How Do Independent Real Estate Photographers Compete With Large Companies?

October 20th, 2016

Martina in Atlanta asks the following question:

I am just starting out in real estate photography. The problem I am encountering is that many real estate agents hire company’s that provide virtual tours and a whole marketing package (flyers, virtual tour, weekly sellers report etc.) They also provide photographers. I signed on with a company like that in hopes to develop relationships with agents. When asking the agents why they use these companies instead of using independent photographers they say that they love the marketing advantages that come with it.

The problem for the photographers signing on with these companies is that the company takes a pretty good percentage from the little they charge for the photography service. So the photographer ends up with a very small compensation for a lot of work. So, my question is how do you all compete with this?

 

The majority of readers of this blog are competing with to some extent with the larger regional and national companies that provide real estate photography services in their area and most do very well at it.

Here is what you need to do to compete:

  1. Focus on customer service: What agents care about is that you are professional, on time, reliable and go the extra mile to make their lives easier. Real estate photography is more a customer service job than a photography job. Don’t miss appointments, don’t be egotistical, be willing to work with agents to go the extra mile to get what they want. If you do all this your name will spread by word of mouth. Agents refer good service providers to each other. The big national and regional tour companies rarely provide great customer service.
  2. Offer a tour with your shoot: You can easily provide tours, flyers, and features the “big boys” provide. Just use one of the PFRE reader recommended tour services.
  3. Don’t try to compete on price: Many big tour companies are paying their photographers the minimum they can get by with and doing volume deals with real estate companies. You are better off doing high-quality work that looks better than the big guys.
  4. One way or another do a shoot for a top agent in the office: Show them what you can do. Dazzle them with service and quality. The rest of the agents in an office watch carefully what the top agents are doing and then do the same thing.

Many of the photographers featured in our success stories category started out working for large national tour companies and became independent. One of my favorite independent real estate photographer success stories is Peggy in Tampa. Peggy started out working for a national tour company for $30/shoot and eventually was so successful that she had to hire two employees to keep up with the work. Peggy is now retired and her sister is running FastPix Real Estate Photography.

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11 Responses to “How Do Independent Real Estate Photographers Compete With Large Companies?”

  • I think the bottom line is to deliver a better product–in this case, make photographs that are simply better than your competition. I know that’s not necessarily easy, but I would say do not try to copy your competition either–develop your own style and produce great photos.

  • The amount of marketing an agent needs is related to the level of marketing done in the area. Step one is always good quality still images. If very few agents are using a professional photographer, there isn’t a lot of value in investing in videos, printed brochures, aerials, annoying slide shows, etc. Weekly seller report? The only thing that counts is a closed escrow and a commission check. In engineering we call excess data, analysis paralysis. The big three consumer facing listing web sites already will provide numbers to registered agents.

    One of the problems with large companies is that they have a huge turnover in photographers. Agents never know from job to job who is going to show up and how well their photos are going to turn out. All of my clients are completely comfortable with me shooting a vacant home without supervision and putting me in touch with a homeowner of an occupied home to complete a job without their having to be present. I always conduct myself on a job as part of the agent’s/broker’s team and I usually get complimented when agents ask the owners how the photo session went.

    Larry is correct. Don’t low ball your price if you have done the work to figure out how much you need to charge to make your business viable. The large all-in-one companies are making most of their money on the tasks that can be automated or done with templates such as tours and brochures. The photography has to be done on site by a competent photographer with a certain quality level of equipment. There isn’t any way of getting around that.

    Concentrate on personal service and acting quickly when contacted. Also be available on weekends when homeowners are not at work and can be present if they wish. Offer to do things such as photographing the front exterior right away so the agent can tease the listing while the owner is preparing the interior (the listing should wait until all of the photos are ready). PFRE is a service business and you should be able to out-service a larger company.

  • Larry, note that the “FastPix” site is not working very well, pages are now blank, etc.

    To Martina I would suggest that the agents would like to have someone they can depend on consistently for their “team” of go to help. Market the fact that not only will they develop a relationship with one person to handle all of their photo needs, but will also have the consistency of product as well. The “Big Guys” cannot guarantee that, they are always sending out different people with different skill levels.

    You should also take the time to learn how to produce virtual tours, flyers and other add-on products to add to your line of income. The weekly sales reports are dubious at best and most seasoned agents know that they get better info from their mls, so don’t worry about it. You would be surprised how fast those add-on’s add up to several thousand a year.

