Reader Questions And Answers – Assistants, Tours, Working For Redfin

October 15th, 2014

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Chad’s Question:  I am growing beyond what I can shoot in a given week. With this I am having to turn away work and be selective with projects I do.  My question to you is, do you know if any of the coaches have particular experience with multiple photographers? Contracts, pay, insurance,  incentive,  training processes, pros cons to look out for? I have people always hitting me up for photography jobs. Trying to figure this part out is daunting!

Answer: If you haven’t already you may get some help from a previous post I did on this subject. Several commenters on this post have experience with hiring assistants. As far as coaches, I’m not sure who has had experience with assistants. I would check with Dan Milstein  or Michael Asgian. Anyone out there that can offer coaching on hiring assistants?

Bill’s Question:  I’m a real estate agent.  I always create a website dedicated to each of my listings.  These are BRANDED web sites. These web sites (really pages of BillSilver.com) are based on WordPress using a RESPONSIVE THEME.  They view well on all devices. The pictures I take are used in many ways: Virtual Tour Slideshow, Virtual Tour Video, property eMagazine, etc. I use iPlayerHD as my video host, Phanfare for my slideshow host, and eMagStudio for my interactive magazines. iPlayerHD and eMagStudio are both responsive. But, Phanphare is not.  I need to replace Phanphare with a responsive slideshow host that that will allow my slideshows to play on all devices–without me having to do anything AND without the user having to do anything special, like downloading the Phanphare app or installing flash.

This slideshow host must be able to allow me to have UNBRANDED slideshows. No info about me or my website or company. I just want to be able to play a slideshow with beautiful, full-screen slides.

Answer: I used to build tours for my wife’s listings for many years (Since I’m a long time software engineer I was naturally drawn to doing it all myself). However, I gave it up a long time ago and have been using tourbuzz.net for several years. The reason is they have everything Realtors and photographers want and need:

  1. They work beautifully on all devices.
  2. They have branded, unbranded and minimalist style tours.
  3. They host video and video clips.
  4. They are $12 each and last forever if you purchase 10 at a time.
  5. They have tons of other features and compete very well with the big tour company tours.
  6. They have great service.
Jason’s Question: Been contacted by Redfin to be a contract photographer. Any information you may know about them would be greatly appreciated. Are they good to work for? Is the compensation fair? Can I make my own schedule? I been scouring the Internet and can’t seem to find any information on what it’s like to work for them.
Answer: I’ve never talked to anyone that works for Redfin. I know that they promote using professional photography to their agents, but that’s all I know about them. I’d like to know the answers to all the questions you ask.
Can anyone out there answer Jason’s questions? I can’t.
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21 Responses to “Reader Questions And Answers – Assistants, Tours, Working For Redfin”

  • Chad – hire a contracted photographer (1099 employee). I don’t know how busy you are but once I got so much work I couldn’t handle it all I knew I needed a full time photographer to help me. I pay her a certain % of my total fee per each job. Technically she could quit at anytime or do photography work on her own, but I purchased her camera equipment and everything, pay her a monthly gas stipend, etc… so she has a lot of reasons to stay with me and help me grow even bigger! She can also sell “add on’s” such as virtual tours, flyers, etc… and she’ll get a cut of that too. If your comfy with your current situation then leave it, don’t break whats not broken.. but if you can see yourself continuing to grow then why not get a 2nd photographer to take over the shoots and you can get some time back to market yourself and spend time w/ family 🙂

    Bill – I use http://www.pfretour.com for my Visual Tour Websites. I’ve put in countless hours of research on visual tour websites and this is the easiest & functional one I have found. Syncs to Youtube, Zillow, Yahoo, Trulia and also the MLS with options of branded or non-branded. All my clients love it. $10/tour and additional $11/custom domain name (lasts 3 years). Goodluck!!

  • Does PFREtours offer unbranded versions?

