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Four Ways to Compete With The Big Guys

September 22nd, 2010

A few days ago I got a classic question from a photographer moving into the real estate photography area. Here is his question:

“I’m a commercial photographer who has put his foot in the real estate photo market in my area of the world (south of San Jose CA). My question is how do convince real estate people who are using virtual tour companies to use my services? I went to my first real estate association meeting this morning and found out a large real estate company uses a big tour company. As a small guy how do I fight the gorilla (virtual tours companies) besides price, quality and timing?

First of all a little prospective. In my experience, real estate offices usually don’t dictate what tour company their agents have to use. I’ve heard of a few but they are in the minority. More likely the tour company has given the real estate company a special price for tours so the agents use the tour company just because they get a good price. So a first step is to research the actual arrangement that the real estate company has. How do you do that? Call up the company and ask to talk to the managing broker. Ask her (my managing brokers have all been women) what you have to do to be able to sell your services to this company. She may even tell you the price that agents have to pay for a shoot/tour. Just be straight up. She will most likely be straight up with you.

The second bit of perspective you need is that the biggest strengths that the “Big Guys” have is they do a lot of marketing. The go to real estate conventions, they do e-mail marketing, they do direct mail advertising and the offer real estate offices deals. However, since they frequently struggle to get good photographers quality is not usually their selling point. Many of these companies don’t pay their photographers much. They also have a pretty standard process that their photographers have to follow and that process is not very flexible so their customer service isn’t always their strong point.

Here are my recommendations for how to beat the big guys:

  1. Focus on customer service: What agents care about is that you are professional, on time, reliable and go the extra mile to make their lives easier.  Real estate photography is more a customer service job than a photography job.  Don’t miss appointments, don’t be egotistical, be willing to work with agents to go the extra mile to get what they want. If you do all this your name will spread by word of mouth. Agents refer good service providers to each other. See my previous post for more details on this sugject.
  2. Offer a tour with your shoot: The big guys offer a tour with their shoot, you need to too. My major motivation for partnering with Michael and Alfie to develop pfretour.com is to provide an inexpensive yet elegant, full featured tour designed for independent real estate photographers so they can compete with the tour companies.
  3. Don’t try to compete on price: Many big tour companies are paying their photographers the minimum they can get by with and doing volume deals with real estate companies. I think you are better off doing high quality work that looks better than the big guys.
  4. One way or another do a shoot for a top agent in the office: Show them what you can do. Dazzle them with service and quality. The rest of the agents in an office watch carefully what the top agents are doing and then do the same thing.

I summary, don’t be intimidated by the big tour companies. I think an on-the-ball independent real estate photographer actually has a competitive advantage over the big guys!

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5 Responses to “Four Ways to Compete With The Big Guys”

  • I have my own company in the Denver Metro area and I am a one person shop. It took me a few years to really build my business by becoming involved my local realtor board. I happen to belong to the most active board with great affiliate involvement. Realtors see many affiliates come and go – as they do vendors in their offices. So, it’s really about building relationships and once you do, the work will begin to come in and the referrals will happen. It does not happen overnight.

    When I started I also decided not to discount my prices, or give away my services for free. Though I did break that rule once for a realtor I was already working with in another capacity and it did pay off.

    I offer great personal service to my clients, they don’t have to be on site when I am photographing and the quality of my work is good. I am not shooting for Architectural Digest, so I don’t do any fancy lighting. I do however, correct most of my photos in Photoshop Elements which is just fine for the web and flyers.

  • Do you mean “perspective” instead of “prospective”?

  • Could not agree more regarding the importance of great customer service. It’s not enough to produce quality photographs…if you can’t make it easy for your customers to work with you and to make their jobs easier, you won’t be in this business long.

  • Just a bit over a year ago I moved from out of state to a new area and started working in the real estate photography market. However, I’ve been a commercial photographer much longer but really never did any real estate photography a year ago.

    The thing I find interesting about trying to get into the real estate market is there is no standard in quality. What I mean is, in food, advertising, portrait, etc. most of the photographers are producing a measurable level of work. You can check out some websites of photographers who have worked in the area for an extended period of time and understand the level of quality needed to get work.

    In real estate, I see photographers who are established working with the top agents providing what I consider excellent photographs (HDR, lighted, etc.) other photographers aren’t even doing basic HDR or lighting. It seems to beg the question, what is a quality real estate photograph and how important is quality? I’ve yet to figure it out.

    Real Estate is a unique market.

  • I am both a Realtor and a photographer and fully understand what you are saying about the “big boy” competition. For pricing, I really had to take that into consideration and how could fit into the local market. Within my own firm, visual tours are “free – including the software to build them” as the firm wants 100% useage of visual tours on all listings. As if competing with “free” wasn’t bad enough, the local MLS has a killer discount with a national tour firm that is available to every other Realtor in the area. Almost free – $2/basic tour (slide show) or $5/mo unlimited premium tour (stitchable panos and more). My approach is threefold as I adapt to what is available..

    1. Offering a package to support those external programs that the Realtor has great deals on. Also, it gives the opportunity to expand the scope of the photos, from the traditional real estate photo to the more focused architechural/design photo that can be interspursed into the tour. I know in my office, many realtors don’t do tje “free” because they are intimidated. That creates opportunity. Likewise, as I spokewith the other competing firm, they noted that most use low rez that they upload to MLS and they just don’t look good as the tour shines with high rez. They also noted that with their being web based (rather than software based like my other) that the photographer offers to directly upload and setup the tour for them. This would require the realtor giving you their user name/password and about 75% do. A secondary benefit of this method is that they have developed their system for further linking – both branded and unbranded – to other web sites and social networks whic h relieves you of having to do that.

    2. For others who do not have access to the above (for sale by owner etc.) develop a tour on the back end of my web site, or perhaps contract it’s hosting out through a national firm depending on how complex they want it.

    3. Finally, perfecting my skill in the pure video area (not converting stills to video for YouTube). There is very little (if any) national firm competition, and the pricing of local firms make it highly lucrative. Not ready to offer it yet but pure video will blow the existing tour formats out the water.

    Lucas is right. There is no standard for real estate photography. Considering the trash that is posted on MLS (the infamous cell phone drive by) there is the opportunity to educate realtors with a “critical eye” when they look at photos. Just what should they look for, and obviously, concentrate on areas they would have difficulty doing on their own. Things like perspective – slanting walls; composition – more road/sidewalk/driveway than house etc

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