Real Estate Photography Questions and Answers

September 29th, 2014

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I keep getting great questions and post these so everyone can get the benefit of the answers and others can add their thoughts and experiences.

Jason’s Question:  I’m thinking of joining the local Association of Realtors as an affiliate to gain access to the Surpa system so I can just enter the homes I photograph without anyone being present. It is not cheap to join in my marketplace (in my opinion). Has becoming an affiliate been beneficial to others who are real estate photographers or am I looking at increasing my exposure in the wrong light?

Answer: Yes, if your MLS allows it having an MLS Key is a big deal and it will probably pay for itself in added business. It saves your clients a lot of time since they don’t have to come let you in and then sit around and wait for you to shoot. In many locations the only way you can get a MLS key is become an agent. Some RE photographers become agents just for this reason although being an agent is way more expensive than just getting an MLS key.
When I was an agent in the Seattle area photographers could not get an NWMLS key, only agents and appraisers could get one. And there was an NWMLS rule that if an agent was caught leaving a “contractor” (a photographer is a contractor hired by the listing agent) unescorted in a listing there was a $5,000 fine. Yet as recent as a few years ago Seattle area photographers have told me that as many as 50% of agents let photographers shoot by unescorted.

If you get your own MLS key and shoot listings unescorted I would pay special attention to your liability insurance. The opportunities for being accused of damage increases and the agent/broker’s liability insurance won’t cover you as it may if you are escorted by an agent.

Priscilla’s Question:  I’m a fan of your work. Currently, I’m an amateur real estate photography on with a tour company. I’m looking for more opportunities in positions focused specifically on editing for real estate photography. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: I always recommend to beginning real estate photographers to be in business for yourself, the big tour companies are notorious for not paying a living wage! You are in general going to be better off if you run your own business as an independent real estate photographer or image editor. Peggy Taylor, in Tampa whom I’ve written about several times, is a great example. Peggy started out working for a large tour company in 2009. They paid her a ridiculously low amount for a shoot. She built her own business and now has her sister working with her and one other person and charges $200 per shoot and has a thriving business. It may take some hard work to begin with, but Peggy’s experience shows that it can be done.

Scott’s Question:  Thinking about pricing again. Does it make sense to calculate the price based on the asking price of the home? For example, if the home is going for 400K rather than 100K, won’t the photographer end up doing more work, and shouldn’t they get paid more? Tipping at restaurants is 15 to 20%. Wouldn’t that be nice. But seriously, I’d like to hear a discussion about the percentages all the players make, and think about cutting the photographer in, even for a small percent.

Answer: Yes, some photographers do charge based on the listing price but having been in this business on both sides of the fence (listing agent and photographer) it makes more sense to me to have a shoot price based on square footage rather than list price. It’s because the property is bigger and has more rooms that it takes more time to shoot; not because it has a higher list price. I think RE photographers should present themselves a contractors not sales people. I have a hard time putting my finger on it but to me it just feels out of line to charge as a percentage of list price.

A great place to get a lot diverse points of view on all the dimensions of pricing is to read through some of the PFRE flickr group discussions on pricing over the last few years.

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9 Responses to “Real Estate Photography Questions and Answers”

  • @Jason – Being a member of the local real estate association will allow you to make presentations at meetings as well as get a chance to get to meet the agents and brokers face to face. If it’s in your budget to join, use the opportunity to the fullest extent. I had some nice polo shirts embroidered with my name and “Photography” underneath and wear them to those sorts of functions. It’s a great icebreaker and conversation starter.

    @Scott – The asking price of a home has nothing to do with YOUR costs and charging a premium for higher priced home opens the door for competitors to snatch that business away from you. The top end of the market is usually the best place to develop material for your portfolio. To earn more money on those properties, offer additional services such as more pictures and extended sessions to capture rooms and views when the sun is in the best position. Twilight photos are another up-sell that can help capitalize on higher priced properties.

