Looking at Homes Online Versus In Person

Posted by Andrew Fortune 5,716 Views

Looking At Homes Online Versus In Person

As a Realtor, I'm often contacted by homebuyers who have found their dream home online and want to see it immediately. Somehow they know that the house they just found online is the right one, and the excitement has been building. This scenario is typical for first-time home buyers. After showing homes for many years, I’m often reminded that the perfect home for sale online rarely becomes the ideal home in-person.

Here are a few things to consider when looking at homes on the internet. When someone hires a real estate professional to list their house for sale, the #1 job of that listing agent is to get the most showing activity possible. Their priority is to list the property to the best of their ability with all the tools available. Listing agents use photo and video tricks to showcase the property's highest and best qualities. For this reason, real estate tends to look better online than in person. You’ll find the whole truth upon visiting the property.

Below are 4 points to consider when you're shopping for homes online. There are also four pro tips at the end of the article to help through this process. I've even created an infographic to help you remember all of this info.

Click Here To Go Straight To The Infographic ?

Here Are Four Issues That Are Nearly Impossible To Identify In An Online Real Estate Listing:

Don’t Trust Room Sizes by the PhotosDON'T TRUST ROOM SIZES BY THE PHOTOS

wide-angle lens in real estate photosGood real estate photographers know how to make a space look larger than usual using a unique lens and image-enhancing software. The wide-angle lens will capture as much of the room as possible, making it look huge. This lens may cause a “fisheye” effect that distorts the picture, so the photographer will use software to correct the distortion. I use Adobe Lightroom to adjust my images. This software aligns the photo back to parallel while still maintaining the depth of field. The process makes the room look more spacious than it is.

Good photographers will also shoot at an angle that makes the ceilings look taller than they may be in real life. If there are too many furniture pieces in a room, listings agents will advise sellers to put those items into storage to create more floor space.

When a shot is taken from a low spot in the farthest corner with a wide-angle lens, it will look like the room is enormous with extra tall ceilings. You can’t trust images online to show the dimensions of a room accurately.

It’s Not Always As Clean As It Looks OnlineIT'S NOT ALWAYS AS CLEAN AS IT LOOKS

It’s hard to tell how clean a home is from the photos online. Experienced sellers have been preparing their home for months in advance by doing repairs, painting, rearranging furniture, etc.

HDR ComparisonWhen it comes time to take the listing photos, they are exhausted. They will do a deep clean in all the main areas, but not necessarily throughout the entire house. When you visit the home, you may find that the closets, secondary bedrooms, bathrooms, and/or garage spaces are not very clean. Dusty blinds, baseboards, and decor can reveal a home that is not cleaned as often as the online pictures may appear. This issue can be a significant turnoff for homebuyers.

HDR image processing is a tool that real estate agents and photographers use to make a house sparkle online. HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing is slightly deceiving and unfair to the viewer. It’s a powerful tool that makes homes look better online than in-person.

An HDR-capable camera is set up in the corner of a room (usually at a low angle) on a tripod with a wide-angle lens. Using a remote trigger, the camera will snap off a series of images using different light exposure ranges. These images are then oversampled together into HDR imaging software to use each pixel's best possible lighting. This creates an effect of perfect lighting.

Sometimes the software is overused as well. Have you ever seen an online listing photo that looked more like a computer graphic than an actual house photo? This is caused by oversampling the HDR processing. When used correctly, HDR imaging will cause a home to shine in the perfect light and appear to look “heavenly.” What it looks like in reality may be another story.

What’s That Smell?WHAT'S THAT SMELL?

Picture this: You have been looking at homes for a couple of months, and you haven’t found the right home yet. Your agent sends you a listing that just came on the market, and IT’S PERFECT! You stop everything and rush to view the property immediately. You get to the home and are eagerly waiting at the front door for your agent to open it. As soon as the front door opens, your nose is inundated with the smell of a thousand city zoos. Aromas of cats, mixed with a hint of monkey and lama, all dominate the air space.

Pet Smell in A Home For SaleYou want to look at the home, but all you can think about is the overwhelming smell of animals. This is a classic scenario that every Realtor deals with from time-to-time. In my opinion, it’s probably the most challenging issue to overcome when showing homes. When I’m in a house with strong pet odors, it’s almost impossible to focus on anything other than “let's get back outside.”

