How Do You Build A Credible Portfolio Of Real Estate Work When You Are Getting Started?

July 16th, 2015

ProtfolioRenee asked the following:

…perhaps the biggest issue for me starting out is having a body of work in credible interiors on my website. I’ve picked up some commercial work, but it has not been enough and isn’t going to draw in realtors who have residential work. I read a kindle book whose author had a website which offered jobs for photographers for real estate photography and I found another online. Are these legit ways to get started? I’m doing the usual thing – sending out glossy large postcards to realtors, architects, builders and interior designers, but if I get a hit, I’ll be lucky. Also, I moved from Los Angeles to the boondocks of central NY where I see a lot of websites which look like they need good photography, but again, if there is no convincing them with a lack of content on my site… how can I build a portfolio”

This is a classic problem for real estate photographers getting started. How to build a portfolio of work? Yes, you need a good looking portfolio and you preferably want some images of upper-end homes. There are two approaches that work pretty well:

  1. Find a new home neighborhood. These neighborhoods always have model homes that are professionally staged and no one is living there… just what you want. Go in and talk to the site agent (the agent(s) that hang out at the office near the model homes) and tell them you’d like to shoot their model home for your portfolio. Offer to give them a set of photos for free if they want. Usually, they will let you shoot their model homes unless it is extremely busy.
  2. Find some upper-end listing agents in your area either on local broker sites or just drive through some upper-end areas and look at agent names and phone numbers on for sale signs. Contact the listing agent and tell them you are building your portfolio and you’ll do some free shoots for them if they will let you shoot one or more of their listings.

These two approaches work pretty well… these are better than shooting for some company because you can control what kind of homes you shoot and there won’t be an argument about your rights to the photos. You want upper-end homes. Top of the market so your portfolio looks successful!

Anyone else have some tricks for building your portfolio?

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16 Responses to “How Do You Build A Credible Portfolio Of Real Estate Work When You Are Getting Started?”

  • Renee:

    Recipe to jump start your business and build your portfolio:
    1. Ipad with your portfolio photos. No smart phones….you need an IPAD with your photos already loaded and ready for show time.
    2. All your gear packed up in your car
    3. Full tank of gas in your car
    4. Your business cards/flyers whatever – a ton of them. Make sure your price structure is on these flyers
    5. Dress comfortably and sharp, but not your “Sunday best.” Make sure your personal hygiene is slick. No over-powering cologne or perfume. If you wear patent leather shoes, for God’s sakes have them professional shined and polished.
    6. Car GPS
    7. Read Dale Carnegie’s book: “how to win friends and influence people.”

    Hit RE open houses – typically every Sunday. Find agents on realtor.com whose photos could be improved. Also, try and find the “heavy-hitter” agents too. Odds are, heavy hitter agents may have their own photographer, but you never know if the agent may like your chops or your services are better. Don’t forget the small players too. Smile when meeting the agent at Open Houses. Be carefully with the heavy hitter agents too…you are poaching on another photographer who busted his bum to land the big one. So, be respectful too for your competitor.

    Be the 1st person at every open house if possible or if the place is busy, find a quick 30 second window to give your “elevator pitch” to the agent. Your first opening line should be your name and tell them immediately you are a professional real estate photographer. Hand them your business card. Agents at open houses are always getting pitched by mortgage brokers, so telling the agent you are an RE photographer usually disarms the agent and puts them at ease. Did I mention smile? I’m a bit witty so I always have some sharp cheezy one-liner to disarm the agent. For example, I might say something like….”I was told there would be wine and cheese here, I’m hungry and thirsty!” and the house be a pisser of a house. LOL. Catch the agent off guard. Be creative and find your own cheezy one-liner. Just anything to disarm the agent. Also, I always take off my shoes and park them at the entrance door, regardless if the agent tells me to keep them on. 1st impression. Agent will think you do this at every photo shoot and appreciates the gesture. Did I say smile?