    I started by charging based on square footage, but came to realize pretty quick that my time is best figured on a per image basis. The difference in my time shooting a 1,400 square foot 3/2 and one that is 2,100 sqft is zero since it’s almost always the same number of pictures for both. I have a good approximation on what my costs are and the average time to shoot and process an image. Add in travel time and any extra expenses and it’s easy to quote a price for a particular job. I ran into a couple of jobs where the agent lied about the size of the home and also wound up with a home that was a warren of difficult to shoot small rooms.

  • Jason, I am not sure I would want a key to a property, or being at a location alone. I try to make sure the agent has the home ready to photograph, or he or she does a walk through and makes sure the seller has the home staged as best they can, but many times that is not the case. I find that having the realtor with me is a benefit for many reasons. first, I have them turn on all the lights, and move anything (when the owner is not there) that might be a distraction. many times a kitchen, bathroom or bedroom might have items (tooth brush, towels, soaps, dishes in the sink, items on the night stands) that I do not want to touch or move. and I don’t want to be accused of damaging anything or have something missing. one of my fellow photographers, charges an extra fee if he has turn on and off the lights and has to close up a property.
    Scott, when we first started in the real estate photography business, we charged by the listing price, which I feel makes no sense. I now charge a fee on properties up to a certain sq. feet. After that, I calculate the additional size. Also, I have to charge a travel fee out of my local area. If people like your work and enjoy working with you. they don’t mind paying for your services.

  • Ken, I too joined a real estate association, which brought me additional photography assignments. Not only real estate shoots, but I have gotten realtor head shots, family beach Portraits, weddings, and realtor team portraits.

    And like you, I had too had special embroidered shirts made up which truly does open up dialogue and creates an interest in your services. The cost of the shirts were not too extravagant, and, I always wear them on a shoot, because it gives me a professional appearance.

  • I also started off pricing based on the price of the listing. Recently changed the structure to pricing on how many images they want for the listing. Had a realtor that only wanted 10 images for a million dollar + listing. Well being priced on the cost of the listing, my price was unrealistic for that number of images. Got it covered now.
    Embroidered shirts, yep, got them, I wait for Vista Print to have them on sale and snag a couple.
    That being said, have you figured out your CODB (Cost of Doing Business) to see what the min. is you should be charging?

  • I would be happy to pay a percentage of price if the percentage was based on the closed deal. The same way I get paid. No sale no pay.

  • I’ve never understood the logic of charging according to any secondary factor. You’re there to make photographs, the agents WANTS photographs…why not charge for (wait for it)…..PHOTOGRAPHS. Tie your fee directly to your deliverable. If you make more photos, you charge more. If you make less photos, you charge less. If you want, you can have a minimum.
    Charging by the listing price is just kind of weird, I can’t think of any logic behind that one.
    Charging by the size of the house is also strange to me. What do you tell someone who wants only 10 photos of a huge mansion (I’ve done that gig). What do you say to the person who wants 50 or 60 photos of a 2BR fixer-upper? (I’ve done that gig, too).

  • Jason: I am a California real estate vet starting in 1987 and there is not one CA RE board, that allows affiliates to own their own access key. That is too dangerous, especially for women.
    Scott: Our board does not even allowed to talk about pricing, especially when it is related to commission and any other payments.
    This is another area to be very careful, especially when you becomes an affiliate.
    I know all the above, because I have served the board in many committees.

  • Good point Eric. I do like the agent or homeowner to tell me what is important to photograph. Also, by having them there, it takes away the liability from me solely.

  • To Jason
    I’m bonded, insured and an (the only photographer) associate member of the my local real estate board.
    The bonding and insurance are for my own peace of mind, and the membership is for credibility, the MLS key and the convenience of the agent.
    Before I joined, I had none of the above and still shot alone all the time. I always had the fear of breaking something and being sued. Now I’m covered 100%.
    Agents love the fact that they only need to make a phone call and will get pictures delivered without wasting any of their time.
    As always… YMMV…

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