Help! What Can I Do To Get More Real Estate Photography Business?

April 20th, 2015

help!Richard in New Mexico is struggling to get started in real estate photography and needs help. Here is his account of his efforts in the last fourteen months:

Beginning February 2014, I began concentrating on residential real estate photography. I have over 50 years experience as a photographer and have worked every area of photography except residential real estate. I began my career in 1961 as a photojournalist. Now, being retired and other causes I need to start working again. So I purchased a realtor list from Info USA. It contains over 600 realtor names, physical addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. I then signed up with Mail Chimp and began an email campaign sending out one email every week. In every email I attempted to offer something of value even if it was outside real estate photography, like how to shoot your children and things like how to shoot a winter snow scene without it looking gray and gloomy. About once a month I offered a monthly special or around the holidays a holiday special. These offers where everything from a discount on a listing shoot to a nearly free family portrait or a business head shot. Well after 14 months I have had a grand total of two residential jobs and four commercial shoots. The fee for the resident jobs was $200.00 each and each of the commercial job were about $550 with the largest being $1,250. Gross income $3,300 for the year. Further on every offer I made in the emails I have NOT had one realtor take my offer. Several times I offered my $200 package as a 2 for 1 sale. Other offers were for a 10-20% discount plus an Ala-Charte item for FREE. My packages are priced as follows: GOOD $99.00, BETTER $150.00, BEST $250.00 and PREMIER starting at $450 with preview walk thru required and I provide a written estimate of cost based on wants and needs. Here is the hooker, last week I offered a $250 photo package for absolutely FREE…No Charge! FREE! Not one Realtor call for an appointment!!

There are several problems that I see in your marketing:

  • E-mail marketing is not the most effective approach to build a real estate photography business. It is more effective for keeping in touch with existing customers. Personal contact combined with targeted direct mail is a better marketing approach.
  • Purchasing customer lists is not the most effective way to find potential clients in your area. It’s more effective to build your own potential client list from brokers websites in your area. This way you can focus on agents that specialize in listing and you can see who are the top listing agents in each office. You can’t tell how old or accurate these purchased list are.
  • Some markets are harder to build a real estate photography business in than others. When I look at your city of 45,000 on Zillow there is currently 155 properties on the market above $200K and 73 above $300K. This is a small real estate market. Real estate agents in small rural markets like this take more education and marketing than in large metropolitan areas. You have to sell listing agents on what professional real estate photography is going to do for them.

Sounds like your problem is not competition but educating the listing agents. Here are some suggestions for changes in your approach that may help:

  1. Build a marketing piece (jumbo post card or 8.5 x 11 flyer) that summarizes why using your services will help local listing agents be more successful. Things like: 1) they get more listings because sellers see that they are doing a better job marketing their property and 2) data that shows that their listings will net more for their home sellers. Also build that marketing pitch into your website.
  2. Get out to open houses and real estate offices and meet the top listing agents in your market face to face, give them your pitch and leave your marketing piece with them.

I’m sure others will have more ideas.

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32 Responses to “Help! What Can I Do To Get More Real Estate Photography Business?”

  • I would also suggest getting rid of the “good”, “better”, “best” titles to what you offer. Most agents that are not using a professional photographer already think their pictures are “good”, so why would they pay you to take good pictures. You also want agents to know you will always be providing your best work; not good or better, but always the best. Either create names (bronze, silver, gold, etc.) or price with no names, but base off of square footage.

  • Hi Richard, I’m in New Mexico living in Albuquerque and it’s tough here too. At 45,000 population it sounds like you may be in Farmington?
    Last year I spent 8 weekends going to open houses to drum up business. I found work, mostly with the third largest agency in the state. My prices are along your lines and it worked well for one year. Then all of a sudden they switched to another company at much lower price and quality. All this happened at the same time their #1 agent/broker left to work for the largest RE company. She is the one who recommended me in the first place. She said I could come and work where she’s at now but the max I could work at was $99 plus offer many more services for that low price.
    Now I’m going to open houses once again showing my portfolio. I found one house I will photograph tomorrow, not for an agent but a home owner who called me to rephotograph his house because he doesn’t like the poor quality of work.

