the void, though, by hiring BoxBrownie. For $1.60 per photo — “not expensive at all,” General Manager Peter Schravemade told me on a Zoom call from Queensland — the company can merge five pictures into one image that reflects what the eye takes in.

By the way, the listings his company studied often contained 30 to 60 pictures. And while agents are permitted to post an unlimited number on most multiple listing services, Schravemade says the ideal number is between 20 and 25. Any more than that, and visitors start looking elsewhere.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.

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