Some homes are filthy, others sterile. Some homes are vacant, while others are over furnished. But they have one thing in common: they make for terrible real estate photos.

As a photographer with Boston Virtual Imaging, I’ve seen the worst of the worst. But the good news is there are five things homeowners and agents can (and should) do before we arrive to photograph a home to bring out its best features.

1) Clear Off All Surfaces

There is a fine line between decoration and clutter, and one simple method to help differentiate between the two is to clear off all the surfaces in your home, starting with the kitchen. That blender, toaster oven and microwave are very useful every day, but they have real eyesore potential in a photo.

The camera tends to see more than the eye, and having a clear surface will eliminate distractions. This helps the potential buyer concentrate on the space, not the items in the space.

2) Remove Personal Items

Yes, the dog and children are adorable, and very photogenic. But framed photos in real estate media? That just looks messy. More importantly, potential buyers want to envision their own families living in a home, so make it easy for them by removing personal items.

Also, don’t forget to remove any item that makes a statement, like political banners and books, risque art, or decor with loud and busy prints. Like it or not, potential buyers can easily pass judgement on the house based on both the color of the sofa and content of the books shelf.

3) Get REAL Flowers or Plants

It seems obvious, but so many agents and owners forget about it until the very last minute.

Flowers are alive and vibrant and they bring life to any photo. However, make sure to choose size-appropriate arrangements for the space. A tall orchid on a small dining table with low hanging chandelier looks silly, and it dominates the photo. The arrangement should complement the space, not take it over. On the flip-side, arrangements that are too small may get lost or add to the clutter.

4) Hire a Stager

Staging a property is well worth the investment. Professional stagers will set up a room in ways that maximize their potential. This goes a long way to making a room seem much more than four walls. It seems counterintuitive but a vacant room will look smaller than a room with furniture. Hiring a staging company is a step most people are hesitant to do, but it allows the photographer to capture the perfect shot.

5) Have the House Professionally Cleaned

After putting effort into the above steps, the last thing you want is a bit of kitchen grime to take center frame. There is huge potential for this any time you move furniture and appliances like toaster ovens.

Yes, cameras can be rather forgiving when it comes to small amounts of dust, but things like bathtub mold, stained carpets, and fingerprint marks on reflective refrigerators are extremely noticeable. The worst is one that too many people overlook: dirty windows.

Cleaning the windows will not only prevent a potentially bad photo, but it will also provide huge aesthetic benefits. You want to highlight the sunlight streaming into the house, and this is especially important if there are amazing city or landscape views.

With these 5 steps you will see a dramatic improvement to your real estate media.