    Show the agent your photos on your IPAD, tell them how good you are, your prices, what makes you better than the guy next door. For those open houses you attend whose realtor.com photos are lame, tell the agent you will do a few photos for them at no charge and if they like your work, post them. This is why you need to pack your gear and have it at the ready. I sometimes tell the agent I will do a free photo shoot for them on another day. Anyway, open houses are typically staged already and just do a quick family room/kitchen shot or two. Maybe a bedroom/bath. This is the actor’s casting couch. This is your one and only time to prove your stripes. This is the one and only time to crack into this business and get new clients. You are auditioning for the lead role, so you better bring your A-game on. You better be quick too. Did I say smile?

    Repeat, lather and rinse the above at every open house. Try and hit as many open houses every Sunday to eternity. Not only are you trying to gain new clients and build your portfolio, frankly, you may be poaching too. Once you get your business going, there’s going to be another photographer at your heels doing the same thing. So, you win some and lose some. This is why you do this sketch ’till eternity. You never know if you will be poached. Anyway, like fishing, try and be respectable of the competitors. Don’t fish in their fishing hole…well maybe just cast your line in the general direction. Not all agents in a big office will use “JANE DOE PHOTOGRAY” So, there may be some room for you too. But be smart about it. Don’t bash other photographer’s work. Even if they suck. Yea, they give the good guys a bad name, but behaving professionally speaks volumes to your character and ethic. Come up with a lame excuse about why the other’s work is sloppy. Tell the agent something like “I just photograph differently.” Smile.

    This is my recipe and you may vary on this method or not like it at all. It will take many, many Sunday open houses before you land one or two shoots, but eventually you will peek the curiosity of an agent who will try you. And when you do get that one agent, deliver the goods and go way beyond in your service. Remember, the only way for you to be outstanding in what you do is that you have to 1st stand out. Give it a whirl and report back to the forum. I’m certain readers will be curious.

  • Renee, All of this is Super Advice. Follow through with these ideas and you will have your “Much Needed” portfolio.

    Plan on a Website in the near future, your not in Business without a Website…

    Tom

  • I’d like to comment, since I’m in a similar process right now.

    Do not give your photos for free, because you will never do business with that person again, and most likely with any of their acquaintances.

    Instead, “you will gladly share the images with them”. And if people look puzzled, I mention that “basically, I’m trading images for access” then people understand and many of them approve.

    Syv

  • Rob gave some very comprehensive and excellent advice. I’m new to real estate photography myself, and I’d add a few more ideas (that you may already have thought of):

    — Ask friends if you can photograph their homes for your portfolio, and publish those images on your Web site. This will give you practice, as well as demonstrate your capabilities.
    — Since you have moved, contact your agent to see if he/she would like to use your services or will introduce you to other agents. This approach worked well for me, and gave me personal access to other agents. I gave free services for three shoots in exchange for further building my portfolio, getting more experience, AND learning about how their business works, especially in terms of the MLS and how they use images to market properties.
    — Ask the managers of local real estate offices if you can make a presentation to agents about the benefits of real real estate photography and your services. This also worked well for me and brought in new business which became repeat business.

    Be persistent. It takes quite a while to build up your business, especially in some markets. Good luck.

  • I got my very first portfolio images by contacting people on vacation rental sites like HomeAway.com and VRBO.com who had crappy pictures. A couple free shoots and off I went with a few portfolio images.

    The best part about shooting vacation rentals is that they’re already clean and staged. If you offer a free shoot to a realtor, they’re likely to send you to their worst listing ever because that’s the only way they’d risk using an unknown photographer, even for free.

    For you newbies: SAVE YOUR FIRST SHOOT. If you’re like me, you’ll look back on those images a year from now and wonder how you ever sucked so bad at interiors. And two years from now, you’ll look back at next year’s photos and wonder the same thing. As long as you keep having that annual “wow, I used to suck at this” feeling, it means you’re only getting better!