  • Chad- Going from working on your own to having employees is a big jump. You should talk with a CPA about the intricacies of whether somebody you hire is an employee or and independent contractor in the eyes of the IRS. There isn’t a definitive test and the closer you are to the vaguely drawn line, the more the IRS will want to consider them an employee, which could put you in an expensive tax situation. You will also need to find out whether contractors that work for you will be covered under your insurance or will need to have their own general liability policy (most likely).

    Consider whether you want to grow your business to include employees. There are costs and benefits for independent photographers and larger groups. Do you consistently have more work coming in than you do yourself or is it only for busiest part of the year? Are you offering services such as flyers and websites that you can outsource? Is the area you cover causing you to spend a lot of time driving? Is it time to raise your prices?

    I owned a manufacturing company for years and it’s a load of responsibility to make sure that the payroll is on time every week. It also makes it harder to take a vacation or day off. If you want to grow your business beyond just yourself, have a fair amount of money in the bank and assure yourself that you can keep somebody else busy with all of the hours they want (full or part time). You will be training somebody that may become your competition and once they think they are trained, they may strike out on their own if you don’t keep them busy all of the time. Forget non-compete contracts, they’re rarely worth anything. I say it again, talk with a CPA and look at all of the pros and cons. You might not make any more income until you can add several people. Adding one person might leave you with less money each month due to taxes and insurance.

    Aubrey- If you are supplying somebody with the “tools of the trade”, you have likely created an employee/employer relationship. A regular employee can quit anytime they like. That has no bearing on the independent contractor test. If she is working for you exclusively or a majority of the time for you, the IRS may consider her your employee and demand back taxes.

    There is a pamphlet available on the IRS website about employees vs contractors. The big factors are who sets when the work is done. A deadline is ok, but a scheduled time is a red flag. A contractor is given a task, but not told how it is to be accomplished. A contractor provides their own basic tools. If the contractor is working exclusively for only one or two employers, the contractor may be reclassified by the IRS as an employee unless the job is one that is expected to take a long period of time.

    If you hire somebody, provide the tools, specify how and when the work is to be done and the person works mainly for you, the IRS may call that person an employee and ask for back taxes. If the contractor doesn’t report or pay the taxes on the money they have received from you, the IRS is really going to want to call them an employee and ask you to pay the tax and penalties.

  • Jason- Ask them for a sample contract and standards guide. If they are truly interested, they should have something to send you. They should also be able to provide you with a rate schedule on what they will pay for typical services.

    The last large RE services company I talked with about shooting pictures for presented me with a list of demands that I would not agree to. They wanted a blanket permission to retrieve my credit reports, driving record, criminal background checks and a catch-all sentence that could include any other information source. They had also stated that they have a policy of a drug free workplace, but failed to define what that might mean. I don’t take any drugs that my doctor doesn’t prescribe, but I wasn’t going to agree to taking a few hours to drive to a clinic and provide a “sample” whenever the company demanded one. This would have been an independent contractor position where they would contact me with any work they had in my area. I wasn’t going to be handling any money or driving a company car. Their demands weren’t relevant for the job, but they insisted.

    If you get a contract to look at, go over it with an attorney. You should be able to find one that won’t charge you too much to translate it into english. You want to be vigilant for Indemnification clauses that could make you liable in a law suit against Redfin. The problem is that it’s pretty standard to find them now where by signing you agree to “indemnify” the other party in a law suit and you also give them the power to handle the suit anyway they like without your permission. If they decide to settle a complaint before trial, you can be on the hook for the amount they negotiate with the plaintiff. Look for other items like copyright ownership, which you will likely be giving up. See if you can insert the right to use any photos you make for your own portfolio (perpetual in all media, worldwide).

    Even if you decide to go with all of the clauses in a contract, at least know what they are.

