Put the Best Photo Forward: Rethinking That Winter MLS Photo

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Is this really putting your best photo forward?

Is this really putting your best photo forward?

That main photo you post of your listing on the Internet–you know, the one that always pops up first and often depends if a buyer will click on it to see more–needs to make a great first impression. But in winter, will that exterior property photo really look inviting under gray skies and snowy mounds?

Some experts will argue that you want your main MLS photo to be seasonally appropriate. If it’s fall, you want the exterior photo of the home to reflect fall. If it’s winter, you don’t want a summer photo because buyers will know it’s a stale listing that has been sitting on the market.

But at a time when more properties are sitting on the market for longer periods of time, will buyers overlook the seasonal disconnect?

I decided to break the “rule” when I sold my row home last year. It was January in Chicago–cold, snowy, gray, and bare trees. When my real estate agent said she wanted to take a photo of the exterior, I was hesitant because the home as covered in snow. So I asked her to reconsider using a photo I had taken from the summer, showing the exterior of the home with flowers and landscaping, all cast under a bright blue summer sky.

Other row homes on my block that were also for sale had a seasonally appropriate wintery photo on the MLS. Ours stood out in the mix. We were flooded with showings, and the home sold in a month.

While I hardly credit that main MLS summer photo for selling the home so quickly in winter, I do believe that photo–along with others–helped to generate a more competitive first impression on the Internet that got more buyers in the door. (My real estate agent also used a professional photographer to capture the interior, and we mixed in more exterior photos taken from the summer of the home’s backyard and the neighborhood’s courtyard to have several photos available for viewing online.)

Designer Michelle Molinari, founder of Curb Appeal Concepts and co-owner of Feature This.., a design and staging company, says you want to put your best shot forward on that main MLS photo and if that means using a spring or summer photo during the winter months, do it. After all, she says, when buyers show up on the doorstep, they’ll see the home in the winter–so show them what it looks like during the spring and when the landscaping is in full bloom.

“I really think it does a great injustice using a photo from the winter when buyers can’t see what you’re selling,” Molinari says. “Every shot they see on the MLS may be a snowy photo, and it all starts to look the same. Then if there’s a house that actually shows the house in spring conditions–which one do you think looks better?” Many home owners likely have photos of the exterior of their home or the neighborhood taken from better days, if the listing is a new one.

(You can read some of Molinari’s ideas for generating curb appeal at anytime of year in this month’s REALTOR® Magazine or online: 3 Ways to Get Instant No-Cost Curb Appeal.)

So what do you think: Should you always use a seasonally appropriate exterior photo of a home or does it matter?

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. I agree with Michelle, forget seasonally appropriate, show the house in its best light and its most flattering time of year!

  2. Holly Schwartz

    Absolutely us the best photo you can! First impression is everything! Consider it a blessing if you have a photo that presents the house in it’s best light. When I worked on various shows on HGTV we did make an effort to shoot homes when they looked their best (blooming flowers, lots of green, etc.). Of course we couldn’t always do that but people want to see pretty things. So put your best photo forward!