Home Seller Asks For Photographers Photos Of A Property That Is Not Sold

July 12th, 2015

HomeSellerGiftRandall asks:

I recently was contacted by a homeowner of a house I photographed a few months ago. She asked if I would send her copies of the pictures that I shot. I was hired by a real estate company to perform this shoot and not by the homeowner. My Terms of Service says, “All photos produced for a client may be used by that agent for all marketing associated with the current sale of the property.” Just wondering how do other real estate photographers handle this? Give the images to the homeowner as a gift…charge a fee, and if so, how much? In this case the home has not been sold and is going to be re-listed by another Realtor.

It sounds to me like there’s been a falling out between the home seller and the agent that you did the shoot for but the home seller likes your photos and wants to use them for the new listing. You need you explain how photo licensing works. Not many home sellers understand. After explaining photo licensing to the home seller you could offer to license the photos to the homeowner. But I would get a signed licensing agreement and charge the same as you did the first agent. You would be licensing the homeowner to use the photos for use in selling the home whether it’s for sale by owner or by some other agent. Or if the homeowner claims to not want you use the photos to sell the property, give them to her but insist on signing an agreement that she won’t use them to sell the property. Or just give the photos to her if you don’t care about relicensing them to the next agent. It all depends on how bad you want a relicensing fee.

Licensing listing photos to homeowners only seems strange to those of us here in North America. But it’s very common in Australia and New Zealand and makes a lot of sense.

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21 Responses to “Home Seller Asks For Photographers Photos Of A Property That Is Not Sold”

  • This sounds like a can of worms that is ready to get knocked over. Over the years I have had to address this issue and to be honest it is a 50/50 split between no problems and a dealing with dirt bags.

    One, you are not dealing with an agent that has a reputation to protect. Two, you have to hand hold a amateur that does not know how to use a mouse, let alone download your images and use them. Three, why give them access to the images in the first place, tell them to let the new agent know your contact info if they wan to re-use your images for a fee.

    Bottom line, chances are that you are dealing with individuals that will cause you more grief than it is worth.

  • If the house is being relisted, I prefer to deal with the new realtor… issuing a new license to the new Realtor to use the images and I would charge the same price I would charge if it was a new shoot. If the Seller fired that realtor and hires another, and they want to use your images, then you charge again.

    I have also be contacted by the buyers of properties that Ive shot where they want to use the images for vacation rental/rental (this is huge in Palm Springs)… house was purchased furnished/turnkey… and I issue a license specifically for vacation rental/rental ONLY – I charge what I would charge if it’s a new shoot.

    Ive had some new clients say that if they have to pay full price that they should just have me reshoot it – I just let them know that I am booked one to three weeks out so if they can wait, I am fine with that too… they have always used the current images.

    I’ve also been contacted by the Sellers of properties that have been sold because they want the images for their own personal use – I send them a link to the photo tour for them to enjoy the images/memories…. charge them nothing.

  • This sounds like a great time for a little white lie. Tell the sellers that agent/broker/RE office has an exclusive on the images until the property sells and you can’t give them copies now, but they will be able to purchase (license) any images they would like after the home sells. Agents should know about licensing, but many don’t and homeowners are likely to be even less informed. The easiest thing to do is avoid getting into a situation where Agent A is replaced with Agent B and your images are being reused without permission. Keeping Agent A happy is much more important. It’s far easier to keep a client than to get a new one.

  • Since I switched delivery to Zenfolio, I give the Realtor the capability to share with the homeowner if they so elect. So they don’t have access/viewing to all the properties I’ve shot for their Realtor (my default for Realtors), I create a special gallery labeled “address-client” for direct access to only that gallery. As with Realtors, default download (full size only) is disabled and I created a pricelist, while $0 for pre-paid downloads, added cost options for prints, books, etc. They have to add to cart and go through checkout where there is a mandatory page presenting and accepting the license agreement. While it is similar to the Realtor license agreement, reiterating that the photographer retains the copyright, the body stipulates that these are for personal, archival use only, and explicitly prohibits commercial usage. While Realtors could still be emailing them the photos “for review” as I hear positive feedback that homeowners loved them, I have only had one notification of a client download. The downside of Zenfolio is that the shopping cart download is not as fluid as could be – in fact, somewhat convoluted – but it works.

