My Formula For Pricing Real Estate Photography

April 5th, 2008

I get a bunch of questions from real estate photographers just starting out asking for a way to decide what to charge. I think I’ve come up with a formula. It is:

Home Shoot Price = 1.7 x Furnace Repair Price

First of all when I say basic shoot, I mean a photo shoot that produces 15 photos of an average size home (around 2000 to 2500 SF… one you can shoot in 1 hour). Added services, bigger homes are assumed to be add-ons.

Here’s how it works. You call your local furnace service company (preferably a company that is well established and been in business for a long while) and ask how much it will cost for them to come give your furnace it’s regular yearly service. This service typically consists of driving to your home, and spending about 30 minutes cleaning the gas jets, examining the heat-exchanger etc. My data is with gas furnaces, this could vary for oil, stream or other type heating systems. The idea is that furnace repair takes a similar level of technical expertise as a photographer… it’s technical, takes some special training and requires some specialized equipment and it takes a trip to the home. But in the two cases I tested, it doesn’t take as long as shooting a home. I assume that to process a shoot it takes 1 hour post processing for each hour on site. This is what the 1.7 multiplier is for.

My theory is that a furnace company that’s been in business for a while has figured out exactly what it costs them to travel to any location in their coverage area and what it cost to pay a relatively technical person to do 30 minutes work. If they didn’t have this figured out correctly they wouldn’t be in business. So they’ve done most of the work for you, all you have to do is apply a multiplier to adjust for the fact that you are going to spend 2 hours instead of 30 minutes.

I’ve done this calculation for my home in Snoqualmie, WA (Seattle area- 15 min east of Issaquah) and my home in Salem, OR (1 hour south of Portland) and it comes out as follows:

  • Seattle area: FRP=$130 so HSP=$221 rounded to $220
  • Salem area: FRP=$60 so HSP=$102 rounded to $100

To me these numbers are plausible. So what do you think? Does this formula work in your area?

 

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81 Responses to “My Formula For Pricing Real Estate Photography”

  • Can I simply say what a comfort to find somebody that really understands what they’re talking about online. You actually realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people need to read this and understand this side of your story. It’s surprising you are not more popular since you definitely possess the gift.

  • The million dollar question, “How Much to Charge”
    After five years of RE Photography and still making cost changes…………….I have to take into consideration my investment of cameras I have 3 that I use ,lens,lighting, software,computers,camera equipment and last but not least my ” VALVE”.
    • I use a cost per square ft of .12cts / condo,Townhouse approx. 2000 sqft $240.00 and so one. The Realtor gets 30 HDR photos resized for web and print, my processing time on something like this is about 60min. my time at the house maybe 60min. usually a 2 hr turn around depending on travel /distance from start to finish back home and ready to process. I hope this helps Great Luck all.
    remember Realtors are cheappies and if they want you they will pay……….You better be REALLY GREAT at taking photos.

  • As much as I feel that I’m worth hundreds of dollars for my knowledge and experience, as well as the investment in equipment and marketing, agents in my area simply will NOT pay much for property photos. I speak from the position of 20 years in the business of real estate marketing. I’ve seen what passes for photography on the local MLS, even for $1M+ homes. Most agents in my area find the photos they take on their iPhones acceptable. I’ve played a great deal with price and packages and find that my market will bear about $75 for just about any priced home. Once a certain level of adequate quality is achieved, my market does not recognize better nor would my market pay for it. I would love to raise my prices to reflect what I feel the service is actually worth, but all I’d have is my pride… certainly no paid jobs.

  • @Patrick- My point in this post is what do other service people that have to come to a home and spend a similar amount of time charge in your area? I used furnace maintenance because they have to show up spend an hour or so doing their thing. Check to see how you compare to other service people. Is there really service people that will come to you home for an hour that only charge $45 or $75? I can’t imagine there are. Are you tracking what it costs you to show up at a property? and what hourly rate you are getting? Are you sure you are recovering expenses?

    I just can’t believe you are covering expenses at $45 and $75 per shoot?

