You Can Buy Land on the Moon!

This short documentary looks at Dennis Hope, a Nevada man who makes a living “selling” plots of land on the moon.


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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 10: Scary Images of Fabulous Water Views


That loud wailing sound you hear is not a Halloween ghost.  It’s just me, your friendly neighborhood land broker, looking through the MLS and seeing a parcel of land that probably has amazing water views but the marketing photos just don’t do it justice.

Land buyers just love-love-love their water views and will pay a premium for lots with this feature.  Buyers love rivers and ponds and lakes and oceans – any kind of water.  So it’s especially important to get great photos of water when it’s visible from the land you’re selling.

Here are some examples of photos of water taken by other agents and posted in the MLS in an effort to sell(?) their land listings. What were these agents thinking? Hang onto your loved ones – it’s going to get a little spooky up in here…

The photo below is supposed to be a view of the Trump National Golf Club and the ocean beyond!  (Sigh…just think how amazing it could have been…)

Black Land Ocean Slice


Fabulous bluff with charming boats in harbor below and this photo is what is posted in the MLS?



Land for sale appears black; blurry sunset with glare; small slice of ocean;



Could be a glassy pond with quaint red barn but unfortunately it’s too blurry to tell:

Blurry Pond


Ocean, tree, and rooftop for sale; not sure if land is included or not:

Panoramic Catalina Island views!


No legal purchase agreement or escrow needed, just “please sign here” on the aerial map:

Bad Map


Awesome river with whitewater rapids but why take a closeup two feet away from it?

River close up


This is how you market ocean-front land?

Ocean slice


OK so you have a plane.  I’m impressed.  Now where is the land you’re selling?



It’s good that there are utilities but showing a backlit electric pole obstructing the ocean view may not have been a wise decision:

Black land


A chain link fence might not be my first choice to feature in a photo of land directly on the beach:

Chain link


You couldn’t walk 6 feet over on a graded pad to get a clear panoramic photo of the river instead of this one obscured by trees?



Advice to Buyers

If you think you might be interested in the land but the photos are bad, try “walking the neighborhood” using Google Pegman. You can also view aerial maps in Google Maps and Google Earth. Use the Bing search engine for a birds-eye view. If you find that you’re really interested in a land listing, go see it with your own eyes.

Also bear in mind that if an MLS photo is really awful, that doesn’t necessarily mean the land pictured in the photo is also bad. In fact, since no one else will pay any attention to this land listing, the agent is probably getting zero calls on it because of their bad photos. So you might be able to pick it up for a song!


Advice to Sellers

After your agent posts the listing for your land on-line, review the photos and maps. If it’s a $20,000 parcel and there’s a water view, the water should at least be clearly visible in the photos. If it’s a $1,000,000 parcel in, say, Malibu, consisting of rolling hills, ponds, ocean views, etc. you or your agent should hire a professional photographer. Negotiate this at the time you give your agent the listing.


Advice to Agents

When selling land with a river, lake, pond or ocean view, be sure to take good photos of the water or hire a professional to do it. When photographing water, include the land you’re selling in the shot so that the water is shown in context and it’s not all H20. Sometimes it can be hard to see the water, e.g., through all the trees, so position yourself well. If it’s safe, walk down to the river, get close to the edge of the cliff or climb the hill. Do not photograph extreme close-ups of water, stand back and show it from the buyer’s perspective. Zooming in on water with the camera is also a little unfair as buyers cannot zoom with their naked eyes so use that technique sparingly.

As you know, water view parcels sell at a premium. If the photos of the water are bad, you’ll be leaving money on the table. Now that’s scary! Boo!


This blog post is part 10 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land. 

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 9: Bad Sky


When photographing land, the sky above is inevitably one quarter or more of the image. Good sky can help the land to appear at its best. Bad sky, on the other hand, casts a negative pallor on the land and says: “don’t buy me”.

Here are some examples of “bad sky” that other Realtors have unfortunately posted in the MLS and on national websites such as Zillow, etc. in a misguided effort to market their land listings:


Photos taken on cloudy, dreary, days:

Foreboding 1

Foreboding 2

Foreboding 3

Foreboding 4

Foreboding 5

Foreboding 8

Foreboding 9


Glare caused by taking photos toward the sun:

Glare 2

Glare 3

Glare 4


This is actually “good sky”, bright blue with fluffy white clouds … the only problem is the Realtor forgot to include the land they’re selling in the photo(!):

 No Land 1


Sunsets, sunsets, and more sunsets:

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

Sunset 3

Sunset 4

Sunset 5

Sunset 6

Sunset 7

Sunset 8

Sunset 9

Sunset 10

Sunset 11

Sunset 12

Sunset 13

Sunset 14

Sunset towards Lake Mathew

Sunset 16


Photos of city lights :

City Lights 2

City Lights 3


Advice to Buyers:

Go see the land in clear weather during daylight.  You’ll be amazed at the difference.


Advice to Sellers:

If you’re listing your land for sale in the rainy or snowy season, it will be difficult for your Realtor to arrange the timing of her photo session to get good images. So, long before you contact your Realtor to put your land on the market, plan ahead and arrange to have your land photographed in good weather.

