What Percent of Real Estate Listings Use Professional Photography?

August 12th, 2012

I’ve been trying to find a way to measure the extent that quality real estate photography is being used and I think I’ve finally found an easy way!

What helped me discover this is a couple of weeks ago a reader asked me to do a poll on what percent of real estate agents use professional photographers. I pointed out to him that’s not something I could accurately poll but one could measure by looking at a major real estate site like Zillow and just counting the listings where quality real estate photography is being used. The more I thought about it the more I like the concept. So I decided to do it for a few areas that I understand. Here is the way my metric works:

  1. Look at the listings on Zillow in a given price range and the zip code you are interested in. I used $300k to $500K and three different Zips where we’ve purchased and sold property and I understand these cities pretty well. The reason I used a min of $300K is this is where studies have shown that results of real estate photography clearly starts to work. I used $500k max just to limit the size of the project.
  2. First, note the number of properties on the market in the parameters you’ve specified in 1. This will be used as the total number of properties in the market you are looking at.
  3. Look at the photos on all the listings and determine if they are professional or well done and count the ones that aren’t. Sure this judgement is somewhat subjective but it’s really easy to quickly spot non-professional work. And, I don’t really care if the agent does “professional” looking work or they are hiring a professional… you really can’t separate the difference.
  4. Compute the percentage. That is (#3/#2 times 100).

So what does this mean? The thing I like about this metric is that it’s about as objective as you can get and in the three areas that I did it, it matches my my gut feel of the real estate photography market in the three cities. In Issaquah (74% quality marketing) the market is made up of market savvy sellers and agents are expected to do good marketing by sellers. In Salem, there are almost no real estate photographers, agents just use their cell phones and do crappy marketing. In Portland (97213), there are far fewer properties on the market but a high percentage of agent use quality photos compared to Salem (97306).

You could see this percentage is a measure of real estate photography demand or a measure of success of real estate photographers marketing in the give area. This confirms my speculation that  the demand/photography use is wildly different in different areas.

How can you use this metric? I think it can give you a feel for how easy it will be to start a real estate photography business and how much competition there already is. In places like Salem where only 6% of the agent are using quality photography there may be a bigger opportunity but it also will be a harder sell to get agents aware of the benefits of quality photography.

If anyone wants to do this exercise in their own zip(s) I’d be happy to build a page that compares demand/use in various zip codes/postal codes.


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17 Responses to “What Percent of Real Estate Listings Use Professional Photography?”

  • I’d love to see a Phoenix, AZ metro area page!

  • @Allen – Let me clearify my offer to make a page of this kind of data. I’m Not volunteering to go do this for every zip code in AZ or any other place. What I’m saying is for those of you interested in this kind of data, go follow my instructions for the zip code you are interested in and send me the zip code, number of listings $300K-$500K in the zip code and number of listings with professional looking photos (in your opinion) AND I’ll post it on a page on the blog so everyone can benefit from the data.

  • Per the above the original question was which percentage of “agents” use professional photography. Per the analysis it appears that the number of listings or properties was used. I am guessing that some agents had several listings in these price ranges so that it would seem there would be a smaller percentage of agents using professional photography than indicated by the spreadsheet calculation.

  • The only way to look at what “percentage of agents” use professional photography would be to break out the agents into segments like “use pro photography 100% of the time, 50% of the time, 10% of the time etc.” professional photography is not a parameter of the agent it’s a parameter of the listing. So I would say Larry’s analysis is much more what the original requester was looking for, it’s just not what they asked.

  • @Allen B. I am also interested in Arizona data. You can reach out to Larry L. for my contact info and we can get together, pick a couple of zip codes to work on, split the work with two other photographers I know in the area and come up with some figures.

    @Larry L. Not sure it is that accurate a measurement, but it sure is a good methodology for helping to guide how we approach what we do. Remember, some of the good pictures were not done by “professionals” and some of the bad pictures were done by “professional’s” and I have found there is no telling who is who sometimes. And, what is good? Also in larger markets, that cross geographic cities, an agent in one city – i.e. Peoria with one zip code, may sell a lot in a second city i.e. Surprise in another zipcode here in Arizona. I am sure though that this is a good starting point not for percent of agents who use good photography no matter who produces it.

    Also, some where along the lines we need to determine the number of agents in the areas being listed and how they rank with professional photography so… I propose.
    Same methodology, but rather than zip code – pick the agency – i.e. REMAX Excalibur and see what percent of agents selling houses in the price range from that agency have good photography. This would give me a better understanding of whether that agency is good to sell to. Agents in the same office cross the zipcode lines and gives a better picture of the agency. Ultimately it is the agents in the agency that are our clients and we need to know the agency direction. Agents in the same office tend to use the same resources to sell – or the leading agents have the resources and the trailing agents copy. Larry’s math and grid are relevant and should be followed for this method as well but add the number of agents and the agency name.
    Constructive criticism on this alternative methodology is very much appreciated.

