Factors Involved In Pricing Real Estate Photography

April 15th, 2015

PricingGeorge in Southern New Jersey asks the following question:

I’m a photographer from Southern New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. A few years ago when I first got into Real Estate Photography, I researched local real estate photographers and based my rates and pricing structure off of theirs. My current price structure starts with homes up to 2500 sq/ft and my rates increase with every additional 500 sq/ft. Once I get to about 4500 sq/ft I call it a “custom quote” and price it accordingly. In the next few months I plan on re-evaluating my cost to do business and will be increasing my rates and possibly the structure of how they increase. With that, I’m curious to know how other photographers structure their pricing. Do they base it on square footage, number of rooms, value of the home, etc.

We’ve talked a lot about pricing here on PFRE. I would summarize the factors involved in pricing as follows:

  1. Copying what others are doing: When real estate photographers start out they tend to just copy what others are doing. You have to be careful with this approach. What if the photographer’s pricing you are copying is just a part time shooter that is not concerned with making a living at real estate photography? Or, your quality isn’t anywhere near the photographer you are copying.
  2. Making sure you cover expenses and you are getting paid for your time: Especially when you are starting out, you want to be doing the arithmetic and making sure you are covering your expenses and getting paid a living wage for your time spent.
  3. Getting paid for the size of each job: Bigger properties can take more time to shoot and post process so how do you make sure you are getting paid for your time? Some do it by a square foot scale (shoot price goes up to shoot bigger properties) and some do it by the number of photos delivered (shoot price goes up for more photos delivered). I think the best way to do this is charge based on the number of photos you deliver. See this post for more details.
  4. It is not customary to charge based on the listing price: I’ve not heard of many photographers that do this, but I think it’s a bad idea.
  5. You need to be increasing your price as your quality and demand increases: We talked about this in the discussion about hiring contract employees. Scott points out in the comments that some real estate photographers are focused on building a business (they are likely to keep the price the same and hire more people) and some are focused on doing photography that they love and getting better at it (they are likely to raise the shoot price to make more by doing higher quality work).

So in summary, I don’t think there is one simple solution that works for everyone. Pricing is different when you are starting out and as your business/photography improves it depends on what your passion is. As Scott says, “are you an entrepreneur or are you a photographer?”

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14 Responses to “Factors Involved In Pricing Real Estate Photography”

  • “It is not customary to charge based on the listing price: I’ve not heard of many photographers that do this, but I think it’s a bad idea.”

    Why not? That’s how Realtors charge. Shouldn’t they understand their own pricing structure?

  • Mine starts with what it takes to get me out the door. That’s $200. From there, it goes up depending on the ease or difficulty of the home, not the number of sq ft. A 4500sq home with low white ceilings is much easier then a 2500sq ft log cabin with amber walls and ceilings.

  • @Angel… That’s my point. Commission based on home value is what they understand. Just the other day a new client questioned my cost increase on a home 1200 sq/ft larger than she originally told me. In her words “four bedrooms are fours bedrooms… Why the cost increase?” My response was “a $500,000 four bedroom house pays twice as much commission than $250,000 four bedroom house… Why is that?”

  • The biggest obstacle to pricing is convincing Realtors that professional quality photography is worth more than paying $50 for. From my own experience, 95% of them can not see the difference between a good photo and bad photo when placed side to side. The only thing they consider is how much the price will reduce their commission!

  • I started shooting RE on the side 6 years ago and moved to full time end of last year. I’ve always charged by square footage with the idea that the bigger the house, the longer it takes to shoot/process. It’s worked very well for me and I’ve raised my prices 3 times over the years. I’ve lost 2 clients due to increasing my prices, one of which has since come back after not being happy with the competition and the other I’ve written off but would take them back if they asked. Here’s my pricing structure for anyone interested. http://www.seanshannonphotography.com/pricing/ I’m also happy to report that my first year shooting RE full time (2015) looks like I could hit 200 houses if things keep going the way they are. =)

  • @Sean – Good job! Keep up the good work!

  • Just because real estate agents get paid via a system that makes little sense (% of sales price), doesn’t mean photographers should do the same. Does any other vendor the RE agent deals with charge by listing price? Nope.

    Charge for what it is you deliver — which is photographs, and the use thereof.

  • To my competition: Please set your pricing according to the listing price. That will give me the perfect opportunity to give the agent a lower quote and still make good money on the job.

