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How To Survive In a Slowing Market

April 14th, 2008

Real estate photographers (at least in the US) need to understand that business is becoming very difficult for your best clients (upper-end listing agents). It’s a great time to be a real estate buyer but it’s a very bad time to be a seller. On the chart to the right (for the Seattle area) the bottom line is sales and the top line is number of homes on the market. Sales continue to drop and number of homes on the market continue to increase.

So you’ll probably find discussions with listing agents more difficult these days. However, they need real estate photographers services more than ever. You need to be talking to them and reminding them that with more homes on the market, the homes that look good on the web have a distinct advantage over ones that don’t.

There was a great post by Brandon Oelling over at Inside Lightroom called “The End is Not Near“. I think Brandon’s business/sales fundamentals are so important to real estate photographers that they bear repeating:

  1. Relationships are the key value you provide to customers – people like to buy from people they like
  2. Quality is subjective – you rarely beat a competing vendors quote on quality alone
  3. Pricing is a factor of quality, your relationship with your prospect, and the perceived value of your service – if you’re a joy to work with, your fees are a non-issue
  4. Referrals are the lifeblood of over 75% of our clients business
  5. Treat every customer like it’s your only customer
  6. Your technical prowess and technical chops are of no interest to your customer – your ability to deliver on time, on budget, and with quality work is what matters
  7. Pick up the phone and dial – calling past customer, prospects, friends, and associates to tell them you are looking for projects works wonders to build relationships and opportunities
  8. Follow up – leave no email unanswered, return all phone calls, and don’t miss meetings
  9. Research your competition – they are researching you

You’ll find variations these fundamental rules in marketing texts of all kinds. And these are the times that force business to follow these fundamentals or perish.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a down cycle like this. 1989 and 1990 was probably the last one. Good marketing techniques are especially important in these down cycles.

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14 Responses to “How To Survive In a Slowing Market”

  • I find this market makes me busier than ever! The smart/ experienced agents understand that the presentation that is seen online is first thing that people see – it’s the ‘curb appeal’ of yesteryear! If the online presentation isn’t top notch, the next sound you hear is “CLICK” to the next listing.

    Properties are sitting on the market longer than they were several years ago, which makes the long term investment in a good presentation more palatable (why spend money when the house will sell before the photos even get online?). They can justify the cost even more, and they also know it’s even more competitive than ever. Good photography and tours give you the ‘virtual edge’. The smart realtors are aware of this. In fact, I photographed a tiny little one bedroom condo yesterday – the guy specifically listed with this realtor because he had seen some of the photos he had on another one of his listings and his first question was “will you do this for me”? Sellers ‘get it’.

    I’m also finding that more and more sellers are paying for photography and tours themselves… then giving it to their realtor (they’re generally less than thrilled with their current marketing efforts). Sellers are now more and more aware of the need for good online marketing, and many realtors are even able to get the sellers to foot the bill (or split the bill).

    This slow real estate market should be a BOON to real estate photographers, stagers and tour providers – not a hinderance.

  • Hi Fred- You are absolutely right!

  • “This slow real estate market should be a BOON to real estate photographers, stagers and tour providers – not a hinderance”

    Yep, you are right… SHOULD!

    That’s theory at this point…

    In practice I see my clients STRUGGLING with survival. I slashed down prices, I went out there looking for new prospects and results are very very poor.

    Cause? Obviously lack of funds.

    I found that the best indicator of how your income will be is to check closed deals (if you have access to the MLS) Right now, here where I am, situation is dramatic. I’m happy I still have some orders!

  • Larry, would be great to update your graph with closed deals, comparred to same period last year and 2 years ago…

  • Michael: Interesting… I actually did the opposite… I just RAISED my prices a bit! But so far, so good. Keeping VERY busy, and without any marketing whatsoever. It’s actually picking up now that our lovely winter with historic record breaking snowfalls is finally coming to and end and spring is starting to actually happen – and it’s about time!

