With the world of real estate sales shifting more online, making it easier than ever for sellers to showcase homes and potential buyers to view them easily from wherever they happen to be at the time, how can a seller or real estate agent ensure the home is being shown to its full potential?
Two north country men involved in the world of real estate photography and videography, Jared J. Hackbarth and Jason B. Maurer, owners of Jared Hackbarth photography and VideoWorx, respectively, share their tips for making homes look as inviting and ready to be sold as possible, gathered from years of experience in the industry.
Mr. Hackbarth has been photographing since he was a child, messing around with the viewfinder of his father’s camera. Fast forward to 2011, he said he was fortunate enough to afford his own digital camera and with a recommendation from a friend, received a call from a realtor looking for someone to take pictures of a home. He’d never done this before, but was up for the challenge and had always been interested in architecture as a hobby. After photographing the home and delivering the photos, he said the client was very pleased and lined him up for a couple more shoots that week. Before he knew it, he had started his own business in the field of architecture and interiors photography.
“Real estate photography is just part of what I do as an architecture and interiors photographer,” he said. “I also photograph for builders, designers, Air BnB/VRBO clients, and more. As far as a company name, I just go by my name. I like to think that I have a meticulous and creative aspect to my images that make them instantly recognizable as my work. Not better or worse, just different.”
Mr. Hackbarth said as cliché as it sounds, he stands by the “less is more” motto when it comes to preparing a space to be photographed. He said if you think to yourself ‘should I remove that ____?’ then your brain already thinks you should. If an item isn’t adding to a scene, it’s distracting from it and our brains are so good at pointing out what doesn’t look right in an image, it’s better to just remove the item.
Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Hackbarth said cloudy, overcast days make the best days to photograph interiors as the clouds act as a large softbox, casting nice soft light which makes scenes feel calm and inviting.
“Personally, I love smaller spaces, around 1,000 square feet or so,” he said. “I like to see the innovation and creativity the architects employ and it challenges me to bring my creativity to the table to find the best way to capture the space.”
While he doesn’t personally stage spaces, depending on the assignment, he may spend up to an hour moving furniture to get it just in camera, but that is usually reserved for high-end all-day projects. In real estate photography specifically, he said photographers don’t really have time to move things around as they usually have multiple homes to photograph in a day and are on-site for only an hour or so. Generally, the homes are either occupied, staged professionally, or vacant.
Mr. Hackbarth said he enjoys creating vignettes when he works, little scenes that the viewer can picture themselves in, either sitting by a fireplace enjoying a cup of coffee or simply washing dishes as they look out the window to the backyard. Those moments in time are what he enjoys creating most. He said he still remembers the moment he walked into the front door of a home known as ‘Castle Bluff’ in Henderson Harbor. He said the drive and walk-up were unassuming and blocked the view behind, but once the front door opened and he approached a railing overlooking a massive floor-to-ceiling wall of windows that showcased the view of the water, he was in awe and knew right away that it was going to be a fun project.
Mr. Hackbarth said that some best practices for clients to remember before shoots are to open curtains, hide the fridge magnets, toothbrushes, and animal bowls, and most importantly put the toilet seat down.
“Turn off all the lights and let the natural daylight flow through the home,” he said. “Light bulbs come in all different color temperatures and can create ugly color casts, making an image look muddy and displeasing. To that point, architects spend hours upon hours designing spaces so they are well lit, and to turn on every light in the house would be a disservice to the architect and designers.”
Mr. Hackbarth noted that his most recent job was for a real estate client and when he arrives on site, he likes to introduce himself and take a walk with the homeowner to get an idea of anything that needs to be hidden or moved, make sure they open up any blinds that are closed, and see how the space is lit with natural daylight, turning on only the lights that absolutely need to be turned on.
“Our job is to provide an accurate representation of the space so that potential buyers can get an idea of how the home looks and flows,” he said.
Once that’s done, he said he heads outdoors and documents the exterior of the home, making sure to place the building in the space around it so the viewer can get a sense of where the home sits in relation to its surroundings. If need be or the client requests it, he will use his drone to capture different perspectives that aren’t possible from the ground.
As the name of his company suggests, what Mr. Maurer mainly does, and what he really loves, is video production. With VideoWorx, he offers a range of services including real estate photos, HDR photos of the inside and outside of the home, as well as drone photos if requested; video tours of the property and the inside of the home done with a drone and camera gimbal that keeps a steady, smooth shot throughout the house; Matterport services, interactive, 3D models of a home that can be navigated by online prospects, which are also available to tour with VR Goggles; floor plan work; client testimonial videos, and agent/broker personal videos.
“I produce short promotional videos for companies that people use mostly online these days; I’ve done some TV commercials, but those kind of are dying out,” he said. “It’s mostly online marketing stuff. I started out with that, doing a lot of promo videos and I still do that, but I started doing video tours of houses and properties. And since I got into that maybe six or seven years ago, I decided to also do photos of the properties.”
He said he still does video tours, just not as much because a lot of people don’t want to pay more to have that kind of thing done, though he’s trying to get more people to go in that direction because he thinks they’re really useful.
Mr. Maurer said basically, when it comes to preparing a home for a shoot, it’s good for the homeowner to make sure their grass is cut and they mulch their yard to make sure the yard is looking the best it can. He also likes to have vehicles, if possible, out of the driveway while he’s shooting outside shots so you can see everything clearly without the distraction of cars. Inside, he said its important to make sure everything is put away, that you don’t have a bunch of clutter all over the place.
“Clean before I come, make sure everything’s clean,” he said. “A lot of times people are moving, they have boxes of stuff, so my recommendation is take the smallest room or a basement or garage and kind of store everything there instead of having things all in the corners of different rooms.”
Especially with the north country, being so close to Fort Drum, this is an area where a lot of people in the Army move to, and sometimes they don’t see the home in person before they purchase it. This is why online listings are so important and different techniques are utilized to show off homes as much as possible through a screen.
Mr. Maurer said one of the perks of the work he does is he gets to see beautiful places all over the Thousand Islands; sometimes he’ll get to take a boat over to different islands and he’ll put his drone up in the air and do all kinds of cool shots of the properties.
“It’s kind of artistic, but I guess a lot of what I do is that way,” he said.
A fan of open concept homes, Mr. Maurer said they always tend to look nice, though he said styles of homes are matters of personal preference, but if one was going to remodel a house for resale, they might want to keep that in consideration.
“These things change over the years, the styles and stuff,” he said. “So that’s another thing I guess to kind of keep up with. Not that I necessarily have to keep up with it because my job is to come photograph whatever they have, so it’s really more of the real estate agent or broker that would give the advice of how to do a remodel.”
Mr. Maurer said in his years in the industry, he has learned from real estate agents and brokers because they’re professionals with things like how to stage homes, it’s part of their businesses to know those things. And because he’s been around it for awhile, he has also learned over the years.
While trends come and go and markets fluctuate, it seems there will always be a need for different types of housing, and while that need remains, creators like Mr. Hackbarth and Mr. Maurer will continue to showcase homes so potential buyers can get as good of a sense as possible about a home before they take the plunge and purchase it – even if that experience is completely virtual and the physical site has not been visited by the prospective buyers. When it comes to professional work, buyers will feel like they know the home well, all its quirks and charms, from viewing them through their screens, so when they finally arrive at the property, it will feel like coming home.