What Happens As You Raise Your Real Estate Photography Shoot Price?

August 2nd, 2015

TieredPricingPierre in LA asked the following question:

I was wondering what you and others think about the idea of tiered pricing. I’ve seen other photographers offer their own service at a premium and have cheaper prices for staff photographers. My idea is a little different in that I am thinking of offering a premium-priced service for luxury homes and a more affordable service for everyday homes (which are my bread and butter) Similar to Coldwell Banker vs Coldwell Banker Previews or Toyota vs Lexus…

I think in the LA market where I work, the demand for a distinct premium offering is really there, but I feel there is a danger of not participating in that segment if my prices are too affordable.

The question becomes, how to brand each offering in a way that would justify the premium pricing for Luxury homes while not cheapening the everyday home photography.

Sounds to me like you are uneasy about raising your price. Peggy in Tampa, FL and others have demonstrated that if you provide solid quality and great customer service, just raising your price will bring in more work and increase your bottom line. Sure you should have tiered pricing based on square footage other things offered with the shoot like tours etc but just raise your price as you improve your quality and customer service, don’t worry about losing low-end customers. You’ll be much better off if you shoot for the top 10% of listing agents rather than the lower 90%. Keep working in that direction and don’t worry that some listing agents that can’t afford your services and find someone cheaper! That’s exactly the result you want as you build a successful business.

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25 Responses to “What Happens As You Raise Your Real Estate Photography Shoot Price?”

  • I think I understand what Pierre is saying with respect to providing a better quality of work for a higher price tier much like the Toyota and Lexus brands. I think the idea is good, but much like people who go to the Toyota dealership expect to purchase a Toyota, you may create some confusion when you offer Lexus pricing to someone who doesn’t understand the difference. I’d be interested to know how it all works out.

    I’m with Larry in that I want to be known for the work that I do. If the quality of my work and associated pricing exceeds a certain segment of the market, then I only work in the upper end market.

  • Most customers opt for the lowest priced package so make sure that you have set it up to make money and always work to upsell that package with addons like additional images, twilight photos, etc. When you start filling your calendar with your lowest tier package it’s time to raise your price. You will lose the agents on the bottom end, but if you’ve chosen the right time and price increase, you should be making at least the same amount of money doing fewer jobs while opening up your calendar for more commissions at the higher price. Advertise a custom photo package tailored individually for more expensive estates on your web site without defining a number of images to be delivered or a price. There isn’t a good way to build a generic deluxe level of service.

    Some photographers keep working towards a completely automated job scheduling system where customers can login to the photographer’s website, choose an available appointment time and the photo package all without communicating with the photographer at all. This is a huge mistake. By speaking with the agent, you can find out if the property is on the higher end of the market where it might have a more generous marketing budget. A service company is built on relationships and trust. If you go for a robotic solution, you won’t make good connections. You also can’t prod agents to try you out on their top end listings if they are using somebody else already.

    Your Estate tier might include a pre-shoot meeting at the property to build a shot list and to get an idea of the best time of day to photograph each room/exterior feature. Take a few snapshots to look at and formulate which composition works best and if you will need any additional lighting or an assistant to get the job done in a reasonable time frame. You will also be acting as a staging consultant and make specific recommendations to prepare the home for the photos or working with the interior designer to get a look that will work well in photographs. For a deluxe price, you have to provide deluxe service. Schedule your sessions in full day increments so you can spend the time to chase all of the details in each composition. It’s always best to get your images all in the camera, but the deluxe images are going to require more touch up in post. Fixing scratches in furniture, winkles in drapes and cloning out errant power cords are tasks that you can’t skip at the top end. When you pitch your deluxe service, you have to enumerate the differences between your standard session where you are working to achieve at least a certain hourly rate and the premium service where you are working towards a certain perfection. To get a toe hold in the higher end market, you are going to have to be “affordable” to a certain extent in the beginning. That could be 3X your lowest price tier per day or more since you might be spending one post production day for each shooting day depending on the job and your faculty with Photoshop/Lightroom.