    I would suggest you peruse this site and take the time to view the monthly contest photos, invest in the e-book’s and other learning material to hone your skills so that you hit the road running. Get your experience from where you are working now, but at some point, bite the bullet and take the plunge….nothing like going out on your own and not depending on anyone else for your future….keeps you motivated. That said, I have three large agencies that I have kept an relationship with because they provide me work with hotels and resorts that I would otherwise not have access to. The Hilton, Hyatt, Four Seasons, etc. do not deal with small business as a rule or I should say I just don’t want to try. I’d rather just be responsible for the photos with them. You would be surprised though of all the contacts you will make in that environment as well.

    Believe in yourself and good luck.

  • Ditto what Jerry said. I get business from the photo factories for almost the same reason each time: They’re inconsistent. They pay their photographers chump change, so turnover is heavy. Agents don’t know what they’re getting each time they call “the company”. Familiarity with a photographer, their style, their personality, their consistency, their quality, their turnover is TOPS, and even if it costs more, agents KNOW what they’re getting, WHO they’re getting, when they will receive their photos, etc. They have no qualms about leaving me alone with sellers, etc. Peace of mind is far more important than a potential wildcard…. even at a slightly higher cost.

    I also think by offering the kitchen sink, although it makes you ‘look’ big, most agents do not buy or even care about most of their offerings. I’d rather do one or two things well, and for the very few people who want a flyer, floor plan, DVDs or whatever… they can go elsewhere.

    Many of my competitors “offer” video as a service now, and yet I probably shoot more real estate video in a day then all of them combined shoot in a WEEK. Stick with what you know, what you’re good at, what you enjoy… and do it well. It will keep you very, very busy…… No need to be all things to all people, as most tend to not do them ALL equally well. We all have our strengths!

  • There is nothing that replaces hitting the pavement, talking to people, and working hard toward the goal that YOU set. Takes time, but anything wothwhile usually does. People expect something quick and easy. Find a niche within your area. Then work it and watch as hard work does pay off. Good Luck

  • Take better images then your competition and the agents will come to you. Be competitive with your price but not low ball. Offer better customer service. Go to the agents and give presentations at their office meetings. Agents do not want their competitors to have better images then they have. If it is your images they are admiring you will get the call. Agents also give referrals to other agents if they love your work. Take Better Images Then Your Competition. Be very critical of your own work and if you admire what someone else is doing find out how they do it and do it better. More equipment is not the answer.

  • Martina, first thing, learn your craft well and how to light and shoot for hi-quality images. I’ve been a commercial and corporate photographer for many years, yet I am always learning and impressed with the photography I see on this blog……….they are some of the best images around.
    Please don’t try to compete on price with the big companies. You want people to hire you because you are good at what you do and the personal services you provide, not because you are cheep!!!!! Purchase some of the e-books on this site, as they are geared at the specialty photography we are doing, and written by photographers who experience the issues we encounter on most of our RE shoots every day.

    Also, invest in a real estate website to showcase your work (www.wix.com) is a great place to build an in expensive and professional website and it can be enjoyable to build.

  • Being a professional photographer does not mean better photography, all it means is being paid for the work produced. In my area, 95% of the professional Real Estate photography looks like different degrees of slop. Nearly all the agents care about is how cheap they can get the job done for. I’ve seen very many agents who will not pay over $50 to $75 for not only 30-50 house photos but also want a 360 degree tour and video slide show included.

  • I don’t know about the commercial photographers but I just submitted a proposal last week to a local real estate agency. For houses under 3000 sq. ft., I would charge $150. Over 3000 sq. ft., I was going to charge $200. I also included some other stuff and even a bottom line of $100 for just a shoot with no lighting and no touchup.

    They emailed me back the next morning that they found someone to do it for $40!

    I guess its time to seriously consider drone photography. That’s the only way to differentiate myself now. Based on the quality of photos in listings in my area, agents don’t care how crappy the photos are. But I know they’ll pay for drone photography.

  • @Jeff – you make an excellent point- Drone video and stills are in high demand and can be a way to get business.

  • Thank you all for the advise and insights! I appreciate everybody taking the time to respond to my question. Great stuff from everybody!!!!

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