  • I was wondering if anyone charges a mileage charge for the non-local shoots, and how much

  • @Neal- Yes, absolutely most people have a well defined area in which their standard charge applies and then for job outside that area they charge an extra mileage fee. What the milage fee is should be based on your vehicle costs and driving time. Make sure you are recovering your vehicle costs and your and personal time costs.

  • Agents’ commisions are irrelevant, and differ greatly by area and by reputation of the agent.

    You need to analyze your time, tools and materials, decide what price you need to charge to make the money you need (or want to make it worthwhile) and use that to determine your pricing. If you can’t make the numbers work based on that, then you can’t shoot real estate for a living. Maybe as a hobby, or a weekend job, but not as a living.

    If you give the appearance that you’ll work for cheap, you will be working for cheap. If you are matter-of-fact about your business pricing and practices, and deliver a solid product, you can develop a good set of clients. If you don’t ask for payment up front, expect to get stiffed on some jobs, or to spend a lot of time chasing down payments.

    Real estate inspectors don’t deliver the report w/o payment up front. Very few, if any, service companies will send a bill after the work has been performed. Some houses won’t sell, and under no circumstances should you work with that as a contingency for receiving payment for your work – the work that you have already done, and delivered the product for.

    Get a Square device for your iPhone, or some such service, so you can take credit card payment on the spot, since everyone “forgot their checkbook”.

  • @Alison- All great advice! You sound like you’ve done business with real estate agents before;)

  • @Alison, I completely agree with the square device. It makes it so easy to take payment during the shoot and emails a receipt too. Definitely worth the service fee.

  • @Alison. You’re right – everyone “Forgets” their checkbook. Square is a great tool, but, since they keep a (small) percentage, I don’t offer it first. These are relatively small jobs, with expenses. Get the check, or cash, if possible. Offer Square if that’s what it takes.

    Also, several on this thread have questioned dealing primarily with Realtors. Good Realtors are out trying to get listings every day. Your basic homeowner has one house to sell. If you make the Realtor look good, every listing contract will be another call to you. Having agents calling daily with work is the way I want it – not me out beating the bushes for a homeowner who might be looking for pictures.

  • ok…this may have been answered before, but I have not seen it – my question related for pricing is: does anyone ever do a “monthly rate” for an agent or agency and, say, do up to x amount of listings for a set price? given set parameters, of course (up to x sq ft/property, up to x # of images/property and x mile radius from set area, etc)….and make exceptions (charge x amount extra for larger homes, x sq ft – y sq ft) if necessary? I have not yet done any RE photography, but for many of the reasons listed here in this discussion as well as others on the website it is something I REALLY want to get into, and as far as i know there are not any photographers who do it in my area (think rural and smaller towns). This question has been on my mind for a while, and I just wanted to toss it out there 🙂

    thanks SO much in advance!!

  • @Katie- I’ve never heard of anyone charging the way you describe. The reason is the demand for real estate photography is erratic and unpredictable. Agents have no idea when their next listing is or if they are going to even get another listing.

    You will need a backup income while you start a real estate photography business, particularly in a small rural town. Agents in small rural towns seem to be resistant to using real estate photography.

  • thanks Larry-I appreciate your feedback!

  • How about using a scale rate based on how many (maximum) pictures the agent can upload to their local MLS website?
    for example 8 or 15 or 24

    Thanks.

  • @Matt- The problem with varying the pricing based on the number of photos like you are doing (https://matt-fenimore-iamw.squarespace.com/pricing) is:
    1. Most of your overhead costs are your costs of showing up.
    2. To show up and take 1 photo my guess is you are making nothing.
    3. If you are going to show up you might as well take 15 photos… hardly different in your costs than takeing 1 photo
    You need to read: http://photographyforrealestate.net/2012/02/23/what-should-you-charge-for-real-estate-photography/
    and do the arithmetic for your expenses.

  • Seems that charging $10.00 per photo with a 20 photo minimum would be a simple, understandable way to go about it. Cut and dry…….

  • I like the idea of this and will check it out. I’ve been telling realtors, when asked about my price, how much an appraisal is. That usually quiets them if their response wasn’t initially favorable.

