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Does Real Estate Photography Make A Difference In Low-end Homes?

November 12th, 2012

In the last several months I’ve been trying come up with a reasonable explanation of why there is such a variation in demand for real estate photography. In a few past posts (here and here). I’ve spent most of my real estate life in the Seattle area where you get thrown out of a listing presentation if you don’t promise the home seller professional quality photography.

When I moved to Salem, OR a few years ago it was clearly different reality. No one in Salem had ever heard of real estate photography. I hear from others all the time that live in small towns like Salem where selling real estate photography is a struggle. It’s like agents and home sellers in small towns think differently than big metro areas.

But I think I have it figured it out! If you go to Zillow.com or Trulia.com and look at the cities where people report struggling to get agents to use marketing photography (Salem OR, Appleton WI, Wentzville MO and Mankato MN) and compare these markets to cities there real estate photography is the norm (Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Honolulu, etc) the real estate market is different. The major factor present in areas that have a high percentage of quality photography used to market listings is the number of sales of upper-end homes. $300k appears to be the dividing line to defining upper-end homes (upper-end is greater than $300K). It’s like marketing is a upper-end home thing. In all of the cities that have a low percentage of marketing photography going on very few if any sales occur above $300K. While there are plenty of sales in the lower price ranges.

Intuitively you would think that real estate photography would work just as well on these low end homes as upper-end homes. But apparently, agents and home sellers don’t believe it makes a difference in low-end homes. Remember the classic Redfin study? That study also found that, “Homes shot with a DSLR camera, have an increased likelihood of selling for homes priced above $300,000.

I think the most likely explanation is that small town agents just don’t want to spend marketing money and small towns mostly have low-end homes. It would work if they tried it, but they’d just don’t want to bother.

The fact is though, if you are in a small town where, there isn’t much of a market above $300K you are going to have to work much harder to make a go of it in real estate photography.

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21 Responses to “Does Real Estate Photography Make A Difference In Low-end Homes?”

  • Agents who are too cheap to spend on the low end homes need to be reminded that each individual listing, regardless of the price point, is a chance to market themselves to hundreds of potential future clients.

    So many agents waste money on useless print ads in the local paper that nobody even looks at. The local paper in our area has a 15 page real estate section each week cluttered with agents head shots, info and listings. That 15 page section probably gets thrown directly into the recycle bin by 80-90% of readers…yet the agents still forks out the money for it week after week.

    The single most important marketing material for an agent these days is their listings, and the last listing could be the one that gets them the next client, of loses it for them.

    I find that the younger agents are the ones who “get it”, they put the same marketing plan on every listing regardless of listing price, because they understand the power of the internet and that every listing not only showcases the house, but also the service the agent provides.

  • I agree with Chris.

    I don’t think this is a valid statement: “But apparently, agents and home sellers don’t believe it makes a difference in low-end homes”. Agents, yes, but I don’t think it’s right to lump home owners in. Remember, the AGENT is the “expert”, and a lot of the time the seller isn’t even aware of what’s being done to market the property. I recently shot a home that was originally listed by an agent and the seller wasn’t getting much traffic, so they contacted a local stager who then insisted they call me. The agent’s photos were absolutely horrible, and it’s a shame because the house deserved much better. So it wasn’t until the seller started doing their own research after not getting much traffic, that they learned about staging and real estate photography.

    I think you see the stats relating to “higher-end homes” because quite simply, the profits from commissions are smaller on lower-end homes. The majority of agents who sell the low-end homes are selling 4 a year and real estate photography cuts into a huge part of their yearly income when they do such low business. That’s why high-producing agents that are selling a LOT of low-end homes, are the ones that usually end up using professional photography because they understand that you have to spend a little to make a little, and it makes them stick out even more amongst the competition.

    You’ll always run into the agents that think real estate photography doesn’t do anything…even more million+ homes. And for those people, you won’t ever change their mind so it’s pointless trying to chase them. But for the ones that do get it, they’ll use it regardless of the price of the home because they DO understand the importance and benefits.

  • @Lance

    I also agree that you shouldn’t lump home owners in.

    The AGENT is the supposed to be the “expert”, but unfortunately 70% of the agents out there are so far from being “experts” its amazing they can even hold a job.

    These days, the home owner is the one that not only has to deal with the stress of selling their home, they also have to filter through the saturated list of agents and attempt to figure out who brings what to the table. This makes the importance of a good marketing plan on EVERY LISTING even more important.

