A Picture Says 1,000 (Sometimes Cringe-Worthy) Words

I once came home to find my mom and brother downstairs, tears rolling down their faces.

“Why are you crying?!” I asked, concerned that someone had died or my brother was deemed unfit for college after neglecting to leave a space between his first and last name on an SAT Scantron form (true story).

“Because we are laughing so hard,” Chris explained.

Then he showed me the object in Mom’s hand, the thing that made them laugh until they cried—a picture of me in sixth grade, busting out of my snug uniform, a basketball delicately resting on one knee.

“You look so gross!” Chris said, in between fits of laughter.

Middle school was not a great time for me, physically speaking. But just because I had bubble bangs and chipmunk cheeks and a chubby stomach didn’t mean I was gross.

Grabbing the picture, I studied it closely. Upon further inspection, I had to admit I wasn’t the belle of the ball. I suddenly felt very self-conscious.

“How could you even stand to look at me?” I asked, waiting for Mom to reassure me that I was a beautiful adolescent. “I was disgusting.”

She shrugged. “But you had such a kind heart!”

There was nothing left to say. The picture was worth a thousand words.

The same often holds true in the apartment industry.

Ask any real estate Internet marketer and they’ll insist that an apartment listing come with a photo. It’s hard to dispute that. But for any skeptic who wonders what the dollar value is for such images, look no further than a report from Florida International University (FIU) for the answer.

At least when it comes to single-family home listings, associate professor of finance Ken H. Johnson says listings with one or more image sold for 3.9 percent more than without. Using one interior photo helped raise the price 3.9 percent, Johnson says, while using just one exterior photo lifted it only 1.5 percent.

Using my sixth-grade basketball picture decreased the selling price by roughly 89 percent.

The report—issued in 2011 and published in the Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics—assessed 4,077 listings, of which 85 percent had at least one photo.

In a news article about Johnson’s report in the Wall Street Journal, Johnson suggests sellers list as many photos as they can at a 5-to-1 ratio, favoring interior. It also said that listings with photos took 20.6 percent longer to fill, because the buyers had that much more market data to consider before making their purchase.

The article included advice from one real estate photographer, who said the primary “wow” photo should be interior, taken from the corner of the room, with a wide-angle lens—also used for my basketball photoshoot—so as to demonstrate the room at its largest.

The photographer recommended the living room to be shot, or perhaps an angle that shows the dining or kitchen area connected to the living room. Natural light is ideal, with the use of lamps or interior lights to add warmth.

So yeah, I’m going to put the blame on harsh lighting, not my penchant for Tasty Kakes.

For more in Marketing Insider, check out the February issue of units Magazine, which mails Feb. 12.