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What Should I Charge For A Shoot?

February 9th, 2010

“What should I charge?”, is probably the most asked question by beginning real estate photographers.

The answer to the what to charge question has two parts:

  1. How much on the average does it cost you to show-up to any property in your territory?
  2. How much should you charge as an hourly rate?

How much to show-up? Anyone in the business of driving around to properties in these days of rising transportation costs needs to be keeping track of vehicle costs and reviewing them frequently. Figure more than just fuel costs. You need to include auto insurance and vehicle replacement costs. Here is a great site to help you calculate vehicle costs.

What is your hourly rate? This is a tougher question. But you know what hourly rate you’ve been paid in other jobs. The difference when you are working for yourself is you need to figure out what accountants call a “burdened” rate. That is, a rate that includes paying for marketing, health insurance, camera equipment, retirement and all the other costs of making this a long term sustainable job.

What’s the competition charging? It goes without saying that knowing what the competition is doing is always an important part of the what to charge question. Take care when doing this. You have to also compare the competition’s services. Studying the competition’s prices and offerings needs to be a regular exercise.

The PFRE what do you charge poll: The “what do you charge poll” on the Polls page (third from the bottom) shows the results of poll data I’ve been collecting for some time on what real estate photographers say they charge. This is a 100,000 foot level view of prices because the people voting are from 110 different countries, 67% US, 7% CA, 6% AU etc. All presumably converted to USD before they voted, this only gives a general feel of what the range of prices are. It’s more important to make sure you are recovering your expenses and making a fair wage. As much as anything this poll gives a feeling for the distribution of prices that agents are willing to pay.

The big city effect: Since I spend time in Seattle, WA and Salem, OR I’ve become keenly aware of the difference of what services cost between Seattle and Salem. Everything in Seattle cost twice as much as it does in Salem. This location factor effects what real estate photographers can charge as well. In big metropolitan areas real estate photographers need to charge more because it’s more expensive to operate whereas in sleepy rural areas where the cost of living is less. In general, you’ll need to charge less in small rural towns.

The effect of marketing: I think the effectiveness of your marketing is an important factor that is frequently over looked because photographers like to photograph better than they like to market. If you do effective marketing and keep your name in front of your potential customers and if successful agents use your services, you’ll get more business at a given price than if you just sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

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18 Responses to “What Should I Charge For A Shoot?”

  • There is one item left out “What is the value of your product to the consumer”.

    For Example:
    If you charge $150 and the the $150,000 home sells in 6 months instead of 12 months, is that a good return for the agent??? Here are the numbers: Consummisions on a $150,000 run about $9000 ($150,000 x .06). So the agent has a choice; pay $150 now and get $9000 in six months or wait 12 months and get the full $9000. The interest on $9000 for 6 months is about $450. This is the amount the agents loses by waiting the extra six months. The interest on $150 for 6 month is $7.50. This is amount of potential interest that the agent loses by paying you now. So the net gain for the agent for using your services is $450-$7.50 = $442.50.

  • This is a well put together list that any business oriented photographer especially a new one should find valuable. I think your last point is most valuable.

  • “Consummisions on a $150,000 run about $9000 ($150,000 x .06).”

    No agent I know makes 6% on a listing. They gross 3% and then have to pay their brokerage and expenses ect. You want to piss off an agent real quick? Start talking about how they’re going to make $60k on a million dollar listing.

  • Yes, Anonymous is correct… even in the best of situations the listing agent is only going to make 3% (the other 3% typically goes to the agent representing they buyer) and it’s not realistic to assume anything in todays environment about what the listing agents are making. Commissions are negotiable. On bank owned properties, “short sales” or foreclosures the agent may not make a dime. Banks will work agents out of commissions to make deals go together if given a chance.

    The other reality that everyone needs to understand is that price is THE overriding factor. When a home is priced too high the best photos available can’t make it sell. And in todays market, where home sellers are still in denial about what their home is worth, it takes a VERY good listing agent to get the seller to price their home at market value.

  • Larry – absolutely true on commission structure and home price.

    Seems these days that homeowners who planned on a huge windfall when selling are struggling with all that missed equity. I always cringe when I’m on a shoot and the homeowner pulls me aside to ask if I, the photographer, think the home is priced properly. (This is like asking your grocer if maybe you should have that rash looked at, no?) This has become so common that I encourage my agents to leave me in the house, alone with the homeowner, during the shoot. That way I can casually comment on how great their agent is at properly pricing homes in this market… how effective their marketing techniques are, how experienced they are in this area, etc., all in the course of casual conversation during the shoot. I consider this to be part of the service I provide and I know it has had a positive effect.

    On a side note, alone with the homeowner is also great time for the photographer to mention things the owners might want to tidy up prior to the first open house. Homeowners tend to trust the eye of a photographer more than an agent when it comes to what looks good and it also keeps the agent from sounding like a heavy…

  • Anonymous, Larry, – The point I was trying to make is that you cannot price the services above the value provided to the agent. The numbers used in the example are not important. What is important is not charging more than the value providd by the service. Each area is going to have it own set of commission rates, home prices and broker fees.

  • @Neil- OK. I see what you are saying. Excellent analysis and point. Thanks for taking another run at explaining.