  • The very first home I photographed was for the property management company that managed the house I was renting. I had a good relationship with her and she just handed me the keys to a vacant home and told me to knock myself out. I photographed two more from her and in all three cases, I gave her the images to use as a thank you. She wasn’t ever going to pay to have properties photographed, but it gave me access to three homes and no time limits. If you have purchased your home, call your agent and see if they will allow you to photograph one or two of their listings. I suggest sending them an invoice with a 100% discount and standard licensing text so they know what it will cost to photograph more homes. Or, you can just send them your licensing terms and verbally tell them what you would charge for a similar property. Be picky and ask for nicer homes. A TBSH (two bedroom S**# hole) isn’t going to do you any good.

    It’s takes lots of practice to figure out how to cope with things like very dark decor or walls painted with bright colors. I don’t like to suggest working for free. You don’t want agents to get the idea that you are happy not getting paid or charging less than minimum wage. I do encourage spending the time when you have it available at a home to do some experimentation with different techniques and compositions.

  • I had good luck going to new models during the week when there was little traffic. Agents let me spend hours photographing. The models are usually staged well to.

  • I’m like Jeff – When I wanted to build a portfolio I didn’t want to devalue myself by offering agents in the area photos for free as I eventually hoped to work for them. Instead I looked up all the holiday homes for rent in my area. It is incredible just how many of those don’t have images already – also they are generally high end properties with beautiful features, kitchens and views. I sent an email through their standard booking form as I couldn’t find another way to contact the owners. I sent out about 7 enquiries and received 2 replies from people. One was from the rental agent who managed the property – she passed my request to shoot the property onto the owner who was more than happy to let me shoot the place. The other was from an owner directly who also was interested in hearing from me. I ended up being able to shoot both properties (One was a small apartment that overlooked the water) and the other was a 20 room mansion in the Whitsundays. Both owners appreciated having professional photography done and I was able to put together a great portfolio to approach local agents with. These properties and agents were well outside of my normal area (3 hours away) and didn’t do sales so were agents I would not generally come across again. It seemed like a win-win to me.

  • @Naomi and all – Photographing rentals is OK but the reason I suggested free shoots for upper-end agents is that 1) you really would like to have knock-out upper-end photos and 2) when you are just starting out you are not likely going to shoot well enough to provide the work these upper-end agents are likely to want. You are going to need to work up to the level they are used to. If you do it for free and they don’t like the work, then they can have their regular photographer do it and nothing is lost except their time.

    Rental are just average digs you want dazzling upper-end digs!

  • Renee,
    I started my real estate business 3 months ago. So far, I’ve been getting about 6 to 8 homes per month. I need 30 or more. I’m finding that my original estimate of 150 agents will not be enough. This is why Rob’s advise is correct in terms of what to do when your not shooting. Where I disagree with him is charging for your work in the beginning. I did 4 homes for nothing. The shots went to my website. I also sent out a lot of e-mail to agents with the shots I took. One day I got a call for an agent that needed me that same day. I did the home and she gave me $50.00 for being available. That 50 bucks paid for my I-Page account.
    It goes without saying that you should have a good Photo processing application. I chose Capture One since I have an A6000 Sony. The software came with the camera and I paid $50.00 to upgrade it to the pro version. I refuse to cave to Adobe’s greed and get sucked into monthly payments for software that really doesn’t improve all the much every year. Photo Matix is also worth considering at $99.00 for very good HDR software.

    So to sum up, Do some homes for nothing and create your website with processed shots from those homes. Create a flyer with those shots and use e-mail and to send them to real estate offices. Target who gets them by first visiting the offices and introducing yourself and get the card of the person who runs the office. Do drip marketing to that person. I’m looking in to Google + for business as a back up to my website. It’s just one more thing to get your name out there and helps get your website noticed quicker on Google.

    Hope this helps in some small way.
    Best regards Pete Malan / Malan Images.