    I think you are right that if you don’t charge enough, you won’t be taken seriously. You just can’t go too far the other way until you have a portfolio/C.V. to back you up. If you normally get $200 for a standard RE shoot and can do 2-3/day, $600-$750/day might be a good starting point for premium service (assuming the same usage/licensing and number of finished images for both packages and no additional materials or labor costs). I expect that is at the low end of what is commonplace, so pricing should be adjusted up as your portfolio builds.

  • I get your question and I have successfully established tiered pricing. I have three tiers and one anything goes negotiated pricing at the very top (seldom used but protects me).

    I establish them by a combination of number of images delivered (required) and listing price. I state anything up to price x will get up to xx images. Anything from price x to price xx will get up to xx images if required. Anything from price xx to xxx will get up to xx images if required. Anything above price xxx depending on the requirements on site my require additional charges.

    All images are taken the same way and processed the a high standard. I also limit my on site time in each tier. So if I have to spend more time because the home is not prepared or if the agent wants more images or if there are many more rooms then normal for the price range or of there are more extensive exteriors needed or requested I have that covered.

    In the end each of these ranges for the most part are dictated by size. Larger homes have more rooms, cost more and take more time on site.

    It works just fine for me. What I have found is that by using this approach I my area my realized hourly rates have risen and my client are happy. I have even picked up many new agents. They seem to understand when I say I’m just not shooting a million dollar home for the same price as a $200k home even if they say they only need xx images.

    You figure those price points based on your expected efforts and the value of the home spread in your area. LA is way different than Pittsburgh. It’s not that complicated and I set my rates after looking over all of my shoots and their final values. I guess I raised my pricing overall and they never noticed it.

    I think Ken Browns comments are right on about selling upgrades. Those real top end properties that may require a day on site and evening shots and meetings should require a high price tag. I figure those by a my own hourly rate (I know what I want) and accurate estimate of what time and expense it will take. That is an art in and of itself (accurate time estimation).

  • My problem is where I live the top 10% of the listing agents control the market and they are the ones who will not pay over $99 for any photos no matter the cost of the house or the size of it. How do I handle that?

  • I have never set a package price at all.

    I do not have a set price because all houses are different and if the agent feels I have a “rack” price then I feel I am perceived as a commodity photographer.
    In my earlier days I did start with package prices. What this did was set a price from which they felt they could wheedle down from.
    I cannot stand that attitude even though I know it is part of the world of business. I treat my clients well and work hard to deliver exceptional results irrespective of the property challenges. I expect them to respect the price I quote. I generally get zero pushback when I stick to my price and I don’t hate myself for shooting cheap.

    When starting it is always the first few jobs that are the hardest. Getting hired, getting the job done and asking for referrals.
    As for the $99 guys, I would look at the 11-12% tier and use your better photography as a competitive edge to start some noise. If the lower tier guys can start seeing better results from better presentations you have a better chance of getting a better price from the top guys.

  • Unfortunately, this is not an easy yes or no answer. Everything depends on your local, the market you serve and your competition. Setting prices is a balancing act. Your customer are going to want to a lower price and you want to be paid more. You will loss some customer when you raise prices, however if done right the price increase will more than compensate of the loss.

  • We faced the exact same circumstance in Myrtle Beach, 6 years ago. Your problem “and ours” was that “No One” knew what the the words “Professional” meant, they had never seen Pro, None of their photographers knew how to shoot Pro. Until “Y O U” add an “Obvious” new level of “Knock Out Photos, Tours, Zooms, Video Snippets, Bracketed Fusion, etc.etc. they currently have to judge Good, Better, & Best from their P&S and Cell Phone PHotos.

    You investment in Sweat, Investment DSLR – min +2/0/-2 brackets, exposure fusion, (computer ram – 16 gb) Wide Angle Lens, Sharp Normal Lens, elevated ladder tripod front views, people don’t know what your talking about, they must SEE IT, DIGEST IT, WOW IT, “LOOKS GREAT” IT, HOW DO YOU DO IT?, before they will be interested. Successful agents are not in the “take my money and show me category. They only buy “Value”, that means they decide if it is Value to their efforts.