  • This is a universal problem everywhere. No area is immune to most agents not ‘getting it’ for good real estate photography. Scott Hargis wrote a great article about RE photos (published here elsewhere) and if you join one of the many Facebook groups there are ideas to be had. You will find that ‘marketing’ in the traditional sense yields poor returns.

    Simply put, go shoot a few jobs to build your portfolio. Pick homes that are high end, with poor photos and offer the agent use if they want them, but mainly do it for yourself. The better your work, the easier it will become.

    I started out by using Thumbtack. I have had great success with that service, as much as it has problems. And I try very hard to provide a personalized service; move myself from a vendor to a partner in getting the house listed and sold. It’s a SLOW process, but as Joel Grimes says all the time : “Believe in what you do, build a body of work, and they will find you”. 90% of this is attitude!

  • It sounds as though you are in an urgent situation and trying to build your business fast. It has taken me 4 years in a small market to have a steady flow of work and am to the point where I needed to bring on a second photographer for shoots I am unable to make it to. The only advice I have for you is to look for something else in the meantime as you try and build your business up. You’ll need to establish credibility, a portfolio, and a name for yourself amongst the Realtors in your area. From my experience, the best way to accomplish these things is to find 1-3 target agents you tend to see everywhere, learn a little about them and their reputation, and offer to shoot some of their homes. Maybe one or two for free or at a discount. Then, offer additional services to them such as comparison sheets, free seasonal exterior shoots, etc. Anything to get them using your photos and wanting more. Hopefully that helps.

  • Wow, tough market. Its going to be a challenge to sustain the business, for sure.

    I could recommend two things

    1) Using the MLS, identify the brokers who are listing the MOST EXPENSIVE houses in your area. It’s much easier for a realtor to justify spending $150 on a listing if they are looking at a nice commission. I have a few realtors that only call me when they are listing a property over $600,000 in my area. (I would ignore anyone without at least 5 active listings. They won’t be business partners for you cause they just aren’t busy enough).

    2) Get the top 5 brokers, and offer a free shoot (or 50% off). After you complete them, track the time on the market for the properties. Hopefully, your houses will sell much faster than the market average. When you have a number (assuming its good, and it should be if you make good images), use that in your marketing. Last summer, I had a three month run where my listings were on the market an average of only 22 days (against a market avg of 120). I beat my chest over that one to several good new customers. The number will ebb and flow, but when it gets low, milk it. I also have a few brokers who will share with me when they get full ask. I build that into my presentation too. So I might send an email to a broker that says “Hey Bob, my clients sold 60% of their listings last month at Full Asking Price, and averaged only 22 days on the market. My question to you — would you spend $200 today to collect a full commission 50 days after you list?” Language isn’t pretty, but I think you get the idea. This must be followed by a phone call, or a personal visit.

    Hope it helps — good luck!

  • My market has 99.9% agent photos. And only a fraction of them are good at photos. I’m literally creating my own market to work in. I just started late last summer, things are now going very well (after a brutally cold and snowy Midwestern winter). I didn’t have many jobs in the winter but I just kept cold calling agents who had sub par photos in the 300k and up range. I was offering first time free all winter. I had several takers. They were all very happy and said my work was good and they paid me my normal asking price even though I said free. Now they’re calling me back for new listings and I’m also getting referrals from them.

    I’m still cold calling, using Zillow and the like to examine listings that could use better images. Now my service for first timers is -risk free- as in satisfaction guaranteed, but not free and keep the images. I tell the agents all they have to lose is the time to attend the shoot. If they don’t want to use the images I’ll refund my fee entirely. I’m hearing lots of yes’s now. I have had tons of rejection to get to the ball rolling and gain some momentum. However, it has been an excellent opportunity to refine my salesmanship skills. Reach out to the agents directly on the phone or in person. Be sincere and convey your desire to help them market more effectively with better quality images. That’s working for me. Best of luck.

