What To Do When You Show Up For A Shoot And The Property Is A Mess?

May 12th, 2015

ClarkListingManuel ask the following question:

Yesterday was my fourth bad experience taking pictures. What should I do when I go to shoot a house  occupied by the owner or tenant and the house is all cluttered. I always send a checklist to the realtor that explains what to do to get the home ready for photos.
Do I have to come back another time? In that case I must charge a fee for coming and I could not do my job?

Yes, you must have a statement in your terms of service that says something like, “based on the judgement of the photographer, if the home is not ready for photographing when the photographer arrives, the shoot will be canceled and there will be a rescheduling fee of $xxx charged.” It’s the listing agent’s job to have the property ready for photographing at the time of the shoot. I would always consult with the listing agent and be sure she doesn’t just want you to shoot it as-is. Some times when there’s tenants involved that’s the only option.

I know from my experience as a listing agent that listing a property that has a tenant in it is extremely difficult because the owner and the listing agent have almost no control over the tenant to get them to do anything. For this reason my wife and I got so we would never even do a listing with a tenant in the property while the property was being sold.

The photo above is from a bedroom from a listing we did for a friend that had tenants in his property. The tenants were two bachelors. The property was a rural acre near Issaquah, WA that had bears hanging around the property. Our biggest struggle was to get the tenants to not leave loaded guns laying around the house while it was on the market. We put so much effort into this issue we didn’t even try to get them to clean the place up. I just shot it like it was. Turned out the mess didn’t matter. We got 10 offers in the first week on the market and no one was harmed in the sale of the property except a bear that one of the tenants shot. He was arrested by the Washington State Police for discharging a rifle too close to I-90. What can I say? This was a difficult listing and we were glad to get it sold! Messy rooms were the least of our concerns!


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17 Responses to “What To Do When You Show Up For A Shoot And The Property Is A Mess?”

  • Yes it is great to have a cancelation policy I find that a simple text or phone call the day before and an hour before any kind of photography appointment helps resolve any issues.

  • Last week the agent who hired me to shoot a new listing of hers had a frustrating situation happen to her with renters at the property. I was a half mile from the property when I see her car coming towards me and I thought that maybe I was going in the wrong direction. When she saw me she stopped and told me that when she tried to straighten things up in the house to get ready for my photo shoot, the tenant said he didn’t want her touching his stuff and asked her to leave the property. So you never know what to expect from tenants renting a property. The agent compensated me for my time and felt bad about the whole situation.

  • There are certain keywords I listen for when booking an appointment to know if it will be a “problem” shoot.

    “Multi-family property” usually means at least one unit, if not all of them will be problematic with clutter or worse and / or large and uncontained pets.

    “Tenant occupied” means it is a rental property and not ready to shoot.

    “Divorce situation” means it is likely a hot mess because no one wants to take responsibility to get the property ready, but they want (or have) to get it on the market quickly.

    When I hear those keywords I caution the agent that I will not have time to help them stage and to make sure they are ready when I get there. Sometimes they will ask me to shoot it anyway but many times they will get there early and get it at close to or passably ready. I have only walked away a handful of times out of a couple thousand jobs.

    I also have a checklist (as many other RE photographers do) I refer agents to upon booking. My clients are mostly high end realtors or realtors who list tons of properties, so they know it is in their best interest to have a clean and well staged property – there is no reason for legalese contractual CYA documents. I endeavor to educate new clients (for whom I have little availability at this time) with my requirements well before I agree to work for them.

    Bottom line is they get billed once I arrive on site, for the entire shoot if I shoot it all or not. I scheduled that time for them – it is up to them not to waste it.

    All that said, I will move some items or rearrange a room slightly if I think it will improve the presentation. I’m very used to that – I have a love/hate relationship with throw rugs. Paper towel holders, Kleenex, remote controls and multiple device charging stations are unneeded clutter so I will hide those before I commence shooting. I build a little extra time into each appointment to set up and try to make sure I can provide a good product to my clients.

