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Pros And Cons Of Being A Independent Real Estate Photographer

May 1st, 2009

I had a discussion with Chris Thomas and Herb Dierks yesterday about the pros and cons of being an independent real estate photographer vs having an exclusive association with a company like tourfactory.com, vicaso.com or even a franchise company like open2view.com. I thought this would be a good discussion to bring up because this “independent or not” decision is something that every real estate photographer needs to make sooner or later.

For purposes of disclosure I need to point out that my The Business of Real Estate e-book is a start-up kit for being an independent real estate photographer, so I could be accused of having bias on this subject. On the other hand I’ve had advertising for both Vicaso and Open2view. I think photographers are going to be attracted to these different business models depending on their personal skills and goals and situation. There isn’t one formula that is best for everyone. Here are some things to think about when making the decision of which approach to take with your business:

Independent Real Estate Photographer

  • This form of business is going to work good for people that have strong marketing and business skills. Typically it’s going to take you a year or so of working those skills to get cash flow going.
  • This form works best for part time real estate photographers. You have more control of how much business you do and when you do it. There seem to be a lot of photographers who do multiple types of photography.
  • If you have a strong creative personality and want to do a very high level of creative work, always pushing the creative envelope this form of business gives you the freedom to do things like you want. Exclusive relationships may constrain your style.

Exclusive Association With a Real Estate Photography Company

  • A company like Open2view.com allows you to invest in and build a franchise business in a particular area that can be sold when you want to move on to something else.
  • Companies like Tourfactory.com and Vicasso.com have a business and marketing infrastructure that you take advantage of to have immediate cash flow. Don’t underestimate the importance of this business infrastructure, it takes time and money to do this yourself.
  • Exclusive companies usually have some key piece of technology that gives you a tried and true formula for success. This key technology can be a huge competitive advantage in areas where there’s serious competition.

I know there are many successful real estate photographers out there on both sides of this fence. I’d like to hear some reasons that have guided you to where you are.

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40 Responses to “Pros And Cons Of Being A Independent Real Estate Photographer”

  • Hi,
    I think if possible a Photographer should be free to choose his or her clients. Maybe it’s not always ideal to get that famous cash flow rolling in but you sure will have more satisfaction when you work for clients who truly appreciate your talent and style.
    Very interesting post.
    Elke

  • Great topic. I am just getting into Real Estate Photography and I really considered purchasing a open2view franchise. I liked the business model and everyone I spoke with was very friendly. I would have purchased the franchise if my backing did not fall through. However I now believe it to be a blessing that the funding did fall through. First off it is not inexpensive to buy in. There is the two week training which I feel would have been very valuable, The branding of the vehicle is expensive and garish, and the photo mast as cool as it is also very expensive. To top it off the percentage of the sales dig deep into any profits. I just do not feel that the price point of the market is strong to cover the upfront buy in costs. It would take some time before you actually started making money. Not to mention that just because you are a franchise realtors will come running to you. You still have to sell the product. It just makes more sense to me to start more modest and put all profits into my business. I rather market myself than a franchise anyway.

  • Well said, Rusty.

  • Yes, well said.
    This topic has been done to death on this blog before anyway.

  • I have talked to Tour Factory in my area. The Area Rep wanted me to get in and out and would only pay me $40.00 per house (No pay for travel) and only wanted me to do little photoshopping on my own time as it was “not worth what they were paying me” in his/her words exactly.

    And If it was one of their “Special high end fancy Realtor Co. Accounts,” I would get less $$ and just turn in the photos (No post processing on my end) and their “Photoshop Guru” would do the post processing on these Premium accounts.

    And I would have to use my own equipment also. (Yeah, my thousands of dollars worth of equipment for this pay! All these companies know this equipment is expensive. They are getting a deal by requiring we all have our own equipment!

    They were also happy to have me as I lived in a more affluent area and they could not find a Photographer in my area willing to except their low pay from what the Rep told me. Ready to start me on the spot. I read on Tour Factory that they may send you in to “Corporate” to get training, but they said I would not need this. Needless to say I turned them down as it was just a joke what they expected of me and what they wanted to pay. Told me I would be VERY busy. I bet I would!! Basically they were telling me “We are not paying you enough to do a good job.. Just getting it done would be acceptable.”