  • Maybe it’s different in Australia as things can differ from agent to agent. Some agents pay for the photos out of their own pocket and get it back from the commission of sale (risky if they lose the listing) but most of the time it’s the owner who pays up front with marketing fees.
    In the case where the owner has paid for marketing I always think the photos belong to them more. I always check with the old agent to see if they mind me giving them to the owner. I doubt I’ll get much future business with the owner but I will definitely hurt my income stream if I put the old agent’s nose out of joint.
    If they do give their blessing, which most do, they are very grateful that I have sought their permission first which increases their trust and loyalty to my business. It is also a great opportunity to capture more business with the new agent. I always ask the owner to give me the details of the new agent and then send the photos directly to them along with a good rundown of my services and prices. It’s great free exposure to my work.
    I have gained quite a bit of business this way. It doesn’t cost me anything to send them. I’ve already been paid for the job so I figure why not spread some good will and improve my company’s image rather than demand a few extra dollars before I let them use the images.

  • I am confused. My “Terms of service” includes an “Exclusive license” to the person “Paying Me Money”. The only person who can make decisions on those photos is the person who “Paid” for them. I have no plans to change.

  • Tom, over 90% of the photographers I know retain all rights to the images and only give lic to use while they have the listing. Why you would give up those rights? The area images alone are something that can be re used over and over again with other realtors in the same area.

    Your call, but I would look into how you are dealing with this issue

  • As for the OP…what to do is simple: Say “YES” — and the cost for the homeowner to license the photos, with rights to extend that license to multiple real estate agents, will be $XXX (insert some multiple of your regular ‘real estate agent’ fee).

    @Ken Brown — I think it’s a terrible idea to start telling lies to cover some aspect of your business that you’re uncomfortable with. If you can’t look people in the eye and be straightforward about what you’re doing…you shouldn’t be doing it. Just tell the truth, anything else ultimately comes back to bite you!

    @Tom — you don’t make clear what it is that’s confusing you.

  • This is very simple to deal with when I have the same request. If the home owner wants the photos for posterity I email them the images free of charge making it clear that they can’t be used commercially. Of course you need to find out why they want the images beforehand. If they want to be able to use them for selling/renting the property then I charge them double what I would normally charge an agent, and this allows them to use the images with however many agents they like.

  • I just re-sell them to the home owner, but with the stipulation that they can use them if they go for-sale-by-owner, but that if the open is listed by an agent, that agent will have to purchase them yet again. They aren’t buying the pics, they are buying a license to use them.

  • I’m with Patrick and Scott on this one.

    In addition, on shoots where the commissioning realtor ask for a set to be sent to the homeowner, only watermarked images are sent to ensure that they are handed-over to a different realtor down the line.

  • corr: to ensure that they are NOT handed-over to a different realtor down the line

  • I just had this happen. I shot a set stills and made a Walkinto 360 Virtual tour for a home. The listing agent lost the contract so I went over and gave the owners of the property all the links to the tour and copies of all the photos I had of their property. I thought about asking for a new fee but I knew they had photos they shot themselves… and to be honest, they were not really that bad. Mine of course were better and had my logo on them so I thought why not have my logo out there? his of course was probably a one time deal… in the future I will ask for a licensing fee.

  • @Scott, I’ve tried to explain licensing to lay people and most of the time, they don’t get it. The seller is unlikely to ever do business with me directly, none have in the last three years of shooting real estate, and it’s just easier and faster to tell the seller that the agent has an exclusive on the images until the home sells than it is to explain licensing and usage. I’m not uncomfortable about the subject, I’m trying to save myself a 20 minute fruitless discussion. I REALLY don’t want to get into a situation where the homeowner is replacing their current agent and gives the new agent the photos to save time and money. That sort of thing seems to happen often enough based on blog posts to be wary about it.

    My priority is to keep Agent A happy and calling me with work each week. You know how it is, you have to keep impressing your clients with good work, mess up just once and you can get dumped for somebody else.

    I’ve given a couple of photos to homeowners in the past that wanted them for no-charge, but always after the home sold. They only wanted one or two and asked nicely.

