When Should Real Estate Photographers Get Paid?

March 17th, 2016

ContratorPayThere have been several questions recently about collecting payment. Alex in Ohio asked:

I have heard about real estate photographers charging at time of sale instead of requiring payment at time of shoot. What are your thoughts on this? It makes sense because no one gets paid till the home sells, why would the photographer be different? But, how would you know that the house is sold and request payment? What if the seller switches real estate agents? What if they take the home off the market or other foreseeable outcomes?

Getting paid at closing is a nightmare! No, it doesn’t make sense for photographers to wait to get paid until closing. The photographers job is complete when the photos are delivered. The listing agent’s job isn’t finished until closing. Deferred payment is a nightmare for all the reasons you raise and for the accounts receivable tracking it problem it creates.

If you get paid at closing it means you have to track the status of all the shoots you’ve done to make sure you are getting paid! You can’t just leave it up to agents to remember to pay you. Many real estate photographers have problems getting agents to pay if they give them 30 days to pay.

My experience is that most contractors that deal with real estate agents (home inspectors in particular)  insist on payment at the time their services are provided. This is why a large percentage of real estate photographers use squareup.com to take credit cards at the time of the shoot. This completely eliminates the job of tracking your accounts receivable which can be a significant.

Another option is payment before delivery. The paymenttab.com service can automate this or you can just email an invoice with a payment button on the invoice (PayPal and Square can both do this) and you don’t deliver the photos before the invoice is paid.

Do yourself a favor, get payment up at the shoot or when photos are delivered! This will simplify your life.

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31 Responses to “When Should Real Estate Photographers Get Paid?”

  • Amen to that.

    I don’t think any agent ever hired me with even the glimmer of an intention of not paying. But my a/r account has grown into a full-blown nightmare. Now I tell everyone up front – they do not have license to use them until they are paid for. Period.

  • The first time I got burned and never got paid I decided that with all new clients, it was full payment up front until the client was a regular and showed a track record of good faith. Then I bill at delivery and most pay within a few days. My favorite clients keeps a positive balance with me that I work off over a month or so. Needless to say, I do more for him and give some extras that I don’t charge for than I do for the others. He knows it and knows that paying upfront and some in advance gets him more for his buck. I think it all comes down to trust and good will – but that trust has to be earned with a track record of immediate payment and no dithering or unsigned checks or “gosh I guess I left my checkbook at the office” type of things.

    I try not to use PayPay or other card processing gateways since the fees eat up what are pretty small fee structures in RE photography in comparison to commercial/advertising work but on the other hand, it can provide a sure way of getting paid. I say that but then I am reminded of a bad experience I had with PayPal when I sold my Hasselblad body, lens and two film backs to a photo student and she broke the shutter release linkage on the lens and PayPay refunded her the purchase price of the whole system when she claimed it was faulty and not as advertised and I was out the shipping plus PayPal’s processing fees and was left with a lens with a broken coupling mechanism that I can’t sell despite the fact that it still works despite the breakage. So PayPal can be less than a guaranteed form of payment collection too. Cash still is legal tender.

  • I get paid in full at the shoot. If they don’t have payment, I take a credit card number over the phone from them when they have it. I do not send any images until payment is received in full. I do not have any A/R. If they want to use a credit card, I charge an admin fee which is higher than the fee I pay on the card. Always. No exceptions. There have been no arguments or surprises as it is clearly agreed before I go. Why would I care if the house sells? That is not my business. I don’t sell houses, I shoot pictures. It’s not complicated. I do work, I get paid. Try not paying the plumber before he leaves, or the furnace repair guy, or whatever. Don’t complicate it. I had to learn this by giving people leeway and finding out I was a lousy credit manager. The ones that seemed least likely to delay or” forget” turned out to be the worst. No more. Now it’s Equality. All pay the same way, before delivery of any images. Has made my life easier.