  • I’m an established photographer and I’m looking to expand my business into real estate. With my current customers, I send them to my Photoshelter website to see the finished work. When they want to download it, they have to “Add to Cart” and check out. Yes, I have expenses that way, but I build that into my pricing and I figure it’s worth giving up a bit to get paid and not have to have a “collections” department (that would be me, of course).

  • Hi. I’m new here.

    I love the idea of setting my price at a factor of another professional’s service. However, rather than basing it on the price an HVAC contractor sets, why not base it on the price a Realtor charges for a BPO (Broker Price Opinion)? If a full BPO (including driving to and touring the property) takes an hour to complete and deliver and a real estate shoot takes 2.5 hours to complete and deliver (on a good day!) then BPO x 2.5 feels like it’s in the ball park of fair price for our services, and something that we should be able to justify to Realtors wanting to hire us.

    Like I said, I’m new, so I’ll let you know how my plan works out 🙂

  • @Beau- My point about basing your price on some other professionals price is it’s a simple way of getting a feel for what other service people spending a similar amount of time and similar tasks are charging in your area. Realtors in the US don’t charge for pricing their homes… at least I’ve never heard of that. Appraisers who generally work for the bank that’s making the load charge the bank for a appraisal perhaps that’s what you mean.

  • Knowing what agents are likely to make on the sale of a listing is good information to have to evaluate what the market might bear. Given that, calculating the price you charge based on your costs, what you want to take home after taxes and your equipment budget is the only way you can make sure that you can survive at the price you set. Other have stated that starting with a low price and trying to raise it over time is extremely difficult. It’s better to start with a higher price and apply a “discount” to the invoice. The discount can be lessened over time much easier.

    My dilemma has been deciding whether to publish prices on my web site or to negotiate with each agent/agency. I am leaning towards a combination of both approaches by publishing set prices for a level of service to act as a starting point and putting in some text to let agents know that I will negotiate better rates for a minimum number of shoots per month (or rolling 30 day period). I wouldn’t apply the quantity pricing figure on the first shoot, but would include an increasing discount until the agreed on quantity was reached. I’ve been burned too many times in the past with promises of future work if I would give a healthy discount on the first order.

    I am finding that what’s harder than setting prices is convincing agents to use professional photography. The area I am in has two dominant brokers, RE/Max and Coldwell Banker. Both of them let the agents take the pictures of the listings and they are universally horrible. I’ll keep trying to get some business from them, but even their $1M+ listings look they were shot with camera phones and then the files were squeezed to 20kb each. I am going to spend more time calling on the smaller offices and independent agents. Hopefully, they will be more aggressive and are looking for an edge against their competition. Does anybody have any experience in this?

    If I can get in the area of $150 per home on average at 1-2 shoots per day, I should do ok. The cost of living where I am is pretty cheap compared to the greater Los Angeles area. Communities are spread out, but traffic is not a problem. I will list a travel charge for cities further away, but will discount it back for booking 2-3 shoots on the same day. I don’t want to do any more than 3 shoots in one day so I can process and deliver by the next day without staying up too late. I am also planning on offering services in a senior community where my mother lives. They have a high turnover of properties and I can add to my portfolio of community pictures each time I visit and offer them as a bonus. It’s 2-1/2 hours away, but I have a place to stay, mom feeds me (too much) and it’s always nice to visit. With good connections, I can book several full days in advance. I will have access to high speed internet and I can park my Mac Mini and a large monitor to process pictures. Doing production work on the laptop is too constrained.

    Thank you to the realtors that have chimed in. It is very helpful to hear from you.