    These companies will not get good photographers unless they start paying. No one in their right mind who is a serious RE photographer would take these jobs for the pay they offer. They might as well hire College students looking for some pay over the summer or a retired person. Thus a good reason to go it on your own. There is a price for quality!

  • Anon – I shot for Tourfactory 5 yrs ago… photographer rates at that time were ~$70… prices have gone up since then. Believe those $40 rates are way off. If you’re still interested, suggest you call Tourfactory HQ to investigate. 888.458.3943.

  • Wow $40! I started doing 360 VT photography in 1999. Answered an ad in the local newspaper for someone who knew digital cameras and the internet. I was more advanced than most of the general public in those areas, but an infant compared to what I know now.

    It was for a company called realtor3d.com. They went out of business several years ago. There was only one other company doing 360’s at the time. It was Bamboo.com, soon to become Ipix.

    They paid me $40 per shoot then. They only gave me jobs for apartment communities. I tried to tell them they should target the RE market because this other company, Bamboo, was starting to do work for realtors. I had my RE license at the time, but was taking some time off because of illness, so I knew the RE market and trends. They wanted to stay with commercial.

    I did this sporadically for a couple of years for them. In that time, I would hear from GM’s of apartment communities that they would talk to GMs from other areas of the country and many had very bad experiences with the photographers for the company.

    So, my point to this long story is that for $40 in 1999, you weren’t necessarily going to get someone who would provide professional results, appearance and demeanor. And it’s highly likely that today, for $40 or possibly $70, you’re not guaranteed to have a photographer who will take pride in what they’re doing. Those individuals will give the company a bad name, not just in your area, but throughout the country.

    JMHO.

  • Open2view, Why???

  • Yes, Ben, why Open2View? Huge initial investment, then they pay you beginning shooters rates. Makes no sense to me.

  • Franchises are like buying a job. You can pay to work for them or you can invest in yourself.

    Check out the cost of doing photography at the National Press Photographers Association’s “NPPA Cost of Doing Business (CDB) Calculator”
    Visit their web site: http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/index.html

  • For me, the independent route is the way to go. I don’t do much residential as I have not found a way to make any money in it I cater to the commercial side of real estate more. I don’t know what everyone else is doing, but I offer more than photography — I also offer website design and marketing services.

    I think if I were to market myself as just a RE photographer, I would put myself in the same pool as those guys getting paid $40. per shoot. RE agents are expecting to pay bottom-dollar around here. I can’t survive if I was forced to accept someone else’s rate. Those franchises and other services are looking for quantity, not quality. And although I recognize that my clients are price-conscience, they know they are getting more than just a couple of photos from me.

    I generally market myself to companies who are already paying for professional photography and/or advertising in trade publications. They already understand the cost of professional quality and many times already have a budget. I don’t have to overcome price and I can stick to talking about service.

  • Anonymous 2 – I have looked at franchises and it was certainly not buying a job – you may have a misconception of a franchise! It is a merely a operating model with support and brand recognition. http://www.franchise.org/industrysecondary.aspx?id=10008

    The proof would be in the net $ at the end of the day. I found that typically independents in the service industry net less than a franchise owner even after paying royalties. The power is in the brand recognition, support, training, technology and purchasing power the franchise provides. Even if the royalty was stupidly high as 90% and it provided me the opportunity to make $80k after royalties – BRING IT ON!

    So before you all throw stones at the idea of a franchise in this industry, you should take a closer objective look. Yes franchising is not for everyone…

    I would actually consider a franchise in real estate photography. I would like to here from some Open2view franchisees on why franchise.

  • Brand recognition? I don’t believe any of these franchises have enough brand recognition to be useful to me with my clientele. As I stated before, I don’t do much residential real estate, but my customers probably never heard of any of those franchises.

    Support? I get a lot of support from the software companies I use. Plus, there’s a ton of information available via forums like this. However, I can see how a franchise can offer support to my customers beyond what I can do (or want to do).

    Training? Perhaps franchises can offer training, but again, there are a lot a places to get training — either on the Internet or taking classes.