  • A good photographer knows his market.
    its no good being a great photographer if you dont have the contacts.
    Invest in yourself with time and build a relationship.No sure about Seattle but some of the so called sleepy areas can pay well.

    These days there are some pretty average photographers out there trying to get into the market, they can damage the pricing, but hopefully the agents are all educated on Photography and can spot and stay with the good photographers.

  • How do you get into becoming a realestate photographer?? I’ve wanted to do it as a kid but never knew how to go about doing it. My e-mail is sarahofg2004@hotmail.com if somebody could give any tips that would be helpfull. Thank you

  • Hi Sara,

    Getting into real estate photography isn’t hard or easy. It all depends on how motivated you are and how much effort and time you spend on it. The quickest and easiest way is sign up with Circlepix. You won’t make a lot of money but you will gain contacts and experience. I spent a year with Circlepix and then I started my own business. The other way is to market your services to real estate companies in your area. Unless you have marketing know how this can be quite a challenge. One way to market yourself is to offer to shoot their first property for free. Everyone likes something for nothing and real estate agents are notoriously cheap; free works for them every time.

    Sara what you want to do is establish a reputation for high quality photos and great customer service and your business will grow rapidly.
    If you would like to learn more, reply to this email and I’ll be happy to mentor you in getting started in real estate photography.

    Have a great day

    Robert

  • I started shooting real estate images in 1995. At that time as a Commercial photographer my day rate was $1650.00 per day for a 10 hour day. I could and did shoot 10 interior views per day/house via set up, light, tear down, move on etc., etc. This was all digital as I discontinued shooting film in 1990. The cost of not shooting film, Polaroid, and processing helped the profit margin. I also charged for travel mileage and drive time. I settled into shooting for one local publication here in Kansas City Missouri, but to get all their work I needed to lower my fee to $125.00 per view plus travel fee of $60.00 per location average. I would average 15 views per month for that publication. We had 900 builders in KC Missouri western metro area of Kansas and all surrounding communities. 2009 economy tanked. There are probably a total of 100 builders now. During the high economy page count stood at 60-80 pages. The present issue was page count of 16 pages.
    Last week the editor requested that I not charge a travel fee and reduce my imaging fee. I asked what she thought a fair fee would be…..she said XXXX photographer could shoot for $75 per view/shot and not charge a travel. I suggested that she should schedule her next assignment with XXXX photographer because I could not afford work for her any longer.
    My point is, do not treat your work as a hobby but as a business. What are your expenses? Fuel, drive time, equipment, replacement cost, business insurance, medical insurance, office expenses, etc., etc. and do not forget paying yourself. Pencil to paper, you may find you are working for pennies per hour. If you undercut your peers you are really not hurting anyone but yourself. The best thing that happened to me in my 42 years of imaging is the digital camera. The worst thing that happened to me is the digital camera. In general, the quality of imaging has gone in the toilet for the bottom line as every real estate on site agent has their own digital and they shoot their own images. They also do their own hair cuts and brain surgery. Because you own a hammer does not make you a carpenter…………

  • Hi Robert, I like to get started in RE photography as a part time to start with. Right now, I am playing with Lightroom ver 3.3 on my own.
    I am pretty much searching in the internet. If you can mentor and guide me, I would appreciate it.

  • I want to start a real estate photography business in Lake Stevens WA. Someone tell me how to get started. do i have to have a license, or be bonded and insured? what are the secrets or tips you wish someone would have told you when you first started?

    ( I want to work part time and continue to be a stay at home mom.)

  • Larry thanks for the post above. I agree that should stand behind your business and stop undercutting your peers. We are always going to be faced with competition from new people entering the market, charging less and producing a product with less quality. We need to educate the client about the importance of hiring a season professional that can get the job right the first time.

  • I also want to get started in the RE photography business. I hope we don’t all live in the same town! I’ve done weddings, senior portraits, events, etc., etc. and I am sooo ready to specialize in shooting something that doesn’t breathe. With a D80, Nikon 18-105, SB-60O, manfrotto tripod, Photoshop CS4 and Photomatix I’m going for it. I can upgrade my lens later. I think the hardest part is to sell the idea (besides mastering the real estate technique, which has taken lots of practice and I’m still learning). Great suggestions for teaming up with stagers and doing the first shoot for free. Although I made the offer to a stager at a home show recently, thought we had a connection, and she doesn’t reply to emails. I recently spoke to a few realtors who think they are photographers, and unless you can show them your shots right next to theirs, they are not going to see the difference. They think don’t need a professional photograher. So it’s going to be a tough sell, but with sites like this one, we can make it happen. Thanks for all the great tips. Keep them coming!

  • This is a great post, all of this information is great.

    Those who have not seen NPPA’s cost of doing business calculator should really take a look at it. It helps highlight the little costs that you might want to overlook to stretch your budget. http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/cdbcalc.cfm

    Donna, do you have a good portfolio already? I would suggest finding nice homes to take pictures of rather than offering your services for free. It will put you in a stronger position when it comes down to negotiating price, and you will be more hire-able if you can show that you can produce consistent results. Good luck!

  • Hi all. I am looking at doing some re pics and of course have never done them before so HELLLPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP..LOL
    i have a D90 a tripod…thats about it! what would you suggest and obviously .. I hate using this word…cheapest way to start out…equipment wise anyway.

    any help would be greatly appreciated

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