Animal lovers don’t understand this problem. They are immune to the smell. I’ve noticed that cats are worse than dogs. Male cats are prone to “spray” to mark their territory, even if they are neutered. This smell is almost impossible to elimintate. Regardless of the type of animal, it takes a very diligent homeowner to remove the scent daily. Many pet owners are not able to do this well. They will try to fix the problem with candles and carpet deodorizers 30 minutes before a showing.

Quick fixes only work for a few minutes. After a short time in the home, the pet hair and ammonia smell will start to come through. This smell is a problem that online home shoppers cannot tell by looking at listing photos.


One of my most powerful tools for selling a home is staging. My wife has a wonderful design sense and takes care of all my staging needs. We have extra furniture and crates of staging decor in storage that we use on each home. Curtains, chairs, magazines, mirrors, flowers, hand towels, front door wreaths, and area rugs are just of few of the items we use. I am amazed at the degree of impact staging makes on a home. Homes look so peaceful and tranquil after they are staged.

Staging has an emotional effect on many buyers. If a home is competing against other listings that are not staged well, it will stand out above the rest. Staging suggests that the house is unique and better than the other homes available in the area.

Home Staging To Cover Over IssuesI highly advise hanging out in a neighborhood for a few hours if you are seriously considering purchasing a home in that area. Don’t let the emotions of the online presentation persuade you that everything is peaceful. If the neighbors are outside, introduce yourself, and try to get a feel for that particular street's social culture.

I showed homes in a rural neighborhood a few months ago, and my clients liked the house. We ended up on the back porch discussing the possibilities of putting together an offer. All of a sudden, we hear a goat. Then we listened to a couple more. The neighbor had a small goat farm next door. As we walked the fence line to investigate the situation, you could smell the goats beyond the fence. My clients did not like the idea of sharing a fence with a goat farm. This scene was an issue that was not noticeable in the online listing.

I’ve also been at a showing appointment and heard gunshots. One time, I was standing in the front yard of a home talking with my clients. As we’re talking, we hear the front door slam on the house across the street, about three houses down. A man walked out in a bathrobe carrying a shotgun. He didn’t seem to notice us. He stormed out to his mailbox, checked his mail, and then went back inside. We noticed that a couple of the homes on that street had burglar bars on the windows. My buyers didn’t even want to look at the inside of the home anymore. They just wanted to go straight to the next property on our list. Once again, this is not something that would come up in an online listing.

Here Are 4 Home Shopping Tips to Consider While Browsing Homes Online:


Remember, you are being targeted when you are looking at homes online and reading their property descriptions. Every listing is a commercial trying to convince you to view the property. Just know that many details are being left out of the online listing. Only the most vital selling points of the property are being displayed. You'll have to view the home in person to get the full truth.


Make sure you have a Realtor who will point out the positive AND NEGATIVE aspects of each home. If your agent only points out the positive points, you may not be getting the whole picture. Find an agent that is less of a salesperson and more of an advisor. They should encourage you to be the ultimate decision-maker and in control of the whole buying process. Once you find a good advisor, be sure to listen to them and use their experience to your advantage.


Once you get that pre-approval letter in hand, the desire to find a house can cause a sense of urgency for some home buyers. Try to resist the temptation to speed up the home buying process. Remember, buying a home is not like buying a pair of shoes. It’s a major life-altering decision. Impulse shopping in real estate can have negative consequences. Get ready to invest time and energy to get to the perfect place. It will be well worth it in the long run.


In the same way that pictures can oversell a property, they can also undersell one as well. Many real estate agents are not tech-savvy. Some of them use terrible photography methods, omit staging advice, and their listings suffer for it. If a property meets your criteria but doesn’t look great in the photos, it may still be worth checking out anyway. You don’t want to miss the perfect home just because the listing is poorly created. I’ve had plenty of clients buy houses that they initially did not think they would like, based on the online listing presentation.

Looking at Homes Online Versus In-Person Real Estate Infographic

Andrew Fortune

Hi! I'm Andrew Fortune, the founder of Great Colorado Homes and the creator of this website. I'm also a Realtor in Colorado Springs. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I am always open to suggestions and ideas from our readers. You can find all my contact info here. Let me know if you need a Realtor in Colorado Springs.

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