    Technology? Don’t franchises force you to use their technology?

    Puchasing power? What exactly would I need to purchase through these franchises? Camera equipment?

    I agree, that for some, a franchise may make sense. But from what I’ve read so far, none offer enough for me to lay out so much money up front. Honestly, $80,000 is just not enough. I could get a full time job and not have the hassle of business ownership for that amount.

  • Brand power?
    A lot of agents haven’t even heard of Open2View.

    Because it works in New Zealand, does not mean it will automatically work amongst established players elsewhere.
    There is increasing momentum to ‘buy local’, so seeing profits sail off back to New Zealand HQ is very uncool.

  • After several years in a photography franchisee (yes you know which one) I was not a able to make a profit, far from it and have now walked away. Not to say it doesn’t work for some people but depends on the demographics of the territory, your monthly target income (less franchisee fees, fixed expenditure etc and whether you can work in a rather unflexible business.
    Tip: Do your due diligence and planning before buying a franchisee or any small business for that matter.

  • Hi there
    Well I am an Open2view photographer and would not have it any other way. In my area we have lots of independent photographers going out of business. Why ??? Because we are a one stop shop, photography, vt’s elevated,floor plans, walkthroughs,video, etc but more importantly a magazine and a website like no other. We have the support of an amazing web development team who continuously keep us updated and trained on new products and new developing ideas. On top of this we have support. This week I have been down with the flu, my business carries on as another photographer keeps my clients and my business going. I would be happy to encourage anyone out there to join our team of photographers and you would find it surprising that not many sell or leave. As to selling the product you only have to do it the first time after that they are hooked and its repeat business all the way down the line.This again boils down to the fact that the back end of our website leaves agents going wow every time. I shall happily answer any questions.

  • Being an Open2view franchisee is not for everyone!

    Open2view is essentially a high touch (our franchisees) high tech (our website) service orientated online marketing system for real estate agents and brokers. Open2view has developed over ten years and is constantly improving its system. If you follow the system, the brand will work for you even if no one has heard of it in your area when you commence operations. It does cost though and it takes time and effort. You also have to take heed of and follow the training to the letter to succeed.

    If you’re a fiercely independent type and you’ll know if you are, you might chafe under the operational requirements and specifications of a franchise system. If things absolutely have to be done your way, you may want to choose to be an independent. But if you want to be part of a growing team spreading across several countries you may want to consider joining!

    If you factor in the cost of developing a web site like Open2view together with an online administration back end that works for our franchisees and real estate agents, a Print Quality Server and all the marketing collateral that Open2view has developed over the years, for yourself as an independent; you may consider the Franchise and royalty fee more than reasonable. Especially if you consider the highest property shoot prices for the last three months in the US have been $706.81, $709.95 and $868.06 just a few days ago. The average no frills property shoot however ranges more in the vicinity of $200.00.

    $40 for a property shoot, how do you make a living out of that?

    BTW – Down the track, when it comes time to sell you may find that a franchise will not only sell faster, it will also most likely sell for more.

    But most importantly if do join a franchise and don’t work the system, it won’t work for you!!!

  • I have to admit I was impressed with functionality of o2v’s website. However, as I researched the franchise I found several realtors had never heard of them and were indifferent to thier capabilities. I was at first surprise by this but came to the realization that this might be the case that sometimes less is more. Perhaps a listing that offers a slide show, vr tour, video, floor plans, etc, etc might be a bit overwhelming. None the less, even if the markets wants access to all of this wonderful technology that it is all out there for anyone to use. I can produce a floor plan as easily as creating a 360 vr tour. None of this is proprietary to o2v. This by no means meant to sound as if I am beating up o2v, on the contrary, I think it has a lot to offer. However, I feel the bottom line was summed by Eric Chase when he stated that o2v will not be for those who are of the independent spirit.

    Also, perhaps this is a bit off topic, but I started to wonder when Eric mention that o2v shoot price rose as high as $868.06. I am curious to know how many hours were involved in that day including post and how much of that went o2v. I guess what I am trying to figure out is how does this day breaks down to an hourly rate.