  • Interesting article and one that I can relate to myself.
    I have found a similar situation, but almost in reverse!
    In the city I live in, there is a large number of ‘higher end’ homes, and a very buoyant housing market even in these difficult economic times.
    It has been very difficult for me to break into the market and convince agents that professionally photographed homes will not only bring in more views, and potential customers, but also reflect well on their business and their attitude to their clients. It seems as though many of the agents in the area have essentially had it so easy when it comes to selling properties that lots of them don’t actually think they have to work at it… just chuck up any old photo’s on the listing, pop a price in and then someone will walk in and buy it just like that!
    Much of the photography done locally here is very poor quality, and I am talking about on everything from apartments at £100k up to houses over £1m, and it is baffling to me how clients (especially on the more expensive,larger properties) can possibly be happy with what the agent is using to market their home !?
    They do not seem interested in even entertaining the possibility of using a professional service, nor be willing to pay for it, and the fact that many sell their business on using ‘professional photography’ when one look at the images will tell you that they plainly don’t is very disappointing, and quite frankly makes me feel bad for their clients.
    I have been successful in a couple of cases in convincing of the benefits of well taken photographs, but it has been very slow going and hard work to make some people see what should be very obvious to them in their line of work.
    My point being that it is not only the lower end homes that this phenomenon exists in and in some areas it can affect right across the price spectrum.

  • If you think about it, if in the higher prices categories, say 40% of the competition has professional photography, and in the lower price points, 0% have professional photography, doesn’t it make sense that you have a much larger competitive advantage in the lower end than the higher end! If virtually NONE of your competition uses pro photos, don’t you think your listing will look like the Taj Mahal by comparison in that price point? And stand out? And get sold faster?

    Smart agents who think like business people understand that concept. I always tell people that using good images on their listing is more about getting the NEXT listing than it is about selling THAT house. If you base your choices strictly on the commission, it doesn’t make sense. If you base your choices on promoting your BRAND, it makes a lot of sense.

    Back in the heyday of newspaper advertising, the successful guys put an ad in EVERY week, regardless of the price point of the house. If they had no listings, they put in an institutional ad. But it was important to be in that paper and have visibility EVERY single week regardless, not just scattered insertions here and there. Because that type of consistent branding is the most effective, by far.

    I just shot a 1 bedroom condo for $75,000 3 days ago! It’s NOT about the price vs. commission. This is their BRAND, this is their MARKETING, and this is how they promote their business. And he got the listing because that seller said he noticed that all of his listings looked amazing – consistently. The guy signed up on the first meeting.

    It’s still about finding that very small percentage of Realtors who actually understand basic business concepts and not those who are just flying by the seat of their pants…..

  • I have been photographing only weddings for some time now, until a friend who is a real estate agent asked me to photograph one of her listings. This home was priced well below 300K. Although this was my first try at real estate photography the results were well above the standard “agent took the pictures” with a point and shoot camera. This home had been listed for 300 days. The home then went to deposit in under 50 days. There is no doubt that real estate photography works for homes in all price ranges. t’s interesting how some agents “get it” when it comes to marketing homes and photography. She told me that all homes that she will be listing in the future will be professionally photographed. I have since photographed two additional listings for her. I plan to move to Florida after obtaining a real estate license and do my own listing photos. This will set me apart from other agents in terms of marketing the clients home. This website has been invaluable in education me in this type of photography.
    Thank you so much.

  • Quality photographs no matter the cost of the home is important. I shoot a lot of sub 300,000.00 homes and sub 200,000 homes. All my realtor clients insist on photos before the listing goes live no matter the price or condition. I shoot a lot of short sales and renters where the property is in not so good of condition but the realtor still wants quality photos. They all know the value in pro. photos.

  • Not sure how our Williamsburg VA market ranks sizewise compared to others with approx 1130 home sales annually. Of that only 44 were over 700k, only 10 over a million last year. I think I was the first agent in our area to hire a professional photographer to shoot my listings back in 2005. This after quickly discovering that I “suck as a photographer. Too this day I use a pro for all price range homes from $150k to $ 1 million +. Its interesting to note that it took a very long time for the top agents in my area to follow but today most employ pros. Thankfully I have a very good photographer to work with. One thing NO ONE in my area did in the past was to shoot neighborhood amenities. i.e. pool, clubhouse, golf course. trails. etc. I have also included these on every listing so folks from out of the area can get a feel for the neighborhood.

    Video is next., have used it on a few but intend to to it for all listings over 300k in the immediate future.

  • I think this article is somewhat pessimistic about small town RE photography. It also misses some things.

