The Reason Why Real Estate Photography Marketing Must Be Targeted

November 7th, 2009

In my Real Estate Photography Business book I use a distribution curve from a 2004 National Association of Realtors (NAR) income study to demonstrate why it’s so important for real estate photographers to target their marketing.  The NAR income study shows that:

  1. In 2004 the median income for Realtors who had been in the business for 2 years or less was $13,000. This is below the poverty level in most states.
  2. In 2004 the top 8% of the Realtors did 73% of the business.
  3. Realtor income is highly correlated to time in the business because a large percentage of their business is from referrals and word of mouth.

I can’t find similar data for what’s happening right now (fall 2009) but it’s not difficult to infer from the anecdotal data that the situation is much worse. By worse, I mean agents incomes that have been in the business for a short time is near zero while agents that have been in the business for many years are making ends meet but are struggling. There are far fewer successful agents than there used to be. Here is a NAR Realtor income study for 2008, but it doesn’t have as much detailed data as the 2004 study. I doubt the NAR wants to reveal the details of what’s happening in 2009.

What this means to real estate photographers is that you’ll be encountering agents say, “I can’t afford professional photography” a lot. You’ll be thinking to yourself, “right… you are making 3% on a $500,000 sale and you can’t afford a few hundred dollars for good photography”?  The thing you have to remember is that these days the home may not sell this year or before the contract expires. So up-front marketing expenses are a gamble. Don’t be frustrated, by “I can’t afford photography”, just move on and keep pitching your services in a targeted way.

Your marketing challenge as a real estate photographer is to use all the means at your disposal to find the agents that are selling homes in your market. There are agents that are selling homes and have money to spend on marketing photography but the rest of the agents be closing a few or no transactions. How do you find who’s closing transactions?

  1. Many broker sites show SOLD and PENDING transactions by listing agent.
  2. shows sold transactions but you can always figure out who the listing agent is.
  3. The agents with the most listings (as shown on broker sites in your area) tend to be the most successful listing agents.
  4. Drive through neighborhoods and notice PENDING and SOLD signs… these signs are the most valuable form of advertising for listing agents, they tend to leave them out as long as possible.

Your success in this market depends much on getting to know those agents that are successful and building a relationship with them by showing that you can contribute to their success.

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9 Responses to “The Reason Why Real Estate Photography Marketing Must Be Targeted”

  • Once again I encourage the idea of marketing our services directly to the sellers, THROUGH the agents. This was discussed in a thread several weeks ago. The concept is that the expense of obtaining high quality photos to use in marketing efforts can be borne by the sellers, just as they are paying for such expenses as touch-up painting and repairs, home staging ideas, etc. The sellers have the strongest vested interest in getting their property sold; let’s more effectively use agents (whether big or little fish) to advocate the purchase of our services by the sellers — everyone can win that way.

  • Bill- You are right! One of the very best ways to market to home sellers is with for sale sign riders or yard signs that have a URL that shows off your work. Neighbors love to see how property is being marketed in their neighborhood. See:

    Other approaches are to direct market (mail post cards) new listings in a neighborhood and even go personally talk to homeowners. Problem with either of these techniques is your marketing expense is going towards getting a single customer whereas, when you successfully build a relationship with a agent you can get shoots from that person for years.

  • Larry, I think you missed the gist of Bill’s comment. He is emphasizing trying to get realtors to get home sellers to pay for photography, which is not the custom in the US. This has been discussed ad nauseum in the pfre discussion group, and it seems that the view of all the most experienced pfre people in the US is that, while having sellers pay for photography seems to make sense, there is no way for photographers to change the established custom: it is far too ingrained and there is too much competition among realtors in the US.

  • I agree, David, sellers hate to pay for anything they consider “advertising”, however the tide is turning in this economy. Realtors are convincing sellers to pay for cleaning services, staging, landscaping, etc. They will ask owners to pay for quality photography (and they will sell them on the idea) if they believe it will help sell the house.
    I am a long time photographer with a house repair service. I market my repair services through Realtors. I’m slowly trying to move into RE photography, using my RE contacts. I’ve seen these people “fire” sellers because they are unwilling to do what is necessary to sell the house. If they can be convinced that high quality photos are necessary, they will convince the owners to pay for them.

  • Hal, were many realtors paying for cleaning, staging and landscaping before, or are these things that just weren’t getting done before and now they are? I suspect the latter. Anyway, in my opinion sellers paying for photography will only come because realtors make it happen (although maybe photographers can put a bug in their ear). My guess is that, if the tide does begin to turn, it will be because the very top agents start to do it first, and that it will take quite a while to trickle down to the second tier agents, if it ever does.

  • The primary purpose of shooting photos is to get them into the MLS. As soon as an agent lists a property he/she wants to get the photos into the listing as soon as possible. Not all agents will bother to hire a real estate photographer to do this if they can do it themselves. The only time they will consider hiring someone is if the property is in the $500,000 to $1 million+ range. I don’t think agents would even consider asking a seller to pay for the photos they will upload to the MLS. That is part of the agent’s service to the seller as are other advertising services such as brochures, flyers, etc. If the potential commission is high enough, the agent will do whetever they can to market the property, even in this messed-up economy.

  • I don’t know about the rest of you but a large majority of my past customer’s who have ordered virtual tours have been the home owners/sellers themselves.

    They had purposefully went out of their way to go beyond what their realtor was offering in terms of creative solutions to help sell and/or enhance their listings through unique marketing initiatives. In the end, they did all the research themselves and sought out my services on their own time.

    I am not saying that this goes to show that the end consumer or rather seller is willing to go out of their way more than what most may expect… or maybe i am…

    All i am trying to say is that their is clearly an underestimated outlook placed upon the seller/home owner by most RE photographers… yeah you may not get repeat business, but their are other facts and most importantly psychographics to consider when marketing your services…

    Sometimes it’s best to market directly to the end user or consumer (in this case, the home seller) rather than the chain or distributor (in this case, the realtor). This is a simple push and pull marketing strategy & philosophy that most people tend to forget…

  • I also concur with Daniel. We have received numerous calls from either the homeowner or an agent that says the homeowner insisted their agent use our company. We have discussed doing some type of “direct to seller” marketing but haven’t figured out the best way. I do think this is underestimated and could be valuable to some degree. ALSO, when a homeowner insists that their agent call us and use our services this opens the door to an opportunity for us to build a relationship with their agent and potentially gain their reoccurring business.

  • Anthony- You might try mailing post cards to homeowners of new listings on the market. Here in the Northwest you can use several broker sites to send you an email with each new listing that comes on the market in a specific area or zip. If you limit your mailing to 10 to 20 a week or whatever in a specific price range and specific geographic area it may be effective.

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