  • Hi Rusty, I’ve put in a call into the franchisee that has done this job to find out how long the job took etc but haven’t heard back yet. So have posted this to let you know that I’m not avoiding the question. I’ll advise as soon as I hear! The amount that this particular franchisee would receive the benefit of from doing this job would be in the vicinity of $740.00 plus!

    BTW – most real estate agents are indifferent about using the service at first as was I (I am a Broker) when an Open2view photographer originally walked into my office ten years ago. My initial reaction was to tell him where to go as well because at the time I took care of all the photography for my agency.

    However I became a convert soon after I sold the first property as a direct result of the Open2view photographer efforts that did my first property shoot.

    Suffice to say that the photographer that did that original photo shoot for me was the founder of the franchise and I have since bought into the US and Canada!

    But as I said, it isn’t for every one! There’s plenty of room out there for the independent and the franchised photographer. It’s a matter of choice for each individual seeking to go into this business arena to select a path that they see suits their individual personality best!

  • Well, this is my first post and I feel obliged to affirm the value a site such as this provides a diverse audience of photographers. Just as there is variety among us there needs to be a range of options for those wishing to create a business or lifestyle out of their interest in photography. I think Larry’s dot points sum the situation up beautifully, and the additional comments add valuable insights.

    For me, I was looking for just that combination of business and lifestyle where I could be creative, both photographically and in the business development, and hopefully be rewarded for my effort. An Open2view area franchise provided a level of security I needed, much better than ‘going it alone’.

    Now that I have a team of eight photographer franchisees I see plenty of diversity in skill levels, personality, style, financial resources, and expectations but there is a common theme present – we are all excited to be part of an organisation that offers so much potential for personal and professional development.

    In a business such as this, positive feedback from clients and colleagues is often reward enough, but there’s no doubt the income generated is what pays the bills and supports the lifestyle. Most of my team are operating at the level they wish to be, doing well financially, and continuing to benefit from their association with a highly visible and well regarded business franchise. None have left – nor does any wish to sell – but they each appreciate that when the time comes they will have built a valuable asset, something that probably wouldn’t have happened had they taken a freelance path.

  • If you want your pro Open2View comments to mean something, you should at least disclose where you are, and where you are in the pyramid.
    There is no doubt that Open2View does well in NZ, but elsewhere, that is seriously questionable.

    And why do I keep thinking of McDonalds?

  • […] Source and Read More: photograophyforrealestate.net […]

  • I am beyond tired of the comments section of this blog being used as a vehicle to shill for O2V. For gods sake you guys….you are SO transparent!

    Aside from the dubious business plan, and the humiliation of working for a franchise (and being told how to do your job), there’s the little-known bit about your copyright — O2V gives it away to the client!
    Does anything else need to be said?

    If you’re looking to buy yourself a job, go for it.
    If you want to be a photographer, run away.

  • And why do I keep thinking of McDonalds?

    Because it is a well branded, international FRANCHISE that has many very happy and very busy franchisees?

  • Controlling copyright on real estate photography for properties that are being sold is restrictive on the agent and prohibitive of the seller getting maximum exposure at a reasonable price, is it not?

  • It’s not really about disrespecting someone’s choice of how to operate their business. In the end a choice of business model depends on many factors. To be able to make the right choice for your future business attributes such as personality, skill levels, personal strengths & weaknesses all need to analysed. Personal circumstances have to be taken into account.

    For me, this is my second Open2view franchise. One in Perth, Australia and now one here in Canada.

    There are many aspects to owning and running a business, taking photos is probably one of the least time consuming aspects of it! Keeping up with technology (both equipment and IT), market forecasting, marketing materials, networking, accounting, website development, brand building, training, etc, etc. All businesses need to have these areas addressed. Each of these areas requires investment in both time and money. As an independent I could spend time sourcing, researching, learning, conducting trial and error, etc. Of course this may not require a lot of money upfront, however over time, it certainly leaves less time to go out and actually take photos! In an industry where time certainly equals money I want as much time on the job as possible.

    My wife and I recognized quite early on in our research into this industry that by “plugging” in to a franchise system we would have the benefit of specialists behind us. People doing what they are great at so we could focus on our core responsibilities in building our business at a local level. In the end, for my situation I would prefer to spend my time behind the camera, after all that’s where the revenue is generated.