  • I know another photographer in town who has the same problem. I advised her to raise her prices because she was shooting too cheap. She was the best deal in town, and being a realtor/photographer myself, I wanted her to thrive in her business and not feel stressed out. I told her I would easily pay her $X.00. She ended up increasing her prices by $25, but that wasn’t enough in my opinion. If you’re good, you need to charge for it and let your loyal followers who “get it” grow with you. That’s my 2 cents. Blessings everyone!

  • Chad, I have a very good friend who also has been over booked or cant always handle all his bookings. he is a single guy, so he doesn’t mind working all day and night, but said he is getting burnt out. Many times, especially when he is on vacation, he refers his agents to me as he knows I will not steal his clients.

    I also mentioned finding someone or a service that can do his processing, so he can just shoot and have some breathing time for himself. his prices are fair, but a bit lower than they should.
    Since he shoots HDR on every property, he has an enormous amount of computer processing at night, not to mention burning out cameras. so teaching someone how to shoot HDR with no lighting is an issue to master.

    I encouraged him to bring his tour prices up to a higher, level. This way, if an agent doesn’t want to pay his newer, but fair price, he can make more and work less. Any agent who likes working with him will not mind a slight ($20-$30) increase in price.

    I think you will find that teaching someone how to shoot your style and going out to photograph properties for you, will eventually want to do this for themselves.
    But having employees can bee a pain in the butt, not to mention the paper work, insurance legal obligations and many other issues that goes along with owning a business with employees.

    I learned something very special from a famous wedding photographer in NYC………………if you are not happy with what you are doing…………………charge enough until you are.

  • Hello Larry and readers,
    Just came across this on PetaPixel and thought you all might enjoy it. Sorry, its a bit out of context for this post but not for the realm of real estate photography and photographers. Enjoy: http://petapixel.com/2014/08/12/take-your-photography-to-new-literal-heights-with-a-12-foot-tripod/

  • @Marc – Yes, we’ve had many posts on large tripods… In fact I posted the same video in August:
    http://photographyforrealestate.net/2014/08/20/inexpensive-12-foot-tripods-as-an-alternative-to-painters-pole/

  • I had couple of years ago 8 photographers working for us. It’s wasn’t so easy, even they had own companies, i lost my time to make schedules and taking care of quality etc. But now it’s possible to buy picture editing from east so it could be easier. We have two big companies (from Sweden and Norway) here in Finland, who have lot of photographers. They have own websites etc how to order and i now their workflow so i can help, if someone is interested. But i would say, lot of work and not so good incomes so i don’t see it anymore good business. Much better is develop own products.
    Brg
    Jukka Töyli
    jukka@toyli.fi

  • I’m curious to know what area Chad is in? Just a general idea of whether it takes a large population to end up with too much work, or is it small or medium sized? Certain months of the year are that way for me in an area of 200,000… But most of the year there really only enough to support one full time professional.

  • Kelvin,
    thats one of the biggest problems. We have here same, some months are really busy but some months not so good. It’s really hard to solve, how to have enough photographers on a high season and when there is low season, where to find work for them.

    -J-

  • @Ken Brown

    Doesn’t need to be so complicated at all…..

    – You hire someone with their own equipment as a contracted employee, or provide equipment that is used only for each contracted shoot they do.

    – You agree on what you will pay for each contracted shoot they do for you.

    – They invoice you every week and you pay that invoice.

    – the paid invoices are an expense to your company.

    Its no different than hiring a drone operator to get a few shots, or even a helicopter for that matter. At the end of the day its not an employee because there is no guaranteed hours, no hourly wage, no yearly salary etc, they work on contract when you need them and are available for other work whenever they want.

    Hiring someone on contract can be very good if you can come up with a good price per shoot. If you agree to pay them (for example) 60% of shoot price, you not only make the other 40% but you also can claim the 60% you paid out at tax time as an expense.

    Of course the key is you really need to make sure:

    1. they can provide work that is equal to what you clients are used to. This becomes easier when you shoot HDR as its not hard to shoot 3-5 brackets, as long as you take care of the editing to ensure it up to standard of your company (see below*). Its often harder to find someone who know the correct angles etc for real estate photography but you can always teach that. Even multiple flash photography has your own personal touch and final editing or the RAW files that sets your company apart.

