What Are Important Considerations When Bidding On A Large Real Estate Shoot?

October 14th, 2015

150unitshootAllison recently posed the following question:

I’m bidding on a photography job for a management company that manages 150+ properties and needs them all re-shot within the next couple of months. Does anyone have experience with this type of opportunity and if so what special terms and conditions did you specify? Should I bill them for the entire job up front or ask for a deposit? The other option would be to bill them in intervals. Are there any other considerations that you may be able to offer?

First there’s a lot about this potential contract that we don’t know. Here are some immediate questions that come to mind:

  1. How are these 150+ properties distributed geographically? Are you going to incur travel expenses over the 2 months? This is could be a huge factor! They should be paying your travel expenses weekly and perhaps up front depending how much you trust them. I would charge for actual travel expenses instead of trying to guess what they are going to be and loose money.
  2. Do you have an established RE photography business that this is going to interfere with? If so you will have to hire additional people to deal with this potential job. If you have to hire people or make any investments to carry out this job I’d ask for money up front to cover your investment.
  3. Do you have a business relationship with this company? Do you know them?  If the answer is no, you have to structure your business relationship with them so they can’t take advantage of you. The most common risk is them not paying you on time. At least structure you payments so you can determine if they are trustworthy without waiting for two months to find out they don’t pay their bills on time.

In addition here are some considerations that I’d think about:

  1. Real estate photographers that shoot all shoots for a real estate office typically give a 10 to 15% volume discount. I would not discount your shoot price more than 15% over your normal shoot price.
  2. Have you done a complete financial analysis of your current shoot price to make sure that you are making money on your regular shoots? Do you do all the things suggested in this post? If you haven’t, a contract like this could amplify any losses you are experiencing in your normal business operation.
  3. Unless you are in a vacation area, I would be skeptical of going out of your way to build a business relationship with rental management organization. Rentals don’t provide the regular repeatable business that real estate agents to. Shoot a rental and they don’t need you again for years. On the other hand, if you are in a vacation location specialization in rental properties could make sense.

Anyone out there done a large shoot like this? What advice would you give Allison?

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10 Responses to “What Are Important Considerations When Bidding On A Large Real Estate Shoot?”

  • I have shot for a large rental management company before, here is what I can suggest.

    Charge for Project Management… it’s a lot of planning.

    Charge for Canceled Shoots… things come up with tenets, getting access to properties, unknown schedule changes etc.

    Have the client verify the property is ready to shoot the day before you arrive.

    Manage the clients expectations. If you shooting three per day, they need to know only 1 will have a twilight “money shot”.

    A shared Google calendar really helps with keeping all parties clearly up to date on whats scheduled.

    They need you more then you need them… don’t bend over backwards for free.

    Charge for everything. Every little tweak, masking, file resize and crop adds up quickly. By charging, it will greatly reduce a lot of extra work and re-work… and if they insist, you have an even exchange.

    Do not give full rights to the images…

    Charge an up front fee and on weekly intervals for all that weeks work.

  • “…150+ properties and needs them all re-shot within the next couple of months.”

    Really? So 150 (+) divided by 60 days means shooting 2 and a half “properties” per day, EVERY day — no weekends, no days off, no travel days. And what constitutes a “property”, anyway? These are not likely to be single-family homes, they’re going to be highrises or worse, sprawling communities. Just getting around each location will take longer than you’re used to, if you’ve been shooting detached residential houses.

    I think maybe the facts are not all in place, here.

  • Alex and Scott point out very important considerations.

    Logistics and planning on something like this is going to be significant. Changes will be plentiful and you are bound to have days that simply crash. Do not forget the pressure of post production and delivery, based on such a mass of images that will need to be organized differently than when you send over images to a typical real estate shoot where the realtor know the property. These people will not, so images will need to be organized and id’d differently.

    Collecting a retainer is essential. Note that I say “retainer”, as opposed to a deposit. Deposits are refundable, retainers are not.

  • Agree with Alex, Scott and George.

    “Do not give full rights to the images….” This cannot be emphasized enough. Find out how they actually need to use the images (number and types of media, territory of use and period of use), not what they say they want, which might very well be “all rights” or something equivalent. They will be using the photos differently from the way real estate agents typically do, thus the licensing will work differently and the charge for the licensing will be different.

    A big question is what you will be shooting and how many photos will be needed. Are these rental apartment complexes, shopping centers, industrial properties, etc., and how many photos will be needed for each property? It is a very different matter to just shoot daytime exteriors of industrial properties, compared with shooting a large quantity of interior and exterior photos of rental apartment properties.

    As far as Larry’s comments, I would not price this in the same way as your standard real estate work, since the licensing and the type of client will be different, as I explained above, in which case there would be no “discount” specified in the bid. I would suggest bidding it in same way as any other commercial photography assignment: day rate or creative fee, plus production expenses, plus licensing/usage fee. As far as a retainer, I would suggest that it be large enough to cover all out-of-pocket expenses and at least some of your time, in case of cancellations.

