What Has Worked For Getting Started in Real Estate Photography?

November 8th, 2015

Customers

We’ve discussed this recently but it’s so important, I’m repeating it. Howard in Pennsylvania asks:

I am an intermediate-level photographer and I want to enter the RE photography business ib my area (Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania). I have seen some great advice on building a business. I would like to hear stories about how the folks who have made it got their first paying RE photo job. How do you get your foot in the door – especially in a busy market like mine.

There are very few businesses where you can make a list of names, phone numbers, email addresses of all your potential customers, but you can in real estate photography since real estate agents are listed on their company website along with all their listed properties.

I recommend that every beginning real estate photographer make a spreadsheet that lists all the listing agents in all the major real estate offices in their area. Here’s how do that:

  1. You need to understand that agents tend to specialize in who they work with. Some agents specialize in working with buyers (call buyers agents), and some specialize in working with home sellers (called listing agents).
  2. Don’t waste your time  and money marketing buyers agents because they don’t need real estate photographers. Only listing agents need photographers. Buyers agents typically don’t have any listings. A few agents work with buyers and sellers but it’s the agents that specialize in listing homes that you want to connect with. They are the ones that need your services the most.
  3. Every real estate office on the planet has a website that lists all the agents in the office, and it lists all the listings that each agent has. Well, there may be a hand full of rural offices that don’t have a website but you can probably count those on your left hand.
  4. Go through the list of agents for each office that have listings. For each listing agent put office name, agent name, agent phone #, email address, number of listings and listing price of the highest price listing in your spreadsheet.
  5. As you proceed through each office the agents that are the top listing agents will immediately stand out. A hand full of agents in each office with have 10, 20, 30 or more listings. Others with have just a handful. You’ll see the pattern emerge quickly. All this will take some time but it’s well worth the time!
  6. Once you’ve gone through all the major offices in the area, sort the spreadsheet by number of listings and by listing price.
  7. This agent list is a list of who’s who in real estate listing agents in your area. It shows you who to focus your marketing on. During the rest of your marketing when you meet an agent at an open house or at an office or wherever you’ll have a way to focus on potential clients.

Once you have the list you need to focus your marketing on those agents. Here are some standard ways of marketing them:

  1. Make a marketing piece. This can either be a 8.5 x 11″ brochure or even better a jumbo glossy post card (8.5 x 5.5: that shows some of your best work and has the URL of your portfolio site and your contact info on it.
  2. Build a portfolio website of your very best work. Your marketing piece should refer to your portfolio site.
  3. Get this marketing piece to your potential clients. In person if possible or personally deliver it to their mail slot at their office. Be prepared to talk about why professional photography is important.
  4. Open houses are a great way to meet listing agents. Be careful, the listing agent doesn’t always hold their own listings open. Many times buyers agents will be holding open houses to meet buyers. Verify the agent at the open house is the listing agent.
  5. Short office presentations are possible in some locations. Call the managing broker for the office and ask to make a short presentation. This works better in smaller markets. I know of some real estate offices that don’t allow this any more because there are so many photographers wanting to do it.

What is your story in how you got your foot in the door?

 

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15 Responses to “What Has Worked For Getting Started in Real Estate Photography?”

  • Great post and spreadsheet to be sorted. As you are reviewing photos of existing listing on the web, one column I would add for future reference purposes would be quality of photos – DIY/P&S, Advanced with notable errors (probably DIY), Advanced with notable errors (probably pro based on tour company), Solid photos with no obvious errors on verticals, color balance, windows etc. Each group has potential clients but for different reasons and may require different marketing pieces, or at least how to direct your verbal conversation.

  • As a very active Realtor I have to somewhat disagree that most agents work with either buyers or sellers (at least certainly not in my market area of Fairfield County CT). In these “tough times in real estate” most agents are happy to work with clients that will yield a pay day, whether they be buyers or sellers. Many agents will FOCUS on getting listings because listings also give them the opportunity to meet new and unrepresented buyers (either by hosting open houses or by getting “call ins” on the homes they have listed). This leads me to an excellent opportunity for photographers looking for new clients. I would suggest that you look online (Zillow and Trulia are good resources) for local agents whose photographs leave a lot to be desired and then perhaps drop by their open house (usually also listed on Zillow/Trulia and show them (briefly and if they’re not swamped with buyers!) examples of before and after photography. It doesn’t take a lot to load photos on an iPad so that you can flick through alternating between the old, poorly shot photographs and the stunning shots you took. Most savvy agents know that “photography is the new curb appeal” and if they stand to make somewhere between $8,000-$25,000 on a commission doesn’t it make sense to spend maybe $175-250 on your stunning photographs to get buyers to come and see the house? If they don’t know this you should tell them! I have been selling my services to a number of agents in my area whose photography skills are severely lacking and have built even more business by “word of mouth”. Just my two cents.