  • Real Estate is the only profession where the practitioners are not paid until a successful closing. This includes the agent, the brokerage company, the attorney (required here in Illinois), the title company, and the mortgage broker. All work for free when the property fails to close. That’s one reason my agent clients understand and appreciate my fee arrangement. (However, as this has been discussed here before, most PFRE subscribers think I’m crazy 😉

    My photography fees are double what my competition charges in general. For an average sized and priced home in my market, I would charge $400. My three closest competitors charge between $150 and $200 for the same job.

    How do I get away with this? I collect half my fee up-front or on delivery, and collect the second half at closing. Agents understand and appreciate that I am taking some of the risk along with them, and that I have a continued stake in helping the sale. I return for re-takes of exteriors for season changes or interiors for decorating changes.

    As an agent with access to the MLS, I can monitor the closings and send my final invoice. I have never had any problem collecting. Yes, you may say, “If the property doesn’t close, you don’t get the final payment!”, true, but 90% do close. I remain satisfied with my net income. I respectfully disagree with “Getting paid at closing is a nightmare!” — it has worked well for me. I do agree that, “…it doesn’t make sense for photographers to wait to get paid until closing.” I don’t. And, I get a second paycheck when it does close.

  • I require payment before the session. I’ve had problems with a couple of agents in the past. Not having to manage A/R makes running my business much easier. I’m also not put in a position where a home sells before I’m paid and I have no leverage other than small claims court (not worth the time it takes).

    I offer a very competitive price for images. Agents take more risk, but they also will benefit from the greater rewards. If an agent doesn’t have the budget, I suggest that they approach the sellers and offer to rebate them the cost of the photography at closing or engage me directly. The latter is a good deal for the seller as they will hold the license and can change agents without any issues. The seller is getting more value out of the images in the short term.

    I have several customers that I will allow to pay me after the shoot but before I deliver the images. I’ll sometimes start very early on a job before the RE office is open and stop by after I’ve finished shooting and pick up a check.

    Dunning is my least favorite business activity, so I get paid in advance and never have to track down customers to get paid.

  • Property photographers should always get paid even if the property doesn’t sell. Moreover, I really think property photographers are often underpaid and they should earn more money from this highly skilled profession. I understand there is lots of competition out there which brings the prices down, but in the end you get what you paid for, so quality matters. And no matter what happens to the property afterwards, we should always be paid on time. Avoid dodgy agents. I had examples I was offering very low prices to agents and they still did not want to pay upfront, not even a deposit. I really think that if you work for an agent for the first time you should ask at least for a deposit (half of the payment upfront & another half on job completion). And once the trust is established between you and that agent, you can then invoice them on a weekly/monthly basis. That is what I have been doing for years and nothing ever went wrong.

  • I send an invoice as soon as the images are ready to download. This way the client knows the work is complete and I get paid to deliver the product.

  • @Michael Allen
    Key point here…
    “As an agent with access to the MLS, I can monitor the closings and send my final invoice”

    Those of us who are not also agents do not have that ability..

  • https://www.waveapps.com/ is great for invoicing and has the online payment option.

  • I collect at time of booking. I won’t even drive to the house unless they have already paid. I send invoices to their email and they can pay with a credit card. I’m in the photography business, not the collections business.

    What’s this paymenttab.com service? Seems like it’s just sending an invoice (which you can already do in paypal) and then charging you an additional $2. You still have to pay the paypal fees which are a whopping 2.7%. I’d recommend using a real merchant services company to get lower rates, someone like PaymentSolutionPros.com.

  • I have a storefront on my website. I send clients the link to their photos. They can view them prior to purchase. Then buy them, the receipt has photos attached. Super easy and I don’t have to chase anyone!

  • It’s strange to me that this is an issue for anyone. As a creative I can take a deposit and collect when the job is done. I provide proofs with a huge watermark when the job is done to show the client and then when the invoice is paid they get their copies for use. I don’t understand why it’s so complicated for some.

  • Right now, I am invoicing clients after the shoot. This works for the most part, but there are “those” agents who just don’t see to think it is too important to pay. I would love to go to a pre-paid system, but with as many as 30 shoots a week, I’m already playing “musical realtors” with appointment times and days.