  • I agree with all the above.
    Additional questions:
    Apartment complex, duplexes, single family homes?
    Quality of properties? High-end or low income?
    Size and number of rooms in each unit?
    Any unoccupied?
    Who is going to be doing clean up and staging before shoot?
    Are you providing a handout with occupant guidelines and suggestions so the occupants know what to expect?
    Will a property manager/assistant/agent be accompanying you to each property?? I would insist they do for security and liability sake.
    Are tenants going to be required to be present during the shoot? This could avoid any theft claims.
    Who is scheduling what units will be shot and when? Are you going to be able to do them systematically or are they going to have you running helter skelter?
    All units in one location or all over town?
    Any other amenities being photographed, like pools, club house, individual exteriors, vistas, architectural details, or life style items?
    How many twilight shots are going to be required.
    Are you going to need additional staff like a coordinator, edit tech or photographers assistant?
    Do you have adequate backup equipment or a source where you can get immediate repairs or replacements?
    Based on your manpower, what is going to be a “realistic” turn around time per a days shooting, including admin and editing?
    Clients have overly optimistic outlooks on how long a job will take and most times are flying by the seat of their pants not ever having done a job like this themselves. You are the authority here. I recommend being conservative in your output and if you get it done sooner you are a hero, being overly optimistic of what you can do, you could be the S.O.B. who did the job and be bad mouthed all over town. Conservatively, 2 shoots per day x 5 days per week = 10 properties per week. 150 properties/10 = 15 weeks.
    2 shoots per day?? Yah, consider rain days, working in other jobs, delays and re-shoots, no shows, and anything else you can think of that will delay you, like flat tires, equipment breakdown, missed work days due to illness, family or other emergencies etc, etc.. These things will happen over a several month period, so DON’T box yourself in to something you can’t do. It will be better to get done early with everything running smoothly than being a month late with problems popping up causing delays and you being the $%*@#. Remember, the more people involved in getting a job done, the more likelihood someone will throw a monkey wrench into the works.
    Payments. They will want you to invoice at the end of the job. DON’T get sucked into this!! Insist on a 30-50% deposit and weekly draws or the equivalent of two weeks advance as a deposit and weekly draws. Hey, 10 properties x $!50 = $1,500 per week. Also stipulate, NO PAY, NO WORK. Deliver your invoice on Wednesday or Thursdays, pickup your checks on Fridays 5pm, and if they don’t have it ready by Monday by 5pm latest, you pull off the job until you get your check. (Be sure to put this in writing in your agreement/contract) This is the only way you will be able to cover your cash flow needs and overhead costs. This also prevents major problems and minimizes financial loss if mid project the $%#^ hits the fan. Now, under a worst case, you could negotiate a delay of one week in getting a payment..BUT NO MORE! You will be using their deposit to cover this week delay. Don’t go for a second week and insist the payment must bring them current. If they ask for a second weeks delay, refuse as the job has likely gone south and they are not telling you but just trying to get as much out of you as they can. Watch for indicators. If they normally pay by check, then have a delay, then pay with a CC, they may be in a financial bind. Be prepared to walk!
    Good luck, be fair, but CYA.

  • Allison:

    I started a similar job some 6 years ago and it’s still going strong. However, I live in a resort community and this project does nightly vacation rentals. I know the owner of the rental management company. The project has 100 rental units in a number of clustered buildings. Drive time is almost zero. The units are a cluster of buldings all in one spot. There are only 2 floorplans. I have it down to a science – minimum equipment (but enought to handle anything I encounter). Usually takes me an hour or less to shoot and about the same processing time. Only 5 images of each unit. I gave them a good price. I’ve shot some of the units 3 or 4 times, as changes are made to the interiors. And I work them in when I don’t have higher paying jobs. I’m averaging $75/hour.

  • Thanks to all for your valuable input. Here’s more specific info based on Larry and Scott’s questions above.

    The management company I’m negotiating with also has a real estate sales division who I’ve worked with already. Most of the 150+ are condos with roughly 30% being single family homes all located in a vacation area in which I live. The person I’m working with will be grouping all shoots together per complex via a spreadsheet she’ll provide. There will only be 1 set of amenity photos per complex and 18 to 24 images per residence. I’m told these units / homes are currently empty but will begin filling up by December 1st. The goal is to have all shoots completed by December 1st but not 100% absolute.

    I’m still working on developing my client base so this venture could definitely slow my marketing down, I’ll have to pick back up when it’s completed. I don’t plan on putting any of my current contacts off while our base is still maturing however.

    My goal is to shoot at least 3 a day and edit in the evenings. If it gets too crazy I can maybe farm out my photo processing. Anyone have recommendations?

    My plan is to include a discount. I’ll include some detailed terms & conditions including a clause stating the client must provide a spreadsheet and logical grouping for efficiency. The client will be in charge of making sure the units are photo ready as well. I’m also requesting incremental payments at specified intervals of completion. I’ll be in charge as to how and when I approach each unit there will not be an agent at every shoot.

