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How Can a Real Estate Photographer Compete with Low Prices?

May 11th, 2017

Aaron in Columbus, OH asks:

How can we compete with photographers offering $100 HDR photography and $100 property videos? In my town, HDR, free drone’s, free sky replacement seems to be the new thing and it feels like an impossible business model to survive on. At those prices, after taxes, time, travel and costs, I might as well work a 9-5 job and make more money with far less stress and time.

Yes, in most every market there are photographers trolling the bottom of the market for listing agents that want the lowest prices. And there are always agents looking for the lowest price. This is because 80% of the listing agents could be making more at Mickey D’s! At the same time, there are also agents that are willing to pay for top-notch quality and great service. I think this is a phenomenon going on in all the large markets.

So, do what you do well, provide great service, and focus your marketing on the upper 10 or 20 percent of listing agents that want to look good by doing top-notch marketing.

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20 Responses to “How Can a Real Estate Photographer Compete with Low Prices?”

  • We are all working more for less and its not getting better anytime soon. It’s important to know and sell your value.

  • The short answer is Don’t compete on price. Look for things that can add value to your customer without adding a bunch of workload. For example, I supply photos sized for the local MLS’s (2), Zillow, Trulia, Zillow and Realtor dot com with a high resolution set for printing. It’s fast and easy to to with Lightroom presets and means that agents don’t have to do the work. The quality is also better coming from me as the photos are being generated from the edited original and not an already exported .jpg.

    RE photography is a service business so providing great service is crucial. You are representing your client on a job. Showing up on a job on time is paramount. Arriving well groomed and dressed professionally is another key to happy customers. Be polite and pleasant to your customer’s client. While we all know that a good photographer can make excellent photos with duct tape and bailing wire, it’s looks more professional to have well organized cases and decent looking equipment. If you need to spend an hour touching up stuff with a Sharpie so it doesn’t look like it has the miles on it that it does, it’s worth the effort.

    Be sure to talk up how you are a better value than the low priced competitor. I often tell a potential client that I take around 2 hours to photograph an average sized property. When they ask why it take so long I can answer that I take the time to make sure I am capturing the best photo possible so they look good for bringing me in and I won’t have to return to re-photograph images that didn’t turn out well. 20 photos over two hours is 6 minutes per photo. I limit bookings to between 2 and 3 per day. I do this so I can complete capturing images and being able to edit and deliver by the next day. It also means that I have the margin to spend a little more time on a job if it’s required. Somebody booking 6-8 jobs per day at a super low price is going to frequently run late. Traffic, late agents, difficult dark interiors, last minute staging and a myriad of other delays throw a tight schedule right out of the window.

    If you have done a good job estimating your Cost of Doing Business (CODB), you know how much you must charge to break even and to also achieve your income goals. Somebody that is working dirt cheap is going to find out that they aren’t making money and will eventually drop out. There will always be somebody trying to break in by charging a ridiculously low price and your customers will hire them. If your quality is good and your service top notch, most of those customers will come back. This happens to me once in a while, but only once with a given client. They are spoiled by my service and somebody just starting out can’t match my quality. I’m also trusted so they have no qualms in giving me the lock box codes for a vacant property or having me photograph an occupied home with the owner present and no agent.

  • Exactly what Ken Brown – no matter what you do there will always be people doing it cheaper, and cheaper again. Never look at what the bottom ‘photographers’ are charging, be your best and compare with what the best in your area are charging. You only want clients that want the best and are willing to pay for it. My clients trust me to do a great job and deliver when expected – they give me keys and leave me alone with their clients and alone without them or their clients. We have history and they know me. You want to be included and trusted as part of their team.
    Great work, great service, and trust is priceless!

  • This is a huge issue in my marketplace. Case in point our local MLS Board has a feature when an agent inputs a listing to request professional photos. The local board uses whoever pays the fee to be on there. Recently one of my clients had a new agent who did not know that her broker always used us, so when she inputted the listing, she requested professional photos. Here is what I received from the broker after this photographer went out to shoot the home:

    “This is Kelly’s listing. She booked a photographer through the MLS option to “hire a professional” HIS PHOTOS SUCK. Please fix it and do what you guys do.”

    I looked at the photos – and not trying to be judgemental – the images were nowhere near what most on this site would constitute as “professional”.