Hire a professional photographer. In most parts of California and Oregon you can get awesome professional photos for $100-$600.

When assisting the professional in timing their photo shoot, think about the season in which the land looks its best. Are the maple trees blazing color in the fall? Are the wildflowers at their best in the spring? Arrange for your professional to take photos at the right time of year.

Compared to Realtors, professional photographers are more attuned to weather and light, realize the importance of it, and are inclined to time the photo shoot around bad weather. A Broker, on the other hand, may squeeze your photos to their busy schedules regardless of what the sky looks like.

Sellers who are not professional photographers should hesitate to take their own photos and hand them to Realtors at the time of listing. The reason is, in my experience sellers vary greatly in their artistic sensibilities, the quality of their camera, their ability to walk the land, their patience with taking the zillion photos needed to get a few good ones. So my advice to sellers is to hire a professional if the season isn’t right for your Realtor to take photos. If you do choose to take photos yourself, be prepared for your Realtor to thank you politely and then not use them because they aren’t of sufficient quality.


Advice to Agents:

Before heading out to take photos, go online and check the weather reports where the land is located. If possible, arrange your schedule so that you can take photos of the land on a day with clear blue sky and white fluffy clouds.

Photos of sunsets, while they may be pretty, are not helpful toward selling land. I mean, think about it. Sunsets can be seen from million dollar parcels and $10,000 parcels. So what does a blazing sunset say about the virtues of the land you’re selling? That’s right, it says nothing. Compounding the problem, when you took that sunset photo you totally omitted the land that you’re trying to sell from the shot. Yes, I know the sunset was amazing! So frame it and put it on the wall of your living room. Don’t post it in the MLS. Sunset photos do not sell land.

Also, your city lights photos are not as incredible as you think they are: a) they do not show the land itself because it’s too dark, and b) those romantic twinkling lights never look as fabulous in the photos as they appeared in person. Unless you are a professional photographer taking photos of the New York skyline at night, do not attempt to take city lights photos when marketing land.

Choose the right time of day to take photos of the land. The terrain should be clearly visible so you will need plenty of light. To prevent glare, your best photos should be with the sun overhead or at your back so plan ahead which direction you will be facing and where the sun will be at that time.

If you must take photos at a time of year, or in a location, where the sky simply won’t cooperate, you can try to “shoot around” the sky! For example, in addition to our offices in California, Land22 Real Estate also has offices in Oregon. Recently I was taking photos of some land I had for sale in Eugene Oregon, an area known for rain, rain, and more rain especially in the fall. It was literally sprinkling at the time I took photos so I omitted the sky entirely.  Just one non-professional-photographer doing her best under the circumstances. When the sky won’t cooperate, shoot around it!

As a Realtor, you are aware of the value of “staging” the homes that you sell, right? Well, try staging your land with “good sky”!   Just time your photo shoot right.  Good sky is free!


This blog post is part 9 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 8: Displaying Bad House Models or Architectural Plans

Bad House Model 0

In my ongoing crusade to rid the world of bad marketing photos of land, I have noticed that some of the worst are bad images of architectural plans and models.  Here are some posted by other agents.


Actual architectural model complete with monster flower landscaping in backyard:

Bad House Model 1


Illegible fine print image actually posted in the MLS:

Bad House Model 2


Wrinkled architectural drawing spread out on top of front car window and held down by a windshield wiper:

Bad House Model 3


The message of this image is clear:  Buy this land and you can build a mundane single story ranch-style house here.  Plans included!

Bad House Model 5


Blobs are probably trees.  I like trees.  Trees are good.  Other than that I don’t know what’s going on in this drawing:

Bad House Model 4


Fanciful house on a knoll with basement “hobbit doors”.  Not a bad drawing for a story book.  But perhaps a “specific taste” as Realtor’s like to say when they don’t want to seem catty:

Bad House Model 6


Four variations on the same boring theme:

Bad House Model 7


Plans that only a community college Architectural Drawing 101 course instructor could love:

Bad House Model 8


Advice to Buyers:

The most important thing about seeing architectural plans in the MLS is not actually the plans themselves.  What’s important is that when you see plans it’s like a big flashing neon sign that someone has investigated the land and decided that the parcel for sale is at least buildable.  Because if it wasn’t buildable, why would the seller have invested so much time and money in plans?  Since not every parcel is buildable this signal is pretty important.

You don’t need to pay too much attention to whether you like the architectural style of the house depicted.  Just note how the house shown in the plans or model is situated on the terrain.  Any house you build might relate to the land in the same way, particularly if the land is sloped.  Beyond that, you can change the plans or lose them entirely.


Advice to Sellers:

Yes I know you paid thousands of dollars for those plans.  And there they sit rolled up and standing in the corner of your closet, smirking at you.  Every time you look at them they remind you of the grand house you were planning to build (and the amazing life you were going to have in that house).  And now, for whatever reason, you have decided you don’t want to build.  You want to sell the land and you’re depressed that the plans are totally useless.

I’m sorry to tell you this but you will not get that money you invested in architectural drawings and models back.  It’s what your economics professor referred to as a “sunk cost”.  I do hope you were paying attention in class because that cost is really sunk baby.