    First it does address market scale. It you sell your services to 1 in 10 agents in a large city you have more the enough business. You sell your services to 1 in 10 agents in a small town, you go broke. So to success in a small town you need a larger market share.

    Second it misses the proximity of the buyers to the home. In many cases the buyer are relativity close to the property being sold. So it is easy to drive over and look.

    Third it misses the communal nature of small towns. Buyer and seller are much more likely to now each other or have mutual friends. A higher percentage of sale occur via the friends of friend route in small towns than larger cities.

    The article should also address pricing of RE photography. If you charge by the photo set, your price is a larger percentage of the commission on lower priced homes. That structure can easily price you out of the market.

    “small towns mostly have low-end homes.” – This is not true. Small towns generally have more affordable homes. A property that sells for $150,000 in a small town may very well sell for $300,000 or more in a larger city. However, the home are NOT low-end. They just are priced lower. The percentage of luxury home to lower-end home is does not correctly with the size of the town, but with the prosperity of the town.

  • Larry’s post hit it squarely on the head for me. I’m in a small town, very few homes above $300k and very little business. I’ve just started teaming with a skilled stager (who herself has just gotten a real estate license). We bought some joint “advertorial” time in the local paper so we are generating some buzz and had one property go to sale within about 6 weeks (after 3 years on the market). I continue to be perplexed at the inertia of my local agents toward RE photography and video. I sense that somehow an agent admits he or she is a failure if they buy RE photo services — they believe their clients expect them to do everything for the commission price — the commission on a low end home is low, therefore there is not enough margin for the agent to buy RE photo and video services — something along that line. My continuing cause is to convince local agents that it is appropriate to encourage the seller to pay the cost of RE photography and video, and that the seller can deduct that expense as a cost of selling the home. Somehow, though, saying “I know a guy…” is some kind of admission of inadequacy for the agents. Yet agents are not grabbing hammers and saws to make the improvements needed to move the home — they tell the owner to get it done if the seller wants the house to sell. This all leads to a more damning situation for agents. An agent who accepts a contract to sell a house, and then decides that because of the low asking price it is not within the agent’s value proposition to spend the money on professional RE photography and video, is dismissing (demeaning, ignoring, disrespecting, crapping upon) their client, the seller. These agents are, effectively, telling their seller that even though to the seller the house is a major part of the seller’s financial picture, it is not valuable enough to the agent to take the extra steps (or recommend to the seller to take the extra steps) that can move the home along in the sales process. I find that morally offensive.

  • I 100% agree with Fred Light! I am in a larger market. When I started, I heard a lot of excuses from Realtors about not using professional photography on the “lower end” homes. Many agents had drawn a line in the proverbial sand on what listing price they were willing to spend their marketing dollars. I have battled it from day one, and am pleased to say that 30-40% (& maybe more) of my business is photographing homes under the $250k mark. IT CAN BE DONE. What may need to change, in addition to realtor’s mindsets, is YOUR mindset. How are you selling it? RE Photography is not just about taking pictures of a building for sale. Marketing, branding, client satisfaction and customer referrals… All things that will benefit. Business-minded Realtors are your target… and RE photographers need to take the same business-minded approach to selling their services.

  • When promoting your business to agents, tell them that when home owners decide to sell, they’ll often look at the web sites of their local agencies. If they see one where the photos are obviously professional and another where they’re not, guess which one they’re more likely to want to sell their home. And the agent who doesn’t have great photography will almost certainly never know.

  • Like Fred said “Smart agents who think like business people understand that concept”.

    The trouble is, many think like Bill says “I sense that somehow an agent admits he or she is a failure if they buy RE photo services”. Or they just don’t want to spend the money and keep more commission.

    I do shoot plenty of low end property, it’s easy to make them stand out, and they do sell. Here in the UK, the property market is such that higher value property may attract a juicier fee but, they sit on the shelf longer. The cheap to mid range are the bread and butter (hope that translates ok) and they pay the bills. The rest are cherries on the top.

    Like Fred says we need agents that think like business people.

  • @Ian

    Bread & butter with cherries on top? The UK market really is different!

  • Yes it does. Two of my best agents have me shoot everything for them – high and low end – and they tell me it makes a big difference. We’re talking single-wide trailer homes to $5 million mansions. I think pro photography has an even greater impact on the low-end market and my agents agree.