    Come to find out, this professional charged $35.00 to shoot a 2,000 square foot home! I don’t know about other markets, but my car doesn’t leave the driveway for anywhere near that.

    Anyway – Bottom Feeder Photographers will always exist much like any other industry.

  • I think it is all about the highest quality photography and value.

    Quality is our #1 Priority…. that’s how we never worry about having our schedule filled.
    We also also include many extras at no extra charge, like Single Property Website, Slideshow, YouTube Slideshow but… Quality is on very top…. .
    It doesn’t matter if photographers gives away all these freebies, if… quality sucks… .

    Quality does take time in Post-Processing, that’s why we have our Post-Processing Team that guarantees that every project comes up to look excellent… that’s what we are knows for in our area.

    Of course reliability, being on time, and 99% of the time our projects are ready as promised…. Next Business Day before 2:00pm… no exceptions.

    I like to say to agents… sometimes, that when they pay discounted rate or just very low fee for Pro Photo Shoot and they get JUNK…. they have just wasted money for NOTHING. Those poor quality photos will not create new business for the agent or get them more homeowners wanting to list with them.

    Our agents constantly are telling us that they are getting BUSINESS because homeowner LOVE the Photographs they get after Photo Shoot.

  • All of the responses (so far anyway) are exactly right. Take what Shane Kelley says and run with it. In my experience I have had agents tell me they cannot afford my prices and, conversely,
    while out trying to drum up a little more business agents have asked me how I can justify charging so little!! (that has happened twice and makes me wonder if I am leaving money on the table). Like the others I don’t compete on price as that is a slippery slope. I give the best service I can every time and my client list is growing slowly but surely with clients that are interested in quality work. Enjoy what you do and don’t pay attention to the low priced competition – they won’t last long.

  • Several agents in my market have decided to be a jack-of-all-trades by purchasing a DSLR to shoot their own properties. Most hand-hold in auto mode and snap their JPEG’s, and are happy. I’ve had meetings, sent emails, made phone calls, sent post cards, created a marketing magazine for my services to distribute locally, and did everything else I know to do to drum up business with limited results. Most heard reason for not using a photographer? Can’t afford it.

    A few weeks ago a brokers office, from 30+ miles out, contacted me about shooting their listings. This broker has offices in several locations around the area, but none local. She was thrilled with the rate ($150 for 20 images), pretty much a done deal. She, as the broker, was going to pay for the service for all of her agents. At the next agent meeting she was going to let all of her agents know to contact me to schedule. After the meeting I get an email asking if I would lower my rate as one of her agents stated that she uses a “licensed real estate photographer” (whatever that means) and pays only $75. I thanked her and wished her the best.

    I will admit, if RE photography was my main source of income I’d probably be a lot more flexible on the rate and much more aggressive. But on the other hand, if I had enough RE photography business to where it was my main source of income, I’d probably be a lot less flexible on the rate. I enjoy shooting RE as each new home is a new challenge. How some of you are able to consistently shoot a home in 1.5 hours, blows my mind as I’m lucky to be out in 2.5 hours. Each market is different and each has to assess their own market place and make their own decisions on what to do, or, what not to do.

  • Check out Craigslist.
    you’ll be amazed at the amount of people willing to do “real estate photography” for next to nothing.
    You get what you pay for!

  • Others have done a good job of covering the service quality issue, so I’ll skip that. One issue I had was, I lost a client to someone offering to shoot any house for $65. His work wasn’t awful and the agent was happy. Of course, it didn’t last – how could it at that rate? But, in the agents mind that’s the correct price and she’ll do her own iPhone photos before she’ll go back to the old rate.

    The next problem is, groups offering to help newbies get started. There’s a group on Facebook that promotes the idea of using inexpensive equipment (less than $500) to “get started”. I’m all for helping someone get started, but not if they’re going provide poor to mediocre images and whore up the market to get experience. Agents get taken in by a good picture or two. When they see what’s actually delivered, they get turned off on paying anyone, let alone more just because it’s actually good work. We should be encouraging the highest quality work to enhance the value of our service, not promoting the idea that “if you know what you’re doing, any camera will work”. This group is excellent, and I love the discussions about how to do better work, but not all groups are created equal.