    2. The person needs to be trust worthy as they are in peoples houses under your company name, ultimately it will be your company blamed if something goes wrong.

    3. the person is reliable and has good customer service, as above, its your company that is ultimately responsible.

    In my opinion, there is no real need for a non compete clause or anything like that if you are doing the editing yourself as the raw files are useless until they are edited by you, customers are using your company for the “edited” photos they receive. If the person you use on contract doesn’t know how you edit to get the final product you deliver, they are no threat to you in regards to competition.

  • @Chad – If you’re getting more work than you can handle, it’s probably time to raise your rates. There’s a good chance you’re selling yourself short (and undercutting your competition). A lot of photographers think it’s a good idea to jump in the business offering “amazing deals” and ridiculously low rates. Not only are you shooting yourself in the foot by creating a burn out situation, you’re also adding to the mentality that RE photography is a commodity and has little value.

    Personally, I’d rather book 1 or 2 shoots a day, taking my time to produce a quality product, than 5-6 quick and dirty with a side of french fries.

  • @Ken Brown

    Maybe its a little different in the US, but in Canada its generally considered contract work if:

    1. you are hiring a freelance photographer who is ALREADY in business and already has their own equipment that is used for the type of job required (photography and/or video). This does not mean you cant provide additional equipment that might be required for your needs.

    2. they invoice you for their services

    3. you request their services but THEY control their schedule.

    4. they take off whatever days they want and take vacation as they wish and dont need to “clear” it with you as they are running their own business that only provides services to you.

    5. there is no vacation pay, pension plan, insurance etc

    Some of the above make it difficult to find the right contractor for your needs (especially #3 and 4), but if you build a good working relationship with them often times they are flexible and try to work around your needs. At the end of the day if they are taking lots of days off and vacations they make themselves difficult to use and you will most likely move on to finding another contractor.

    @Rob
    Telling someone to raise their rates without knowing anything about their business setup or location and saying they are “adding to the mentality that RE photography is a commodity and has little value” is just stupidity (and rude). Maybe you could put your website behind your name if you are going to be critical of others business?

    There are pros and cons to shooting more each day, the main one being that you maintain a larger client list. More poles in the water means more nibbles and while it sometimes becomes frustrating in the busy times, in the slower times those extra poles mean more work compared to someone who shoots 1 or 2 a day.

    Of course maintaining those extra poles takes extra work and longer hours, but its often worth it to ensure a steady income every month.

  • Hello everyone!

    Wow, THANK YOU FOR ALL THE GREAT ADVICE!!! This is why I go to this site!

    I work in Ventura County, CA. 20 minutes from Malibu, 45 from Downtown LA and an hour from Santa Barbara. The center of some amazing homes and top producing agents in every direction. I shoot everything from 600sqft beach side bungalows to 18 million dollar plus Malibu beach fronts and everything in between.

    I have raised my prices every year for the last 6 years and just this year I raised them again in July by changing my breakdown. I can shoot upwards of 5-7 homes a day, 5 days a week. Some projects are half days because of the size or complexity and I charge by the hour for some projects. My busiest month was this year at 70 homes in one month. I am on track to be at over 700 homes this year at my current rate and I don’t see next year slowing. I can’t stop people from referring me and my website ranks extremely high in SEO for my areas. I get leads weekly. I refuse to work weekends to keep my sanity and recharge by camping, offroading and spending time with wife, friends and for ‘me’ time. I do take week long vacations and turn my phone OFF too, checking out is not hard, haha 🙂

    I have been working with a CPA for many years. Actually seeing him next week to go over converting to a LLC because my revenues are past the benefits of being a sole proprietor. I will also be going over all the nickle and dimes it takes IF I want to take on another photographer. He is actually the professor for the accounting courses at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, so he should be of much value in the tax and accounting end of things.