    With agents rescheduling – most of the time for legitimate reasons – I am looking at the prospect of having as much work refunding, holding payments or changing amounts if they request to put another different size property in that place. Again, I’m looking at instituting a pre-paid system almost immediately, but I don’t want the potential changes agents make to take up more time that collecting AR’s.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Through 2015 I utilized http://www.waveapps.com and it worked great as I could invoice and they have the ability to accept credit cards. It worked pretty seamless and outside of the credit card processing fees, there was no cost for waveapps. It didn’t influence how quickly I was paid however. My average for the year was 14 days. There were agents that took months to pay though. Starting in January of this year I transitioned over to Viewshoot.com. This is a client management system created by a Real Estate Photographer specifically for our business model.

    With View Shoot, the shoot is uploaded and displayed with a “proof” marked on the image. The agent is free to look at all the images and see what he is getting. Here is the caveat, the agent has to pay for the photographs before they can be downloaded. I don’t even have to pay attention to this as once the payment is made, the agent immediately gets an email with the download links. The “proof” watermarking is gone and they get a zip file with two resolutions, one for print and one for the MLS. Two months into this system and from a financial standpoint, I couldn’t be happier.

  • Net 30 – each of my clients receives an invoice on the 1st for the previous month’s work.

  • While I advertise “payment at time of service”, the reality is I have to bill several clients I work with.
    After I complete the shoot, I’ll usually say something like “will this be cash, check, or credit card?”
    About 75% of the time, I’m paid right there.
    The other 25% of the time I send out a PDF invoice, and get a check after a few days to a couple weeks.

    I’ve never had a problem getting paid, but will send a reminder email after 3 weeks or so. In that email I’ll offer Paypal as another option (noting that the Paypal fee will be included in their total)

    Works for this kid!

  • Simple.
    No money, no photos.

  • Getting paid at closing is nothing more than a service that you provide to the agents and that can set you apart from other RE photographers. Like other service you should be compensated for the time and effort. Accepting payments in this manner NOT a “Nightmare”. It does require a little business sense and good relations with the agent to track of everything. But as a business owner, you should have those anyway.

    The main advantage to this payment method, is that it allows you to broaden your base of clients. The more source of revenues (agents in this case), the more stable your business. Agents come and go, they have good and bad years. Having more agent eliminates much of the up and down in your revenue stream.

    Now, you do want to make sure that you get compensated for this service. That means you build into the price the time value of money, the loss due to non-payment and time for tracking. I have found a vast majority of agents will be honest about selling a property. To help remind them, setup a monthly reminder email. Those are very easy to send out.

    There are some that are not suited for this type of payment method. If your cash flow is poor and waiting for the payment would cause you hardship, don’t do this. If you are too timid to call an agent and ask for a payment, don’t do this. If your financial situation is poor or you are unable to emotionally handle an agent stiffing you on a payment, then don’t do this.

    But don’t let the paranoia of non-payment cause you to loss what can be a powerful tool to build your business. Yes, I have been stiffed on a fee of a few hundred dollars. It happens. However, I have also used this method to increase my revenue to well above the average.

  • Lot of variations, similar strains though.

    Me? Pay before 1st Click. By transaction count, majority of my business is RE agents and FSBOs. (Lot more FSBOs so far this year than normal.) I do not have a single RE agent that I invoice. 100% are credit card payment. About 80% are at time of booking (or confirmation), the remaining 20% on-site before the shoot starts.

    The biggest reason for the 20% comes from clients not sure they know how many images they want. I’ll do a walk-through with them, give them my recommendation, then take payment. No pay, no click.

    I’ve a small number of Commercial accounts. These are property management firms that may have me out to shoot multiple units in a month. After 5 successful payments, I offer to convert them to a commercial account whereby I’ll invoice them. I do pay attention to the quality of those first 5 transactions, looks for signs of financial stability (just talk w/property managers, tenants, and look at the property itself. You can find out easily if they’re financially struggling).