  • I’ve been a professional photographer for 20 years and have made most of my income from weddings over the last 10 years. I have been transitioning into real estate after a family member, who is a realtor , hired me to do a 1.5m listing. Since it was my first real estate shoot, I charged $100, which I thought was fair at the time. She promised me she would send all her listings my way and she agreed to $30 a shoot no matter the size of the condo, house or mansion. I have learned the hard way , after she referred other realtors to me , that I need to collect the money up front or do not shoot. I worked with 4 different realtors who all forgot their checkbooks. They also kept forgetting to mail a check after weeks or months have gone by. I do not wish to chase after $40 payments with e-mails and phone messages. Not sure a good way to collect money from them in a professional way. Also, how does everyone else contact other realtors to offer photography services ? I have tried through LinkedIn, mailed flyers to the managers of real estate brokers, and e-mails to individual realtors. What is the best way to draw interest? Any advice is appreciated.

  • To anyone who ever actually scrolls all the way down through 77+ responses and get’s to mine. I will start by saying I did not read all the previous responses, so I apologize if I’m repeating what someone else has already said. That being said, into the meat…

    I have two MAJOR problems with the calculation given. First and foremost, almost every home repair man that comes to “service” a piece of equipment, be it heater, plumbing, pool, whatever, EXPECTS and plans on getting additional work out of it. Either because they find something or (in the case of shady places) make something that needs work, or because they are your regular provider they know that WHEN something goes wrong, they are the ones you call. So right there you need to take the whole repair man idea off the table. Which brings me to my second point…

    Making a sustainable business at $200 per house just doesn’t add up. My second major complaint is the hourly rate of service for professional photographers in other industries, wedding, portrait, marketing, hell even stock photos, make 2 to 3 times as much per hour as a real estate photographer!!!! What is wrong with this picture? So lets say that a wedding photographer (I know several personally) makes $3000 for a basic wedding. Lets assume he uses an assistance who gets paid $1000 (probably a bit high, but hey were being conservative here). So of the $2000 the photographer has left, assuming he uses a fairly standard 60-75% of income = payroll, insurance, etc. and pays that to himself, leaving the other 25-40% for the business overhead, company taxes, equipment, studio, insurance, travel, etc. The photographer takes home (pre-tax income) $1200 for about 8 hours of on-site work, maybe another 2-4 in post process so 12 hours of work. That is conservatively $100 an hour to the photographer, after everything is said and done.
    Taking that $100/hr +$33 overhead (in line with at least one post I saw and sticks to the 75% income listed above) assuming 2 hours on site plus another hour in travel and processing, that is $400! And again I’m being conservative here.

    Even looking at stock photography, which can be sold repeatedly though major clearing houses such as Getty Images you can easily pay $300 for a decent quality (1000×800 pixel) royalty free image (meaning unlimited use however you want, basically the same thing we are providing to photographers without the customization). So take that $300 per image, take out a 50% cut for the clearing house takes (it’s actually more but this difference makes up for the fact that no one else will ever be able to buy the image you produce for a real estate agent) you have $150 per image. A fair price compared to similar services from portrait photographers. Now lets say you take the MLS maximum, and highly recommended 30 images… bet yet, cut that in half, 15 images. 15x$150 = $2250 per house! Yup real estate photographers are getting hosed!

    Lets look at this another way. You charge $200 a house right? Great, lets say you put aside 25% for expenses, corporate taxes, insurance, what have you. $150 remains. That is pre-incometax but that’s ok I’ll get there. So lets say you want to make a respectable take home pay equal to a teacher (my wife has a masters in biology and teaches special needs children in a fairly well off county in Virginia) that equals $45,000 per year (also pre-tax). To make that much in real estate photography given the numbers above, you are looking at photographing 300 houses a year. That is one house a day every day, no vacation, no bad weather, no winter doldrums and spring peaks. I’d kill myself just trying to make what my wife does and I wouldn’t have the benefit of mostly employee paid health insurance insurance, or summers and other holidays off, a pension/retirement program. In reality I’d need to make more like $50,000 just to cover the health insurance premiums and retirement services. Add in time off and variable income I’d need more like $60,000 which equals a staggering 400 houses a year!!!! If you do the math, and look at it from a long term business standpoint, clearly the $200 a hour range won’t work. If I photograph 180 (one every other day on average) to make the same $60,000 (take home) I need to charge $444.44 per shoot. I still think this is too low, but sufficient to keep a business, at least a start-up running… for now.