    I currently work with 2 retouchers/stylists here in the US and local. They are great. One is a recent college grad in photography with student loans to pay off and eager to work and learn. And the other is a stay at home mom who is a great family portrait photographer who’s schedule works out perfect. I pay them per project and so far it works out really great the last few years. They have paid for themselves many many times by being able to shoot 5 days a week and give me time I can spend marketing and being able to sleep normal hours. Sometimes I do have a hard time keeping them both busy on the slow days. One reason I am considering bringing on another photographer. So my goal is always to make sure they are full every day they make themselves available to me. I keep my sanity by not doing the retouching on the bulk of my work!

    I offer a slue of services above just still photos. I work with a great video production company to cover all of my full motion video requests. I do the marketing and business side, they do the production side and we share the revenue fairly. I also contract out any drone work to another contractor too (Don’t want to invest in this area yet.). I am in the process of building and launching a custom flyer/brochure/mailer service with a graphic designer I met through my offroading photography projects. That is what I am focused on right now. Finalizing costs and prices and should be launching that very soon. That will be a nice cash flow increase when I launch.
    I use tourbuzz to the max. I offer custom property websites, tours, YouTube upgrades through tourbuzz, syndication, low level pole photos(60ft mast), twilight’s. You can view my price page on my website, I don’t hide much.

    My initial thought was the per project based pay, bonuses for upsells and bringing new clientele which I think if they break away they should keep. Just like brokers I work for do when a agent changes brokers, the listings and clients go with them that they brought in. I figure the same should work in this case. Thoughts?

    How should I go about training? Do I need to pay them while they shadow me? How should that work? I can see a lot of $ for zero output while I train them. I guess that goes with hiring someone anyways, always that risk it will not pay off. Heh.

    I think I did the best to answer your questions about my business. If you have any other advice or have other questions please let me know or ask away!

    Thanks again everyone-
    Chad Jones

  • Chad- It sounds like you have built a rockin’ business. Ask your CPA about the points I outlined above to properly classify somebody you bring on board to help you. While you can’t keep them from competing with you at some point in the future, you can have them sign a contract that prevents them from taking your customer and vendor lists with them when they go. The best defense beyond the contract is to not give them access to those lists. If you catch them picking up cards at jobs or handing out their own, you know you are going to have a problem with that person in the future.

    Training is going to take time no matter how you figure it especially if you want things done a particular way. Time is money and just go into the process knowing that it’s going to slow you down and cost you money to get somebody up to speed. Where you start somebody is going to depend a lot on what skills they already have. If they are new to photography, you will have to spend more time using them in an assistant role while they pick up many of the basics. Somebody that already has a good grasp of photography might only take a little coaching on the particulars of interior photography. You could spend a small amount of time training them to shoot the secondary bedrooms, offices and exteriors on a job while you concentrate on the money shots. After a while, you should get a feeling for how well they might work out and if it’s worth the time to train them further. Set some time/probationary limits so you don’t spend too much time with somebody who isn’t going to pan out. I would recommend that you pay them during training. It lends an aire of formality to the internship/probationary period and you will feel less guilty for working them like dogs or cutting them loose. An hourly or daily rate is going to be the most equitable since you will be controlling the time spent on each job.

    Initially, I wanted to take weekends off but I have had too many agents want weekend appointments so the homeowner could be on site to babysit rather than the agent. Monday and Tuesdays are usually my slowest days and that lets me take care of business on a weekday when other businesses are open. I still block off weekends when there is an event I want to attend and still wind up with other weekends free. I know a couple of my clients use me due to my scheduling flexibility. Once you have somebody trained up and trustworthy, you can put them on weekends handling simpler shoots.

  • Hi,

    As somebody who has shot for another photographer the last few years, I want to offer a couple of thoughts.

