A real estate agent taking a photo of a staged bedroom for a listing

Listing photos are a useful resource, but be sure to look them over with a critical eye.

Browsing listing photos is part of the fun of searching for a new home and an important part of narrowing down your search. But using the listing photos as a deciding factor is a no-no because pictures don't tell the whole story. It’s common practice for realtors to use professional real estate photographers who know how to make a home look bigger, better, and newer than it actually is.

It’s important to take these carefully crafted pictures with a grain of salt and learn to look at them with a discerning eye. Read on to learn what to look for in a listing photo and what to look out for.

What to Look Out For:

Fish-Eye Lens

This type of lens can create a super-wide, 180-degree view.

Typically used to make a room look bigger and/or wider, a fish-eye lens is an ultra-wide-angle camera lens that distorts an image to create a wide panoramic view. This type of lens can create a super-wide, 180-degree view, so if a photographer uses it to capture a room, the room will appear much bigger than it would in a normal picture, which can be very misleading when it comes to listing photos.

Pictures taken with a fish-eye lens are usually pretty easy to spot as the image looks somewhat distorted and much wider than a normal photo.

Lighting

A spacious living room interior with plants and an outside view through big windows

Photographers often use photoshop to lighten a picture.

If a home doesn't have a lot of natural light due to few windows, low ceilings, and/or shaded areas, photographers often use photoshop to lighten a picture. While this is to be expected (after all, both the buyer and the seller want you to be able to see the house clearly), it can also be misleading as a buyer might be disappointed when they visit the home in real life and it appears darker than expected. If the photos appear unnaturally lightened, it’s a good bet they were photoshopped.

Roof Quality

A closeup on composite roof shingles

Replacing a roof is an expensive project.

Surprisingly, you can tell a lot about a roof just by looking at it or a picture of it. You can see what the roof is made of, if there are any shingles or pieces missing, or any deformities indicating that the roof is worn or old. Replacing a roof is an expensive project, and you’ll want to start inspecting it right away, even from the listing photos.

Windows

A wooden table with a green plant beside a set of windows

Window replacement is another big expense.

Be sure to take note of the window frames and sizes when looking at listing photos. Do they appear old, small, cracked, or foggy? Window replacement is another big expense and windows that need to be replaced will be a huge factor when negotiating the price of a home.

The Number of Photos

An older woman browsing listing photos on her laptop

The sheer number of photos can make a buyer think the home is larger than it really is.

One trick some real estate photographers or realtors use to make a home appear more spacious is by using a lot of photos in a listing compared to the size of a home. A realtor may include 5 or 6 shots of the kitchen alone, all from slightly different angles, to make the area appear bigger than it really is.

Although it can be helpful to see a room from a lot of different perspectives, the sheer number of photos included can make a buyer think the home is larger than it really is.

Appliances

A modern kitchen interior with stainless steel appliances in a luxury house

See what quality of washer and dryer, oven, refrigerator, and stove is included in the listing.

A quick glance through the listing photos will give you an idea of the appliances included in the listing and what kind of space is available to accommodate them. Check out the laundry room and kitchen photos to see what quality of washer and dryer, oven, refrigerator, and stove is included in the listing. If they look old or out of style, you may want to consider the cost of new appliances in your offering price.

Exterior Vegetation

An old house overgrown with grass

Large bushes and shrubbery can be expensive to prune or remove.

Take note of the vegetation in the exterior photos, and keep an eye out for invasive plants such as ivy, which spreads easily and may be difficult to remove. Large bushes and shrubbery can also be expensive to prune or remove. Mature trees, although lovely for shade, can often include large invasive root systems that damage pipelines and disturb foundations. Take extra care to be on the lookout for this potentially expensive problem. Sometimes large roots are visible poking out of the lawn or even cement.

Pet Accessories

An empty dog bed basket with a dog bone snack left on the bed

It’s an indication that the home might have pet stains, pet hair, or a pet smell.

Dog beds, cat toys, food bowls, cat climbing trees: These are all signs of furry tenants living in your possible future home. It’s a good indication that the home will likely have pet stains on the carpets, pet hair, and worse, that hard-to-remove cat urine smell. Of course, just because a pet lives in the home doesn't mean there will be any of these issues present, but the possibility is there, and it's something to take note of.

Take Note if the Photos Don’t Include:

Just as you need to be wary of what a photo does show, be on the lookout for what the pictures don’t show. If a listing doesn’t show something, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s either nonexistent or in pretty bad shape.

  • Closet Space - Closet space is a valuable commodity, and if a bedroom or hallway photo doesn’t include it, it’s probably smaller than what’s ideal.
  • Garage - Garages are also valuable space as most households use them for storage as well as a place to house their vehicles. Take note if the space isn’t included in pictures.
  • Basement/Cellar/Crawl Space - Many homes have at least a basement, cellar, or attic/crawl space. If the listing doesn’t show this space, be sure to ask the realtor if the home includes such storage. 
  • Yard - No picture of a yard can be a huge red flag. It’s either tiny, nonexistent, or in need of a lot of work. If a listing doesn’t include photos of a yard, look on google maps and find an aerial view of the property to get a better idea of the outdoor space.
  • Curbside View - A curbside view gives buyers a good idea of what the outside of the house looks like and what condition it’s in. If an exterior picture isn’t included, the outside of the home probably needs some TLC such as a new paint job, new landscaping, a new roof, or more.