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Are We at the Beginning of the End for Independent Real Estate Photography?

September 20th, 2017

Joanna in Pennsylvania says:

There appears to be a trend in buying/selling homes by emerging full-service companies. These include Purplebricks and one we recently came across called Houwzer that is based out of Philadelphia and moving into the suburbs. It’s a one-stop shop with buyer/seller savings and a full service advertising campaign including HD photography, video, the works: https://houwzer.com/sell

Maybe I’m wrong but this appears to be the beginning of the end for independent real estate photographers who are already competing with Zillow, Trulia, HomeJab, Obeo, and CirclePix in an attempt to hold onto a small corner of the market.

First of all, real estate photographers don’t compete with Zillow/Trulia. They do compete with HomeJab, Obeo and CirclePix, but by and large, independents can compete well with the big national real estate photography companies because the national companies have trouble providing great service.

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

Sure, when you are an independent, you’ll need to master more skills than if you are working for a larger operation where someone else is doing the marketing and post-processing etc. But I think those who have gone through the process of learning how to compete with the bigger companies will tell you that it’s worth the extra work!

In fact, several of the photographers featured in our success stories category started out working for large national 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 became independent and eventually was so successful that she had to hire employees to keep up with the work. Peggy is now retired and her sister is running FastPix Real Estate Photography.

In conclusion, I think if you are independent and having trouble competing with a big national company, you need to figure out how you can up your marketing game and make sure you are providing similar products/services.

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15 Responses to “Are We at the Beginning of the End for Independent Real Estate Photography?”

  • Bottom line it. If you’re providing the sub par product, service and consistency that these “Large” companies provide….than you should be worried.

    One agency that I work for from time to time, contacts me when they need to clean up a mess from one of their “contracted” photographers. I won’t work for their scale and they understand that if I go out for them, it will be at my rates. The point is, that these “Large” houses are unable to retain those with talent for very long at the rates they pay.

    Provide good service, a great product, consistency and you will excel.

  • It’s all about building relationships with your clients, and service – big companies can’t compete with you in those areas. We have big full services companies here in Vancouver, Canada – Pixilink, Cotella, etc.

    With big companies your clients can’t work with the same photographer all the time – it’s usually any of the photographers that work for those companies – in fact Pixilink refused to accept realtors requesting
    a particular photographer. I know, because I initially worked for Pixilnk for a while until some of their biggest clients asked me to leave the company and work with them directly.

    A realtor’s advantage in working with an independent photographer

    Having a photographer they know, trust, and are comfortable leaving alone with their clients and alone at properties – 75% of the time realtors let me in and leave or hide keys for me – one of my very best clients I sometimes pick up keys as
    it is easy and on my way to most of their listings. Trust and reliability, and knowing they will always have great images is important to the best realtors. They also know I will move anything (within reason) that is out of place – even though
    the majority of my clients do staging (sometimes different angles require moving some flowers, a chair, etc.

    I have really nice clients – they like me and we have great relationships. The same difference you get between going to McDonalds drive through or fine dining 🙂

  • I have great Clients! They know I’m there for them, to provide great photography, quickly, at a reasonable price and that I’m there to help them. This is my advantage I have over the companies trying to take away my work. The agents who use these companies or even just someone in their office I don’t think turn as many properties, they have to work harder than the agents who use independent real estate photographers. It’s more personable, I treat my clients like my friends.

  • What Jerry and Shane said. Same thing is happening in the aerial photography world. Large company will offer peanuts to local folks only for them to realize the time required simply isn’t worth the effort. Generally lower customer service and lesser quality product are a part of those companies.

    Do good work. Show up on time. Be personable. Work with your clients. Show interest. And youll never give a client a reason to leave.

  • When I participate in local Realtor trade shows there are always several of the industrial sized companies pushing their services and trying to hire as well. I prefer to be seen after them but can’t always control who see who when. The line I use is something they can’t compete with. “when you hire me, you get me. What you see is what you get” Experienced Realtors don’t want some new smuck showing up, and some other smuck the next time.

  • I dont see how Home Jab is even in business. Their basic, HDR and premium photography examples all look like the same HDR product. All of their examples look good but that’s not what you get and they are very inconsistent.

    Buy the basic package and someone shows up and shoots HDR. Buy the HDR package and someone shows up and shoots junky, noisy HDR. Buy the premium photo package and guess what you get….. HDR.

    Their prices and tiers are crazy inconsistent. I can’t believe people hire them based on their pricing tiers.

    Lastly is drones. They claim all of their drone pilots are insured and FAA approved. (No such thing) Someone complained on Google about them and they replied that they have a section 333 exemption. That might be true but you had to list all of your pilots when applying for 333 exemption and it’s impossible for them to do so when hiring all their out of state drone pilots. I can’t believe the FAA Is concerned about this one person or that one person while home jab will hire any kid with a drone to fly for profit.

    Cheap pricing set aside, not hard to compete with that garbage. I got suckered into price matching home jab by a shady brokerage. That’s when I learned not to price match and they just moved on suckering other local photographers into price matching while providing better work to gain their business.

  • TourFactory has contracted with some of the best photographers in this area and gives huge discounts to real estate agencies for just the virtual tours not for the images. The biggest agency in this area have good photographers on staff. Top agents do the same. So times change where you have to find an edge to stay in business. Faster service for less helps

  • Startup all-in-one firms depend on volume at low prices. Low prices depend on near sweatshop labor models.
    Volume depends on glitzy, expensive ads.

