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What Is the Income Potential of an Independent Real Estate Photographer?

September 7th, 2017

A while back, I had an interesting discussion with a real estate photographer in the Huntington Beach, California area who said she “wasn’t making any money” and needed to raise her prices. She said she was averaging 55 shoots a month and getting $150-$200 per shoot. And although she wasn’t the lowest priced photographer in her area she was among the lower priced real estate photographers. Her concern was that whenever she talked about raising her prices her clients complained and she was afraid of losing her best clients that were giving her 15 to 30 shoots a year. Seems like she is doing very well unless she is working a huge number of hours. What is the approximate income potential of being an independent real estate photographer?

It occurred to me that the best way to understand what the income potential of being an independent real estate photographer would be to have a poll of what independent real estate photographers are currently making. Of course, this doesn’t measure geographic variations but that would be very hard to do.

Please take the poll below before you leave! The poll will give us all a better insight into what the income potential of real estate photography is. Remember, this poll is about NET income in USD= YearlyGross – YearlyExpenses and it’s intended only for independent real estate photographers.

 

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29 Responses to “What Is the Income Potential of an Independent Real Estate Photographer?”

  • If she was doing 55 shoots a month at $150 that’s over $8,000 a month. That’s really good money to me.

  • Tough survey if you’re trying to minimize the look of net income to avoid taxes. More telling I think would be a shoot volume/ gross income survey.

  • If I remember correctly, this photographer outsourced all of her work and did little more than shoot the properties and even then, not all.

    So, before we go further, the question should be “What Is the Income Potential of a part time Independent Real Estate Photographer?”

    Just saying…

  • The text seems to infer she spoke with clients about this. She had actual conversations about price hikes. Of course there’s going to be pushback with that conversation, that’s why it’s a very ill-advised conversation to have. Put “standard real estate prices will be raised to $xxx starting January 1st, 2018” on all invoices, and be done with it. It’s kinda like if you’re client wears a terrible blouse to your next shoot, you’re not going to tell her, “oh wow that blouse is hideous”. Don’t talk about negative things with clients. That’s how every other corporation I can think of handles things… I can’t remember ever getting a call from a service provider saying, “hey andrew, howya doing? Oh by the way, your rate is getting hiked up.

  • I agree with Dave. If you have a dual income household, your spouse may be taking care of things like health insurance whereas if you’re single, that becomes an expense.
    The other thing that should be mentioned is how many images one has to deliver. My market allow for 35 images in Maine and 40 in NH. Some markets are more, some less. If I only needed to deliver 20, I could shoot more properties and make more.

  • I also think people like me, who are employed full time and do this par t time until client base is built, may skew the survey. I think it should also ask how many hours per week are dedicated to this to accurately reflect the income POTENTIAL. I’m not living up to my potential, because I am very part time.

    Also, I think gross income would be a better guage, because everyone has different expenses, write off etc. One person may be a gear hound while someone else is not.

  • Yes, as you all point out there are many things that cause inaccuracies in polls like this. The purpose here is not to get perfectly accurate data but rather to get a general feeling of in this case the income potential of being an independent real estate photographer. This poll suggests that well over 15% of those voting think the are making over $100K.

    So the value of this poll is that it demonstrates that if you want or need that level of income it appears to be possible. How hard you have to work to do it is a completely different question.

  • I’m confused and puzzled, some people want to know about 2 or 3 wall composition other want to know about the income potential for RE Photographer and some other among other things want to know whether to shoot in or out with the same lens and there’s more but I don’t think is necessary. The point is all those subject are important to learn this profession, but I just wonder if we lost some sense of humanity when nobody mentions anything about Harvey or Irma, I’m sure a lot of photographers are out of work because of Harvey and God only knows whats going to happen here in the sunshine state, I understand that this forum is just for RE photography…….but (and this is big but) not a single word for our fellow photographer.