  • I agree much time is wasted in a “not so photo ready property”. Usually the cleanup process begins while you’re setting up your tripod, you already know it’s not ready, and they just realized it. Conceptually it is just the nature of the beast. Real Estate is a very one on one type of business. I usually take a Doctor-Photographer approach in that situation. For me, it is a matter of training the agents to have the property ready. This will happen in a certain length of time. Luckily most of my shoots are seasonal and occupied short term.

  • I am interested to see what kind of checklist other photographers provide to their clients to help prepare the property for photos. I am currently putting together a piece for the listing agent to physically give the seller to leave at the property with any special requests or highlights of the home they would like us to pay special attention to or to take specific photos of. Does anyone have anything like this that they would be willing to share?

    I know the listing agent is responsible to educate the sellers to be prepared for photos, but in the end it is the seller’s responsibility to do what they are told and we are seeing that is always easier said then done, especially in a market where the sellers seem to be in more control than the licensed realtor. That is why we thought giving the homeowner something to go off of and make sure we capture the details that are important to them will help.

  • Living in the Greater Houston Area I charge $100.00 for time and travel. I do this after I have been informed that the property has been deemed ready for photography by the agent or seller. New construction has been the primary culprit.

  • Two words: Smart Phone

    Actually, it’s “Smartphone”, which is only one word, but “Two Words” sounded better…
    Take a photo of the kitchen, text it to your client, give them 10 minutes to respond with a “Go” or “No Go”. If you don’t hear back, either shoot it As Is, per your contract, or leave and bill them whatever cancellation fee your contract stipulates.
    Lazy, negligent, or clueless real estate agents should not become the photographer’s problem.

  • Hi Folks, We had this problem until we solved it “For Good”. We developed an “Pre-Shoot Worksheet / Checklist”. Every Realtor we work with knows the Owner must have a copy before we will come: We prefer to mail copy the owner(s) a copy to “check off” each item, We will, however, email or allow the agent to email a copy to the owner. It works – 100%, problem solved.

    To see a copy go to – click on “Contact” button – at bottom of Contact page, click on “Pre-shoot Staging Worksheet/Checklist”, it will come up. The owners always get busy, we demand every light be on when we arrive, no burnt out bulbs, this is mandatory because we shoot brackets…

    Feel free to copy the worksheet – It Works!!!

    Tom & Nina Everitt

  • I’m with Scott 100%

  • I’ve never found that pre-shoot check lists work for me. Having a tidy property to photograph is common sense. Almost without fail the properties I shoot for high end agents are in first class order, and when I used to shoot for a low-end, mainly rentals agent the properties were mostly 2-bed s***holes in terrible order. I rarely see very beautiful properties in a messy condition. I’m happy to spend a few minutes moving stuff but that happens when the property is ‘almost’ ready. The worse condition it’s in the less likely I am to make it look better. I can only recall one incident in say the past year when I couldn’t shoot a place due to it being in crappy order, and that was last week – food all over the place, a bath full of water, loads of mess etc. That’s often what you get with a couple of students renting, although how they could afford to rent a place worth 7 figures I don’t know.

  • We will generally shoot if it is safe. We have found that many times, what we see is the best it is going to be. In addition, that gives us proof of what the house looked like.

  • I just went through being a tenant in a house that was being sold and I was not very happy. I hadn’t had planned to move anytime soon, so I hadn’t budgeted for it and the timing really sucked. A major annoyance is that neither the owners nor the property manager gave me any sort of advance notice. I received a call one Monday morning that the house was being put up for sale and could the agent bring somebody by on Wednesday. I don’t like to have strangers in my house to see that I have loads of photography gear. At the time, I was actively using two rooms, one being the living room, for product photography. The house looked more like a commercial studio than a home. I was putting away small expensive items like lenses and flashes and product every time so things wouldn’t walk off. There wasn’t any consideration of my being a good tenant for 6 years and I had many agents requesting showings and then not showing up or calling to cancel. One buyer’s agent was mad at the selling agent for not being able to get in with their client when they arrived 2 hours after their scheduled appointment and I had gone out on a job. The owner selling a property would do much better to give their tenants some incentives like a month or two of free rent, a few months of storage rental and a house cleaning service. Since that is probably a pretty rare occurrence, be prepared for tenants that are not motivated to work with the sales process. My property manager, who was also the seller’s agent, promised to get me into another property so the house would be easier to show and failed to follow through at every step.