  • “…it’s just easier and faster to tell the seller that the agent has an exclusive on the images….”

    Well, setting aside the implications of going with “easier and faster” over “truth”, I don’t see how you’re better off. You’re telling homeowners that the images are effectively controlled by someone else, not you. How does that help? If they (the homeowners) are predisposed to ignore copyright, why would it matter who they perceive as being the “owner” of the photos? They’re just as likely to cheat the guy who DIDN’T sell their house as they are you. Maybe even more likely.

  • Agree with George. If the homeowner wants images for their personal use, as a keepsake, I provide a set of watermarked low-resolution images for that purpose, for the realtor to give to their client. If the homeowner wants prints, I will sell them individual prints or a create a photobook/album. Sometimes real estate agents purchase photo books from me to give to clients as a gift at closing.

  • Very helpful discussion.
    I don’t shoot for real estate listings, I shoot for architects/home construction firms.
    However, I had said to them they can supply the images to the home-owners for their personal use or owner-as-seller. If estate agents will be selling the house on their behalf in the future, then they need to contact me re licensing the images.
    I do this to help my architect client persuade their home-owner client to give us access to shoot!
    Perhaps I should be more strict re selling images to the home-owners..? As people list places on AirBnB etc, perhaps I should be charging?
    I had figured we should be grateful for access and my architect-client is paying me well for the photos anyway.
    I do always emphasise I retain copyright.

  • I have had this come up before and to protect my relationship with the agent who uses me for all of their listings, I choose not to resell the same photos they hired me to take to the next agent or homeowner. The agents feel they paid for my services out of their own pocket and don’t believe it’s fair when the homeowner can just buy the same photos from me and move on to another agent. The way I work around it is by reshooting for the homeowner or new agent if they want to use my photos. It saves us all headaches later over copyright and I retain my relationships with agents who have a hard time understanding the copyright laws.

  • Scott – sorry not very clear. what I’m confused about is how you sell images to an agent and then say they don’t own the images, that is my confusion. I don’t loan images while they have the listing.

    Jerry Miller. One of my top agents is spreading the “BAD” word about a photographer that took what She called “Her Good Money” for images and then sold them again to another agent. Her average shoot is 4,000 sq ft, @ $ 350. She will Bad Mouth this photographer forever, while touting our B&W policy. These agents can ruin a business is a Micro market such as mine. Tom

  • Tom, if you were right I’d agree with you! But as I suspect you already know, few photographers actually “sell” their images. Selling a client an image is not in the client’s best interest because it would be prohibitively expensive. It’s frankly dumb for a client to want it, and it’s irresponsible for a photographer to insist on it. Clients have the excuse of being un-informed…photographers have no such defense!

    Instead, photographers license their work, while retaining ownership of it. This is exactly what Hertz Rental does with cars. I can get the use of a car, for a specific amount of time, without having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars. I’ve never yet encountered a client who really needed to own the photographs. As much as I love (and sometimes hate!) my own photos, I don’t pretend that they’re going to be particularly useful to a real estate agent in 5 years’ time. So why would I insist that they pay me for that long of a “rental period”? That would be really negligent on my part, and really foolish on their part.

    You don’t sell YOUR images, either. In your comment above, you stated that you issue an “Exclusive license” to your client, which is certainly your prerogative. It’s hard to understand exactly how exclusivity serves your real estate clients’ needs, though. Why would they need exclusivity? What harm is done to them if the builder also wants to put the same photos on his/her website?
    It also contradicts the language on your own website, which states that you issue NON-exclusive licenses. Non-exclusive makes much more sense for your clients, and for you.

    So to address your confusion, I don’t sell them something and then say they don’t own it. Instead, in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of money, I license them to use the photos under terms that they find acceptable. They don’t own it, they know they don’t own it, they don’t even want to own it — because the price for owning it would be way, way WAY higher than the price for just “renting” it for a limited time. Owning is almost always more expensive than renting. My clients know this.

    So, my clients are getting EXACTLY what they pay me for, sometimes a little more, but never any less.

  • Thank you Scott for your time & comments. The “Non Exclusive” in terms is to protect how the Client uses their images, I still have a “Say” in that. I admire your work.

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