  • I suggest doing what I did in the beginning
    1. hitting Open Houses galore!!! (with your info/card/flyer)
    2. join your local realtor association
    3. look on redfin/trulia/zillow for the crappiest photos you’ve ever seen, get the agent name and office info on the bottom of the screen, go to that address, take your own front shot images and send an email to the agent of their BEFORE and your AFTER. Once they see how bad theirs looks… they’ll hire you!
    4. offer a First Time Client Discount and impress the heck out of them!
    5. Under Promise, Over Deliver!
    6. Get a website up/slideshow, anything to showcase your work in case anyone at a moment’s notice asks.
    7. Go to an affluent area in your community, take stellar front shots and community shots… or even ask friends and family who you know have a decent house to practice on and give them images for free.

    So many ideas! They all work but they all take time and effort too. Good Luck! 🙂

  • Warning about open houses: Be careful here and don’t just assume that the agent holding the open house is the listing agent. Many top listing agents don’t hold their listings open themselves because open houses attract buyers and many top listing agents specialize in working with sellers only. A very common thing for a listing agent is to have one of the buyers agents in your office hold open your listing. So verify who you are talking to… don’t waste your time meeting and marketing buyers agents because they don’t need your services!

  • I’m having a difficult time finding out who the listing agents are. Some websites only have a fill-in box to contact the office and you can’t get any of the agents email address’s or any other relevant info? Is there an easy way to find open houses and who exactly is the listing agents? I’ve put together a website and have price lists, service lists, pre-shoot checklists. Another thing, do you think I need a post card to hand out? Any and all info is greatly appreciated.

  • @David – you find out who the listing agent is by going to the broker’s sites in your area. Yes, you need a glossy, professional looking post card or flyer to hand to people when you talk to them that has your contact info, website and some of your very best images.

  • @David: I always go to realtor.com. Rarely do I go to the broker’s website, but Larry is correct. Broker’s sites tell you who the listing agent is.

    For Realtor.com, I scroll down to the bottom of the page and 9 out of 10 times, the listing broker and agency name is posted.

    Post card is a great move, but I still would print up business cards. One-sided or two, I don’t think it matters. Just have some business cards on hand. Anyway, I went to Staples website and used one of their stock templates and printed information on the front and back of the card. I think my post card was a 5 x 7. I submitted everything on-line, but I quickly drove down to my Staple shop and asked to see a “proof” to make sure I got everything correct – font size, script, spelling, spacing, price, images etc. I also spoke with the printing person in charge and asked if there were any “deals” or “specials” that can be had. For example, buy 500 and get another 500 75% off or something. Sometimes I scored, even if there were no sales happening. So, I’ve got tons of my 5 x 7s printed up because cost per card was wicked cheap and it just made sense to buy in bulk. Same idea for bulk buying on business card.

  • @David Gould, along with Robert’s suggestion of looking at Realtor.com, go to Trulia.com and Zillow.com too. Sign up to receive emails for new listings in your area and you will be able to find links to agent’s email addresses. Some offices have a directory that includes email addresses and some don’t. There is a large office where I am that seems to go to great lengths to hide agent’s email addy’s. I always prioritize visiting those agents on weekends when they are holding open houses. Lot’s of times there will be cards from many agents on the counter at these open houses and you can quickly scoop up several that have email addresses and individual web site addresses too.

    To find open houses, sign up with Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com to receive open house listings in your area. Some MLS’s will have a listing available to non-members on their web site. The listing agent will be on the notice, but much of the time in my area, there is another agent babysitting the open house. Never fear, the agent’s you find there are perfectly valid to market to. Some of them might be just starting out or are making a few dollars and using the opportunity to meet neighbors that might be considering selling their homes.

    Many agents will have their own web site so you will want to do a quick search if you see that they move lots of property. When you identify a busy agent, be sure to put them on your marketing list with as much information as you can find for them even if there isn’t an email address. Every so often, go through your list and try to find the missing information on them.

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