  • My two most successful strategies to build my business were speaking at real estate offices’ weekly meetings and Facebook. Since you have a couple shoots under your belt, I would start approaching brokers in your area and ask for to do a 10-15 minute presentation at one of their meetings. Most are eager to get someone in.

    Start a business FB account, get some realtors to like your page, and then you can boost any posts you make of your RE photography–since realtors are friends with all the other realtors, it gets your work in front of them. I have picked up alot of work this way.

    Good luck–keep at it!

  • When it comes to unsolicited email 600 emails is a drop in the bucket. How many actually read those 600? Most could be going to spam.

  • “I found one house I will photograph tomorrow, not for an agent but a home owner who called me to rephotograph his house because he doesn’t like the poor quality of work.”

    This brings up a great point. Why not try the FSBO market? I’ve seen terrible photos there as well.

  • Sounds as if you have delved into portraiture at one time in your long career. Why not offer head-shots to agencies to get your foot in the door? Butter up them up while while you’re there. Use their name when speaking to them (the sweetest sound to their ears so remember it and use it often.). Ask questions, be interested and listen to their answers. Thank them for their time, then as to speak at a meeting. You’ll get it!

  • I can sympathize. I had 35 years as a commercial advertising photographer having started in photojournalism and retrained and moved to advertising. And did well even in a more provincial market than the city I started in. I find in RE photography today, I am only able to charge about 70% of the fees I charged when I started in 1975 and I am not able to charge for the materials or the extra work for doing the equivalent of digital prints. So I am making a fraction of what I did when I started in the photography business. But it still keeps the wolf from the door and exercises my photographic brain.

    What I find I am able to bring to the business that my competition is not, is that very experience in having worked in many fields, an understanding of light and how to paint with it, the basics of photography that film work provided and an understanding of color, an instinctive design eye that speeds my work, and a different perspective for each property.

    The training and background in photojournalism, helps me shoot on the fly, fast coupled with the concept that what I am doing is telling a story not just arranging exposures.

    The training in advertising makes me automatically correct for lens distortions and parallax distortions. So the work is more architectural than real estate. The paper and chemical background in the dark room helps me make those subtle but important digital darkroom adjustments to rooms that guide the eye where you want it to go.

    All for less per hour than my clients pay someone to clear their kitchen sink drain.

    But I am one of those who would do photography for the cost of expenses simply because it is still as new to me and as challenging as it was at 20.

    That is what the photographer can bring to the table. What takes learning is where the realtor comes from. They have to pay for photography out of the possibility of making a commission. At least in my area. Here sellers of property have no “skin in the game” so a realtor has to pay the photographer out of hopes of selling the property and usually out of a split commission. On top of that, they have to pay for web advertising and local print advertising most of which is not so much to sell the property but to show prospective sellers just how much they do for their clients. What becomes problematic for them is when market or clients tell them they want video too if they want to list their property. That is a chunk more cash they have to shell out on top of the still photos and out of the same hope of commission. And many properties have to be staged which is additional expense. So unless they are handling many properties that allow for a sufficient income stream, they can find themselves in a cash bind. This is especially true, I have found, for the million $ and up properties. But with the seller having none of that “skin” in the game, they can easily change their mind on the agent/broker and go to someone else or decide, after making their house look great for the photography and see the marvelous way their house suddenly looks, that it looks pretty good to them again and decide not to sell after all. And the agent is out all that cash they paid me to shoot the property. This just happened to my best client on two properties one after another just as I had finished the videos and Virtual Tours.

    I don’t think I ever could be a realtor. And it seems the higher the price of the property, the more cantankerous the owner can be.