  • All of the above comments are great and on point, but I would like to mention a new “wrinkle” that seems to have shifted the “game” a bit … here in Seattle, we area experiencing an unusually hot seller’s market … listings are going for above asking price and are only on the market for a week (if that) … so realtors seem more focused on getting images quickly than on quality … In a slower market, where there is a bigger inventory of listings, we could argue that better image quality will make their listing standout from the crowd, but it doesn’t carry as much weight in the current environment.

    Service still does count, but it’s challenging to convey with a new client. After a realtor has experienced our level of service, they can appreciate the difference and are glad to pay more … but we need to highlight our services above and beyond just the image quality and that’s not always easy to convey before they experienced it.

  • My market has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. The children of agents (yes, I said children) are getting cameras and drones and of course mom or dad has them shoot their listings and encourages other agents in the office to use them. And of course they charge a rediculously low rate. They have no overhead so they really don’t care if they can maintain their business model (if they even have one, which I doubt) It has been killing my business. The images they produce are very poor, but like someone said above the market here is so hot that that listings sometimes go under contract within a few days of going on the market, so the agents don’t seem to care much about quality right now. And, of course, “Little Joey needs the help!”

    I still have a few long-time clients that appreciate the quality and service I provide, so I am motoring along, but just barely.

    I’ve tried all sorts of special offers, but nothing seems to sway them.

  • Why would you ever want to compete with low prices?? Much better to compete with high prices.

  • When potential clients get in touch who seem to be very concerned about the cheapest price possible, I actually refer them. I refer them to the cheapest photographer in town. I figure they’re not someone i want to be working with anyway.

  • In a hot market photos are just as important. If agents are turning properties quickly, they have the budget to up the game on their marketing as opposed to a slow market where putting out the money can be harder on the budget. If they leverage their improved presentation they can move up market to more expensive properties. If they just milk the run for every nickel, they won’t have increased their brand value when it cools down again.

    If the numbers work, it might not be a bad idea to have a 10-12 photo limited time special for less than a more normal 20ish image base level package. Agents get a good handful of images to advertise the home and themselves while not investing as much on a home they know is going to move within the next 30 regardless. A downside is that the images are going to be what are the most involved to produce. Secondary bedrooms and bathrooms can be a slam dunk to pump out and that’s what won’t be on the shot list.

    @Michael, what sort of specials have you offered?

  • Just speaking to the group in general:
    Honestly, if what you’re doing can be replicated by some GWAC (or Little Joey), then I think the onus is on you to justify why you’re charging what you do. Either create some space between your product and your competitors’, or else admit that you’ve been propped up by nothing more than a barrier to entry.

    We saw the same thing with digital — lots of film photographers went out of business when consumers suddenly had access to cameras that did all the technical things for them (focus, white balance, exposure), and it became obvious that they had just as good an “eye” for composition and storytelling and capturing moments as some of those professionals did.
    And yet, many other professional photographers came through the digital transition just fine, because they were, in fact, better photographers than anyone else around. It wasn’t just “can I operate this device?”, it was “can I create an image that is transcendent?”

    The marketplace is brutal. No one will tell you that your photos suck, they’ll all be polite and send you congratulatory emails and then quietly go hire someone else who is cheaper or faster or dates their sister. When that happens, we have to be able to see through it and understand what is happening: Our photos are not, in fact, appreciably better than the other guy’s.

  • Scott, as I’ve said many times before, the average agents/broker can not tell the difference between a good photograph and a bad photograph. But they can tell the difference between $1 and $2. All they want is a cheap job at the lowest price, no matter how much they lie about their being “professional in every way”. I’ve been told many times that the home sellers/buyers do not care about the quality of the images. Many times when I photographing a house, the seller wanted to know what the photos look like. I showed them the photos on the screen and everyone of them were so happy with my photos because they were not the garbage they see on all the listings.