    We offered “Proof of the Pudding” a stunning photography “Professional” Tour Package for “FREE” – One time only to a Top agent. Eventually to another Top Agent. Slowly, when they went to close a “Top” listing they paid us to do a Pro Shoot, we “Never” disappointed…. “Never” make it a learning experience for “Them”. Now agents use us for their difficult listings and “always” when selling their own properties!

    It was a Long, Sweaty, Frustrating, Joyous, Journey, establishing a Service no one knew existed. It is 100% “YOUR” responsibility to create the “Professional Look” of Pro RE services. Only then can expect agent phone calls to come to shoot their properties.

    No One is going to buy a service they have not seen, period. “Why Should They?”

    Just to add more confusion, FISBs are a target rich environment. Years ago I would have jumped on it.

  • @Jerry K, simple answer…..Move……just kidding:)

    The way I would handle your problem is attack from below. I mean, if the top 10% are controlling the market, they must be getting the larger more expensive properties and the smaller properties are going to the other 90%. If that holds water, than I would tier my rates so that the price point for the top 10% is where you want it to be (even though you say they will not pay) and then go after the 90% with your lower tier priced. Once your photos start showing up all over on the lower priced homes and agents notice that those are far superior than the top 10% photos, they will have to rethink who is taking their photos.

    Hard way to do it, but look at it as an investment to get started. Once there, you can raise your lower tier as you see fit.

    Just an idea

  • While I’ve only ever offered a premium service, I’ve recently acquired some equipment that might facilitate faster shooting and editing times, which might make it possible to offer a great quality economy version (I’m talking video here). Not sure yet. Editing is still where the time is, and I won’t offer something I can’t take pride in or have to make excuses for.

    Stills require a certain amount of time to get a quality product, whether you shoot them ‘right’ in camera, or try to make up the deficit via software, so for me, I can’t offer anything but a premium service on them. That said, are are shooting and editing workflows that keep things predictable, and that can help to keep costs to customers within reason… But NOT for $99. The very lowest price should be double that in even the most economically challenged areas. Unless, you’re delivering a set of snapshots, which I have seeing delivered by “professional RE photographers”.

  • I understand this issue. I’m currently underpriced (IMO) BUT my real problem is that my top office, who is responsible for about 65% of my work, gets a 15% discount that I’ve been doing for about thee years now. The owner there really is responsible for putting me where I’m at (recommending me to all the agents, bringing me to staff meetings, etc.) so it’s tough so raise your rates when THEY think that I’m already a tad high since we have a lot of guys running around shooting for $70-90 with “years of professional experience”. 15% doesn’t seem like a whole lot but when you take that 15% and multiple it by 200 listings a year, 65% of them coming from the same office… it’s a ton of money that I’m missing out on. Hopefully, sometime soon, going to figure out a way to offer the discount to only the top agents who use me regularly.

  • @Jerry M- Actually, the top 10% sell houses in all the price ranges, 100K and up. The #1 agent says she sell a house every 46 hours and is one of the top in the whole country. Nearly all her houses are in the 200 to 400K range because they sell much quicker than the million$ houses which takes a year or more. She has a team of something like 40 agents. The agency she works for sells 80% of the houses in my metro area and because of this, they basically set the price for RE photos.

    There are four agents I work for who do pay 50% more but they don’t average more than a half dozen houses each a year. The cheaper agents will not pay more than $50 or $60 for a listing.

  • I completely agree with Mark, and work much the same way.

    @ Jerry K,

    I would disagree that “the the agency has basically set the re photography pricing”. The fact of the matter is, that local photographers has allowed the agencies to dictate the $99 pricing by doing the work for that price. Let’s face it, if photographers stopped working for $99, the pricing would be whatever they charge for a job.

    I did however take a look at the market-controlling realtor you are talking about. Seems to me that she is the text book result of a real estate photography market gone terribly wrong.

    Currently she shows 65 listings ranging from $150k to almost $2 mil. Just about every listing has 60+ images, some have 100 shots! At $99 that would be less than a buck a shot! Really?
    Given the quality of most of the listing shots, I think I’m safe to say that she is not a regular client of yours Jerry. Clearly she could not care less about the value of photography, nor the photographer.

    No doubt, as a realtor, she is very successful and is making lots of money, so it’s not about whether she can afford to pay more than a dollar an image, she hasn’t had to.