    All of this to suggest what your self selling points can be, why you are different with your background to the rest of the competition and to further suggest that the relationship with an agent in a smaller community and market is a very personal one. My experience in a small market is that most agents are not up to date on real estate marketing and most are not internet or wireless device savvy. I find if I can take a lot of that burden off their shoulders, do their MLS uploading for them, configure the photo delivery so all they have to do it supply photos, even design and have printed their flyers for them, the more grateful and loyal they become. And dependent. I have different prices, but those prices are based on time and size of house and property. I have to figure out which bundle offering I have will best cover the requirements for stills. Then I have optional services like twilight coverage, video, etc. These are add ons. But all this must be presented before the shoot so I always do a walk through with my regular clients gratis despite the fee package they are getting so I can be accurate. And because I can’t help myself, I always give more than I am charging for to the frustration of my financial controller – my wife.

    Hope this helps. It means you have to sell face to face. It helped to join the Chamber for a while. Many times local realtors are members. It at least got me in the door to do a presentation. Most groups of realtors have weekly or monthly meetings of all members. This is when you can often get in for a 5 minute presentation. The training that Business Referral Groups or Toastmasters give you for summing up your selling points in a 20 second hand shake intro is invaluable. But its person to person. Cold emailing and newsletters, in my experience, cause more irritation than selling. As mentioned above, once you have met people, then you can follow up with useful newsletters. But I have found too that realtors are balancing a lot of demands often from family too and seldom read them. A “leave behind” postcard of your latest property or new offering/service that is a value added situation is more useful. Sorry this is so long, but its a big topic.

  • There’s a lot of good advice here; my top picks would be tareting the high end agents that have multiple active listings, and what Mike said. Also, expanding on Angel’s comments about FSBO’s, go after the people renting their homes via VRBO or a similar service. Do some research and see if there are property management companies that specialize in vacation rentals as well. I have one that is starting to take off. Having good images helps both the owner and the management company get bookings.

  • Any tips for marketing to the FSBO market directly?

  • @Angel Aaron’s FSBO suggestion: FSBOs are not an ideal way to build your business because you shoot for them once. You don’t get repeat business from them except maybe a neighbor that is impressed. You want to build relationships with listing agents that list 10, 20 or 30 properties a year.

    @Terence Lyons: Yes, this is a common marketing approach. Listing agents need a good portrait for their marketing and frequently don’t have an up to date one. Offer to do free portraits for one of your local real estate offices for a few hours after their weekly marketing meeting. But, before you do arrive go through the brokers website and learn who the top listing agents are… those are the people you want to build a relationship with… 75% of the agents in an office are buyers agents and never list a property so they don’t need property photos.

  • Hi… I have been a Commercial Photographer for more than 30 years. I love what I do. I find Real Estate photography to be one of the most challenging experiences for such little money. As a commercial photographer I don’t leave my studio for less than $250. and that is a minimum type shoot. It is intriguing to me that someone can leave there location, travel, shoot 25 pictures at a location, interiors, exteriors, possibly light the different spaces, travel back to your location download over 200 images approx., fuse them together, then tweak a little more, (at least a few hours on the computer) and get these into dropbox or make a slide presentation as a bonus because you got the job… Perhaps 8 hours into this assignment for $200. I made more money in 1985 when things were much cheaper. Lol…

    Either find another photography niche where you are happier and feel valuable or raise your rates if you can. If your too cheap people will think your cheap. Or… Have photography as a hobby and perhaps do something else. I have been in the darkroom for years, shooting 8×10 and 4×5 view cameras… Now it’s different. However I will never undersell my talent and my experience. I would rather do something else. And creating images for art or other venues is always an option if you are good st what you do. I am struggling with how to do this myself as I woukd lije yo make changes in my life. Do this and make a profit. Perhaps I can’t. So it makes me rethink what I’m doing as well. Good luck.

  • Richard,

    Hang in there. It took us over a year before we were getting consistent work.

    Call on 20-30 agents a week. It is a numbers game. If you send them a follow up e-mail about 1 in 25 will reply. And about 1 in 50 will ask for more information. Call them again two months later.