This means that making architectural plans available to the buyer is not likely to increase the price you can get for your land.  There are two reasons for this:  1) Most buyers in the current economy are investors, not folks with plans to build.  Investors usually don’t care about plans as much as you might hope they would.  2) Buyers who do want to build their dream home will likely want to have their own unique plans drawn up.  The upshot is that most buyers will not use your plans and they certainly won’t pay for them.

I have never once in my career as a Broker had a buyer contact me and say they are looking for land to build a house and especially wanted land where architectural plans were already in place.  I have also never heard a buyer express enthusiasm that a seller was offering plans with their land.  Also, none of the buyers that I have sold land+plans to have ever built a house using the seller’s plans.  I conclude:  Demand for plans equals approximately zero.

Now, sellers, get ready to really be annoyed with this kicker… even if buyers don’t intend to build using your plans, buyers will still want a copy of them.  But this does not mean they will pay for them.  So my advice to you as a seller is to just include the drawings in the deal.  Don’t mention that you’re charging for them.  Just be sure you get a good price for your land.  It’s not worth the effort and conflict will that will be created by trying to negotiate a separate price for plans.  As I explain above, your plans do have value but their value lies primarily in their worth as a signal that your land is buildable.  Get a good price for your real estate because it is buildable, not because you’re selling paper with it.


Advice to Agents:

Always remember that real estate agents are licensed to sell real estate (i.e., real property).  Houses are real estate.  Land is real estate.  Architectural plans and models depict real estate but they are not real estate.  They are personal property, paper, not real property.  So as a Realtor, think of plans and models as simply an aid to help you sell what you’re licensed and contracted to sell:  the land.

I find that the only time the availability of plans is likely help to sell land is in urban areas such as Los Angeles when the lot for sale is very sloped.  For lots like this, if buyers view the land in its natural state, they may be uncertain about how to orient a house on a steeply sloped lot, how to grade it, where the driveway will go, how many stories it might be, or whether it’s even possible to build there.  By displaying in the MLS a model showing the house on the terrain you are conveying a clear message to potential buyers: “hey gang: an architect looked at this sloped site and deemed it buildable; see here are the house plans as evidence!”

A second situation in which you will want to show one or more images of plans or models in the MLS is when the seller himself is an architect, architectural engineer, or contractor and the seller is keenly interested in marketing his services in combination with the land.  For example, the seller may be advertising that he will “build to suit”.  You can help your client out by displaying his wares – the architectural drawing and models – in the MLS.  Post one or two images of plans and models, no more.   The rest of the images should be of the land itself and helpful maps.

If you do show plans in the MLS, do not show images of black and white floor plans.  Those are far too bland to be visually appealing in the colorful MLS where your listing is competing with other listings for attention.  If you must show architectural drawings, then show one or two colorful views of the exterior of the house.  Be sure to choose at least one drawing that shows not only the house, but how the house sits in context on the land.  This is important, because you are selling land, not an existing house.

In the other 98% of cases, there is little reason to display plans in the MLS and on other sites.  For example, if you’re selling 5 flat acres in a rural area and the seller happens to have plans for a ranch style house, note there are many house sizes and configurations that would work well on that kind of accommodating terrain.  Further, stock plans for ranch style houses are widely available.  So in cases like this it’s not that helpful to show plans.  Just mention in the text that you have plans and say they’re available, but don’t show them in place of a photo.

Don’t ask buyers to drive to your office to view plans.  That’s old fashion and time-consuming for you and for buyers.  Rather, distribute them via a PDF file to buyers who want them.  Go to Office Max, Office Depot, Staples, Kinko’s or a similar office supply/photocopy store and get the plans scanned into a PDF file.  Post the PDF file on your website or advertise that you can e-mail plans as a PDF attachment to interested buyers upon request.  This is also a good way to get buyers to contact you so that you can establish a dialogue and sell them that land.

Remember, don’t try to negotiate a separate price for plans.  It’s too time consuming and not worth it.  If you have permission from the seller, just give them away via a PDF file as a courtesy in your effort to sell the parcel.  Remember, selling the land is the goal.

So to summarize all of this:  Include plans and models in the MLS only when they provide a needed signal that the land is actually buildable or when the seller an architect, contractor and wants to market his services.  Plans should be in color and show the exterior of the home in the context of the land.  Include no more than two images of plans/models in the MLS.  Consider giving plans away by e-mail or on your website.  And remember what you’re selling – land, not paper!


This blog post is part 8 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 7: Photos are Blurry

Blurry MLS Photos

In an effort to sell land, one of the most curious photographic sins is blurriness.  When I see fuzzy photos of land for sale, I always think “what the heck?”

Here is a collection of blurry photos posted by other agents in the MLS, supposedly in an effort to sell their land listings.   What could these agents be thinking?

Blurry photo 14


Blurry photo 12


Blurry photo 11


Blurry photo 10


Blurry photo 9


Blurry photo 8


Blurry photo 7


Blurry photo 6


Blurry photo 5


Blurry photo 4


Blurry photo 3


Blurry photo 2


Blurry photo 1


Advice to Buyers:

If the photo is blurry then ignore the photo and go see the land in person.  Oh, never mind, just ignore that land.  It’s probably not worth it.