    PS: I could be wrong

  • I’m shocked and dismayed that Robert can’t include even a single word about the plight of the great whales which are being slaughtered in the oceans…I mean, I understand that this forum is just for RE photography, but…

    At any rate, I think the whole discussion (and the survey) only point up the lunacy of trying to compete on price. Get better at photography and charge more. Getting better is hard….REALLY hard. If you don’t love photography and-i-mean-LOOOOVE it, then this is not the business to be in. Plenty of easier ways to make money. But if you want to make really good money in photography, get good at it. Shoot less, charge more. Not the other way around.

  • Let’s see now, the average home price in Huntington Beach CA is $750,000.00. Apartment rentals are just shy of $1000,00 to over $2000.00 per month.
    This is not a cheap neighborhood. She should have no problem raising her rates depending on the market she is addressing and what her competition is charging for like services.
    She may want to think about offering drone photos or video if she is not already doing so.
    If she has not already she may want to think about her market. If she is doing bread and butter homes at $150.00 per home, she may need to see what it would take to mix it up in the million dollar home market.
    Other than those two things, she may want to look at expenses that can be trimmed or eliminated.
    I agree with one of the chaps above, 8K ain’t bad even if your taking out 25% for taxes.

    Pete Malan

  • I think a NET income poll is pointless. Too many variables from expenses to taxes to cost of living to lifestyle choices etc etc. If you really want to get a better picture of the earning potential of independent RE photographers then poll GROSS annual income.

  • OK, I’ll do a poll on gross annual income next week.

  • Income minus taxes equals Net Income.
    Cost of living, lifestyle choices, etc. are under the control of the individual. They don’t count towards (or against) gross income.

  • Taxes are going to vary as well depending on what bracket you fall under (spouse?) and if you have state taxes or not.
    It really should be a gross income survey.

  • Many a photographer living and working in Huntington Beach has been one paycheck away from sleeping on the beach benches. I worked with one, too.

  • We don’t see a problem with raising prices as long as you offer clients something in return to justify the increase.

  • My first apartment was in Huntington Beach way back when one could have their first apartment there without being a trust fund baby. $150 is too low for that market. I’m in a lower priced market by a large margin and my first tier is $150 and my average is closer to $200. Her prices need to go up and her customers don’t have a say in the matter. Give them a vote and they’ll decide the prices should go down and every 5th job is free like a coffee club at the local beanery. $8000/month is a healthy gross income. Something has gone terribly wrong with expenses if that isn’t leaving a good living wage. I designed rocket avionics and made less than that without starving to death.

    Carolyn mentions the number of photos a MLS allows, but that has no bearing on how many photos you deliver for a certain price. My local MLS is effectively unlimited (and bad quality). That doesn’t mean that I have to provide 70+ photos or even 30. I was just perusing a “Mansion” real estate web site and was counting the photos on each listing. A rough estimate was about 15 images per estate and a cheap listing was well over $1million US. Most images were pretty good, a few were outstanding and several were made by the agent with their 10 year old point and shoot (I could see them in the bathroom mirror). Magazine features of a home are 8-12 images. If it’s around 12, several of the images are small. If you haven’t told the story of the home in the first 10 photos, the next 30 aren’t going to help. The only reason I make 20 is some HUD and Fannie Mae listings require the broker to post at least 20 images as part of their marketing contract. I have plenty of smaller homes that I deliver 15-17 images for the same price. When I’ve done my walk through and made my list and see that there are only 15 photos, I do spend a little more time making the most important ones and wind up spending the same amount of time on site as I would to make 20 or so of a larger home. The artist in me would love to spend at least 1/2 day on many of my jobs to really nail the images, but the little businessman inside my head tells me to stick to the schedule.

    I know the average time it takes me to make a finished image and how much backend time it takes me on each job. My variable is travel time which is why each zone further away from my office is charged a higher rate. I know my monthly SG&A (Selling, General and Administrative) costs and I have set income goals that make doing RE photography worthwhile broken down to an hourly rate. Adding more photos to my base of 20 images is charged more. I don’t care if the next Jenny-come-lately will provide 40 images or more for less money than I charge. I know that if she isn’t living at her parents home or supported by a spouse/insurance settlement/trust fund/etc, she will find out within a month or two that working a steady job at WalMart (and government assistance) is going to net more monthly income and she will quickly stop competing with me.

