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How To Find Real Estate Photography Customers

January 9th, 2011

Knowing how to shot interiors is just one part of the real estate photography business. The other 60% of the job is finding real estate photography customers and convincing them that your great photography can help them sell their listings. One of the key things you need to understand about finding customers is you don’t want to market just anyone. You want to market the top 5% of listing agents in your area.

Here are some principles that should guide your choice of customers:

  1. Forget about FSBOs and rental agents and bed & breakfasts. If you manage to shot for one of these, you do it once and they will never need you again so it won’t sustain your business.
  2. Forget about buyers agents they rarely, if ever, list a home so they don’t need your services.
  3. Forget the 95% of real estate agents are struggling to make ends meet. Most agents were struggling in 2007, before the market went south in the US and it’s even worse now. Here’s a NAR report on what the median personal gross income of agents were in the last three years. Notice this this is the MEDIAN GROSS income. That is, half of the agents are making less and half of the agents are making more. Also this is before expenses. So when the majority of agents complain that they can’t afford professional photography, they are telling the truth. Just to be clear what I’m talking about is you only want to market roughly 4 agents in an office of 80 agents. Most if not all the rest of the agents could be making more if they worked a MickyD’s… If there were jobs at MickyD’s!
  4. You want to find the top 5% of listing agents to shoot for. Because:
    • They list 20 to 60 or more listings a year. It only takes a few of these top-dogs to keep your shutter finger busy!
    • They are the ones that tend to list the upper-end $1M+ homes. Upper-end homes are much more fun to shoot than $100K fixer uppers!
    • They understand that they have to spend money on marketing to sell properties.
    • All the other agents in an office watch what the top listing agents do, who they use for photography, what they eat for breakfast, etc, so once you connect with one of the top-dogs, referrals naturally follow.

OK, so how do you find the big-dogs, the top 5% of listing agents? It’s not hard, but it will take a few days of research on the Internet but trust me, it will be the most valuable time you put into your business! Here’s how to find them:

  1. Make a list of all the major real estate offices in your area.
  2. Find the website for each real estate office. Every office will have their own site that has a list of all the agents in the office and it will have a list of all the listings that each agent has.
  3. For each office make a list of all the agents that have listings, how many listings they have, top listing price, phone number, email address etc. This may seem tedious, but there is nothing more valuable you can do with your time when you are starting your real estate photography business. Then sort your spreadsheet by number of listings and highest listing price.
  4. Do this for every real estate office in your area.

As you do this for each real estate office the big-dogs will immediately stand out. This exercise will reveal who they are, exactly who is the biggest dog in town, their phone numbers, mailing address, email address and if you look at their listing photos along the way you can make notes about who is already using professional photography and who isn’t.

I’ve had a description of this approach in my Business of Real Estate ebook for several years and I’m amazed by the number of people that want to buy a mailing list or say it’s too much work or don’t do it because they are looking for some magic pill. Trust me, making this list is the most important thing you do to start your real estate photography business. It’s probably more important in the business growth scheme of things than what camera body or lens you have. Just do it!

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10 Responses to “How To Find Real Estate Photography Customers”

  • Great info as per usual, however, I would like to point out a potentially valuable exception to the top agent rule, and that is the underdog agent that is willing to work hard and make a name for themselves. When I started one year ago, one of my first clients was an agent that was not at all a top producer, having only two active listings, struggling to make ends meet. This agent saw the value of hiring a photographer and took the plunge, contracting the service for everything from 500k listings to 80k bank repos. One year later, this agent has more single detached listings than any other agent in the city at 24, and has been a tremendous asset to my business. I like to think that I have helped this person become more successful – new agents who want to add value to their service or differentiate themselves can be a great source of business as well.

    Cheers

  • @Daniel- Yes, you are right there are many exceptions. My point is one of focus. Not focusing on the successful agents frequently leads to frustration.

  • I agree with Daniel. The realtors that recognize the value of good photography and are willing to spend money on the front end of a listing are great clients.

    I would also like to add that I have become very involved as an Affiliate at the South Metro Denver Realtor Association (granted Affiliates here have good support within this board). It took a while to build relationships, but it has truly been worth it. My business has grown well each year – this last year I had more referrals than ever which made for a terrific year.
    The big competitor in my area is Obeo- they have many offices tied up. But, I can offer a more personal service and a different kind of tour and it has also made a difference in getting jobs.

  • I beg to disagree about rental agents – at least vacation rental management agents. I have picked up a lot of business at an otherwise slow time from a number of vacation rental management companies over the past year and a half. While I know once I have shot their properties they won’t want me again for a few years, or until they get more rental properties, they have been a good source of income to suppliment my real estate agents and occasional high end architectural shoot. I would recommend not writing them off, just use good sense when dealing with them and fit them in between other paying shoots or during the slow season for real estate.

    Michael

  • @Michael- Sure if your area is Breckenridge, CO like yours I would expect a fair number of rental shoots too;) I’m just saying in most areas focusing on rental agents is not a great way to build your business when you are starting out.

  • Great advice. I’d also recommend contacting the office manager. A lot of times office managers will forward an e-mail to all of their real estate agents. This is a great way to get your website, portfolio, and services in front of all of the agents at one office.

  • You make some excellent points.

    A lot of what you mention also relates to real estate video. Like the “top 5%” – with video it is more like only 5% “get it”….forget the rest, your wasting your time. Agents that see the value usually offer more…like staging as well. Or maybe team up with a stager and offer your services together to that agent in the top 5%…it makes sense. But of course it only makes sense to a small %. TARGET THEM.

    …a great discussion!

  • I’m just getting started (Washington, DC area), and this is a really interesting post for me. I’ve put together a decent but smallish (about 10 shots) portfolio and a little website, and I’ve started to try to contact real estate agents by email, but they never get back to me. How would you go about approaching the big dogs once you figure out who they are? Should you email? Call? What’s a good pitch for someone just getting started? I know this is 101-level stuff, but after all, the big dogs are exactly who you don’t want to be scaring off right when you’re starting. Thanks for any help!

  • I’m a beginner too. But no portfolio or website. Would mailing business cards be a good start? I am still in the creation stage. Should I take some pictures of homes and use these to demonstrate my ability? Where should I start my website? I am thrilled to find this site. It is wonderful. How do you figure how much to charge? What is the average rate that other real estate photographers charge? How am I to find out?

  • I think that a good clean website is a must to show off you ability and your professionalism. It doesn’t have to cost a lot either, use a program like godaddy.com or weebly.com. If you email or send a business card to a Realtor it will get lost or overlooked. You need to meet, face to face, to demonstrate your value. I would recommend doing some work for free to build a portfolio. Just do a couple of houses to fine tune your process and give you some material to show.
    One idea that helped my business grow was providing half off to new clients. This just covered my expenses and time but helped me get my foot in the door and provided valuable clients that I have worked with for a while now. My best advice would be to visit Realtors at their open houses. They will probably be bored and will be happy to talk to you. Bring a computer to show your work and something to leave with them, like a postcard sized advertisment.

    Bottom line is get off the computer and go talk to Realtors!

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