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What Should You Charge for Real Estate Photography?

December 6th, 2017

Everyone starting out in real estate photography wants to know, “What should I charge for real estate photography in my geographic location?” There isn’t a simple answer that works everywhere. Over the years, I’ve done several posts that address real estate photography pricing from several different angles but recently while talking to someone about pricing, I realized that I’ve but never summarized a complete pricing process. So here is my attempt at doing that:

  1. Determine your cost to show up: This is basically figuring out your expenses and distributing those expenses over the number of estimated shoots you do in a year. Take care that you are including all your expenses in your pricing estimates. Here’s a post on determining your cost to show up.
  2. Determine what your time is worth: The US dept of labor statistics says the average hourly rate in the US has been about $23 per hour for several years so it’s not unreasonable to be in this range.
  3. Determine the average time you spend on a shoot: You’ve got to include driving time, shooting time, and time spent on post-processing and delivery. Your total time is likely to be about 3 hours.
  4. Compute your ideal shoot price: Your shoot price is equal to your cost to show up plus your time charge. Ideal here means to cover all of your expenses and make a decent per hour wage.
  5. Research your local service market: This step is just a verification you are in the right ballpark. Compare your ideal shoot price to what other service people charge in your area. Other service people in your area are doing similar services to real estate photography in your area and have been in business for a long time. For example, routine furnace people have to show up and spend slightly less time than you will spend doing a shoot so compare their charges to your ideal shoot price. So your shoot price shouldn’t be less than the furnace maintenance guy! Here’s a post on this kind of research I did several years ago.
  6. Research your competition: Check out what other real estate photographers in your area charge and compare your quality to theirs. Researching pricing can be difficult because not all real estate photographers list their prices on their website. Find others in your area by checking the PFRE real estate photographer directory.  There’s a tendency to do nothing but pay attention to what the competition is charging. The fact is, far too many beginning real estate photographers don’t charge enough to cover their cost to show up and their time.
  7. Determine your competitive shoot price: Be aware that the photographer with the lowest shoot price is not always the “winner.” The problem with the real estate photography business is there are a lot of folks out there that haven’t gone through the process mentioned in #1 through #6 above. They are in the business part-time to just make a few extra bucks  so they tend to not include all their expenses like you would need to in order to stay in business for the long haul. So if you just lower your price to theirs, you are going to be sucked in to taking a big cut in what you are being paid for your time or if you go too far you won’t even cover your expenses. Don’t try to compete on price alone!

One thing you need to understand is that a low price doesn’t always get you more business. I have seen several cases where  photographers RAISED their price and got more business because they became more attractive to the upper-end agents. Here are two specific cases:

Both Peggy and Robert have raised their prices over the past year or so and are doing much better as a result.

My goal in this post was to review ALL the factors you should consider in calculating your pricing. I realize there is geographic variation in pricing. But what I run into time and time again when talking to people that charge $60, $75, or even $99 per shoot is they are only considering what others are charging. Many times they don’t even know what they are making per shoot or what they make per hour. My whole motivation here is to help people take care of themselves! It tears me up when I run across someone getting $36/shoot from a large national company with no mileage and supplying their own equipment. I think the first step in looking out for yourself is being independent and the next step is doing the 7 step analysis above.

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13 Responses to “What Should You Charge for Real Estate Photography?”

  • Well, I would say less than your competitors who offer the same level of expertise. This industry is (in my area anyway) being hurt by “Good Enough” photography. I believe (except for the really high end Realtors who “Get It”), that “Good Enough” is going to win if all other things are equal. All other things meaning…professionalism, availability, customer service, speed of delivery etc etc. The 5-bracket HDR -> send to vietnam process is “Good Enough”. This is just my opinion of course.

