Marketing Tip: Bypass The Agent and Market Photography to The Seller

January 26th, 2008

Ed Medeiros of Honolulu just posted a comment on an earlier post that I think is a fantastic insight! His marketing idea is that the home seller is really the one in control of the home selling process and agents that aren’t doing everything necessary to market a listing deserve to be bypassed. Forget about trying to convince real estate agents to use your services; go straight to the homeowner. Ed says:

“The RE agent is not the one in control of what is done to promote the owner’s home it’s the owner. The agent is deathly afraid of loosing a client especially when they know another agent will get him. The HOME OWNER, once again most of them just sign the papers and expect the agent to do all the work. They leave the one most important thing that should be performed by a professional up to a complete amateur with a point and shoot…”We as professional architectural / Real Estate photographers have always been dealing with RE Agents. It’s time to call on the HOME OWNERS who are waiting and waiting for their home to sell and make them aware of what is going on if their pictures are unappealing…”Believe me if a home owner hires you to shoot their home and they hand your bill to the agent THE AGENT WILL PAY THE BILL OR LOOSE THE LISTING!…”Sample ad… Home Owners! Are You Still Trying To Sell Your Home? Have You Dropped Your Price More Than Once when Your Next Door Neighbor Didn’t Have To? It May Not Be Just The Market, Take a Close Look at The Pictures Being Used. Where They Shot By Your Agent? or A Professional Photographer? etc. etc.”

I think it is a fantastic approach!” Ed you are a genius! Ed talks about reaching home sellers with a newspaper ad but I think this is a perfect situation to use direct marketing with a quality postcard. You can easily collect addresses from properties on the market at real estate web sites. Newspaper ads are over priced and not very targeted. You could easily collect 300 high-end home sellers in your area that don’t have quality photos and mail them a postcard for around $250. My guess is that your conversion rate (number of home sellers that would call you) would be very high.

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20 Responses to “Marketing Tip: Bypass The Agent and Market Photography to The Seller”

  • I think it’s a great idea. i’ll try it soon!

  • I also think this is a great idea. However, … A word of caution based on personal experience.
    I’ve done the same thing but I’ve targeted the agent, not the homeowner. For example, I look in the RE ads for properties with bad photos (especially the prime exterior shot). They are easy to find. I then go to the property and take some exterior shots. I use whatever tricks I know to get better ones. I then contact the agent via email and try, tactfully, to show them the difference. Even so, you won’t believe how easily feelings get hurt and how often I’m told to leave them alone. I recently had to stand on the homeowners property for just such a shot. I first rang the door bell, introduced myself and asked for permission. As soon as they realized it wouldn’t cost them anything, they were fine with the idea. After contacting the agent with my photos, he told me in no uncertain terms to never contact one of his clients ever again.

    That’s the dark side. On the other hand, one of my best long time agents was originally found this way. So beware; you may get put on some agents ‘bad guy’ list for doing this.

  • It’s like the pharmaceuticals targeting the general population in addition to physicians.

    But unlike the pharmaceuticals you need to tread carefully.

    I occassionally get unsolicited calls from sellers who have an agent and are not happy with the photography of their home. And they end up paying for it. Most sellers are still clueless. Someone in my building was selling his condo and the photos were some of the worst I’ve see so out of sympathy (yes), I offered to shoot a few images for him. He sent them off to her and several months later I have yet to hear from her. I do have another realtor who uses me all the time now after my having been solicited by his seller to shoot his property.

  • I think there’s a market for this but it’s mainly with the FSBOs as this group must produce marketing materials that are BETTER than what could be done via an RE agent. Unfortunately, they are also probably more price-sensitive than RE agents, who can judge our value relative to their commission.

    That said, there’s definately a place for us to offer photography as part of a larger marketing package to the FSBO. My feeling is that if you bundled photography + marketing materials (i.e. flyers/brochure) + Single-property website at an attractive price, you’ve got something.

  • @Mark,
    Yes, great analogy. This is exactly like the drug companies!

    I’m skeptical that FSBOs are a market worth going after. They are the real cheap scates of the world that thing they can do every thing them selves. Flyers, photos and marketing.