    Michael

  • FYI, Upon checking my photographers website I see that she is now shooting for 19 agents in my office alone..+ doing work for our brokerage. All this from my referring clients to her…

  • When discussing RE photography (in general) with one of my clients he summed it up best. “90% of agents are clueless”

    That being said, this summer I heard on a weekly basis that the home owner chose their agent due to the photography of their listings. 2 week ago I got a call from an agent who I had visited in early spring who shared with me that he just lost a listing due to the other agent providing professional photography (a client of mine). I shot a home for him last week and his response was simple “Amazing tour.. I should have started partnering with you when you visited my office in April”

  • You would figure here on Long Island more realtors would use a professional photographer. But I’ve found that most realtors just don’t want to pay for photos. Of the few realtors I do shoot for (which is still far and few between). They have found that the photos do indeed sell homes….. What I had to educate them on was that, the professional photos will increase there phone and door traffic. Another words when a new home buyer looks for a house they will search online for it. If the photos stand out they will call your office. That house may not be the one for them, but it will get them in your office for you to find them the house they do want.

    Bottom line 9 out of 10 realtors here would still rather use there phone or point and shoot than pay. So I haven’t quit my day job yet. But…….

  • It’s effective from several standpoints. In each tier (100-250, 250-500, 500-700) there are leaders, or maybe, high performers. In every tier, there are lots of realtors. The point of the professional photos in any tier is to gain the confidence of the buyers and sellers, not necessarily to sell the home.

    It’s to become the “goto” realtor. You still have a bunch of realtors shooting their own crappy pics even in $500K+ homes, but they are under-marketing those properties by making that choice, and people looking through those listings can see it. When it comes times to list or sell, they will often pick the one that looks the most competent.

    I do mostly $350K to several million dollar homes, but I have a few clients that market exclusively to first time home buyers, and they’ve figured out that they can become the highest performing realtors in that market by projecting the idea that they are the best at listing and selling, and… their open houses get the most visitors, which translates to more deals in the future as they make personal contact.

  • I have been a real estate broker in the Seattle area since 1984. I must say, a lot has changed over the years! I have always believed that using something graphical and unusual is important to set your property apart from the other properties and give the listing a touch of class. That is true in all price ranges, esp. the lower! In the 1980’s, I used black line drawings that were pretty expensive back then. Color was almost unheard of and agents used a “listing book catalogue” that they carried around that was updated once a week. It contained their proprietary info and a buyer didn’t get to see it. The listing book was black and white and there was only one photo. Then came the 1990’s. In 1992 I invested in a laser printer that cost about $2000 used printing the line drawings for flyers was easy and it made me look good. That worked good for a number of years.

    Then along came the internet which made listings immediately available. That was a game changer. Now, agents no longer possess the big book that contains all the info. Buyers now search FIRST on the net and then call their agent when something looks interesting online. To get that first lasting look from a buyer, professional photography is needed. Regardless of the price range, good photography makes the property more interesting and more likely to be viewed. (I also invest about $200 in a full color, glossy, two sided flyer so that the property looks good when they get there).

    I think it is only a matter of time that most homes will be professionally photographed. I believe the sellers will someday demand it. As a broker, I can attest that many agents and brokers are simply cheap. It is the truth. However, many listings need some help, especially in the lower price ranges; and so skimping on photography is a fatal flaw. Plus when we do our job right and set ourselves above the crowd, our business is rewarded. I plan increase my own abilities in photography. However, not to worry about competition from agents, most agents will never take the time or have the savvy to do it. They are still trying to figure the computer out…

  • Larry has been a tremendous help to me in trying to get established in one of these smaller markets (I’m in Appleton, WI as the post mentioned). Most agents just don’t seem to get it, and the ones that say they do, don’t prove it with their actions. I’ve been going to some open houses to introduce myself, show some samples, and give RE agents a handout. I meet one of the owners of one of the largest real estate brokers in our area and she assured me she knows how important professional photography is. Yet the very house we were talking in during the open house that she’s listing has awful photos. It just makes you scratch your head–if you know how important it is and you’re such a big fan of it, then why aren’t you using it? Maybe she feels she’s just too successful to have to worry about it.

    I guess one of the most frustrating aspects of being in one of these smaller markets is that I know the agents are going to make a ton of money on some of these houses but cannot invest a few bucks to have better photos. It’s not like I’m asking for 10% of their commission or something.

    I did have one agent give me a try last week and have me shoot two homes for him (one of them was a re-shoot of a house he actually photographed himself). I was really impressed that he gave me a try so quickly (he called the day after we met at an open house). He thought the photos were really good and I think I may have at least one regular customer. I was shocked when he called to be honest. He just seems to be such a rarity around here as far as agents go.

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