  • Fred, I envy you… It’s not that makes me happy when I hear someone’s mistakes and failures, but it’s a bit of depressing when a i hear super success stories when MY business is down 50% or so. I also It’s a matter of perception… down from what, raising prices from where up to where…

    No marketing whatsoever is a bit of an understatement. I saw you were covered by Katie Curic on TV, congratulation for that…

    You have a very good name for doing this tho 🙂 hehehehe

    Dont get me wrong, I’m ok, but I’ve seen better days…

  • I think it depends on what market you are in. Despite a very slow market over the last 24 months I had been very busy. Unfortunately as Michael points out RE agents are starting to recognize the importance of photography and solid presentations but have spent a lot of money over the years on expensive magazine and newspaper advertising. Right now photography is just a help to getting someone to look at the property – what really needs to happen is major price reductions to start lowering inventory. I have seen homes here in Vero Beach that have been on the market for 3 years and are still priced close to where they started. Markets go up and down and sellers need to realize this one is going down. Even my top clients are now pulling in their horns – until there clients (homeowners agree to reduce prices). I have also seen deals falling apart because appraisals are not high enough and the bank won’t qualify the loan. I think in Florida we are ahead of the trend but it seems that this is becoming the scenario in more and more places. Even the strong European market is now declining partly because of overseas investments in the US.

    In time we will all be very busy – I actually know a few agents that are doing very well in this market. They don’t need me – they are selling foreclosed on homes. Dealing with the banks is tiresome and frustrating but it still pays a commission.

  • @Michael & all- The bottom line is effectively closed deals. It’s actually “net Pending Sales” of coarse there are some deals that go south between the time they go pending but not that many. And the chart goes back to 2003.

    For any one that wants to look at the market data in more detail the chart is the King County New construction residential chart I showed is from http://alanpope.com/charts.htm these market charts go back 5 years. The new construction market is slightly better right now than Mar 2003 but the resale residential category is worse than anything in the last 5 years that these charts cover.

  • Hello fellow photographers,

    There are about half of your points that I agree with and a few I really disagree with.

    The largest complaint I have with this list is the understatement of a strong need for technical proficiency. The whole reason these agents are hiring professionals like us is because they are not photographers. We have studied, in depth, the art of photography as they have studied the art of sales. We are all professionals working together to sell a client’s home. Perhaps, for some and by no means for all, the problem is that they were skating by without the proficiency to make their photographs POP on the web. I’m constantly striving to do better and my clients see that, making me one of the up and coming commercial photographers in my area. (I’m knocking on wood now 🙂

    Making that statement, I understand that some of the best could be out of work all together without biting the bullet and dropping prices down to unprofitable levels. It’s better to be serving some instead of none. I did it over the winter to make the nest egg last longer and I’m still hear to tell the tale. That’s the best advice I can give for slow times. Make sure you pack up a nest egg before buying that new camera or strobe unit.

    The points that I agree with the most are those related to customer service.

    Take Care,

    Paul

  • Staging on the west coast is big ….. in the South East and probably the Eastern Seaboard things are not as progressive for the most part and VACANT means VACANT – looks like crapola unless you can pull something out of it. I regularly get called to make vacant look better. While I am slower than usual I still find myself in the offices of the top 5 RE companies during the week. I just get calls for different reasons – it used to be shoot it stem to stern and now shoots are more conservative. It probably is going to work well for me over time ….. as I have been a bit lax as has the market. Time to tighten things up a bit.

    M. James

  • With the market the way it is now, has anyone thought of maybe doing some shoots based upon a percentage of the final sale price of the home? I know it’s hard to do this for part-time guys like me, and even more so for the full-time shooters, but maybe getting the agents on board without having to fund the shoot initially, you could likely get a much larger return if and when the home sells by getting paid upon sale. It’s a gamble, but if the photography really does help the sale (which we all know it does), then it might be worth the risk… Just a thought, and again, I’m only part time so this theory may very well get shot out of the air immediately but those who do this full-time…

  • I wouldn’t count on that closed sale to get your commission! It might take a year or more in some situations…I think the key is to spend a little more time with in office presentations and DIRECT info to sellers. I am starting to send postcards I had made to sellers telling them to take a look at their on line photos! I am appalled that so many agents aren’t willing to make the small investment required for photos that are SO important in todays market!

  • Monica, I was looking into that myself. I may also want to try it sometime next month, just for the heck of it… for a few weeks, just to see if there are any results. I’m so curious if this could bring anything so I’m gonna do it…

  • […] I’m talking about but agents that have been in the business for  over 20 years. I did a post back in April of this year on how to survive in a tough market but things are significantly worse now than April […]

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