  • Larry,
    The real cheap scates are the agents who abandon good marketing principles when the going gets tough and start DYIing their photography and tours. See one at:
    Tour# 2334786

  • […] Source and Read More: Photography for Real Estate […]

  • All of this is true and valuable information. If you measure the amount of homes NOT FOR SALE oppose to the others, you’ll see that the direct photography market to homeowners is greater. Regardless of the economy and mortgage problems. Homeowners sometimes do not have the for sight to determine the need of photography of their own home unless is for real estate. They might need it for insurance purposes, to send professional photos to relatives and friends after a move or remodel, for their own photo albums to pass along to their kids when they get older, etc. Just think, do you have any interior photos of your grandparents home or homes, or interior photos of your parents first home when you were a kid or before you were born? Endless possibilities. You might be able to negotiate a better rate base on multiple uses for the homeowners and at the same time educate your clients on copyright issues. Have a great year

  • While a good idea, I agree with the “being very careful” approach. If you make the agent mad, you may never get another shoot from them. Even if you make the homeowner happy, once that unit sells, will you ever get another job from that homeonwer?

    I’ve had a couple similar situations, and I’ve found it best to tread very lightly with the homeowner aproach. Sure, make them happy, but don’t put your regular client (the agen) in a situation where they have to pony up money they were not planning on.

    In short, I don’t do it because it risks loosing my regular (and frequent) client – the agent.

  • I admit this is a pretty aggressive marketing approach. It certainly is not for everybody. As with all marketing it needs to be tested to see how it works. If you used this I thing you would want to very carefully word the direct marketing piece or ad.

    I’d like to hear from anyone who tries this approach.

  • This approach may work well in my area where agents regularly recoup the cost of pro photography from the owner. So there is little chance of the agent being stung in the hip pocket, although the agent’s creative pride might take a minor hit. Dealing with the owner directly also would also allow creative licensing as Roberto has suggested (fantastic idea Roberto). Here the owner EXPECTS a copy of the photos supplied to the agent and EXPECTS to use them in any way they like – after all, (in their mind) they (the owner) has paid for them right? I’ve just begun to specify licensing terms but I feel I have to license to agent AND owner, for the purpose of marketing the property, in order to fit in with local custom. If I treated the owner as an ‘additional use’ and tried to charge them extra, or tell the agent he cannot give the owner a copy, then I’d be out of business. Dealing directly with owners would enable me to educate on the whole concept of licensing, and I think, define more watertight usage terms compared the ‘potentially leaky’ route the photos currently take…from agent to owner. I’ll bet the agent doesn’t bother to outline usage terms to the owner on my behalf! It might flow better the other way.
    I shot a home recently and the resident (owner’s mom) told me that photos would be very useful to help her son (the builder) market his business. I tactfully (and nervously – I’m new at this) explained that the reason this shoot was costing so little was that the photos were for one purpose – selling the house – and that her notion would involve additional cost. She was fine with that (whew)…although I’m going to keep an eye on Junior’s web site! And the potential for ongoing work with Junior hasn’t escaped me 🙂

  • I am surprised that this has not been discussed on these pages before. I would think that creating some kind of buz with homeowners would definitely increase the number of tours for all providers. I am not sure that an advertisement for Joe’s Tours will directly feed all business to Joe. The homeowner may say ” Hey I want one of those” and voila the agent gives him his own slideshow (sarcasm here, I am from the Northeast, perhaps a touch of cynicism as well for being a Newenglander), or they look in the phonebook for a virtual tour company but Joe does not have a listing. Then there is the cost, a small photo advt in our Sunday paper is almost $300 for a 3 in by 2 in advertisement. To get real saturation and make a push I think the cost would be too high. Would a National VT Association be able to maintain standards, certify and advertise enough to make advertising directly to the homeowner doable? Perhaps but it is a far way from an advertisement every other week.

    Back to the licensing, most MLS’s require that the agent give up all licensing on the photos they submit. Once it is on the MLS they are up for anyone to copy. Any photographer that is an agent should be well advised to have someone else make the phone calls to the homeowners of active listings. A Realtor is only able to communicate with principal of an active listing upon solicitation by that individual.

  • MLS can give any notice they want. Copyright is at the Photographer.

  • Larry,
    The topic of copyright involving MLS probably needs a separate discussion with some legal types help. I’d like to know our rights or the lack there of. Maybe we should be putting our copyright notice in the bottom corner of each photo?

