When I searched short-term rental listings for an apartment in Paris last spring, my eye went immediately to the listings with the best photos. I wanted to see what the places looked like even before I read the descriptions.
Taking great photos is the single most important thing you can do to make sure that your home listing stands out from the competition. You don’t need to be or hire a professional photographer. All you need is a late-model smartphone or a good camera, along with some time and attention.
Tip #1. Get Your Home Ready
I generally ignore home listings with photos that show cluttered, messy rooms. I don’t mind a little clutter in my own house, but I sure don’t want to live with someone else’s mess.
That’s why great photos start well before you pick up the camera. Think about how to show your home to its best advantage and convey a sense that it would be a comfortable, pleasant place to stay. Also, keep in mind that what people see in the photos gives them a strong impression of the kind of person you are and how well you take care of your home.
- Clean up the kitchen and the bathrooms. Dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter? Half-empty bottles and crumpled towels in the bathroom? Yecch! My feeling is that people who don’t care enough to clean up their kitchens and bathrooms are not likely to be the kinds of short-term rental hosts or exchange partners I want to deal with.
- Make the beds and put away your clothes. You might have a great bedroom with a brand-new bed, but that won’t matter if photos show an unmade bed and clothes scattered on the floor.
- Put kids’ toys away or arrange them neatly. Even people with kids might be put off by toys strewn willy-nilly around the house. (Ever stepped on a bunch of Legos or tripped over a toy truck on your way in the middle of the night?) It’s okay to leave some toys visible (a train set is always nice) to show that yours is a family-friendly home. Otherwise, stash them all.
Tip #2. Choose the right time to take the photos
Your home will look more appealing if the photos convey a sense that it’s light and airy, not dark and claustrophobic. But even a spacious room with a wonderful view will look gloomy in photos taken at night or on a heavily overcast day. You can’t control the weather, but do your best to take photos when the sun is out.
Tip #3. Take enough photos
When I search for a short-term rental or exchange home, I want to see whether (1) it looks like a place I’d like to live in and (2) it has everything I need.
- Show the space, look, and furnishings of every room. A good set of photos gives potential guests and exchange partners a “walk-through” of your home: here’s the living room, with full-size sofa, two armchairs, bookshelf….the master bedroom with king-sized bed, two nightstands with reading lamps….the kids’ room with bunk beds and a play structure….the den with 42” TV and entertainment center….the kitchen with gas stove, microwave, full-size fridge, and eating area….the master bath with walk-in shower, the kids’ bath with tub….Okay, so your home doesn’t have all those things. But let me see what it does have.
- Show the spaces between rooms. Do you have an entry hall? A hall that leads to the bedrooms? A cubbyhole with a little desk? Include them in your photos. Hallways and other spaces convey a sense of space and help people see how the various parts of your home go together.
- Include photos of the amenities mentioned in your listing. Even though you check the relevant amenities boxes when you set up your listing, it’s nice to include photos. For example, when you photograph the living room or den, include shots of the television and entertainment center. The kitchen photos should show at least the stove, fridge, microwave, and dishwasher. A shot of your desk can show the high-speed wireless modem. Don’t neglect the washer and dryer, if you have them. Travelers, especially those with children, always appreciate being able to do laundry so they don’t have to pack as much.
- Remember the outdoors. An outdoor area is an important selling point for any home listing, and yours can quickly distinguish your home from similar places. Take photos of your balcony, deck, patio, garden, and/or backyard. Show your barbecue, outdoor table, play structures, basketball hoops, hot tub…anything that might interest potential guests.
- Highlight your home’s special features. Stone fireplaces, high ceilings, artwork, a cook’s kitchen, newly remodeled bathrooms, a pool, a fabulous view, even a comfortable sofa with reading lamp: these are all selling points. Think about what you love about your home, and try to capture those features in your photos.
- Show the exterior. If you live in a private home, take a few photos that show what your home looks like from the outside, including one that shows the front door and walkway. For apartments, it’s nice to include a photo of the building, the lobby, and/or the hallway with elevator and front door. Also include a photo or two of the immediate neighborhood.
- Add personal touches. Photos that show a clean, neat home go a long way towards attracting people who might want to stay in your home. Personal touches, such as flowers, a nice breakfast with a newspaper, wine and cheese on the deck, a book or two on the nightstand or next to the easy chair, a musical instrument, or a half-finished puzzle in the sunroom help people envision themselves actually living in the home. So once you’ve cleared away the clutter, put a little of it back.
- Include a floor plan. A PDF of a floor plan is a good additional to your photo array. It doesn’t have to be to scale or look as if it was professionally drawn, as long as it shows the layout.
Tip #4. Select the right photos to include
Take lots of photos. But don’t use them all. It’s good to show a room from different angles, but potential guests do not need five photos showing essentially the same thing. Select the photos that best show potential guests everything they want or need to see, and no more.
Tip #5. Add captions to the photos
Every photo should have at least a brief caption so people know what they are looking at: “Our newly remodeled kitchen,” “Second bathroom with tub and shower,” “High-speed wireless internet modem.” Informative captions like that are helpful. Better are personalized captions such as, “You’ll sleep like a baby in our brand-new queen-sized bed,” or “Enjoy leisurely breakfasts in our sunroom, watching snowy egrets in the marsh” that instantly convey the feeling of living in your home.
Visit the website houzz.com to see more ideas for taking great photos of your home, and you’ll find photo-taking tips in the resources section or blog on many short-term rental and home exchange listing sites.