    There are agents that charge a flat fee for selling a home. It’s not as prevalent as those that contract for a commission, but they can be found. Higher priced homes don’t often sell as fast and agents take more risk for the time and money they put into those listings. As contractors, photographers aren’t taking a risk on these jobs. We make a set of pictures and get paid for our work. The agent may put in a fair amount of work and still lose the listing and their investment.

    My RE work is mostly middle class homes and I don’t want to miss out on photographing the higher end homes where the best portfolio material is likely to come from. I also do not want agents going to somebody else for their more expensive properties by pricing my work higher for the same number of pictures and usage. I might lose the client altogether by letting another photographer get their foot in the door. I let agents know that for a higher price, I can spend more time at the property to spend more time detailing/staging, have the sun in the optimum place in the sky for each room and add extras like twilight or lifestyle images. There should be more marketing budget for the higher priced homes, so instead of just tacking on a premium, I’ll work on upselling the extras.

    My costs are tied in with number of photos and how far I need to travel to the job. The price and area of the property don’t figure into my costs and therefore, aren’t a factor in my pricing.

  • I think when you are starting out you are probably going to have to be at the base of the pricing scale. There is going to be a number for your area, say $200 for 25 photos, or whatever the number is that a lot of the clients who are very concerned with price are paying. You are necessarily going to be dealing with these clients when you start out in my estimation, even if your stuff is dynamite you just have to start somewhere. Then comes the second stage of the pricing when you are actually working and in demand and your time is valuable. At this point you become totally unconcerned with what others are charging, and set your price according to how much you think your time and skills are worth essentially. So, I do think there is a time and a place to be looking at what others are charging, just don’t do it for too long.

  • I tend to side with Scott Hargis. Let’s think about this and not try to adapt someone elses pricing method to the RE photography business. The camera doesn’t care if the room is 12 x 15 or 24 x30. Probably the closest analogy I can offer is if you are a Building Contractor, what does it cost in man hours per lineal ft to build a standard interior 2x4x8′ stud wall exclusive of materials. The key factor is TIME in manhours. Since we are assuming you can take an overall view of a room with one shot regardless of size how long does it take you to create that image? How you create the “standard” image is by what ever method you use whether its on camera flash, bounce flash, HDR bracketing, bracketing or with multiple supplemental strobes. It is How much time does it take you to take the “average” room photo by your method?
    Next, you need to know what your HOURLY rate has to be to stay in business and make a PROFIT. This has to be your calculation AND include your markup for profit, not someone else and what they use. You MUST figure this out by doing your Cost To Show Up calculations or going to ASMP and using their method for calculating your cost. Both are similar methods, but you MUST do this calculation. Don’t forget to include an average travel time auto expense in your market area plus your travel wages. If you where doing a full blown estimate you would actually calculate the exact miles and cost, but for us, just use an average. To do this just draw an arc on a map the encompasses 90% of the homes you shoot. Next measure 1/2 that distance and calculate your cost to drive this distance. Another method is if you use only one vehicle for your business and have been in business for several years you calculate the cost/job. Operating cost for a one year period/number of jobs you shot plus your driving wages cost. Well, we are getting off on to a tangent lets come back to the subject.
    Next, how many rooms in the average house? I figured 9, plus 1 front and 1 rear exterior views. This includes:
    Living room, Kitchen, Dinning Room, Family room, 3 Bedrooms and 2 full baths, 1 front and 1 rear view and NO detail shots, no garage, no basement, no walk-in closets, no other out buildings or ammenities like pools, spas, gardens etc.. That gives you a total of 11 shots.
    You have been tracking your time and have found that the average time per room is 15 minutes including setup, strike and chitchat with people. (This is probably very conservative if you are shooting tethered and with multiple flashes and doing a few test shots plus a final 5 frame bracketed HDR )
    Your minimum hourly rate is $50.00/Hr.
    Your travel expense you found is $1.60/mile including travel labor. The average distance is 10 miles. Travel cost $16.00.
    Just one other thing. You get back to the office and you need a minimum of 2 hrs (conservatively) to download, catalog, and edit the 11 images using photomatrix or Enfuse for Lightroom and Photoshop. Your editing rate is $40.00/hour including OHP.
    Well lets see what your BASIC package is going to cost.
    11 rooms X 15min = 165 minutes/60 = 2.75 hours.
    2.75 hours x $50.00/hr = $137.50
    Travel time = $16.00
    Editing time, 2hrs x $40.00/hour = $80.00
    Total Selling Price BASIC PACKAGE: $288.00 plus tax