    I don’t know if she can be educated as to what good photography looks like, and why she (being #1), should showcase the best photography possible, as part of her brand. It’s not about the fact that “her houses sell so fast that they don’t need good photography”. It’s about what the images say about her as a brand. Believe me, she cares about herself, and her brand, even to the point that she doesn’t even talk about her brokerage affiliation.

    Personally, I would take her out to lunch and talk about how I could help her with brand building, service, consistent image quality, and the perception of excellence in every facet of her business. After all, that is what she trumpets on her website. If she still doesn’t think “her photographer” is entitled to a living, I would go to her closest competitor and offer the same. It’s been my experience, that is always somebody who want to dethrone the reining queen, and are willing to go the extra mile, and invest in getting there.

    Jerry is unfortunate enough to live in the Albuquerque real estate photography market has been destroyed by local low-ball photographers that chose to compete on price, as opposed to quality and service. In that race to the bottom, the only person that won, was the person that needed a price break the least, the most successful realtor in town. Think about it, the top realtor in the market thinks that a-buck-a-shot – delivered, is what professional photos should cost. How did it all happen? I would image that somebody decided that they should offer $99 re photography. Somebody else followed and that became the norm. I think it’s likely that those persons are long gone since they couldn’t really make a living. Meanwhile, that is still perceived as the bench mark. It will take time and real effort by local photographers to reset that market enough for guys like Jerry to be able to make a decent living again. Fortunately, I think Jerry shoots other things than only RE, so hopefully there is additional earning elsewhere

    To all the “new” RE photographers out there, let this be a tale of caution. Drop your drawers, and you will soon be walking around without pants. It’s a recipe for failure. Being the low price leader will only last as long as nobody decides to do the same, and they will. There is always somebody.

    So what do you do when a low-baller comes into your market? I’d hold the line, offer better service, better work and nourish my relationships. Sooner or later, the low-baller will wake up and realize how he/she hasn’t made any money and decide to raise their prices, or they simply go away. Meantime, have they caused damage to the market, you bet, but because I charge enough for my services, I have enough of a war-chest, that I can easily wait them out, and have, many times in my own market over the last 15 years or so.

    my 2 cents

  • @George, Jerry K,

    The market in Alb sounds nasty and it’s going to take time and dedication to work a RE photo business into something that will turn a reasonable profit. Somebody has to be gunning for this agent’s $Mil+ listings. The plan might be to hook up with a competing agent on some more expensive properties and do a split on fees where you get some up front and the balance on closing for a few listings to get things going. I’m against getting paid at closing as a common practice, but it might be a tactic to consider in this battle. Hopefully, sellers with more expensive homes to sell will see the listings with your superior photos and call the agent. I know I’d be angry with an agent using cheap pictures to market my $2mil home (if I had one) if there was the option to hire a better photographer.

    A former roommate of mine put a million dollar California home on the market and the agent brought in a photographer that specialized in clown vomit imagery. She didn’t receive any offers and there were only 2 showings in 6 months. The home was priced right in the middle of recent comps and was nicely furnished and super clean. She gave up trying to sell and found a surgeon to rent the home. Maybe next time she’ll pay me my expenses to spend a whole day making images that would do the place justice. I’d do it for free, but it’s 200 miles away and I’d be spending a couple of days on doing the job.

    There are a couple of agents in my area that seem to work off of momentum. Their photos look bad and they inkjet print flyers from the MLS info template which also looks like cr@p. They don’t bother to write a description that is descriptive. By some sort of luck, they’ve worked themselves to a position where they have historically sold the most homes year over year in the area and get more contracts based on that.

  • @George and Ken,

    Thank you for your comments! The main snapper for this company is the son of one of the owners. He’s about 6 foot 6, flash on top the hand held camera and runs room to room. He averages 10 houses a day and his two prices are 69 and 99. He’s been doing this for 15 years and at this rate he may making $700 to $1000 a day. The agency does have other snappers besides him and I’ve been told they work for the same pay. The top agent has a team of 3 or 4 snappers that do the same basic pay. The agency will not raise what they pay and consequently this filters down to nearly all the other agencies in town.