Advice to Sellers:

If your agent is posting photos like these on the internet, get another agent.


Advice to Agents:

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out why a real estate agent would post blurry photos.  Like, um, how come?  You are trying to sell the land, right?  I don’t get it.

If you find yourself in a position where you have only fuzzy photos of the land, don’t just go ahead and post them to the MLS.  There are better alternatives.  The best solution is to go take better photos.  If that’s impossible (e.g., you’re getting on a plane for your 3 week overseas vacation when you check your camera) then the second best solution is to pay someone else to go take better photos.

If new land photos are logistically impossible for the moment then you could post one or more colorful images of maps.  Try an aerial map, zoning map, location map, or topographical map of the land.  Clean clear crisp versions of maps are available on the internet, just save them as a JPG file and upload them to the MLS in place of a photo.  Or you might post an image related to the land that is not a photo of the land itself.   For example, when I was selling a gold mine I posted a stock image of a nugget of gold – this conveys the idea of “gold mine” to buyers in an instant.  When selling a lot in an attractive guard gated community, you could post an image of the landscaped front gate.  When selling a riverfront parcel, post an image of the river.  These photos are likely available on the internet (but pay attention to copyright).   Choose a photo that is helpful, conveys a message such as “gold”, “gated”, or “river”, and is not misleading.  You get the idea.

A good clear photo of the land is usually best.  However almost any clear alternate image is better than a blurry image of the land.


This blog post is part 7 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 6: Featuring Real Estate Signs in Photos

John Doe, Agent To The Stars!

When I search for vacant land parcels for sale in real estate websites such as,, and the MLS  I often see photos of real estate SIGNS instead of photos of real estate.

It is one thing to install a “for sale” sign on the land so that someone driving by will know the land is available for sale. That’s cool.  But it’s quite another thing to then take a photograph of the sign (often in lieu of taking a photo of the land itself) and post the photo of the real estate sign on the internet.

The sign contains the broker’s name, company and phone number.  The photo of the sign contains the broker’s name, company and phone number.  And that photo is often posted next to a paragraph that contains the broker’s name, company and phone number.  What’s the point of the redundancy?

Sometimes other agents post no photos of the land itself, just a photo of the real estate sign.  Other times there are photos of the land, but the photo of the real estate sign is featured prominently as the primary photo, the first in the sequence.  This first photo is often the only one that buyers see as they breeze through multiple land listings on their iPad, click, click, click…

When I see photos of real estate signs I can’t help but wonder:  Is the broker advertising the land or is the broker advertising the broker?

Here is a collection of photos of signs I found on the internet.  They were posted by other agents in marketing their land listings.


Sometimes it’s one sign

Signs photo 2


Signs photo 1


Signs photo 3


Signs photo 6


Signs photo 11


Signs photo 12


Signs photo 14


Signs photo 20


Signs photo 22


Signs photo 24


Signs photo 23


Sometimes it’s two signs

Signs photo 10


Signs photo 13


Signs photo 15


Signs photo 16B


Signs photo 81


And sometime it’s three or more signs

Signs 25


Signs photo 5


Perhaps it’s a sign with shadow

Signs 25


Signs photo 8


Or a sign on ground

Signs photo 2


Maybe a sign with car

Signs photo 7


A sign with dogs

Signs photo 80 

For variety, a sideways sign

Signs photo 3


Then there is the non-real estate sign



Signs photo 4


And my personal favorite, a blank sign

Signs photo 1


Why Do Brokers Post Photos of Real Estate Signs?

There are at least four reasons why Realtors post photographs of signs.


Reason #1:  To Get Buyers to Call the Seller’s Broker Instead of the Buyer’s Broker

Say Broker A gets a listing on some land and represents the seller.  Broker A installs sign on the land with his name and phone number.  Broker A takes a photo of the sign (and sometimes the land) and posts the photo of the sign in the MLS.

Now let’s assume Broker B represents a buyer.  Broker B has been working with his buyer for a month now showing him multiple pieces of land listed by other Realtors.  Broker B wants to show this piece of land to his buyer to see if he wants to buy it.  If the buyer is interested in buying the land, naturally Broker B wants to represent his buyer in submitting an offer.  That way Broker B will earn half the commission.  Broker B does not want the buyer to turn around and call Broker A and ask Broker A to assist him in submitting an offer because then Broker A will earn the entire commission and Broker B will earn nothing.  This is why Broker B does not want his buyer to have ready access to Broker A’s name and telephone number.

However, Broker A has cleverly embedded his contact information in a photo.  There’s no simple way for Broker B to omit select photos when showing the listing to his buyer.  If the photo is there, the listing broker, Broker A, has effectively put his name and phone number into the buyer’s hands.  Broker A is trying to thwart Broker B’s ability to earn half of the commission so that Broker A can earn the entire commission

This is one reason many MLS systems prohibit posting photos of real estate signs in the MLS.  This policy is to create a playing field where agents can easily represent buyers and show other Realtor’s properties to their buyers without fear of losing their buyer to the listing agent.