  • Great post Larry. And this poses some other good questions from the above comments. Of the 68% of listing in Portland use “professional photographs” in that price range, what percent of those make up for the total real estate agent in Portland?

    I did a quick check for my little MLS using the same perimeters – but this is a lower price point for the area.

    — 13.75% of the listing have professional photographs
    — Of those that do, it made up for 1.9% of the realtors.

  • @Suzzane, Charlie, and all- You all raise excellent points and even though the title of the post and original question was what percent of agents use professional photography, my approach is more of a “metric” that measures the extent that quality photography is being used in any given area to market properties. A metric like this as useful as knowing the exact percentage of agents in an area that use quality photography and it’s really fast and easy to come up with the numbers.

    For example, I spent this last weekend with some close friends that want to do real estate photography in Bellingham, WA and by spending 20 or 30 minutes on I was able to see that in Bellingham only about 5% or less use quality photography. That indicates that starting this business in Bellingham is more a job of convincing and demonstrating to local agents what good photography can do rather than worrying about competition with the 2 RE photographers in town.

  • I’ve used a similar metric to determine how many “listings” have professional photography and virtual tours. Variables like Zip Code and Price Range play a very big role, especially in a major metropolitan area. These numbers (below) are from last year… but have remained fairly consistent over 9 years in the business.

    With practically 100% of buyers shopping the Internet for their next home, professional photography and virtual tours are perhaps the most critical part of any marketing plan. Yet, only about 15-20% of MLS listings have these. provides agents with a flyer to use in their listing presentation – illustrating the competitive power of photos and tours to get homes sold faster.

    Use Professional (or good quality photos)
    Lower Income – 5-10%
    Middle Income – 15-20%
    High Income – 45-55%

    Use Virtual Tours
    Lower Income – 5-10%
    Middle Income – 15-20%
    High Income – 25-30%

    I think these numbers show that there is a still a lot of growth and opportunity in the industry, and provide a great sales tool for photographers to illustrate the competitive advantage Pro photos afford to Realtors.

  • @Charlie Dresen & @Rohnn Kostelecky. Your distinction about “the % of agents” using pro photos are good points. I’ve heard many Agents (and real estate trainers) say that “90% of the listings are represented by 10% of the Realtors.” I don’t know how accurate that statement is, but it seems to ring true. The average office seems to have 2-3 big listing agents that represent a huge chunk of all offices listings.

    As an interesting example… On http://www.SavvyTours, we have two agents that represent 104 listings in a very “high income” area. That represents 45% of the listings in that zip code. Of 200+ agents, this means that 1% of the agents [in that area] control 45% of all the listings.

    The great lesson agents can learn from this… Top Agents use professional photography and virtual tours. In fact, when I interviewed one of these agents for a market study, I asked “how important is professional photography and virtual tours in your marketing?” His answer was to the point… “It’s everything.”

  • I’m curious to know how many are using VIDEO versus still photography.

  • Would love to see the numbers in the greater St. Louis area

  • @Patrick – That would be nice to know but that’s significantly more difficult to figure out. There’s no one place to go to, that I know where you to check to see if a listing has video marketing.

  • I believe the original question posedntonthe readers was “How many Realtors use quality photos?”. Viewing a fairly decent photo doesn’t mean a professional photographer was used.

    I’ve seen Realtors photos that were decent and I’ve seen photos shot by “professional” that weren’t much better than the average Realtor’s.

    I’m not sure how you really know who shot a photo unless it is watermarked or way too good for the average pic taker. It’s fairly subjective anyway. If I see leaning verticals like doorways in the photo then I consider it a poor photo no matter who took it including myself! ????

    You can count the number of listings have quality photos but to speculate that they were shot by a professional could be false results.

    Good article Larry.

  • Sorry for the iPad generated errors.

  • @Larry-
    One other aspect to take into account, the quality of “Professional Photographers”.

    I ran the numbers for one zip in my area 55410. The 300k-500k range is the middle range for this zip code. If you want to use the numbers, here they are:
    55410 300-500k 47 active and pending listings
    26 with bad photos
    13 with bad photos taking by “professional photographers”
    8 with quality photos
    82% bad rate.

    The reason I broke this down to include “bad by prof. photogs” is that in my market it is significant. These so-called bad photos are from companies that agents are hiring to shoot for them. Here are a couple of MLS numbers that you can look up and see what I mean: 4172481 4167099 4175706. Maybe I’m too picky. What do you think?

  • @Terry- Despite the the original question I don’t think it is all that important to distinguish between being done by a professional or by a photographically competent Realtor. About 10% of PFRE readers are realtors that shoot their own listings and many do as good or better than some professional shooters. I think the metric I describe is a metric for quality marketing photography. Yea, it would be nice to easily tell the difference between a professional and a realtor shooting their own, but there’s no quick and easy way to tell the difference.

  • @Steven- Thanks for the data for 55410 (Minneapolis). Yes, you raise a good point about quality of professional photography… to me this is yet another reason to not try distinguishing between professional and non-professional and just using quality of the photography.

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