    My commercial accounts are my favorites for a range of reasons, not the least of which is volume of work and ease of payment. Also, I extend a discount to each of them after the 5th shoot. Properly tracked (discount is a line item on invoice), that can be treated as Good Will for tax purposes, which means I get X% returned.

    Past 3 years, the only checks I’ve processed are commercial. Everything else is credit card. Cash is a pain, checks I don’t trust. A/R, while low, is easily tracked using software. I always know what’s outstanding, what’s been paid, and what my ‘effective’ business net worth is.

    Since most customers are effectively pre-sold when they call, I have yet to lose a single shoot because I required payment beforehand. Not that I haven’t had some questions on process, but once I explain the process, they move forward.

  • One correction. After hitting send, I realized, I have had two ‘opportunities’ that failed because I required payment first. Both were out-state commercial brokers that wanted me to shoot their local property. Both wanted me to invoice them at time of sale. I declined.

    First, if you’re marketing a multi-multi-million dollar property, putting together an expensive sales prospectus ($5-10 per, to print) in which my images are going to be key features, explain to me why you cannot pay $400 (or whatever) up-front? The printer won’t let you pay later.

    Now, if one of my existing commercial customers asked for same (i.e. Have relationships established), no problem. Otherwise, this is like someone offering to pay with an out of state check. No thanks.

  • If the realtor is present at the shoot and they wish to pay on the spot with Paypal or Square, that is available option. I do all my invoicing through Paypal. After the shoot and I have processed the images, I send my invoice to the realtor. The invoice states their images are ready and they can pay to receive the images. When the invoice is paid, they receive another email with directions how they can download the images. No problems, get paid. I did the check thing and got stuck too many times.

  • Great post. Thanks for all the feedback.
    In my market, many of the agencies have agreements (non-exclusive) with photo companies, so the billing is managed monthly, office to office. Agents are sometimes given a list of approved providers, and only those on the list will be covered or partially covered by the agency as part of the marketing budget allotted each listing.
    I’m wondering how to get the most access to the most agents without creating billing and payment policies that will make me less desirable than my bigger, less good competitors.
    Does anyone have contracts or even just working agreements with whole offices or agencies vs shooting for individual agents?
    I’d be interested to hear how long the billing cycle is for those of us who do shoot and deliver images and bill later, because of agency policy or in order to be competitive.
    I have a shopping cart website, so taking deposits and CC for payment isn’t the issue, just wondering whether an office would have a card on file that covers a group of agents, or if I just take my chances with NET 30 to compete with the larger companies.

  • I do the job and send an invoice later, or rather I wait a month or so and then send a bunch of invoices for numerous jobs. I almost always get paid within a week or two – depends on the client. In the UK we deal with companies rather than individuals, so getting paid up front or when you turn up for the job isn’t an option really.

    I must say that if I was given the choice of being paid when the job is done, or being paid half now and half on closing, or being paid on closing, I would choose the first one. I can’t think of a single advantage to me for either of the other two methods.

    If an agent said to a photographer “would you prefer me to pay you when you do the work or when I sell the property, or lose the listing, which would you prefer?” there surely isn’t a single photographer who would not opt for the former.

  • Brokers are used to paying their contractors at the time the work is done or even before. My new accounts all pay at the time of the photo project. After 6 Mos. or a REALLY GOOD -and I do mean really good broker – I will invoice with terms “due upon receipt”. I would never consider upon the sale of the property. What if it doesn’t sell? What if the broker moves to Dufisville? I have had occasion when I invoice and they can’t pay right then for some reason. I respectfully tell them, ” I am on your team. Pay me 1/2 now” and then 1/2 next month.” I have never had a problem with this approach – because I do consider myself as being on their team. But this has only happened a couple times in the 5 years I have been doing this. Think about it a minute. If you came in to shampoo their carpet, mow their lawn, or clean their bathrooms you would be paid at the time of work. We are not asking for thousands of dollars for our service.

  • @Tim Stewart, and others
    “Brokers are used to paying their contractors at the time the work is done or even before.” … ” I respectfully tell them, ” I am on your team. ”

    IMHO, this is the crux of this debate. Do you think of yourself as a professional or as a service provider like a carpet cleaner as some have said?