Reason #2:  Syndication

Nowadays, when a broker enters a listing into the MLS, those listings are generally syndicated to national websites such as Zillow and Trulia.  After that, brokers lose much of the control of where their listings go and what they look like on the web.

For example, Zillow is famous for displaying Broker A’s land listing alongside contact information for random Broker C from another office!  Yikes, talk about loss of broker-control!  This is one reason why Realtors like to slip their contact information into the images they post by taking photos of their own real estate sign.  That way when their listing is syndicated from the MLS to sites such as Zillow, buyers will still know whose listing it is.


Reason #3:  To Help the Buyer Identify the Land

Vacant land with no house on it can be tricky to find.  Often there is no address.  One reason to post a photo of a real estate sign is so that when a buyer drives out to the property and sees the sign, they can compare the sign they see on the land to the sign in the photo.  The idea is that they’ll think “Oh, there‘s the orange sign, just like in the orange sign in the photo!”  Then they’ll know they’re in the right spot.


Reason #4:  Because the Broker Finds the Real Estate Sign to be the Most Interesting Thing About the Land

Most Realtors who sell land are not land brokers.  They are more interested in selling houses and condos, not land.  So the house broker drives out to the land and finds, predictably, that there is no kitchen with granite countertops to photograph, no great room with fireplace, and no master bath with dual sinks.  She is bored with all the dirt and trees.  She does not own hiking boots and certainly does not want to get her Manolo Blahniks dusty just to get a good shot of the land she’s selling.  So she’s limited to taking a couple shots from the sidewalk with her smart phone.

But wait!  There’s her real estate sign poking up out of the ground!  It’s happy and colorful and, hey, it even has her name on it.  She thinks: I’ll take a photo of that!

That’s kind of how it goes.  Like most people, Realtors are naturally inclined to photograph things they find interesting.  And there’s nothing more interesting to the Realtor than the Realtor.

Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus?   Narcissus was surrounded by a beautiful garden, and even accompanied by Echo a mountain nymph, yet it was his own reflection in the pond that he fell in love with….  Now you understand why Realtors love to photograph their own signs!



Advice to Buyers:

There are a couple of good things about seeing photos of real estate signs on the internet.  First, if you see a photo of a sign you’ll be pretty sure there is a sign on the land.  So when you get to the land you’re likely to recognize it so you’ll know you’re in the right place.

Second, even if you’re working with a buyer’s agent, if there’s a photo of the Realtor’s sign you’ll know who the listing agent is.  If you want to know the real inside deal on the land, or if you want to feel out whether the seller is flexible on price, their motivation for selling etc. call the listing agent.


Advice to Sellers:

Review your broker’s on-line marketing materials to make sure your agent is advertising your land more than he is advertising himself.  In particular, make sure that any photo of the agent’s sign is not the first photo in a sequence of any marketing materials.


Advice to Agents:

Weighing all the pros and cons, my feeling is that it is almost never a good idea to include a photograph of your sign in the MLS.

Think about it from the perspective of the buyer:  The buyer is sitting in their living room looking at photos on the internet and is keen on seeing photos of vacant land.  Then they see a photo of a big piece of wood with some lettering on it.  It’s jarring and weird to the buyer who wants to see trees and grass.  It’s like a big red flag that you’re selling yourself and not the land.

I mean, imagine if you’re online looking to buy a book, consumer electronics or athletic apparel.  You’re looking at photos of the items you’re considering purchasing, comparing features and prices.  And then, in the middle of a sequence of photos you see a big ad for of AMAZON! or BEST BUY!  or SPORTS AUTHORITY!   You’d be a little annoyed, right?

Sellers are hiring you to sell their dirt.  Buyers want to buy dirt.  If you want to sell yourself, then do a good job of selling the dirt and people will remember you.  You don’t need to get all in their face about it.

If you must include a photograph of your sign, always be sure it is not the first photo in the sequence.  You might consider letting the sign sneak into the corner of one photo with 90% of the photo still displaying the landscape.

If you’re concerned about what happens to your contact information after syndication, did you know you can go directly to sites such as Zillow and Trulia, create an account, and enter your listings from scratch?  That way you can upload whatever photos you want there regardless of what the MLS rules are.  Buyers are probably looking at national websites such as Zillow and Trulia, and may not be looking in your local MLS like you are as an agent.  So it’s the national websites, not the MLS, where you want to make sure that your contact information is up front and center.  You can even enter a link to your own website directly into Zillow and forget about that low tech (and annoying) photo-of-real-estate-sign.


Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? 

–1990, Five Man Electrical Band

This blog post is part 6 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 5: Debris, Overhead Wires and Other Unsightly Items Featured in Photos

It is fascinating how many photos used to market vacant land feature debris, garbage cans, overhead wires and other unsightly items.  Here are some photographs posted by other Realtors and sellers in their effort to sell land on the Internet:


It’ll be fun negotiating whether buyer or seller pays for the debris cleanup…Wait, never mind, there probably won’t be any buyers with photos like these.

Lot #3 listed for $499,000. Top of the private street


Debris photo 2


Debris photo 13


Debris photo 9


Debris photo 10


Garbage Cans

A dancing chorus line of garbage cans.