  • Here’s what didn’t work: Offering to do shoots free or cheap, so they could ‘see what I’ve got’. Not only is working cheap not fun; it sends the message you aren’t worth much (and I wasn’t back then). So eventually I gave up and stepped back into my previous career. Back at ‘work’ hating life, I thought a lot about why I failed. Aside from giving away my time, another reason was that I lacked confidence. Most people can spot that (invisible wire that runs from your forehead to their’s) so it’s not very effective for growing business.

    I spent a lot of late evenings learning skills I should have already had. *embarrassing blush* When I felt my game was halfway decent I got online and designed a simple MailChimp campaign for every agent within 20 miles. Three photos, a tiny service blurb and NO price – just a link to my site. Now here’s the secret and the very hard part: BEFORE I sent out the email campaign, I sent every one of the brokers a personal email promising they’d receive a quick (quick, brief and short are magic email words) 3 photos from the next email that would make them money… Would they please let me know if that wasn’t okay NOW by replying “no thanks” at this time? I sent almost 300 emails and got 4 no thanks. Mission accomplished: not only did I wet their curiosity (78% of the campaign was opened w/ a jaw-dropping 55% conversion to my site) I didn’t trash my MailChimp account with unsubscribes. Oh yeah, I also got 4 appointments that day. Yep, full price.

  • Nice article and quite some debatable points too..
    here in Australia, its quite tricky. The direction is most real estate companies and agents have in-house photography services or have agent-photographers making the real estate photography industry a struggle at the lower levels. Secondly, most listing websites offer such services (pro) free. So building a real estate photography business through the agents and listings is a challenge here.. I would say paper marketing and yellow page ads works better here.. to an extent also online marketing.

  • @Josh – Yes, I can believe that getting started in Australia is very different. You have a more developed market than CA, US and UK.

  • Larry, ref Point #3, there are a few offices in my area that do not list any of the agents. The only contact information is for the broker/owner. I have found some of the agents that work in those offices through Trulia, but I get the impression that the broker is a control freak and maybe it’s better to stay away from that office. The agent’s might not have the option of using a professional.

    I notice that the most professional offices list the agents and the agents have email accounts under that office’s domain. I am staggered at how many agents use free email services like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo even when they have their own domain names and websties. Cheesy.

  • Again, from an active Realtors perspective (and I only offer this perspective because I hope it will add value and insight) the notion that Brokers or office managers might be “control freaks” by keeping email addresses of their agents out of view is unwarranted. Remember that agents a) don’t get paid unless a home sells and b) that agents are very often responsible for much of the additional marketing materials beyond what their offices provides including postcards/mailers dedicated website services and your exceptional quality of photography so more often than not agents are photographing their own properties or using one of the office admins (who generally have little training on how to use a good camera and just click away on “auto”) to shoot homes. Office managers actually WANT their agents to invest in services that will help sell the homes listed within the office, after all the office also only makes money when homes sell!. The exception (at least in my area) would be when a property falls within a certain price bracket and is deemed worthy of the office hiring a pro. (Price points vary by town here but let’s say over $1.5M) So there’s a “sweet spot” that photographers can go after where the property deserves better photography but doesn’t qualify for it under the brokerages “exceptional properties” program. There’s no reason any given agent wouldn’t tell you what that price point is within their company and I would suggest you hunt for clients at just below that price point. Lastly with regards to email addresses, I have an office email but it’s unreliable and slow so I use an Outlook account with just my name. I’d agree that “KrazyKen@hotmail.com would be cheesy but there’s another reason at least some of us use “regular” acxounts!

  • @Alan – Reading, as I have several times here, that a gmail email address for business looks cheesy usually makes me chuckle: I worked at the biggest ‘private’ mortgage company in the US… They run the whole shebang – A to Z – on a Google gmail account. What you get with Google’s free email account is really quite astounding and certainly all that anyone here could possibly need, but for 5 bucks a month you can get a suite of Google Apps, including a .com email handle, that puts Outlook (or squirrelmail etc) to shame. With all due respect to the .com thinkers; calling a gmail account cheesy or “unprofessional looking” is a sure way of getting yourself stigmatized as technically handicapped – by some very smart & affluent people – probably not a good thing for a photography business…

  • I had a sit down lunch with my Realtor one day and I told him I wanted to break into Real Estate Photography. I asked him if he had any nice listings I could photograph for him. I told him I would do them for free (mainly so that I could get some portfolio shots). I also asked some friends I knew that had nicely staged houses if I could photograph them and use the images for my website. I created a nice looking website, facebook account and business cards and used the photos I shot on the marketing material. I then went in to give a small presentation to the Real Estate office my Realtor works for. I left business cards and got a recommendation from my Realtor during the presentation. I gained 4 new clients doing that presentation. The rest of my clients have come from my website. I set up the site with good SEO strategies in mind and used Google Business to obtain better rankings. It’s been a great and steady part-time business for me without much effort on my part to market myself. The challenge now is to turn this into a full-time gig.