  • Hey folks, I can only speak for my market, which is Phoenix, AZ. I’ve been a R.E.agent for 15 years, my wife and I are partners. I enjoy taking the photographs & post-processing them. I was an Olympus loyalist and used to do virtual tours which aren’t really the ‘thing’ any more, much like the drone photos are THE thing now. Larry and I shared a few emails a while ago here and I took his advice and got a Sony A6000 plus a Sony flash & Sony WA lens. (Thank you Larry for the great suggestion). My wife/partner and I have sold hundreds of homes here and I have done all their photos, but recently we hired two different professional photographers from two different competing firms (the seller didn’t like the first set of photos & drone shots) for a higher-end listing. Both my wife and I thought the results were better than mine. Both photographers were young, had an eye for shooting and were tech savvy with their drones. That said, I’ll still continue to do the listing photos myself, mainly because I like the challenge, enjoy the art, it is cheaper and my end product is pretty good, plus the timing is perfect (already there while the partner covers the contract). I recently started using HDR bracketing, Lightroom & Photomatix. We believe the results are acceptable and getting better. Some R.E. agents are cheap, but most can’t take a decent photo to save their lives… (my wife is one of them). Our MLS used to be full of bad photos but we have seen that change for the better here over the last few years – we believe that professional photographers are making inroads here, it is obvious! As always, you get what you pay for. I believe that, just like selling a home, you need to always improve your skill set, be as good or better than the competition, and never stop trying. My advice is to continuously hone your craft. If I were a pro photographer, I would get with the managing broker of every R.E. office, attend a weekly office meeting to show your work. Most agents are lazy and they would rather pay someone that can show value and isn’t trying to gouge them. One day, I will probably hand over the photography to a pro. My advice to you all: be fair in your pricing and have a can-do attitude with the proof you can do and try your very best to deliver to the crazy timelines this business demands. Otherwise, it’s time to move out of the way. I love Scott’s reply, he’s right on the money, IMO. The very best to you all!

  • The original question is how do we compete with the discount guy.

    If you have enough bookings then you are competitive. If you do not have enough bookings try discounting the shoots to get the work but do not reduce your overall price. . . a subtle difference. it is better to have work than no work at all. Either sustain keeping your clients is the hard part of being competitive. You must continue to improve your core images. One way is never stop personally reviewing your images, ask yourself what is working “KEEP IT” and what is not “CHANGE IT”. one of the things that had to change was type of photography. in my market most use HDR or Enfuse, to say it mildly “my HDR images sucked”, never could figure out the processing for them they where either muddy or clown vomit. My competitors’ images where much better in processing. I figured the only choice I had to be competitive is to switch to lights and a single frame because at the time I could not afford to pay someone to process. That was two years ago, I went from 5 to 25 bookings weekly.
    Another piece of advice is to find that magic number of photos and time on site. Too many images overwhelms the agent, too little does not market the property. Too long on site wastes everyone time, too little gives the impression you are the gun and run guy.

    Lastly the simplest competitive edge that I have is the phone. The phone rings answer it or at the least texted them when you will call them back.

  • There will always be bottom-feeders and any Joe Schmoe who just bought a $300 “professional” camera. We’ve all seen them or hear about them. We pride ourselves on the quality of our photography, but as it many here have already said it comes down to dollars and cents. Realtors don’t know what good or bad photography is. With that, I don’t try to impress them with my awesome photos.

    My (successful) business model is to sell them quality of service first.
    – Always give them a million dollar look. Am I a small mom and pop or a mega studio? Dress for success. We have branded clothing, marketing material, professional vinyl adverts on our vehicles. These are things that look like they cost money, but they really don’t.
    – Always be on time. and by on time I mean early… always.
    – Always be polite, helpful, kind and thoughtful of people’s time. Compliment their home, play with the dog, make the kids laugh, make conversation and be personable. When I leave a shoot, people are smiling from ear to ear. I always hear from my clients… “the homeowner really liked you, you made them feel very comfortable”
    – Always treat the realtor like the greatest agent in the world (even though my wife actually is). And do it in front of their client.
    – Always give your clients the benefit of the doubt… even of you’re right. Wrong pricing, bad images, scheduling issue… fix it and do it in their favor, not yours.
    – Then when all is said and done, top it off with the best damn pictures that they could ever imagine.

    My clients love me… they hire me because of who I am and how I treat them, and I just happen to take good pics too. The best part is that they pay me what I’m worth… and I don’t worry about the bottom feeders. They can’t compete with ME!

  • I run my business model on the 80/20 Rule.

    I offer high quality images and service to those agents that care more about quality then quantity. I turn away new agents that ask me for a discount. That’s not the business I want to compete in or model after.

    I rather shoot less homes at more $$ then more homes at less profit. There are clients out there that will pay and respect your value and service.

    Matthew

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