Debris photo 4


Utility Poles

Would you like the blue one, the black one, the red one, or the white one?

Debris photo 6



For sale:  power lines against gray smoggy sky.  Land not depicted here but included at no extra charge.

Debris photo 7

My eye is drawn right to the pattern in the blue sky below, away from the land for sale.

Debris photo 19

Debris photo 12



A toilet in the MLS to advertise a vacant land parcel?  I’m confused.  But hey if I drink a lot of ice tea on my way to see the land at least I’ll be covered!

Debris photo 8


Shopping Cart

One lonely contemplative grocery cart surveys the land, pondering whether to buy it.

Highland & Palm Corner


Tractor and Lawn Mower

Debris photo 14


Debris photo 16



Nothing says “safe neighborhood” like a close up of barbed wire!

Debris photo 17


Debris photo 21




Debris photo 18


Advice to Buyers:

If you’re interested in buying a parcel that has a lot of weird debris on it, take a moment to consider who will clean it up?  If you want the seller to clean it up before closing escrow, make sure that’s in black and white in your offer.  The California Association of Realtors standard land purchase agreement includes a box you can check in paragraph 12 that says (if checked) “All debris and personal property not included in the sale shall be removed by Seller by Close of Escrow”.

Or, if you are willing to accept the debris, you can leave that contractual box unchecked in your offer and use that as a negotiating point to get the price down.  For example, you might say to the seller’s Realtor:  “Gee, there sure is a lot of debris on this land.  I will clean it up myself but it will take a lot of time, and I will have to rent a truck and pay some people to help, and so with all that debris I obviously can’t offer full price….”

Regardless of which option you choose, to ask the seller to clean it up or to clean it up yourself, indicate in the contract who’s going to deal with the junk so that there’s no dispute later.

When you visit the land, also look for evidence of hazardous waste.   An example of hazardous waste would be an old oil drum that’s leaking.  If you find something like that, talk to the City or County about their rules for proper cleanup.  Ask the seller’s agent to make sure the seller discloses any hazardous waste that he may be aware of.  After all, you can’t see under all the debris or under the ground.  Again, if you discover hazardous waste, and if you still want the parcel, use it to negotiate a lower price.

Remember not all items left on a parcel are “garbage”.  Items left behind could include things that have value.  These include things like antique farm equipment or an old silver bullet air stream trailer carcass that might be sold to a collector on e-bay.  If the item is something that both buyer and seller want, such as a portable storage shed, remember to indicate in your offer what the disposition of that item will be.  Is it included with the land?  Or will the seller remove it?  If so, when?  Put it in writing at the outset.


Advice to Sellers:

Clean up your land before putting it on the market.  If you don’t, it won’t photograph well and so may not attract an offer.  Or, the buyer may ask for a low price to compensate for the debris.  It’s a better idea to clean it up before your agent takes photos.


Advice to Agents:

As a broker, don’t offer to haul away debris yourself.  That is so not your job.  You don’t do windows and you’re not the garbage man.  It is, however, within the scope of your services to refer the seller to one or more people you may know who will clean up the debris for a fee.

Advise your sellers to arrange to clean up their land just as they would clean up their house before putting it on the market.  Wait until the debris has been removed before taking marketing photos. If the items cannot be removed, and you still need to take marketing photos, it’s usually best to point your camera away from things that are not considered “real estate” such as shopping carts, lumber, garbage etc.

If you walk around to all corners of the parcel, you’ll surely find some angle that will allow you to omit unsightly stuff from the picture frame.  Also, before leaving the parcel to drive back to the office, check your photos in your digital camera to make sure that ugly items that are not “real estate” have not crept into the photo frames.

Strangely enough, there are times when you will want to include things that are not so pretty in your photos.  For example, a good way to depict visually that there is water available to the land is to photograph a fire hydrant or a water meter or a well.  To make it clear that electricity is at the property you might show an electric pole in the corner of one shot.  To demonstrate that the property is fully fenced, you might want to capture a glimpse of the wire fence along the side of one photo.  I have even been known to photograph large overhead power lines that obstructed the view as part of a “truth in advertising” effort because I did not want a bunch of buyers driving out to the parcel I was selling and the buyers getting all disappointed at the view when they got there after driving all that way.  I tend to do that when the negative issue is such a “debbie downer” that there is no way that any buyer could overlook the problem so I might as well photograph it and “get it out there” upfront.  Of course you will not want to feature unattractive photos like these as your primary marketing photo, just as the 5th or 10th or 15th photo in a sequence, something like that.  However, while you might strategically take photos of things that are not super cute or scenic, such as utilities, I can think of no good reason to photograph actual garbage, a broken down piece of equipment, or an old shopping cart.  Just get rid of it!

Just as you might advise a client to “stage” their house, also advise your sellers to “stage” their land and clean it up!