    That is how you determine your basic package cost.
    Now, do you just shoot 11 images? Of course not.
    Do you offer additional images they can choose from…You Bet.
    Do you shoot details, amenities, vistas etc. Sure!
    DO YOU CHARGE for additional views, Absolutely.
    What about twilight images? It’s extra.
    What about:
    Slide shows
    Video
    CD/DVD
    Flyer Templates
    GoPro or Paint Pole arials
    Yes to all the above. You just need to calculate the cost to create each of them just like you did for the basic shoot. Time and Materials.
    Do you offer only Ala-carte items? NO.
    Once you have your basic costs to create each item in addition to the basic shoot, depending what seems to be popular in your area you can put together other packages like the original Sears and Roebuck model of Good, Better and Best!
    What about those multimillion dollar homes, estates or penthouses?
    You probably want to set a cap on the square footage or listing price because as you get into this niche market you talking an entirely different game that gets into a commercial interior shoot where you may have 3-4 additional crew, studio style strobe lighting and light and color balancing, and an interior decorator, designer or stagger and the shoot could take several days. You’ll need to do a formal walk through, take some survey shots, and prepare a formal estimate with a line item breakdown. For efficiency sake you’ll also setup a shot list including lighting setups and you may also have to subcontract a video crew and a helicopter! Dream On!
    What about these guys that do a shoot for $100. You can do gun and run shoots too, but do you really want that kind of work? As a matter of fact, I did a gun and run shoot of my house, the typical 3BR ranch. 15minutes, in-out and gone. Flash on bracket pointed into corner and shot from door way on TTL and matrix metering. Total post processing 25 minutes. Total time including travel 52 minutes. Blown out windows…Yep, Dark areas with no shadow detail…Yep, Camera movement…Minor. Up loaded to the MLS…yep. How did they look? Like sh…and I wouldn’t claim them as mind. Did the realtor pay…yep, did they like them…yep, I guess.

  • Regarding just starting out and shooting for less. BULL! If you have a grasp of shooting real estate and have practiced on you own home then to build your portfolio shoot your families homes or apartments. Next, find the new home builders in the area and ask permission to shoot the furnished models and you can offer copies of the images for Free. Find out their least busy day for people touring the models. Many builder may have several models with different floor plans and that’s good for you. Just don’t be a pain in their posterior and stay out of the way of people touring the home or the realtor making a sales pitch doing a walk thru with a client.
    While doing these shoots log the time it takes to shoot each room and the entire property. Do this for every property you shoot. How much time did it take to drive to the home site?
    Back at the office after each shoot process and edit all the images. How long did it take you?
    Next, Enlarge every image to full screen and critique it as if you were looking at a competitor’s images and tare them apart. What and How can you improve your shots and technique. Try different methods of shooting on a couple of different home where you don’t have to pay with images just in case they are junk. Hey that builder my like your work and hire you for his next model. Be sure to leave you card and keep them on your mailing list.
    Do you need to start a lower prices? Absolutely NOT! Setup your pricing strategy as I explained in the previous post, and be sure to improve your images with every job.
    Your on your way…now you just need one more thing. Clients. But, that is another story.
    Good luck.

  • Thank you to everyone for your valuable input and time.

    @Larry – Thank you for posting my question and especially for maintaining the amazing site!

  • I agree with Scott – price shouldn’t be based on list price. If I did this then I would have earned £95 from one job and £2500 from another in the space of a week last month. No agent is going to pay me £2500, it’s not realistic in my market.

    Mind you, I suppose I could have based my fee for the studio flat on what I charged for the £20m house, and charged about £10 for the former. Nope, that wouldn’t work either!

    Charging per photo with a minimum fee works absolutely fine for me. Plus the only effect square footage has is that it takes me less time per photo in a 6 bed detached home, when I produce 20 to 30 images, than it does in a 2 bed apartment when I produce 6 to 10.

  • There are 2 basic models. The “going concern” accounting model where the income of the business pays for all of your fixed and variable costs with some profit left over. Then there is the “spending money” model where income generated from photography is added to any spouse or secondary income that is covering your living expenses, i.e. a subsidy of your photography “business”.
    Your market is going to determine your pricing to a degree, you need to ask yourself if you can propser and suceed at those rates.

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