    So guess what, I’m going to keep my day job (with health insurance, retirement, vacation, etc) and try and photograph houses occasionally at a rate that is worth my time and quality of the product I produce. If realtors won’t pay it, well then they can find someone else, who is fresh to the market, who is willing to loose money/their sole and I wish the realtors the best of luck and hope they both wise up to the cost of doing business. If realtors will pay my fee and I can routinely book enough houses to make it a steady income maybe I’ll quit my day job.

  • Robert, now you can see why many people here and on the Flicker group are critical of photographers that only charge $35-$75 per shoot. Based on your simplified math, they are better off staying home and collecting foods stamps. If you carefully factored in all of the expenses of running a business, investing in equipment to stay current, repairs, ad nausem, they would find that working the counter at a fast food joint would be more economic and the hours would be shorter.

    Shooting low to middle priced properties is a tough way to earn a living but, it is a good way to learn the techniques and build a portfolio if you plan to bootstrap into shooting higher end residential and commercial properties. Good RE agents are also looking to move up to higher end properties. Establishing relationships with RE agents that are aggressive and working towards selling 6 homes a year at $8m each instead of 48 homes at $200k each will create a bond and the sense of a team between you and the agent bringing your pay level up as well. There is a lot of frog kissing, but a couple of payoffs will wash out the bad taste. I would be very surprised if any of the members here jumped straight into multi-million dollar homes. It could happen…. Anybody?

    The stock image example takes a lot for granted. $150/image gross x 15 images/day = $2250/house has a bunch of holes. I sell stock images, but in this market I am not getting $150/image. The competition is pretty stiff and I have yet to get tied into an agency that buys from me on a consistent basis. I know a couple of people that bring in about $60K/year on stock images and I would love to get to that point.

    I’m throwing myself into RE photography with the plan of going upscale as fast as I can. I will still be shooting $150-$200 gigs until I get to the point where I really don’t need the money. In the mean time, I am learning how streamline my workflow while maintaining a set quality level and my editing/retouching skills are getting better quickly. I won’t be in the mail room for long. I’ll get that corner office on the executive floor.

  • Interesting approach to charging and comparisson to furnace repair. If you’re interested I’ve been working on a formula myself. Always welcome some toughts on it.
    http://www.davorpavlic.com/how-to-charge-for-your-photography-formula/#.Ubo-zvk3D-Y

  • Robert Glover — to paraphrase what a professor once wrote on a paper I handed in, “You are as wrong as it is possible to be in a paper of this length.”
    He went on to give me a “C” because, he said, I couldn’t be expected to know the things I was wrong about, and based on the content of the class, I could be forgiven for the premises I made in my paper.

    Your post reminded me of that experience. You have some idea of the CODB for photography, but you clearly have no idea of the reality of shooting real estate day to day. I can assure you that there are many photographers making upwards of 6 figure net (not gross) incomes shooting nothing but real estate. And they’re taking vacations, buying health insurance, and doing the things they love to do. I used to be one of them. These days I still shoot a few listings nearly every month. $200 is a low-to-average rate in most urban areas. Suburban and rural areas will dictate a lower rate, but of course the cost of living out there is WAY less.

    A skilled interiors photographer with decent marketing acumen can build a clientele within 2 years that will support an average of 2 shoots per day, 5 days a week. To some extent it’s seasonal (just like weddings) so you can plan on April and September being hella busy, and December being almost completely dead (that’s my market cycle, anyway). So of course, some days it’s 3 shoots (or more) and some days it’s one, or none. It averages out.

    So let’s do that math: 10 shoots per week, 4 weeks per month = 40 shoots per month, x $200 = $8000/month gross. That’s $96,000/year gross. You can apply whatever CODB you like but most people I know could get by on that figure.

    And here’s the best part: 2 shoots a day is basically part-time work. On average (and again, this is for an urban market) a “Shoot” takes about 3 hours, counting travel to and from, time on site, and time in post-production. That still leaves 2 hours a day for administrative stuff like invoicing, delivery, maintenance, Facebook, etc. etc. And STILL that’s only an 8-hour day, which would leave someone like me bored to tears (I like what I do, so 10-hour days are pretty much fine with me).

