Surprisingly enough, not every real estate agent agrees that professional photos are better than non-professional photos. I get objections like "I've always taken my own photos" or "I took a photography class once" all the time. I even get creative ones like "I consider myself a professional since I take the photos, the house sells, and I get paid. So technically, I'm getting paid to take photos."
It's very easy to assume that it's not hard to photograph still objects, but the interior of a home is extremely difficult to photograph. You have to consider things like bright windows, dark interiors, shadows from chandeliers, and yellow or blue colors coming from lightbulbs. All of this needs to be done with the assistance of some sort of external lighting, and it's usually a flash mounted on the camera. Now all of a sudden, one of your pictures has a red tint to it! It's probably because the flash hit one of the bright red walls in the kitchen and now everything looks psychedelic.
Check out some of these before and after pictures from a recent listing. This house was absolutely beautiful but you would never be able to tell from the photos. If you were looking to buy a house, which one would you visit?
When you walk into a home with a digital camera and leave it on the "auto" setting, there's no way it can possibly take into account all of the things I previously mentioned. The camera gets confused by the bright windows, dark shadows, and has no idea if there's anything that would create a shadow. The result? You end up with photos like this...
It's important to keep in mind that these photos aren't making the house look better than it is, it's just that the bad photos are making it look so much worse.
All these photos were taken with digital cameras, not cell phones. The difference is definitely the person behind the camera. When I started taking real estate photos I was using a Nikon D3200 which I bought used for about $300. I've since upgraded, but I still carry that little camera around in my bag as a backup because I know that I can get amazing pictures out of it.