This blog post is part 5 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 4: Close-ups of Vegetation or Dirt

When there is no house on the land, it appears that some residential brokers don’t have a clue what to photograph.  From some of the photos I see, it seems that there are brokers who don’t appreciate the beauty of the land and don’t take enough time with their vacant land photo shoot.  It’s almost like they get out of their car, see dirt, vegetation and trees and say to themselves “Nope, nothing here worthy of interest…no granite counters, no crown molding, no great room with fireplace….so I’ll just point my I-phone at the nearest clump of weeds, push the button, and be on my way.”

With all the close-ups of soil, grass and trees in marketing materials intended to sell land, it’s clear that some agents don’t even have the insight to walk across the street from the land for sale and take a shot from a distance so as to capture the panorama.  It’s painful to look some of the close up photos of vegetation and dirt posted on the internet.  What were these agents thinking?   Do they care whether the land sells or not?

Here are a few cringe-worthy photos posted by other Realtors in the MLS and syndicated to publically available websites such as Trulia and Zillow:

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 1

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 2

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 3

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 4

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 5

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 6

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 7

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 8

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 9

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 10

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 11


Advice to Buyers

If the agent does not include any photos taken at a distance, and shows only close-ups of dirt and trees in their on-line marketing, you really have to wonder why that is?  Could it be that there’s a lot of debris on the land or an old rusty broken-down single-wide mobile home that the Realtor is trying to exclude from the photo frame?  If all the photos are close-ups of trees, is it because there is no clearing in the trees to build a house?  Be suspicious.  Think about it.

More than likely, however, there’s nothing wrong with the land at all and it’s just that the photos are bad.   If you’re interested in a piece of land where the marketing photos are terrible, be aware that no other buyer will be interested in this parcel.  So use this to your advantage and give the seller a low ball offer.  Your offer is likely to be the only one she has received!


Advice to Sellers

If your agent is posting photos like the ones shown here, you should get another Realtor.  Your land won’t sell if the photos look like these.


Advice to Agents

Step away from the tree!  Don’t point your camera down at the grass!  What I do is step back a distance and take a couple of photos.  Then I step back away from the land farther and take more photos.  Then I walk back even farther and take still more photos.  Afterward, I return to the office and look at all of them and pick the best.

A mistake a lot of agents make is that they think they need to be standing on the actual parcel for sale when they take a photograph of the parcel for sale.  This tendency leads to a lot of bad close-ups.  Instead, stand across the street and shoot toward the land.   Stand half way down the block. Stand at the top of a nearby hill.  Get creative.

When photographing a tree, try moving away far enough that you can capture the whole tree from the roots to the top branch.  Also try taking a photo with the tree along the left of the frame.  Take another photo with the tree on the right.  Finally take a photo of the land with the tree branch curving around the inside edge of the photo to frame the view.  Later, see what looks best and shows the land in its best light.

If the terrain allows, walk the entire parcel, to the back, to the left, to the right.  Take a large number of photos in many directions, from various angles.  The more pictures you take, the more likely you’ll find a few gems when reviewing them later.

Include some photos that are not all about dirt and vegetation.  For example, photograph the fence, the gate, the well house, the street in front of the land, the city-scape view from the land, the ritzy house next door, the sign at the entrance to the private community, etc.

Follow these tips and sell that land!


This blog post is part 4 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!


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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 3: Unreadable maps

OK so maps are not technically “photos”.  But they are images used to market land in the MLS and on other web sites.  Good maps are crucial in selling land.  They can 1) help buyers and agents locate the parcel; 2) show the zoning of the parcel in the context of the zoning of surrounding parcels; 3) reveal the terrain, for example in the case of an aerial map; or 4) show the shape and dimensions of the parcel.

The problem is that some folks post truly bad maps on the internet to market their land.  Here are some really goofy maps posted by other Realtors and sellers:


Parcel is helpfully marked in red, major arteries shown in yellow, but map is blurry and does not show street names

Bad map 1



The red check marks the spot but could you use this ambiguous map to locate the parcel?

Bad map 2


The tax identification number (APN) ends in -03 (in the circle) and the official lot number is 16 (sideways).  So far so good, but why confuse buyers with the extra handwritten 213?

Bad map 3


I presume they’re selling the one marked in red in the middle but what are those blue blobs, where are the parcel boundaries, and what street is this land on?

Bad map 4


Other agent thought bubble: “Who needs computers?  I’ll just lay this here paper map down on the kitchen table and take me a picture.  Oh dang it’s a little blurry and crooked, oh well….”

Bad map 5


Other agent thought bubble:  “So call me a rebel.  I mean who says north has to be at the top and handwriting has to be right-side-up?  I live by my own rules.”

Bad map 6


Other agent thought bubble:  Who needs a computer or scanner to create a map when I have a yellow highlighter and a camera?

Bad map 7


OK so I see the map of the city.  But where is the land you’re selling?

Bad map 8


Aerial maps can be helpful, but this one is too much of a close up view to allow buyers and agents to get a sense of the slope of the terrain

Bad map 9


Advice to Buyers

If the on-line maps are terrible, ignore them and go find your own maps on the internet.  Before you start surfing, first get all location information you can from the listing broker.  This includes address, parcel number (APN), and/or longitude/latitude.  Ask the agent to at least e-mail you a black and white plat map.  Armed with this information, you can then:

1)   Search Google or the Land22 site for a Geographic Information System (GIS) that covers the City/County where the parcel is located.  Enter the address or APN in the GIS system to locate the parcel.

