8 Rules To Bootstrap Success In Real Estate Photography

October 26th, 2009

I had an insightful conversation last night with a highly successful portrait photographer (lets call him Jim) that has been struggling, unsuccessfully, during the last 12 months to break into real estate photography.

Even though Jim’s real estate work is jaw dropping good, from what I could tell he has just not connecting with the top real estate agents that can benefit from his work.

I see many photographers these days moving into real estate to supplement sagging income from other areas of photography, like wedding and portraits, that are suffering  from the economic down-turn. Real estate agents have been struggling this last 18 months just like everyone else. The big challenge for listing agents has been convincing home owners to get there price down to where the current market value of there homes is. This is not easy and very few agents are up to this challenge.

I think it is a good time to review some fundamentals of breaking into real estate photography:

  1. Target only the top listing agents in your area. Most of the agents (these days 95% +) are struggling to make it because they are doing so few transactions. So success critically depends on your ability to connect with these top few percent of agents and demonstrate how your photos can help their marketing stand out from the crowd (the 100s of other listings).
  2. Make a list of the top agents in your area so you can focus your marketing energies on the right people. This list can change from year to year. You can make this list without much work from some online research. The top agents are the ones that are listing and selling the most homes. On some sites it’s hard to tell listings from sold listings but there are sites like that show sold listings
  3. The very best way to connect with top agents is face-to-face. Direct personal contact is hard to beat. Sometimes you can meet top listing agents at open houses but most of the time top listing agents will let buyers agents hold their listings open because open houses are designed to meet buyers.
  4. When you talk to listing agents talk about specifics of the photography they use on their current listings and how you can make their listings stand out from the crowd. This means you have to do your homework. Look at an agent’s listings before you talk to them. Be able to talk about “the photos on your 1234 Main St listing”. This will get their attention.
  5. Referrals are the most powerful form of marketing. Doing a good job for a top agent, and getting them to refer you to their friends is the ultimate in marketing method. Up and coming agents frequently ask top agents for referrals on vendors they use. To get
  6. Be sure you are not wasting your marketing on buyers agents. Agents specialize and only listing agents need real estate photography services. Jim said he spent time regularly going on caravans (groups of agents that drive around the area looking at homes that are on the market) handing out cards. This was a waste of Jim’s time since caravans are the most use to buyers agents. Listing agents tend not to go on caravans.
  7. Going to office meetings is useful if you are meeting top listing agents. Frequently they don’t attend office meetings because brokers frequently design office meetings to help the new agents. Who attends office meetings varies widely from office to office. Don’t go to meetings blindly; use your top agent list to make sure you are connecting with the right people.
  8. Your portrait or wedding photography won’t sell your real estate photography. I see many photographers moving into real estate photography that try to have one website. In the scheme of things websites are not that expensive. I firmly believe that anyone that’s seriously doing real estate photography will benefit from a site dedicated to their real estate photography services.

These principles work and they work almost anywhere. Marketing success is dependent primarily on your ability do demonstrate to the top agents in your area how you can help them get their marketing job done. You can’t do this by showing them your portraits or wedding photos.

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11 Responses to “8 Rules To Bootstrap Success In Real Estate Photography”

  • I worked as a contract real estate photographer for over 2 years, shooting exteriors for the MLS. Due to the slow RE market, my job phased out as did the company I worked for. So I decided to break out on my own as a stills photographer and began contacting RE agents in my area. I started out doing freebies just to get started and later began charging a very reasonable rate for packages of 12 photos.
    I now have a partner who works with me and have switched entirely to HDR (high dynamic range) photography for high-end listings. The work is more involved but the rate is a lot higher for this caliber of photography which includes pole aerials for exteriors.
    My only concern is the future of the RE market and whether it will rebound in the years ahead.

  • Larry,
    don’t under estimate the need to service the non-top selling agents. The top seller may control 50% of the listings, but that still leaves 50%. It’s surprising the number of shoots we get from agents that only list 6 to 12 properties a year.

  • Larry addressed the non-top-selling agents. He is just saying that your marketing should emphasize the top sellers, because they will be your bread and butter, and the rest of the agents will come either by referral or by more modest marketing efforts. It is a matter of how to most effectively allocate limited time and resources, not neglecting a portion of the market.

  • For sure the “second-tier” agents are the easiest to get to, and if you can get a critical mass of them, you’ll pretty much “own” that office. That will give you the creds to go after the top dogs. Unless you’re very, very good, and very, very savvy, it will be hard to break into this genre at the highest level. Most photographers I see are taking anywhere from 1 to 3 years to build up enough clientele to support themselves solely through RE photography.

  • Most local Realtor Associations have an Affiliate council, join, get involved, set up a table at monthly luncheons, offer photography class for agents…these have all helped me grow my business. That along with $25 credit to my existing clients for each new client they refer to me.

  • thanks for all the tips. I have been shoot high end real estate for sometime. I photographer for my brother Madison Hildebrand on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing. I am his main photographer getting him super high end images. But in this market these are slower for sure. Most real estate agents don’t get it on how important high end photos really are. Since everyone and your mother had a digital camera they all think they can do this themselves. The trick is telling agents
    how important really good photos are.
    if you look at my blog you will see samples

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  • Is it a good idea to do “freebees” to get my foot in the door with real estate photography? How should I charge?

  • Allan- I would be very selective about doing free shoots. Do free shoots to build your portfolio and/or if you’ve carefully qualified the agent. That is you know she is a respected top producing agent (has listed 8-10 or more homes in the last year) that would likely be a future client.

    The idea is you are giving away something valuable; make sure you are likely to get something valuable in return.

  • What if you do good work and the agent does not want to share and gives you bad feedback to others, but still uses you all he time is soley doing so because he dosn’t want his competition to have the same product?

  • Anonymous- It’s important to build an honest, transparent relationship with a client like this. Ask for referrals… let them know it’s important to building your business. Ask them directly for feedback on you work. If the client still acts like a jerk… move on and don’t let it bother you

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