  • Ken, I agree that it shouldn’t take so many images to present a home but if I only gave the agents 20 images, I’d be out of work. They would have no problem finding another photographer that would give them more. If we were unlimited, then it would make sense to create as many images as makes sense for a property, but with a specific amount for MLS, and MLS tooting to fill it up, we don’t get a say in the matter. That being said, I charge by number of images (not square footage) so I do get paid for the amount I create/deliver.

  • Larry, I think the premise of your article and your survey are misleading and unhelpful. As others have mentioned, gross income would be more useful for this. Also, your survey is not limited to those who are doing real estate photography full time as a long-term business that does not require supplemental support from other family members, making the numbers very misleading.

    As far as the Huntington Beach photographer who is not making any money, that is an expensive place to live, and I could see how that would not be working out well at her rates if she is trying to support a family solely from that business. Even without a family to support, I don’t think that would leave enough for significant savings or putting much back into the business for equipment upgrades, training, marketing, etc. In any case, without understanding what her expenses and income goals are, her statement about not making any money is not very helpful, and then all of this assumes that her statement about her average volume is an accurate rate based on a full year of activity.

  • Real Estate Photography has never been a sustaining business for us here in Southeast PA. When we first started shooting for Realtors back in 2008 we were making double or more per shoot than we are now, mainly due to the fact iphones weren’t available. Now, realtors all carry iphones capable of shooting high quality imagery. This has cut into our business and we have had to add drone photography and pole aerials in order to create a market for ourselves. But, business has dropped off over the years due to the large amount of competition. Many offices now have in-house photographers and drone operators are popping up all over the place. We struggle to maintain a small group of clients in order to keep the business going but we both require other sources of income. In a nutshell, if we didn’t enjoy shooting real estate so much we would have thrown in the towel long ago. It’s a nice sideline but not a mainstay.

  • I greatly appreciate all that I learn from the generous folks who contribute to this website. So, in return, some details on my own RE work.

    We (my wife and I) shoot RE in the Florida panhandle. Our current rate is $10 per 100sf (heated) (min $200) plus $30 per hour of round-trip travel outside of our local area. This includes 2 shots per room, a few overall shots, exterior and drone. We use speedlights (no HDR)–3 in a condo, up to 6 in a home. Typical result for a 3000sf home is 3 hours onsite, 2 hours of processing (Lightroom only) for $300.

    Additionally, we’re now offering 3D Tours (via Real.Vision). Neat product. Requires fisheye lens on a Canon 60D or similar and a special panoramic head ($300). Charge is $15 per 100 sf (heated) with $250 minimum. Product includes the Tour, photo gallery, and an awesomely detailed floor plan. The shoot itself requires almost no photography experience–it is more of an exercise in technical accuracy (camera height, location, etc). Photo skill comes into play when you extract the photo gallery from the 3D Tour: extracting properly composed “snapshots” then adding pop to the resulting flat HDR photos (done in Lightroom). Same home as above requires 2 hours onsite, 2-3 hours processing for net $300 (that is, $450 gross minus approx $150 to Real.Vision).

    A few notes:
    –I’m retired USAF. Retirement pay and Health insurance is secure (BIG advantage).
    –One kicker is all the administrative stuff. I probably spend half my time with emails, texts, configuring gear, invoicing, figuring and paying the myriad of taxes, etc.
    –I deliver photos in 24-36 hours when possible.
    –I think we are defined by the quality of our work and our service/reliability. I really appreciate my customers!
    –We are surrounded by airports. I precede each drone flight with a “zone unlock” on the DJI website and a call to the relevant tower for authorization.
    –HDR is clever stuff, and some do it really well. But I just can’t seem to get the same pop as with a raw shot done with good, artificial lighting.
    –Lighting: Small footprint is key. I modified some cheap light stands to get a 4-5″ footprint. Point flash straight up and add Neewer 16″ round flash diffuser.
    –Note to self: Must….order….Scott….Hargis’….book.
    –I share all of this because there is only one trade secret: Work your butt off!! Do this and you will succeed. Fail to do it and no “secret” will help.