2)  Enter the address or longitude/latitude into Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest or ITouchMap to see the a location map, aerial map, birds-eye view map, parcel corners or to get driving directions.

3)  Print out the maps you find most useful and have a hardcopy in your hand when you go visit the land.  It is especially important to have a paper aerial map so that you can get a feel for the corners when you’re on the ground.


Advice to Sellers

After your listing broker posts maps on-line, review them to make sure they’re clear and helpful.  If they’re not, have a conversation with your Broker.


Advice to Agents

It just doesn’t look professional to lay a paper map down on a table and take a photograph of it.  The wrinkles in the paper will show and it will be obvious.  Try to find the same map on-line in a computer generated unwrinkled form.  If you must capture an image from a paper map, use a computer scanner to create a professional looking file that you can post on the internet.  Don’t just take a photo of it, the quality isn’t high enough.

Coloring a map with colored highlighter or a crayon is amateur.  It will appear to viewers that you don’t know how to use a computer.  Since the use of computers is critical to selling land that’s not the impression you will want to create if you hope to get listings and sell land successfully.

Every map you post should include a clear indication of where the parcel is located in the map.  Don’t post general maps of a neighborhood or city where the parcel is not even marked.  You can mark parcels with a boundary, X, check mark, circle or arrow.  If the parcel is unmarked, what’s the point of the map?

If street names are faint or missing, use your computer to edit the map image file and add text to show street names.

Clear maps of all kinds are readily available on the Internet.  There is no reason for a map posted in MLS marketing to be blurry.

Transforming an on-line map into an image that you can post in marketing materials requires some professional and technical skills.  The professional skills needed include things like a good design sense, the wisdom and experience to know what kind of map would be most helpful to buyers, and having a kind of empathy for the person reading the map.  Also essential are technical skills such as computer screen capture, cropping, and editing.  If you’re an agent who is great at selling land but these particular skills are not in your arsenal, get someone else to create your maps for you!  Convince your techno-wizard nephew to put down his video games long enough to help.  Or pay your teenage grand daughter to do it – you know, the one who wants to be a graphic artist?  Creating maps for marketing purposes is not rocket-science but you have to have the patience and skill to do it right.


This blog post is part 3 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 2: Photo Is Too Dark

Why do agents and sellers post dark photos on the internet to market their land?  Here are two examples of photos that I found posted by other Realtors:

Land In The Dark Photo 1

Land In The Dark Photo 2

Dark photo 3


Advice to Buyers

Before submitting an offer, it’s best to go see the land in person.  You will especially want to do that if the marketing photos were taken in the dark!

As an alternative, you can go for a virtual walk in the daylight from the comfort of your couch using Google Street View.


Advice to Sellers

After your agent posts the listing of your land on-line, review the photos.  Check to make sure they are not too dark or have other problems.


Advice to Agents

I doubt that the agents who posted these dark photos of their land listings set out to take photos in the dark.  Sometimes this happens due to bad planning.  For example, the land may be a long driving distance from the Realtor’s office or home…the Realtor leaves late and does not plan enough driving time…they get lost along the way or have trouble locating a rural parcel with no address…and end up motoring up to the parcel just as the sun is going down!  I have done this myself!  If this happens to you, the only solution is to congratulate yourself that at least you now know how to find the land (maybe after a few wrong turns) so now you can at least draft good driving directions.  But do come back another day to take photos in the light.

If you want to make absolutely sure that you only have to make one pre-marketing trip out to the land then you will want to allow 2-3 times the amount of time you think you’ll need and factor in extra time to get lost, get gas, pull over and answer your cell phone, etc.  Leave early so that you’re sure to arrive at the parcel when there’s still plenty of light regardless of how far it is from your office.

And while I’m on the subject of light, when planning the best time of day to take photographs, you might sit down and give it some real thought before you head on out there.  Stare at maps and contemplate which direction the sun rises and sets relative to the land and imagine in your mind which shot is likely to be the “money shot”.  What direction will you be facing when you take that shot?  Consider that direction when planning the ideal time to arrive at the land to take marketing photos.   For example, if the money shot will be facing west, you won’t want to take the photo facing a setting sun because that creates glare  – you might want the sun at your back – so go take the photo in the morning not the late afternoon.

Let’s face it, some land is boring.  If the land you’re listing is not super pretty e.g., flat desert sand, it might be best to take photos when the sun is not directly overhead.  This is because a rising or setting sun will create neat shadows on, say rocks and tumbleweed, and if the land is not all that interesting then the light and shadows will make it look more arresting.  Taking photos when the sunlight is at an angle will make the land look better.  As one example, during this time of year (October) you might prefer to take photos at 3 pm rather than, say, high noon.

If you do go out to take photos and find that you have arrived at the land in the dark, just go back to the land another day.  Don’t post dark photos on the internet thinking “it’ll be fine…buyers can sort of kind of make out the grass and trees and fence in the dark ….”   If you actually want to sell the land it won’t be fine.  Trust me.


This blog post is part 2 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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