  • Cheap real estate photography is now available all over the US thanks to the large photo companies who hire local photographers for peanuts. Many of them have a special agreement with the real estate brokerages and offer the agents even further subsidiezed packages. Our market is no different (Miami area) and even some of our existing clients are debating if they should just go with the cheap option. The good thing is that the cheap companies are not able to deliver high quality images. Photographers who only spend 30-45 minutes at a site and paid $40-50 will never have the dedication to the project as we do.
    Due to this fact, we have an ever growing clientele all from word of mouth as our images do stand out and people take notice.
    All our clients wants the best they can have and that’s why they hire us (us, because due to my high standards now I have 2 other photographers and 3 videographers working for me to keep up with the demand).
    The bottom line is, if you are focusing on the quality and willing to do everything it takes to make sure that you give the best possible service and customer experience then you will not have to compete on price (at least not that much) and clients will come to you.
    It is also a good way to save on marketing and the soul crashing process of cold calling and knocking on agents’s doors. (I never got a single job from going to realtor’s offices, talking to them and leaving them our flyers…maybe I was just not cut out for direct sale 🙂 ) One more note on pricing. We make videos for houses for $750 at the moment (for up to about 4000sqf). Many of my clients with 4-5 million dollar properties are complaining about the price so I often thought that i might be overcharging since the agents might not making enough money to pay for it. Then I got a new client who hired us to do 2 videos the same day for $1500. Both properties were worth 1 million dollars yet the agent was incredibly grateful for getting such a great price on the videos. And this guy not only pays for the videos but spends 3-4 grand out of his pocket to update the curb appeal of the properties. That made me finally realize that they can pay for our services so I will start slowly raising our prices for higher end properties . 🙂

  • One thing missing from your excellent 7 points is the understanding that a one man show follows the standard “seller-doer” model. In the consulting world as well as some other that deliver a professional package of service by the person “selling” the services as well as “doing” the service, one must assess the time and expense of acquiring and managing the client in their expected hourly rate. In one man shows this is not unusual to be 50% selling and 50% doing until well established. After that you may drop down to 80% doing and 20% selling. But that is no guarantee.

    It’s important to have a plan where charge for your actual time spent “doing” is twice what you really want to make. So if you decide to be serious about this and you want to make $25 an hour you better set $50 an hour for your rates driving, shooting, processing and delivering an engagement.

    The seven point model here assumes you are 100% efficient and are turning away clients. That’s never the case. No one can realistically expect to achieve better than 80% efficiency. So set your sights high and value all of your time. Gain your clients and then focus on working as efficiently as possible.

  • We have a starting price with basic delivery options. Our starting price is higher than the average in our area and we get a lot of push back from new agents until they talk to our references. In addition our average invoice includes many optional items purchased like twilight, drone photography, video and time-lapse. Sometimes we do the work ourselves and sometimes we hire out the work. In any case, our images stand out and we do referral only business at this point in our career. Lately we have been specializing in architecturally significant homes by major architects. We love the specialized markets. Brad always brings one or two of his architectural photography students from his Art Institute class to help and learn on the job when he goes out – its his way of giving back and creating better photographers in the future. We belong to several professional associations and this also helps to legitimize our pricing.

  • Great advice above… There’s definitely a lot of discount photography companies out there and there is also is some price elasticity in this business. You have to decide right up front do you want more business at a cheaper price or less business at a higher price… A simple decision in my book, everyone would like to work less but earn more, right? If you provide a great product and good old fashion customer service you do can do fewer jobs but earn more…Will all agents be willing to pay a premium for you? No, but the agents that see the value in what you do and how you service their needs will and those are the ones you want to do business with anyway…

    One other thing you also want to consider. Agents love a deal and for this reason you might want your published pricing to have some room in it to give discounts where warranted… This could be for a first time customer, or to reward agents, brokers or offices that are loyal to you…

  • One way of judging if your price is right is by keeping track of your win loss statistic. Track how many sales you get vs. how many you quote on but don’t get. If you are getting more than 8 out of 10 your price is too low, so raise the price a little and repeat the process every few months. When you are comfortable with the amount of work you are doing for the money then stick to that price level for a year or so before repeating the process.