  • I would tread lightly with potentially forcing agents to pay for something they were not willing to pay for in the beginning. I am starting to see an acknowledgment from companies that with the strength the internet has gained as far a starting point – the photography needs to be good or your listing is one click away from passed over. I won’t say that agents like the prices and there is not a flood of agents looking for good photographers. In fact it has prompted some of them to purchase SLR’s and a Flash – thinking that is all it is going to take. This is a business that builds slowly but does build. You only need to work with a few heavy hitters and BAM – your busy time to raise rate.

    Illustrating to agents that using pro photography and using good looking promotional materials also works for getting the next listing. I know of an agent that was suddenly not getting listings in the ultra pricey, guard gated, golf & Beach community she had sold homes in for years. Instead the other person was ….. other person was using me and just grabbed like 10 listings in a month. Original person was informed by a friend why she did not get at least one of the listings. Original person now using me regularly but might have retained more business had she stopped using the her own – photographic style. Unrecoverable Poo.

    I got somewhat of the track there….. long and the short of it is you will find yourself working with agents eventually – even if the homeowner hires you and having tee’d off agents won’t be good. In this town I could be black balled over a cocktails and dinner.

    M. James

  • @Justin, I haven’t read the rest of the posts, but I think you have it backwards with regard to who is more price sensitive. Agents, despite the commission, are nickeled and dimed at every turn. Agents that go to the trouble of hiring a professional photographer to come in and photograph their listings spend a lot of money and a lot of time to market their properties. Granted there are bad agents out there that don’t spend money in the right places, or feel that their method of marketing works just fine.

    However, in the FSBO market, you are likely to make more if your offer a package that includes more than photos. If you provide well designed marketing packages to go with the photos, you can make a handsome amount of money. Agents, on the other hand, feel that they are already spending a lot of money to market their listings, plus their time is valuable too. They also give you tons of repeat business, but sellers aren’t going to keep calling you week after week with a new listings to photograph. Thus, you can be paid well by marketing to homeowners, but you have to work much harder to find them. Keep in mind however, that if the homeowner hires you to photograph their home, they will want the right to provide the photos to their agent, and potentially more than one agent if they re-list their home after a period of time with another agent. Thus, you can’t expect to keep getting paid by each agent utilizing your photos to market the home. So, be prepared for that.

  • I think it’s a great idea to go directly to the client. As an agent I would have no problem with it. Better pictures need to be taken of homes to stand out in todays market. As long as you don’t make me look bad in the process of trying to get your clients…have at it.

  • One thing i notice about Realtors is they can really are horrible at online marketing and cross-marketing. I see that alot of realtors will pay hundreds of dollars for photos, websites, tours, fliers, newspaper ads and other print ads, but when they print up things for paper marketing they leave out everything or alot of what the have online, making whati believe to be a waste of your advertising dollar. I see that Realtors leave their business cards with the house when the visit. As well as title companies have flier box holders with business card slots that hold the property fliers up. So, what i have come up with is to print up business cards with my business contact information stating that this home has a Virtual tour and Property site and print the URL of the home on the card. Simple, Small and it gets in front of the market i want, other Realtors. The Realtor or Consumer brings up the property site and boom, right at the bottom is my business contact info and a link back to my site.

    I would not go directly to the sellers in my market i deal in.

    What do you think of my idea?

    Chad Jones

  • I forgot to mention. The Realtor can use these cards to hand out at open houses, door knocking and such on top of me leaving them at the home owners home. So this is a way of marketing to both the RE agent and the buyers and sellers that are in the market. Plus, business cards to print are so cheap, so the cost of this marketing will cover itself with just one referral.

  • Here’s some helpful clarification from a real estate agent/photographer; me. I recently spoke with my Broker regarding contacting homeowner’s who have inadequate or non-existing images on the MLS. He told me that as long as I am not soliciting the listing from a listed property, they are fair game for me as a photographer.

    As for marketing; I am currently trying the direct marketing approach and sidestepping the agent. I sent out a marketing piece after combing the MLS for the ever-present “bad photos”. I target the $1,000,000 market primarily because high-end clients wouldn’t turn their noses up at paying me $350 for the shoot, marketing post cards, and a nice dedicated website and VT. I will let you know how this pans out. BTW, I’ve noticed mostly Canon folks here. Hope y’all don’t mind a Nikon D300 coming on board.

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