Once or twice a weekend — when we both can afford a moment — my wife and I lie in bed, hot tea in hand, going through houses.
Next year will be a big year. We’re renovating and turning our current home into a rental property, moving houses, changing cities… and who knows what else will come along with all that (I’ve got guesses).
One of our biggest requirements is a house that doesn’t need a thing. No roof repairs, no leaky basement, no kitchen or bathroom that needs attention, no questionable decisions we’ve got to undo (I’m looking at you, drop ceilings and buzzing fluorescents).
We’re studying house photos like they’re the Zapruder film.
Not just for signs of the features we want — like usable outdoor space and a big ol’ soaking tub for those sore days — but for any hint of issues.
Discoloration in the ceiling… droopy roofs… flood-level lines inside and out… floors that have been warped or slanted by a settling house…
Of course, you’ll never know for sure until you visit. But of the hundreds of properties available in our favored neighborhoods, the more we can knock out early, the better.
But here’s the thing: Photos lie.
Not just a little — a lot.
I’m not talking about high-tech tricks like the fish-eye lens favored by realtors to give the illusion of space.
Or the photoshopping that makes new appliances gleam with the luster of a fridge fit for gods.
I’m talking about simpler things.
Like taking pics on a cloudy day (bad idea), taking them at night (worst idea) or highlighting all the windows on the brightest blue-sky day of the year (right idea).
Or the choice to just blandly document all the space (no) or the rushed feel that comes with out-of-focus photos or weird close-ups (yikes!), versus photos that tell a story, highlighting the finest features of a house (yes, please!).
You’d think when it comes to a purchase for many hundreds of thousands of dollars, folks would put good time and effort into presenting their houses in the best possible light.
But you’d be wrong.
So, so many houses have strange, blurry photos of the anonymous corner of a room… never give you a sense of where you are in the layout of the house… or are so poorly composed they cause an immediate, negative emotional reaction.
Even when people are aware of the influence of photos — and actively trying to counter any prejudicial opinions of a house caused by a poor photographer — it still seeps in.
Bad photos, bad presentation, can sink a potential sale.
Yet it’s shocking how many house photos feel like they were taken on a flip phone camera between appointments and never even checked before being posted.
One house we looked at — not undergoing renovation — was empty, yet the floors were so dirty it made the poor place look like it was about to fall down. (They eventually swept the floors and took new photos, and it looked like a new house.)
We should be able to see past those sorts of things. But the truth is we humans are pretty simple.
And while we all know skin-deep beauty is pretty meaningless, it sometimes matters in the eye of the beholder.
That’s why today I want to talk about how to present any rare, tangible assets you want to sell.
Because if you’re buying collectibles or other items for eventual profit, selling is the end of the process.
And it’s shocking how much you can hurt a sale with poor presentation.
In the worst case, you can actually render an object unsellable if you seem like you’re hiding defects. Or do such a poor job presenting it that a potential buyer doesn’t feel confident in what they’ll be getting.
And if professionals consistently do a bad job photographing houses, how much worse do you think amateur photos are on eBay for assets that sell for a few hundred — or a few thousand — dollars?
If you’ve got something you want to sell, follow these rules to give yourself an enormous leg up on the competition. So you can move your item faster… and at the highest possible price.
Rules for Presenting Rare, Tangible Assets for Sale
1. Clean it up
It should go without saying… but it has to be said.
Whatever you’re selling, make sure it’s in the best possible condition when you photograph it. No dust. No marks that can be wiped off left on.
That doesn’t mean it has to look new — in some cases, the patina of age is part of the charm.
But it does mean you should showcase it in the best possible condition. Which includes being aware of the background — a picture taken in a messy room will distract from your item. Make your item the only possible focal point for your viewer.
2. Light it up
Shadows hide. Backgrounds can bleed into similarly colored things in the foreground. Anything blasted by too much light turns two-dimensional and washed out…
But you don’t need professional lights to get good lighting.
Instead, remember to put your item on a background of a very different color — light on dark, dark on light. Also, try to light it with diffused, reflected sources — like a lamp aimed at the wall, with light bouncing onto your item. And make sure you can see everything — without so much light that you lose details.
3. Compose it
Follow the regular rules of photography. Like the rule of thirds: Divide your image into thirds, horizontally and vertically. Put important focal points at the meeting points in that grid. Like this:
There are a number of other composition rules you can bury yourself in — like paying attention to perspective, how to deal with depth of fields (check out the clouds in the first photo) and plenty more. The more you do, the more professional your pictures will be.
But just paying attention to the rule of thirds will put you ahead of 90% of your competition.
4. Don’t cheat — but make it pretty
Today, anyone can edit photos. Photoshop is no longer just for experts. You should make use of filters and controls to get the best possible picture. You shouldn’t alter any meaningful details.
In fact, if there are any defects, you should have separate close-ups of them — so no one will be surprised by what they find and viewers will trust your photos.
But you can still brighten dark pictures, increase shadows for textured items, that sort of thing. Most of the time, you don’t even have to leave the camera app on your phone to get this done.
Keeping in mind these four rules, treat descriptions the same way: Put everything in the best possible light while being completely honest about condition, defects or anything a buyer would want to know before making a decision.
Do all that and you’ll get the best possible price while building a reputation for honesty. Which, in the long run, is more important than making your pics pretty.
Because — while skin-deep beauty may get folks in the door — it’s trust that will make the biggest difference in the long run.
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Want to practice these new skills and see how different photos can make an enormous difference? Visit our partners over at JustCollecting… You can look at the rare, tangible assets they highlight there and even post some of your own. Experiment with different types of photos and see which ones get the best feedback. I suggest you start with coins — because they have natural depth and are shiny and easy to wash out, but a good picture makes a coin look a thousand times better. You can see more of what I mean right here.
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...