    Make some postcard flyers with your best photo on one side and your contact info and rates on the other. Get them in everyone’s hands. Don’t mail them, they will probably just throw them away. Drop them off at open houses.

    As everyone will tell you here, you need to speak to listing agents and not just any listing agents, the ones with high end listings.

    If someone has a nice listing that you want to photograph it is good for your portfolio to offer it. But we have had mixed results with giving away free shoots.

    Your pricing looks about right. We are just one state over and charge between $150 and $400. Keep it up. It will happen.

    Dave y Tina.

  • Hi Richard,

    Email campaigns are not effective (as you can see). Go in person with some flyers to agencies or better yet ask to give a presentation at one of their office meetings. Ral estate is a referral game.

    Love to see some of your work.

  • Until the buyers start demanding “professional” real estate photography the opportunities for earning a decent living wont be there. Its like alternative energy, until buyers start demanding alternative energy development the oil companies arent going to make any significant changes. Until an agent can see any real measurable results attributed to the photography, they are not likely to make any changes.
    @Tyler are you saying your photos are the reason for the 22 days on the market? I am a real estate broker (20+years) and would like know how you can prove that?

  • I think the email campaigns are a very good idea, but they must be accompanied by all the other techniques mentioned. After a while, people will be in need of a photographer because theirs is out of town or whatever, and they remember that email or flyer they just got. Vertical Response is offering free emails with up to 1000 contacts, which I think is pretty amazing. That is some serious power per dollar spent there if you can find 1000 good email leads in your area.

  • Email campaigns work, but over great lengths of time. One marketing “rule of thumb” is that you have to make contact a minimum of 7 times just to get the tiniest amount of name recognition. THEN you can start to get your message across. These things are best done with a timeframe of years in mind.

    Email is passive — getting out and speaking with people, live, is active. Active is better. You also have to be good at interiors photography. I’ve seen so many photographers who were competent in other areas totally fall down when it comes to interiors, I think it’s a very special skill set. Experience in other genres (weddings, portraits, product, events, sports) is not necessarily transferable. You sure wouldn’t want me to shoot your wedding! I’m competent with a camera, but I have no idea what weddings and religious ceremonies etc. are about. My photos would suck.

  • I think what Rohnn says may be true with regard to the vast majority of agents, who I think tend to be reactive with their marketing, and just do the bare minimum with which they think they can get by. I think that a small number of more ambitious agents are proactive with their marketing, and thus may see the use of superior photography as a way to set themselves apart from most other agents. That is certainly the impression I get from my market.

  • Getting your foot in the door of a FSBO can lead to a referral for Realtors you work with or want to work with. Many FSBO’s eventually wind up on the MLS after their own marketing efforts fail.

  • @Jeff All FSBO’s have their phone number and/or email listed. You may be able to get in the door by offering them something other than photography if they resist you. I’ve found FSBO’s think a good yard sign will magically sell their house yet they never seem to invest in a good one that can be read from more than a few feet away. If you could offer them a decent yard sign with an info tube to dispense the brochures you will make for them with your photos, I would think you should get a good response.

    Once you get your foot in the door (or even before) you could offer to waive your fee if they decide to list with a Realtor you refer to them. While the Realtor may not be able to reimburse you for the referral (depending on local rules and laws) you can work something out with them indirectly such as a commitment for future shoots. Just keep in mind some FSBO’s are hounded by Realtors and may get turned off if you aren’t smooth about it. Yet other FSBO’s are living in quiet desperation praying for salvation. 🙂

  • Peter makes a good point. Understand that many Realtors/Offices have a liberal cancellation policy. And the truth be told you don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you. However it doesn’t happen very often so if you offered to eat your fee if the client cancels it should more than pay for itself. Everyone in the chain likes to feel that they are making a risk free investment.

    Thanks to entities like PayPal and Amazon most Internet purchases have become risk free (for the buyer, not the seller!), as are most big retail stores. People are conditioned to think their purchases should be risk free. Don’t fight it. Go with it. In the long run it will earn you much more than it costs you.

