Personal Photos: Remove or Keep When Listing a Home For Sale?

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Using personal photos to decorate the walls and tables are common in homes. But when you’re listing a home for sale, can those personal photos become a turnoff to potential home buyers?

Real estate professionals and stagers differ on how much of a fuss they make over family photos gracing their clients’ for-sale homes.

Some in the industry strongly advise their clients to remove all personal photos. After all, you want potential buyers to be able to visualize themselves living in the home and not be distracted by seeing personal photos of the current home owners’ vacations, wedding photos, and family reunions.

Others in the industry may say “why not?” They argue that photos actually make a home feel more warm, inviting, and feel like a “home.” Even some builder model homes have started incorporating personal photos into the decor to personalize spaces more.

What do you think?

Certainly, asking a seller to remove their wedding photos and snapshots from happier days can be an awkward conversation. Clients can get emotional and may not understand why photos they consider just as much “art” as family photo has to be removed.

Some stagers and real estate professionals may offer up a compromise: Remove some photos, but keep a few up. An entire wall filled with family photos may be a little much and too distracting to buyers, but a frame here and there may actually do more good than harm, if it’s done tastefully.

“With a family photo wall, it may be a good thing if it’s done really well, so people can imagine their own family there,” David Kassel, owner of ILevel, a New York art placement and picture hanging service, told The New York Times in a recent article. “Our experience is that [buyers] have a really hard time making these design decisions and can’t fathom how to arrange pictures.” In that case, you might actually be doing the buyers a favor by leaving your photos up and giving them inspiration for their own photos.

To ensure it’s done tastefully, Kassel recommends using photo frames that complement one another (such as gold and wood together or black and white frames). He also recommends hanging the photos in a grid with similar spacing, such as leaving an inch-and-half between the frames to create a symmetrical look.

But if the photos prove just too much of a distraction, for the sake of a sale, you may have to ask your clients to remove them. But remember, if you do, make sure they don’t leave behind scuff marks or wall holes. Those can most certainly be a buyer turnoff too.

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. Personal Pictures are always a hard topic, generally speaking it is best to take them down as you want the buyers to imagine themselves living there and we’ve found that there are some emotional issues if buyers see another family happy there, especially in a distressed market. Another element that is often hard to talk about are religious artifacts, those should be removed as well.

  2. Leaving a few personal photos in a home bring life to a home. Leaving them out leaves the home too sterile.

  3. This is a hard question but personally I advise my sellers to remove personal pictures from the home and replace with abstract pictures. Buyers need to be able to visualize themselves in the home.

  4. I agree with all of the comments, but I suggest to my clients that they should remove most of the pictures, but try to leave a few pictures out of the sellers enjoying the house. This feeling will hopefully send a message to the buyers that they too might enjoy the same thing.

  5. Hi Melissa…Thanks for your article. I agree. Personal pictures can be a tad bit of an issue. But I think that taking all the personal pictures down and just replacing them with “model” or “advertising generic” pictures can give a wrong impression and throws things off for resale homes.

    You almost never walk into a decorated model home that’s never been lived in that doesn’t have any pictures at all. In fact, at least here in Southwest Florida, they all have pictures of people, from 0-99 years of age; depending on who the clientele is.

    As long as the personal pictures are appropriate, don’t overtake the home by being over-bearing or imposing (size, quantity, etc.), and are moderately scattered around, they can actually add a quality of warmth that a potential buyer may be looking for. I also find that pictures of good times in the home help sell the home better because it gives potential buyers something that they can look forward to; something they can connect with and see themselves creating in their own future.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for the write up.
    Edward Lorenzini, Broker – ad Infinitum Realty & Consulting, Inc.

  6. Great topic, Melissa! As Edward says, I think a very few appropriate personal photos are usually fine. I can’t imagine the agent who didn’t get the home owner to take down her semi nude boudoir shot in the master bedroom of a home I recently toured. Talk about personal. And inappropriate.

  7. For the last 30 years I have advised home sellers to remove all personal items such as family photos, nameplates, doormats with their name, religious items, anything that is too personal when they list their homes.
    Often a blank wall with neutral paint helps a home show better and seem larger than one that is cluttered with distracting personal items.
    We want the buyer to remember the home, not remember personal property.

  8. Wyla Salo

    Also consider safety. Pictures of attractive young children may draw interest you don’t want. Sorry to sound so dark but we live in a different world from even ten or twenty years ago.

  9. Thanks for sharing this information. I agree most people agree to remove the personal photos in your house because it will only distract the buyers.

  10. Personal items are to be kept by owners. Aside from it not being right for someone to leave behind something so valuable, it gets in the way of buyers. They are not able to fully imagine themselves living in the home.

  11. Wales Edwards

    Above comments are from real estate agents. I’m a soon to be seller. Having purchased six home and looked at 50 times that many, I’ll add my two cents. As a buyer I’ve seen personal pictures in many homes and quite enjoy seeing what the sellers and family look like. If they look like good people then I feel better about buying their home. So I think a few personal pictures are fine.