  • @ David Eichler – Based on what she indicated she is making at least $99K a year (55 shoots/month x 12 months x $150=$99K/year). I think that is pretty good pay even for her market. I would be willing to bet that is far higher than the average annual earnings in her city. If she doesn’t feel like she is making any money then I think she needs to take a hard look at her lifestyle.

  • @ScottS – (side topic – sorry!) can you tell us how real.vision works for obtaining the 3D video? I’ve seen how Matterport works and have no interest but after seeing real.vision’s website, I’m intrigued. Feel free to email me so we don’t get off topic here.

  • @Robert – I agree with you on the Harvey/Irma count. In fact, I was a little surprised that Scott S. who is in the Florida panhandle didn’t mention anything about the catastrophic storm that is headed his way. I hope all are safe and well.

  • @Carolyn Abell Hodges – I sent you a message via your website.

  • Joanna — So far, so good on Irma–thanks for your concern! As long as it stays east of us, even just 20-30 miles, impact will be significantly reduced.

  • Interesting set of responses. I appreciate the poll for what it is, and what it is not. The crux of the question, from my perspective, is, can you make a living at this?

    I do PFRE as a secondary source of income. I enjoy it, I’m getting better at it, my client base is growing. However the Detroit market is one where PFRE is under appreciated. Nothing like an Austin, Denver, San Francisco, Charlotte, or other high-demand market. Last year 84% of my business was my base package, up to 20 images. Sometimes I’m successful upselling, sometimes not. My FSBOs (a lot of ’em this year) are typically higher-priced homes looking for more, they’ve all bought mid-range packages, some with aerials. Realtors in my area, rarely, very rarely, ever purchase more than a base package. Doesn’t matter the price/nature of the home in question. Commercials shoots, love ’em, are in their own category.

    I do believe with more focus, more effective marketing, I could make this approach a 6-figure business in a good year. But it would take a lot of work to do, hard while also maintaining a more conventional job. Unfortunately a $100K gross income, and having to provide my own healthcare, plus taxes, would put my net earning capacity down a couple notches.

    In my market, the competitors I am aware of are retired (this is incremental income), have another breadwinner in the house with them, do this as an adjunct to their other/studio business, or, are the unseen ‘shoots the moon for $100’ competition. I do not know any doing PFRE as their household’s primary income source. I’ve no doubt there are some; I’ve just not met them yet.

  • @JT, if most agents in your area are only using their cell phone, the agents that hire you or a competitor to make high quality images are out in front of the pack. There isn’t much of a reason for them to upgrade to a package with more pictures, video, aerial, etc. It’s that way where I am. When a large percentage of agents in an area are using professional photos it becomes necessary for the agent to add to their marketing to attract more clients.

    I only did one job in the past year in the city where I live. No in-town RE office does much marketing at all. I do offer a screaming deal for local jobs since it’s so easy for me to get to them rather than traveling 50 miles each way to the areas where I get most of my work. Traffic isn’t an issue, so travel time is easy to calculate.

    I keep telling myself that my service area is Target Rich, but those targets are awfully slippery.

  • Hi, I found your real estate blog regarding properties and how the market are developing interesting. I am based in Albir Costa Blanca Spain
    I work as a estate agent at Albir Property. We mostly sell and rent houses and apartments in Albir and Altea. The area here has nice climate with more that 320 days a year with sunshine. Life is good here.
    If you ever come to Spain, feel free to visit us or take a look at our web site http://www.albirproperty.com you will find many nice properties for sale and rent., houses and apartments in Albir and Altea and also plots, villas and penthouses. You find us in the centre of Albir.

    Kind regards from sunny Albir.

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