REAL ESTATE: LIGHTS, CAMERA... CLOSET!

Forget blogs. For desk jockeys, the Web offers a better genre of goof-off sites: online real-estate listings. But while most of these sites offer the same tired set of photos--look: another crummy shot of the living room!--one site's upping the ante in an increasingly competitive industry. Over the last 18 months, Foxtons, a New Jersey-based discount real-estate firm, has hired 21 professional photographers who shoot homes for its Web site with pro-style digital cameras, high-quality flashes and wide-angle lenses. While Realtor.com, the biggest real-estate Web site, offers a maximum of six photos of each listing (most shot by brokers themselves), some of Foxtons's include two dozen shots, such as artsy close-ups of stairways, windows or fireplaces. "We try to give a bit more of the character of the home," says Sean Begley, Foxtons's head of photography, who spends $150 to $200 per shoot.

One downside: potential disappointment. Some shoppers complain the photographers do too well, and that Foxtons's listings look better on the Web than in real life. But industry watchers forecast that other firms may soon follow suit. Just as professional head shots have begun replacing snapshots at some online dating sites, real-estate consultant John Tuccillo says rival real-estate firms may begin investing in better cameras and photography training. "As the tools become sharper and more available... you'll see Realtors move in that direction," Tuccillo says.