    Open2view offers constant IT developments, marketing initiatives, brand enhancements and support. Sure we pay for this with a “cut” from each shoot but as I mentioned above what serious business does not have IT consultants, marketing consultants and accountants. If you are operating independently chances are you are contracting these services out anyway at a cost. As an independent I would assume that the full cost of technology, development, marketing and the like are expenses burdened solely by the business owner. The franchise model shares these investments across all franchisees as to benefit the business owners as a whole.

    As Eric Chase mentioned in a previous post, “a franchise isn’t for everybody”. Why weigh in on other people business choices? There is obviously two schools of thought and I would hope anyone about to embark into this industry spends considerable time looking at all options available to them. For where we want our business to go we decided the franchise model suited us best.

  • Open2view works a treat for me here in rural NZ, at first local agents had not heard of our website, alot of hard work at first, but as soon as I started getting regular agents on board others saw the value and followed, I have some good success stories with agents selling using our services. One of the other benifits of the franchise is the “login” Forums that we can share Ideas and use others in the team to overcome any problems, The open2view cut may seem high but the opportunities, support, website and the like are more than worth it.

  • I’m not one to hide things, but do admit to sometimes failing to mention things –after all I am over 50!!

    For those who are interested I’m an Area Franchisee in Victoria, Australia, and have been with O2V for over 3 years. My reason for posting the earlier comments was to provide a basis for discussion about the quite interesting topic raised. I happen to be passionate about the role I find myself in and can’t help it if some take that as purely a sales pitch.

    I see absolutely no evidence of franchisees feeling ‘humiliated’, or being instructed to do things against their will – quite the opposite in fact, with photographers feeling pride in what they have achieved as a team, and feeling supported by their colleagues and managers.

  • Great discussion here from everyone, with some excellent points raised. Good to read information from like minded business professionals who are clearly very passionate about what they do!

    To introduce myself I am an Open2view Photographic Franchisee in Victoria, Australia. To those of you unaware of the O2V franchise structure, my business is based at the entry level point in the system. I was a professional photographer prior to joining Open2view.

    I commenced my business just on 3 years ago, and to date am extremely pleased with the results I have achieved. The area I setup in had never been worked by an Open2view franchisee, so all my potential clients had no idea what our brand was and what we could do for them. So yes, the first 12 months were mostly about educating my clients, but I wouldn’t have gotten into business for myself if I was afraid of hard work. What the franchise allowed me to do was to focus on building my business, aided by the additional support of a large, highly noticeable brand.

    Since beginning I have seen excellent growth in my business, as well as those of the other O2V franchisees in my town and state. Collectively we all benefit from the exposure our common brand brings us. I now regularly shoot houses where the home owner has demanded an Open2view photographer do the job. That’s brand awareness at work.

    There are dollars out there to be made, with my business invoicing upwards of $10k a month on a regular basis. Sure, a percentage of the sale goes back into the franchise system, but that dollar spend gives me a massive return in the form of invaluable IT and business support. I do not feel restricted within the franchise system in the slightest.

    The decision to start your own business, photographic or otherwise, is an extremely important and personal choice. As others have mentioned already, buying into a franchise isn’t for everyone, but for me it was a great fit. You may think otherwise and decide to go it alone, and that’s a perfectly fine business decision too. It’s just great that new business operators like myself have the luxury of the choice to go either way!

  • In response to the question I was asked by Rusty in his post on this blog on May 5th, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    I finally caught up with our franchisee that did that job you were asking about and this is his response to how long he spent on site, verbatim:

    ‘Well I think the shoot probably took 3-4 hours. I was there longer than that helping move stuff around and cleaning some. So it was not my normal shoot. I try to help the agents in any way I can…relationship building.’

    This is what he reckons he will be spending on processing:

    ‘would say I will spend another 3-5 hours in processing the shoot.’

    Actual time spent on the job all up between 6 – 9 hrs inclusive of processing and time spent with the agent building relationships!

    This would work out to a dollar rate of between $82.00 and $124.00 per hour if your interested. Some shoots you make more some you make less per hour. It really depends on the run you are having on any particular day!