  • Along the lines of risk free. Consider only charging when the listing sells. As insane as that might sound it can work if you can properly predict the average success rate of your potential clients and adjust the price accordingly. Or give them a choice. Pay me $200 up front or $300 to $400 only if the house sells. The risk free will get them to respond to your marketing but in practice most will eventually go with the $200 up front. Still, the concept of, “risk free” is a very powerful marketing tool.

    I’m by no means a pro but I’ve done it this way with a few Realtors who are friends and so far most of their listings ended up selling. When a house sells they usually get a pretty fat check so $400 doesn’t feel like a lot on payday, although $200 can feel like a fortune a day before the closing.

  • “@Tyler are you saying your photos are the reason for the 22 days on the market? I am a real estate broker (20+years) and would like know how you can prove that?”

    Yes, to an experienced agent that’s an intelligence insulter. 🙂

  • Email campaigns worked for me. That’s all I’ve used to get new customers. I never went to an open house or a Realtors office to promote my work. I started 4 years ago after retiring with a friend that was a real estate agent who knew I was interested in photography. I enjoyed it immensely and pursued it further in order to keep myself busy after retirement. I got email addresses off the real estate websites, made myself a website using SmugMug to showcase my work and sent out emails every week. Each time I would get at least one new customer and if they liked my work they recommended me to other agents. This is now my 5th year doing RE photography and right now I’m struggling to keep up with all the work that I have. This month I’m doing 2 jobs a day for 5 -6 days a week. For me that’s a problem because I’m 74 years old and am working more than I wanted to and don’t have much free time for myself and my grand children. I also like playing golf and haven’t been able to get out yet this season. So emailing worked for me and it might work for you as well.

  • @David Eichler, I see the same thing in my market. Most agents are very lazy and many don’t even roll down the car window to take the one photo they use on their listings. Getting out and meeting agents in person has been my best method of bringing in clients. I still send emails and make presentations at office agent meetings. I’ve even had some reasonable response from ads in the biggest local newspaper’s monthly color real estate magazine.

    Hand out lots of business cards and keep a box in the car. Biz cards get very inexpensive if you order a few thousand at a time. Get Polo and/or button down shirts embroidered with your company name. It’s another cheap way that agents will notice your name.

    Sign up for open house notices with the major websites and plan to stop by any you find that are near jobs you are doing. I combine my major shopping with open house visits on the weekends to optimize the mileage on my car.

  • Good article, and I agree with a lot of what you said, We are also same in this business and provide opportunity for sellers and investors to make profits in Buy & sell property. http://ptkventures.com/

  • For the people that solicit at open houses, do the agents find that disrespectful at all? I’m a bit to meek to force conversations on others, but if you feel agents don’t mind you stopping by, I’d like to know your experiences. Thanks!

  • @Marcus – Just make sure you don’t distract the agent during a busy open house… there are frequently long periods of time at an open houses where agents have nothing to do and would love to have someone to talk to.

  • @Marcus – Ditto Larry’s comment. If the agent is busy talking with a shopper, tour the home and wait for a lull. If it’s a busy open house, introduce yourself, hand out a card and get one of their’s with permission to contact them via email and follow up later. Develop a short pitch to use at open houses and if you get more time, ask questions about the current market and maybe a question or two about real estate. I’m always adding to my knowledge about RE terms and common practices. Also find out if the office has periodic meetings where you can make a presentation to the entire staff and whom you need to contact.

    I have never had any issues meeting agents at open houses. Keep your visit short unless they are asking YOU questions. The first question they will typically ask you is how much you charge for photography. Work out ahead of time what your response will be. For me, I tell them that my price is based on the number of finished images to be delivered and where the property is located. I will then give an estimate on the home we are in. A home that I didn’t visit today was at the edge of my standard coverage and had 75 images posted. I would tell them that I could deliver that many photos of that home for $800 (2-day turnaround), but for much less I would compose 14-18 that would cover and highlight the major spaces of the home with a next day delivery.

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