    Again, these are all averages, so you bet some days are damn hard while others are (literally) a walk in the park. But I can tell you that there are an awful lot of photographers who shoot 3, 4 and 5 listings a day on a regular basis. Some of them (like me) charge considerably more than $200/shoot, too.

    I can also tell you that the median income for professional photographers across the board is something like $40K per year. So I think my real estate photography friends are doing pretty well. Most of the wedding photographers I know are happy to shoot maybe 15 or 20 weddings a year, which taking your fee of $3000 equals only $60,000. Barely a living wage, where I live.

  • Well said Scott!

  • I think that each market is different. I’m a real estate agent as well and the discussion of commissions is moot for a couple of reasons: First, the brokerage models vary dramatically from area to area. Some areas (like mine) are still stuck in the 50:50 split mode with the brokerage. A few alternatives exist, but not many. Other areas not so much. Sometimes agents pay additional fees for leads from the office. There are also referral fees. I’ve had situations where referral fees took out almost 40% BEFORE my brokerage took their cut. I think it was about $6k on a $1 million sale that I was looking to gross from a sale that had taken months of my time. There is always a plethora of other marketing costs as well. So you can’t make too many assumptions.

    Having said that, I will add that some agents, including many top producers, are notoriously cheap. I had a choice: learn how to do photography the right way OR outsource it. Since I was listing at the low end, I thought it would be cheaper to learn it myself. I was WRONG. And that’s what I try to impart to those who think they can dabble in photography “on the side”. For me it started a new career track, but that’s another story.

    What we are wrestling with in our area is the value of “good enough”. We have a couple of big companies that have helicoptered in and are offering all sorts of goodies for peanuts. I’m assuming these models are flush with VC so that they don’t have to turn a profit – yet. I’m also assuming that once they get they get enough “addicts” and public demand for at least “semi-professional” photography forces agents to open their wallets, the price will be jacked up. The model also appears to be based on exploiting photographer wanna-be’s with what amounts to minimum wage per shoot or worse. The question is how to you overcome the “good enough” mentality in order for a business model that isn’t a hobby or even profitable to trump what you offer.

    In that regard Ken and Scott are correct. You won’t make great money in the beginning, but you can as time goes on. Just be careful not to undersell yourself in the beginning.

  • Scott Hargis – that was brilliant!

  • Scott:

    Well said. I try to follow your methods in lighting interiors, and now your approach to the business! I started my business about one year ago shooting anything and everything at $150 per. During the year I have improved my techniques, post processing, and delivery. I am up to $190.00 as a minimum shoot today and plan to be at $200.00 plus by the end of the year. I attack the business from both ends, moving the price higher, and cutting my expense/time. So far it is working but it takes a lot of sales/marketing time to bring in new clients. If I get overloaded, I plan to bring on a couple of “contract” photographers, teach them the techniques and take 20% off each shoot for the business.

    Loved your book and keep up the good work.

  • As an amateur photographer (I have taken coursework in digital SLR and Photoshop and have quality equipment) but I do not make an income in photography at this point. I understand the cost, time and love of craft that goes into being a professional photographer and I have learned enough to “see” the difference a professional photographer can make. With that said, I am looking at developing a part time to full time business of real estate photography.

    My thought/question is this. Our primary customer(s) will be real estate agents and brokers. Business people, with a need we fill. That need being digital images of properties for sale. Are we selling art, intellectual property, or providing a service? I suspect in most cases what we are really providing is a service to a busy agent or broker, who may not have any photographic knowledge or even want to bother with it. We have all seen thousands of horrible home photographs for years on Real Estate websites, taken by agents who just want photographs of the property and that’s good enough for the average home market. Multi-million dollar homes are different.

    I suggest a real estate photographer is really selling service and convenience, which unfortunately may have a price cap. Know your market and your customers then market to them accordingly.

    I would suggest you read “Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got” by Jay Abraham (Truman Talley Books) ISBN 0-312-28454-3