    Another factor is the price elasticity of the industry. I would judge this industry to be somewhat price inelastic, meaning that to some degree higher pricing will result in fewer customers willing to pay your price, but greater profits (and more time to enjoy life). Unlike a price elastic industry such as commodities where higher pricing causes loss of both customers and profit. Of course this will change depending upon the current levels of business. When there is lots of business raise prices and when business falls off stick with the current price unless profits fall enough to warrant lowering your price.

  • I came to RE photography from commercial photography where I charged about 4 times as much. Took a few jobs to realize the difference. So now I charge what makes it worth while for me doing all the work I do on a job. I spend a lot of time shooting, doing drone photography, often video, supply property site, upload images to that site and name them, video to Vimeo and so on. So a lot of time in post as well. So I tend to work with the upper level of agents in my small market and even just a few keeps me busy. I provide a strong hand holding service. So those that want the best come to me or hire photographers out of the nearest big city who you know are charging a whole lot more than I do. My clients know that their properties will sell faster with my work selling rather than “good enough” fast and dirty work as long as the property is priced realistically. If its not, then the best photo work in the world won’t get it to sell.

    I did an expensive and full coverage a few weeks ago of a property selling for $1.3k USD and it was worth it to the realtor to do so. But now the Thomas fire has burned down almost the entire street except for this property. So it sits there in a luna landscape with houses on both side just ash and a couple chimneys. So I wonder whether despite the quality level of the stills and video if the price is realistic any longer. On the other hand, it would probably be over 30 years before the next forest fire in the area.

  • Here’s a copy of my post from the “Income Potential” posting back in September. A blog on “What should you charge” ought to have a few dollar signs here and there….

    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.
    I would say that our work is professional and “clean”, but not absolute top tier. Always plenty of room to improve.

    Additionally, we’re now offering 3D Tours (via Real.Vision). Charge is $15 per 100 sf (heated) with $250 minimum. 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 are 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 single 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.
    –There is only one trade secret: Work your tail off!!

  • What should you charge for Real Estate Photography? It’s all about location, location, location. Depending on where you are, it varies greatly. Which is why we don’t attempt to charge west coast prices here in the east. It would never fly. If we learned anything in the past ten yrs of shooting listings it’s that you charge what the market will bear. For newcomers to the field I would say “do your homework” and be competitive. You can always raise your prices later.

  • This is a well beaten horse. If your doing this for extra cash, then please choose something else to do and let us make a living. There, that said. I do this full time and what the bottom line is ‘what did I earn’ . Charging anything doesn’t matter if it doesn’t support your life style. Worrying about no bookings Tuesday shouldn’t matter. I worked 12 hours Wednesday , so …. what you need to say is I worked 6 hours a day.
    My criteria is what was my billing for 2016, what where my basic expenses (not the fake IRS nit picking, but how much gas cost and what did my car cost. The gas and electricity would have been there if I was unemployed).

    Now take your Net billing (32,000.00) and divided by 12, then 21 then 8 and that is what you are working for an hour. In this case $15.87 an hour. Is that okay with you? If not you need to raise your charges or increase the home shot. PERIOD. This is a simple but effective way to know what you earn. In the summer I shoot 6 to 7 days a week, this is December, and I am shooting a few days a week but I managed my summer earnings so I am not concerned. We are like school teachers with a reversed schedule. Now $15.87 an hour isn’t bad if you want to only work 2 1/2 day a week and have a lot leisure time without any money to spend, it’s your choice. Remember that’s also getting paid $15.87 an hour for the 2 1/2 days you did nothing.

    Now how much do I charge per home, well I offer a range of services so I took my billing and divided it by the number of homes shot, so I earn or charge $214.93 per shoot. This way I don’t say crap about a home I drove to far to and didn’t charge enough for. It came out okay in the average.

    So if I want to earn more than $32,000.00 I need to shoot more homes because I know the market will not support me raising my rates. If I was only charging $75.00 a home then the answer would have been to raise my rates and shoot more to cover the brokers I would loose because of the rate hike. I have a lot of loyal clients, a lot of them are loyal because I TOLD them I expect them to be, I am not a commodity, I am a partner.