    It’s true that simple service provider contractors like lawn services, or carpet cleaners are paid up-front. However, the professionals that ARE part of the team responsible for the marketing, sale, financing, and closing, are NOT paid until closing.

    The top producing agents I work with consider me to be part of their team. They present it as such in their listing presentations, and acknowledge that they are successful at getting the job (and getting the sale), in part, because of my work. They understand and appreciate my two-part payment idea – that I am taking part of the risk along with them and the other professionals related to their transactions. No one has ever objected. No one has ever not paid — in over 15 years of doing it this way.

    My main point to this group is that I AM paid up-front an equivalent amount my competition charges. The second half of my fee, paid at closing, means that I am netting nearly DOUBLE what my competition makes. If I charged the full amount up-front, I believe that I WOULD get some push-back from some agents, and some would start looking at my lower priced competitors.

  • I’m not sure you would get much push back from your clients. If you have an agent who gets, for example, 30 listings per year, they will close 27 (90%) of them so pay you $10,800 (27x £400). They must be aware that they could go with one of your competitors and pay only $6000 per year (30x $200), and save themselves $4800. I would suggest that they appreciate your quality and service and it’s doubtful they would use someone else simply because they’re cheaper.

  • I work with both scenarios – some of my clients pay when I shoot, some have 10, 30, or 90 days to pay.

    Clients who pay when I shoot get the best deal. Clients who want to pay in 90 days almost get charged double.

    I don’t have an A/R nightmare – I use Quickbooks Online to manage my business, and InvoiceSherpa handles sending invoices, reminders, statements, payments and charging late fees on the invoice.

    All of the agents I work for sign an agreement with me that outlines their rights to use the photos including the fact that failure to pay by the due date puts them at risk of copyright infringement and litigation.

    Most established agents pay at the time of shoot or within 10 days. Newer clients usually opt for 30 or 90 days. I consider the multiple payment options an additional service I provide my clients and a way to differentiate myself from other photographers.

    I really think it’s all a matter of personal preference and it’s really a business decision that each photographer needs to decide on.

  • I totally agree that photographers should get paid even the listing is not sold. You hired the photography service in the first place.

    I think there should be an initial payment first as secure bond between the two parties. Then the rest of the payment should be given after the photos have been delivered (raw and edited).

    just my two cents here.

  • what if 50% at the shooting and 50% at the closing with 100% bonus? cause you are having a very wrong perspective of the business of your clients. real estate agents only get paid at the closing and they don’t mind paying a much higher price at that moment. so if you are more flexible with payments you end up getting A LOT more profits. specially if you work with good agents. let’s say your average shooting is 100. you demand to pay upfront, what if you have the option to be 50 with 150 at the closing? you get 200 instead of 100. ANY agent would choose the second one any day. be flexible.
    the clients of the real estate agent never pay upfront too. if it was the case there would be no issues. And for them there’s always the risk that the property doesn’t get sold. so you are sharing part of that risk. how much it’s up to you but I’m telling you all that you are losing tons of costumers for being stubborn and narrowminded.
    bottom line be flexible and offer options to your clients. let them choose and what works out for both.

  • We send an invoice to each office at the end of the month on a single onvoice (some offices we shoot for 15-20 agents in that office, some 1) and it’s up to the office admin to pay the invoice in full, and they are required to pay within 14 days. We extend up to 30 days in reality before really pressuring them to pay “that day”, but have only had 1 agent ever not pay for a shoot out of around 9000+ shoots provided by my company to date. Definitely about follow up and also ongoing relationships with the clients

  • We send an invoice to each office at the end of the month on a single invoice (some offices we shoot for 15-20 agents in that office, some 1) and it’s up to the office admin to pay the invoice in full, and they are required to pay within 14 days. We extend up to 30 days in reality before really pressuring them to pay “that day”, but have only had 1 agent ever not pay for a shoot out of around 9000+ shoots provided by my company to date. Definitely about follow up and also ongoing relationships with the clients

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