  • Congratulations Allison! With all the EXCELLENT detailed advice on here (wow, you guys are superstars!! I’m so glad to be part of this community!), I’m sure this will be a huge success for you! You can probably take a little vaycay after!

    Please check back in after you mission is accomplished and let us know how it went!

  • Allison, you state that these are mostly condos, 18 to 24 images might be overkill. Are these for sale, rental/lease, vacation rental? The word to remember is “highlight” and not “document”. 3 per day with processing is a heck of a pace. Scott’s right that you will be working straight through to get the job done in 2 months. As winter approaches, weather can be an issue causing you to have to alter your schedule and pick up certain photos on another day. Thanksgiving is going to put a spanner in the works.

    If you are going to give a discount, make it contingent on getting paid early and/or with a check/direct deposit as opposed to a credit card or online payment service that charges a fee.

    It sounds like a great opportunity. Just be sure you underpromise so you can overdeliver. You don’t want to fall behind on a very tight schedule and somebody asking why you don’t have it done when you said you would. Build in some cushion so you can have a cold or a dinner out with your husband or even have some time to play with the dogs. Go by a local college with a photography program and rent a student as an assistant if you can. Sometimes you can pick them up really cheap since they can get credits for the work.

  • Very solid feedback thus far, including some ideas I’ll adopt for future use.

    Last year, I did over 20 complexes (1-3 floorplans per), for a multi-state prop.mgt firm. I was brought in by their primary photographer to do all the work for them in Michigan. His ability to act as a reference for them and speak to prior working relationship mitigated a lot of potential risk factor.

    Before you submit your bid, in part because it can take a chunk of time just to develop the bid, you need to have an initial discussion with them (which addresses many of the questions above):

    * Do you have a defined budget for this (y/n)?

    * How much is the budget? They may be evasive, but they should be able to give you a ballpark range, enough for you to determine feasibility. The job you describe could easily be $50K for instance. You need to know before you waste any effort. If they say, $10K, they’re unrealistic. If they say $100K (or whatever), you know their expectations are going to be realistic and manageable.

    * What are their payment policies regarding vendors?
    – Regardless of all the comments before, some will view you as no different than their plumber or electrician. Invoice us, we pay Net30 (or whatever).
    – Do they own properties receiving Federal subsidies, such as Section 8? Legal requirements will require they treat those as standalone entities, with different bill/pay expectations.

    * Understand their level of technology literacy. I delivered all my images via online site. Are they able to work comfortably with digital delivery? Who will be retrieving/handling images on their end? Nothing like getting stuck playing technical support for the technically illeterate..

    * Project Mgt – As noted earlier you do need to plan on it. There will be perhaps 10% overhead in managing schedules, dealing with them on payment issues (there are _always_ going to be some sort of AP ‘issues’ to deal with). By the time you’re half way through the project, you’ll know if you added in enough to cover the extra effort. I would likely build it into the bid though. Keep the proposal as simple as possible. Some companies simply won’t pay for a ‘project management’ type charge.

    * Do not detail your quotes any more than necessary (early career lesson). Last year, the company required I bid on each property individually. I tried to sell them on at least letting me clump some of the geographically close properties together for economy of scale typess of discount. In the end, was just as well, because their Section 8s (unmentioned to me initially) required everything be individually invoiced, anyway.

    For each quote, speak to big-bucket items. For instance Shooting Fee, Off-Site Services, and Travel. You do not want them to be able to easily determine what your hourly rate may be, your $$/mile for travel, or similar. You open yourself up to debates over what they’re ‘willing to pay’ for mileage, or try to convert you to a $/hr type commoditization. Also, keep in mind, expenses are yours, not theirs. They don’t need to know your mileage, it’s not their expense to claim.

    * Travel. Covering the entire state, for perhaps half their shoots, the actual travel expenses were far more than the shoot itself. For travel I included cost of gas, plus an hourly rate for myself (it is work, and an opportunity cost). Hotels I charged actual cost w/o markup.

    * Last year’s case did not permit anything other than invoicing, Net 30. They paid a few, then stopped. They’d learned mid-way through that they were not prepared for Section 8 issues. I put them on credit hold for a few weeks. Frequent communication is important, be willing to climb upward as necessary, in successfully resolving these issues. In any event, if there are issues, spend a few moments quietly thinking through what you’ll do, if different problems arise. Like any business venture, you need to know what conditions would trigger you walking away, of only for a bit.

    * Understand the competition, if there is any. Regardless of what the competition ‘says’ they’re doing (or they say the competition’s doing), stick to your guns. Make sure you are _honest_ with yourself in figuring costs, what you feel you’re worth, and bid accordingly. Other than being underwater, nothing’s worse than being locked into a big job, only to figure out half-way through that you’re effectively making half of minimum wage.

    150 unit shoot is a huge job to ‘learn’ on. But with some forethought, and using a lot of the ideas here, I’m confident you’ll be successful.

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