    First, don’t be greedy. Pay your subcontractors well enough that they won’t be tempted to go off on their own. I see ads in our area on Craig’s list that offer a ridiculously low amount for real estate shooters. I recently saw one that offered $10-12 per hour. Another offered $20-40 per shoot. I visited one of those firm’s websites and found they were charging $130 to $180 per shoot. As the owner of the firm, you deserve to make a decent profit. But, if you aren’t equitable or generous with your shooters, beware. They have the equipment and the training to become competitors.

    Second, if you are a commited entrepreneurial type like Chad, then adding photographers becomes essential. But, if you’re happy working solo, making enough money, and not committed to expanding a business and becoming a manger, you may want to consider shrinking the territory that you serve as a way to keep your workload manageable. Traveling fewer miles will instantly increase your profit margin per job. You might also think about dropping that realtor whose jobs are always cluttered and expects you to clear it up.

    Chad, there’s one point where I disagree with you. New clients acquired under your umbrella are your clients. If a photographer departs, he should have to compete with you for them. Even if you disagree with me, don’t tell your photographers that they can walk away and take any of “their” clients with them -you’ll just be giving them another reason to leave.

  • @ Chad
    Sounds like you have a great business plan! It’s no wonder your business is booming, your prices are far lower than the competitors in your area! $140 to shoot up to 30 photos, in Los Angeles… are you kidding me?? $190 with a tour?? WOW!

    I myself am a local LA realtor/wanna be photographer. I love lurking here to see what people are talking about. I may just give you a call!

  • Thank you Ken and Doug! Much appreciated!
    This business is the bread and butter for photography and my future. I put business before art, where some people put art before business. I don’t want to price myself out of the easy, bing bang boom properties. That is just giving Circlepix and Obeo types more business! This doesn’t mean I don’t want to move up and have a higher income! These mild homes help keep me in business because their is a higher volume of them. I can’t expect to have fancy high paying gigs all the time, so that is where this business comes in for me. I prefer to always be able to say “yes” to jobs if they call and want me. If I say ‘no’ to a job that was a referral from a good client because I am booked, then that just hits a negative note in my business communication and that over time trickles down and can affect potential income levels. That is another reason I feel like I should add a photographer on board. To meet the need and demand that my business is having. ‘No’ is a powerful word to agents, and you won’t get that call again if you can’t fit them in. They will move on to the next and I loose out on reoccurring jobs from that agent. Which means lost income I could have had.

    @John- That is for everyday cookie cutter homes. The larger the home gets the more I charge! That is just my entry level cost for just stills and to come out. LA/East of 405 jobs also get a time and travel cost added on, so that raises my prices to be very competitive in the LA Area. Most homes in that bracket don’t even hit 30 photos. 1500 sqft home is about 20-25 photos, condos, town homes are sometimes even less with no yards. So it all irons out. Some projects I make more per image than others at that starting point. Some homes have under 20 images sometimes and I still charge the same rate. My prices are relative to the size of the home. Look forward to the call, John!

    Anyways, this discussion has given me some good things to think about and go over. Again, much appreciation to everyone who contributed!

  • Jason, I worked with Redfin for a short period. They had no problem paying my standard price, which I think is right in line with what others charge in the Seattle area.

    When they first contacted me they kept saying “we can bring you a LOT of work”, which I kinda thought “Yeah, yeah, right”. I did one shoot with them and all was well. But it was the busy summer season and I had many other shoots from other clients. So the next two times Redfin called with “we need a photographer tomorrow at X time” I wasn’t available. And they did not like that at all. The woman in charge called me and said “We’re getting reports that you’re not available to shoot for us? Is that true?” I explained that I had other shoots scheduled before them. I never heard from Redfin again.

    I think what they don’t say in the spiel to photographers is that they want you available at all times only to them; which basically means not working with any other agents.

    I also found the agent that I worked with on the one shoot to be somewhat unprofessional. She stood around and bragged to the owner how great Redfin was to work for…that she was “getting paid $50 an hour just to stand around and watch this guy take pictures”.

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