    However I am proud to tell you that the particular franchisee that did this job, is a perfectionist!

  • Eric, those are some good numbers, but would you say they are typical? The real estate agents I run into here in Northern NJ are used to paying bottom-dollar for real estate photography. if it isn’t dirt cheap, they’ll do it themselves. They just don’t see the value in professional photography (some do, but most don’t). That’s why I shy away from doing residential real estate.

    Does a franchise like yours restrict photographers to do ALL their work through the franchise? Or is a photographer free to pursue other work in other industries independently? For instance, I offer specialized services for commercial real estate clients that I don’t think I could fulfill with a franchise.

  • Hi Sam, email me at eric.chase@open2view.com or get on to http://skype.com and search for eric.chase and we can talk about the possibilities, should you wish to pursue your enquiry….

  • It’s not worth working for another company. All you’re doing is making them rich.

  • Yeah but Open2view is a franchise not an employer! This means that you are working for yourself but with the benefit of a system, marketing materials and a back end with a proven success record.

  • Unless you reveal WHERE you are, your comments are meaningless. Like it has been pointed out many times, O2V success varies considerable depending where you are.
    In NZ, O2V does well. No brainer.
    Elsewhere is questionable.

    I am in AUSTRALIA, and according to independent research (by Nielsen);

    “…Report findings show that Realestate.com.au and Fairfax Digital’s Domain.com.au are the most prominent online property brands, with a significant gap to the next most-cited websites – LJ Hooker and Ray White.”

    O2V doesn’t even rate a mention in this research (November 2008, so it is current data too)

    This means, and despite all the propaganda, the O2V website is ranked, at absolute best, #5.

    At the end of the day, a realtor has paid a huge premium for a bunch of pictures, because the “free” website listing isn’t really worth much.

    As impressive as the O2V website is, the the bottom line is – IN AUSTRALIA – it’s a secondary website, still after 5 years.
    There is much work ahead if O2V have plans to knock off the four (at least) in front of them.

  • FYI, the complete document can be found here:

    http://www.nielsen-online.com/pr/pr_071108_AU.pdf

    I give copies of this to agents to read, if they haven’t seen it already, and it raises eyebrows.

  • SA Shooter- I know that many at O2V believe their web site is a place home buyers are going to go to do their home search and as you say, perhaps in NZ it is. But from my point of view coming from the Seattle area the O2V site’s value is only as place to host a tour for a given listing.

    For example, home buyers in the Seattle area (or other places in the US) are not going to go to open2view.com to do a home search. They are going to go to a site that has ALL listings in the area they are searching and there are at least 15 great sites that have all the listings in the Seattle area.

    I think there is no point in comparing O2V.com to broker or regional real estate sites… It provides a good looking tours but it’s not a home search site!

    O2V’s strongest selling point is their tested marketing system, and franchise organization… that is, your business is an asset that can be sold when you decide to move on. They don’t need a home search site… that space is already crowded in the US before they started here.

    I’ll bet Eric can’t resist responding;)

  • I have sent two applications to Vicaso and they have never responded. I even called the costumer service line once to inquire about my application. They said they would call back but they never did.

    I would like to get in with company that has a better list of clients. Vicaso sounded nice until I never heard anything back from them. I am trying the tourfactory.com website to see if I get any response there.

    Until then I keep trying to get a business started on my own. Trying to get clients up but that is no easy task. Hopefully in a years time though I will have more clients.

  • Hi Larry, your right I can’t resist! Let me set the record straight, we are not trying to compete with http://www.realtor.com and others of which there are several hundred. We actually provide load to them from our site as do other tour and image providers. However we also provide a portal containing our imagery (which consumers are using more and more because of the way we market) that is consistent in all it’s imagery unlike some of the other portals.

    Never have we been out to compete with local sites in Seattle or anywhere in the US or with http://www.realestate.com.au in Australia nor do we compete in New Zealand with http://www.realestate.co.nz

    We do however provide all these portals with some of their better imagery that we also feature on Open2view.com which consumers are driven to through our ancillary marketing systems……

  • Why not use a site like http://www.realtour.biz and not pay a franchise fee?

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