    So to recap, You think you are worth $50.00 and hour, then you need to bill $400.00 a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year because this is your JOB, not a part time endevour. Looking at it any other way and you will not reach your potential. Last year I make my $400 so I told myself I was worth $500 a day and if I couldn’t earn it I would do something else. Well I didn’t earn $500 a day this year so I am going to do something else, I am going to add another service for them to choose from and at the end of next year my earning should increase enough to reach my goal.

  • I took advice from this blog and decided life would be more fun racing to the top – it’s virtually unlimited. Take a look through the old posts on this blog that reference the writer charging $99 or $125 or such, click on the link to their site and guess what – 1/2 the time there is no site anymore. THAT’S where the price race to the bottom leads.

    I took the prices off my site. New prospects get quoted and pay significantly more than existing clients. To the ones that balk I explain respectfully; “If you’re looking for least expensive I’m not the right guy – I put a lot of care into this and actually my goal is to, someday, be the MOST expensive. Some hire me, some don’t. That’s good because the client whose primary decision driver is price… Will always be looking for less.

    An agent from South Seattle called me. After I explained that R/T driving through traffic would take the time of 2 locals shoots – he cheerfully offered to pay me double (the price of 2 shoots). Huh… Well, I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the chest; I did that shoot and went about business as usual. Then about a month later I did a small commercial shoot for a company in CA. They told me to tear up the invoice I’d sent and “double it – and you should learn what to charge”. Okay, finally I got it.

    The other thing I learned during a brutal year of 3 to 5 homes a day, with 4 days off the entire year, is that volume creates all kinds of unforeseen complications (not to mention expenses!!) Sure, the practice is great. I literally wore a drone out. Bought so many $100 strobes I lost count. Time for proactive learning? Not so much. Time for polite phone calls to help a client? Possible but very tough. Family? Hmmm. House chores? Sheesh.

    There isn’t a dollar amount answer to the question above. I think the answer is: Deliver the best product in your area and charge the most. Then work hard to get better, and charge more… but maybe at least you’ll have the time to do that.

  • It is a really simple answer, actually, no matter what part of the country you are in. You are running a business, how much do you need to support that business and meet all of its obligations, i.e. expenses, payroll, taxes, equipment, debt service, fringe benefits, retirement and etc. If you are relying on a second job, or your spouse’s income to subsidize your operations, you are not running a business, you are pursuing a hobby and putting downward pressure on prices affecting those that are trying to run a photography business.

  • One thing not mentioned here is the idea of pricing based on what OTHER things you can do. Most discussions seems have have an “understood” background idea that the pricing will be formed in light of “only doing real estate photography”. Or at least primarily.

    This should not be the case. The goal should be to focus on those activies which generates the most money in the least amount of tim eand which one enjoys. Or semi-enjoys. Or at least doesn’t hate.

    What I mean is considering doing other things. Portrait photography would be a good example. If you can generate $1,000 average sale portrait sessions but the “ceiling” on what most agents are going to be willing to pay for photos is $200…then it would likely be smart engineer your business so that most of your work is portrait work and you fit in your real estate photography in the gaps. Keep the calendar filled…but fill it up with the most profitable things first.

    In my own case, the current state of affairs in Metro Detroit real estate photography/videography is priced relatively low. Not the sub-$150 prices that some areas seem to be struggling with…but pushing over the $200 mark gets agents to gasp. Seriously. Their reaction to a $250 quote for flambient photography is what you would EXPECT them to have if you had put a figure of $5,000 out there. Complete disconnect between the customer and the value.

    I believe that the market will improve over time and I will continue to put my best work out there, but it is clear to me that doing just photography alone will not be able to help me foot the bill for the goals I have in life. So I have to continue selling houses. Commission checks are four and five figure paydays. The only way to match that potential would be to have both higher prices AND high volume. Right now the market is not fond of higher (over $300 total spend) prices…which means that if you choose to keep prices high then you will have MUCH lower volume. So it’s a double-edged sword.

    That being the case, I’d be stupid to hang up the real estate sales side of what I do. That needs to dominate my calendar. At least until the market matures.

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