  • My story…

    Tomorrow marks two years since my wife and I lost our jobs… our careers. In short, I was a design engineer in the sign industry for 30 years… she was a project manager in the same industry but at a competing company. After an extended vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains, we returned to work on Monday morning at 8am and were both unemployed by 8:30! We decided that instead of going back into a field that no longer excited us, we would take a chance on something fresh.

    At that time I already had my photography business in place but it was just an occasion assignment for extra money. I mostly did mostly product and portrait work. So for me it was just about building that business. But my wife wanted to try her hand at something entirely new… real estate. Three months after that fateful day in November, with her shiny new license in hand, my wife had her first listing. Naturally, I shot the listing photos for her. It wasn’t about getting into a new market or anything like that… it was simply to help my wife. Well, those photos got so much attention. Every other agent in her office started asking her about the photos. Then the agents that were showing the property were asking about the photos.

    Two weeks later my wife got her second listing. Of course, I did those photos and they were a hit as well. By the end of that month I had agents calling me to do their listing photos. It was then that I realized that I found my new market. That’s when I started following the basic format that Larry laid out. Once I created my list of potential new clients, I started a heavy marketing campaign… postcards, letters, social media, email campaigns, etc. My business has grown and grown!

    Sure, I had an “in”… but it could have been anyone. Quality work and a professional attitude will get people to notice. When I’m not shooting, I’m marketing and building relationships. My client base is now 60 agents and this year I’ve done over 200 listings! This week alone I have 6 shoots lined up… and this when it’s supposed to be getting slow.

    My marketing strategy is a little different than most on here suggest. I gladly and willing seek out all agents, not just the big players. Sure, most of the agents with 1-2 listings a year don’t give me a lot of work but if 50 out of the 60 give me 1-2… that’s 50-100 listings a year AND 50 more people spreading the word. Why do I care if I get 200 listings from 5 agents or 50 agents? Sure, it’s worth getting the big teams with endless listings, but most either have photographers that they already work with or are sold on the fact that photos don’t matter. (ie. they’ve been selling 100 homes a year with cellphone pics now… why change?) But if I can help the little guy get a leg up… they will keep coming back. And they do!

  • New reader to the site, but I had to laugh a bit as one of my stock images of a real estate agent is featured in this article. Thanks for licensing, photographyforrealestate.net !

  • @Alan Hamilton, I’m not calling the particular brokers “control freaks” because they aren’t publishing their agent’s email addresses, I’m calling them control freaks because they don’t list any of the agents that work in that office at all. The only “agent” shown is the broker and a couple of these offices have 20 or more agents.

    I am in the camp that believes that if you are a serious business, you have your own domain name (JohnSmithRealtor.com) and an email address under that name (John@JohnSmithRealtor.com) and NOT zippityJohn1847@free email service dot net. If I were running an RE office, I would like to have my agents using the company email system so if they are let go, leave the office or something happens to them, their business emails are routed to somebody taking over their work since any listings belong to me, the broker. Yes, I have years of experience operating a manufacturing company and consulting for other businesses.

    I wouldn’t use Google’s services for a plethora of reasons. TANSTAAFL is the first one. When you find out where a large portion of Google’s income is generated, you should be very afraid. Advertising is not even second place.

  • @Ken, I see your point of view re email addresses but you actually raised another very valid point I had forgotten about; agents are independent contractors and if in the event they want to change brokerages they don’t want to lose all the repeat client business by having corporate based emails go to their old office. I gross between $8M and $12M a year using an Outlook extension as my main address so, if it ain’t broke as they say! While I do have my company email address on my business cards and elsewhere as first point of contact I wouldn’t work for a firm that insisted I use their extension for all emails. We’re getting way off topic though!

  • @Ken Brown

    While google might not be the choice for everybody, you unfortunately make you (and your business) look silly with your “google paranoia”……

  • @Alan Hamilton

    WOW, You gross between 8-12 million/year!!

    I gotta ask though, do you normally post what you make a year on public forums and blogs? (when it really has nothing to do with the topic at hand)

    Kinda tacky to be honest….but whatever gets you by I guess 🙂

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