    One thing that has helped me is my booking sheet. It includes check boxes that I tick when I talk with an agent. One set of boxes is whether the property is vacant, owner occupied or tenant occupied. I also ask agents if they want me to NOT photograph a home if it’s messy or to go ahead and do the best I can. I will also know what sort of cooperation I’m likely to get if I want to get some things staged. I may charge a cancellation or rebooking fee if the agent wants to wait and get a home cleaned up depending on how much business they do with me. I might call an agent from the job site, but if they don’t answer immediately or call back within just a few minutes, it’s a cancelled appointment and subject to a fee. Many agents I work with don’t return calls promptly. There are lots of nuances to my policies, but I try to find out ahead of time what an agent wants to do if the property is not ready for photos in my opinion. If I arrive at a vacant property and find that it’s been vandalized, I’d probably not charge a rebooking fee. I will get more goodwill if I call the agent immediately (if they aren’t there) and let them know that I WON’T be charging them a rebooking/cancellation fee.

    I don’t offer staging services, but I have a client now that wants me to work with his clients on working through a prep list with an eye for how the home will look in photos. I quoted a price of $40 for a one hour verbal walk-through session if it can be booked when I am going to be in the area. Easy money to chivy people into cleaning off the counters, having the dishes put away and half of their furniture put in storage. It also means that I would be getting paid to have an advance look at the property and be able to bring additional lighting or research how to work through any challenges I see.

    Knowing in advance what your customer will want to do is key. The last thing a photographer should be doing is trying to send examples of the home’s current condition to the agent and going back an forth on the phone. The agent should have visited the property recently and verified that it’s ready to photograph. Be especially careful with properties being renovated. Just because a contractor has said the property will be finished on a certain date, that prediction is almost always incorrect. What they meant was that everything would be done on that date in a perfect world, but actually, the painter will be there touching up the trim (that you are going to lean into putting a stripe up the back of your shirt), all of the floors will be covered with paper and the windows will be taped off with plastic.

  • Most of the agents that I work with follow guidelines that I send them. Some make the home-ownwers follow EVERY word of it. So much so, that a few weeks ago I showed up at a home to find it 95% empty. I asked the home-owners about the new home that they must have moved to. Turns out that the only thing they moved was EVERYTHING they own into a rental trailer so their house would be “ready for photos”… YIKES!!

    Anyhow, back to your question… if the house is a mess and the agent says “shoot”… I shoot. I have one agent that refuses to move, clean, adjust or do anything. He doesn’t even suggest it to his clients. “just shoot it” he says and I do… and he sells them fast. He lists and sells more houses than any other agent that I work with and he pays quickly. I’ve shot quite a few hoarder homes for him this year… they’re all sold! On the other side of the coin are the agents who think they are interior decorators and knit-pick every little thing… like adjusting the toilet paper! Over or under! (I’m serious!)

    So with that, I think Scott nailed it on the head. If the person paying says shoot it… then shoot it. If they make you come back or cancel… charge them. Time is money.

  • All my clients have a copy of “how to prepare you home for photography”. I dont know if they use it or not and even if they do it all depends on the owner/tenant following the list. One thing all my clients know is that once I am there I am shooting it regardless thats why the agent is always there to make rooms ready as best as possible at the time, they know its not my job.

  • We’re not maids.

    We’re not grounds people.

    We’re not maintenance.

    We’re photographers.

  • I added a section to my website that I direct all my clients to. It’s so far been very unsuccessful.

  • @ Dan, I checked your website and your list of things to do was too long for even me to read. Shrink it down so it’s about a fifth as long… you might have more success. But, honestly, if your agents or sellers don’t already have the common sense to do most of what you want done, your list will likely never have much sway with them anyway.

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