    As for taking this top agent out to lunch, she has at least three people to keep people like me from contacting here. But once I did call her cell photo and she said all bubbly, “I don’t sell homes, I buy them!” Then she hung up. I guess all the others on her team do the selling.

  • It may not happen often, but It “Has Happened”. Some one in our business comes along and offers an “RE Home Marketing Package” that is sooo Pro, sooo Good, that it proves there is currently no local business service able to compete with the Superior Marketing Package. In that case the “Super Pro” who makes the “Top” Agents money gets the gold plated business.

    This only works for those who deliver services “Unmatched” by Anyone in the area. It really can happen! i.e. $ 400,000 sale. Selling commission = $ 12,000. These Agents Thank You while writing you a $400 check.

  • Jerry Kelley,

    In your situation, I don’t think I would bother at all with the top agent. I would concentrate on the agents who most want to compete with her.

  • Wow, she sounds like a charmer, Jerry!

    I’m with David.

  • Can anyone tell me what a FISB is?

    “Just to add more confusion, FISBs are a target rich environment. Years ago I would have jumped on it.”

  • Whoever it was, mis-wrote it. They meant, “FSBO” which stands for “For Sale By Owner”.

    Most people agree that it’s kind of pointless to target homeowners who aren’t using real estate agents. First and probably most importantly, there’s ZERO chance of repeat business, and given that real estate photography is a volume-based business model (for most), repeat business is extremely important.
    Second, even with a real estate agent, there’s a lot of hand-holding involved with doing the first shoot. How does it all work? How much do you charge? What will they be getting? What’s all this about Usage Licenses? How do I download the images? What’s a “JPEG”? Etc. etc. etc.
    Working with homeowners, EVERY SHOOT is the first shoot, meaning you’ll have to go through all that crap and more…for one fee. Fugedaboutit!
    Lastly, it’s really hard to market to homeowners, because how do you figure out which one of the several hundred thousand homeownesr in your service area is really about to sell their house? You’d have to find a way to get your promo in front of ALL of them! At least targeting real estate agents narrows your destination for postcards and emails and phone calls and handshakes down to a few thousand, probably more like a few hundred.

  • @Scott

    Thanks.

    I’ve been thinking for awhile now about how to form a consortium of photographers to share expenses. One of those expenses would be to market to homeowners. I think radio ads would work depending on how many photographers could/would share the cost. The ads wouldn’t be targeted toward FSBOs. Instead it would be a way to get them to have their agent use the services offered by the consortium.

  • There are several problems with FSBO sellers:

    1. They typically don’t like to spend money, which is why they are not using a realtor, so I don’t see them spending real $ on quality photography.
    2. Because they are not using a realtor, THEY HAVE NO ACCESS TO MLS (or most of the syndicated sites), so they are a bit limited in their need for images.
    3. Sure, they could build a website etc, but I think it’s tough sell with a lot of hand-holding and work for little return.

    I’m with Scott all the way on this one. Work with clients that keep coming back. People that you only need to “train” once 🙂

  • ” Because they are not using a realtor, THEY HAVE NO ACCESS TO MLS (or most of the syndicated sites), so they are a bit limited in their need for images.”

    Actually George, that’s not true.

    From the FSBO website

    “For Sale By Owner (FSBO) property owners can now reduce the fees paid when marketing their property through a real estate broker by using our Flat Fee MLS program. List your property on the Multiple Listing Service for an upfront flat fee of $349.95 plus the buyer’s broker commission which is paid at closing.”

  • Drum Roll Please….. Thank God I was here to tell you – The definition of a FISB is “Stupid” mistake by a lazy “Old Man”, “You” must have better things to do..

  • @Tom

    I’ve been thinking for awhile now about how to form a consortium of photographers to share expenses. One of those expenses would be to market to homeowners. I think radio ads would work depending on how many photographers could/would share the cost. The ads wouldn’t be targeted toward FSBOs. Instead it would be a way to get them to have their agent use the services offered by the consortium.

    Sorry about the link, I just grabbed something so I could post.

  • She won’t spend more until she sees another agency with better pics taking away clientele. I’d say hook up with one or more agencies who aren’t in that top 10 percent and work from there.

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