    Small business is not a volume business and never has been. That is the defining error of new small biz owners.
    The small business owner provides a good or service unavailable to the volume producer specifically because the detail, labor or unique nature of the products preclude volume production.
    Because of the price, volume is naturally limited.

    Focus on the unique product you offer and STOP THINKING ABIOUT BEING THE CHEAPEST.
    As the saying goes “My competition is cheaper, they know their worth”.

    Better yet. They are not your competition because you are not in the low quality business.

  • Just as simple as a burger, want a burger you can go to any chain, want a good piece of meat, go to a specific deluxe restaurant and you will get your money’s worth.

    We in the RE photography business are the deluxe end and have to let the client know we are exactly that.

  • I believe the opposite is going to happen. In 10 or 20 years I believe real estate photography is going to sort of catch up to the rest of the world in sophistication and quality level. It’s quite obvious to me there’s nowhere to go but up with re photos. Once the quality catches on and is proven effective, I think these big companies are going to go downhill unless they up their game somehow.

  • The 4 biggest reasons an agent would use a company vs. an independent (imo) is 1) someone answers the phone, 2) easy,
    easy and easy to use, 3) price and 4) turnaround times. These are big problems that independents face. I believe these
    will be solved soon.

  • All of the contracts I have seen from large companies have been universally bad. They require the photographer to have and maintain equipment from an approved list. The photographer is required to agree to a non-compete clause. The company will often wish to schedule appointments without consultation and there is no compensation for any cancellations. Some require extensive, intrusive and ongoing background check releases. Most require that you agree to submit to random drug testing within hours or a day at most. The biggest negative is that after doing all of the work to qualify, there is no guarantee that they will send any work your way or even do any promotion in your area. The contract and most annoyingly, the non-compete clause stay in effect even if you are not assigned any work. An important thing to research with one of these companies is how long it takes to get paid. Never mind what one of their reps tell you, if the contract states 90 days, that might be how long it takes.

    PFRE is a service business and most people prefer to use service providers that they know. If you have established a good relationship with your clients chances are that they aren’t going to switch to somebody new. They might try out one of these big companies if the price is significantly less, but there already isn’t a lot of margin. If a client brings up the price difference, wish them well and just wait a little bit. Chances are very good that you’ll have them back before too long. Never knowing who the photographer is until they show up on the job means that there isn’t any chance the agent can trust them and will have supervise every job. The company may also not have a local photographer to take a job outside of a densely populated area. If the broker/agent is under contract to use the service, they may be stuck having to wait days until they can schedule an appointment.

    I’ve only had to reshoot one image on one occasion over the last 5 years, but I let my clients know that if there is a problem or I missed a shot that they need for their marketing, I can get it done within a day. Several clients simply send me a lock box code for vacant homes and ask in the email for an estimate of when they could have images. They don’t have to show up to the property and I have some leeway on my arrival time so if I’m starving and want to neck down some lunch, I don’t have to worry about being spot on time (which I am 99% of the time). I often do pre-marketing images of a front exterior if a home is being renovated so my client can tease the property ahead of when it’s formally listed for sale. With pre-market images I am not as fastidious about removing power lines, light poles, utility cabinets, replacing a lawn, etc. and since I charge for the virtual cleanup, I earn more for those images (per hour/per image) than for the ones I make later when the home is ready (processed image removed). I haven’t seen that service offered anywhere.

  • In smaller markets where photography is more likely to make a difference in the sale of a property, you’re probably still fine. In NYC, it’s becoming more difficult to run a sustainable business for a few reasons:

    1. Cost of living is higher.
    2. There is a much larger talent pool of independent photographers, many of whom are willing to do this part-time to a little side cash and have no qualms about undercutting full-time people for more business since they are not reliant on real estate photography as a primary source of income.
    3. The current demand for property is such that homes tend to sell themselves even without photography. I regularly see homes listed and sold with nothing other than ripped screenshots of the exterior from Google Street View.
    4. Despite the increased cost of everything else, major companies are still charging $100 to photograph a property and have no shortage of starving photographers working for them.
    5. Most of the homes are occupied with busy tenants or owners, meaning the large companies have an edge since they can accommodate any schedule. This means that the real estate agent doesn’t have to worry about matching your schedule with the people living at the property.
    6. The vast majority of properties for sale are unimpressive to begin with. Seriously… when a rundown studio apartment in a rundown building can sell for $500,000 and a house sitting on a 20×80 lot selling for $2,000,000 can be sold with the buyer fully aware that it’s in need of a complete gut renovation to be considered habitable, then who cares about photographing these properties that are hideous anyway?

  • Dont confuse discount agencies with a higher new profit. Redfin is dying a slow death, is only being kept alive by Wall St.

  • OK, so everything being said above, one major factor needs to be considered and that is that the RE agents clients are far more sophisticated now when it comes to how their home is marketed. I would not be surprised that most of you have had the experience of a RE agent contacting you in a panic, asking if you could photograph their listing ASAP because their clients are PISSED OFF with the product they supplied to showcase their home. This year alone, I personally have had at least four I can think of and that does not include the new agents that did not let us know.

    Consumers are paying big bucks in commissions to sell their main asset and with the advent of the internet, they know crap when they see it….

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