What Should You Have In Your Real Estate Photography Terms of Service?

June 8th, 2016

BusOfREPAnnette asks:

I am working on my website and want to include “Terms of Service”. I searched your site and see individual questions but no printed statement that would cover all of the situations. I could then tweak it to be my own. Do you or any of our fellow photographers have such a document.


There isn’t a Terms Of Service (TOS) that works for everyone because the TOS is where you document all the details of how you provide your services. So your TOS should address all these subjects:

  1. Photo Licensing: Do you require a licensing agreement to be signed for every shoot? Or do you have each client sign it once for all the listings you shoot for them? Or do you even bother with licensing your real estate photos? I recommend Joel Rothman’s licensing agreement template which is in my business book or in Joel’s last post.
  2. Payment policy: Do you insist on payment at the shoot? In the process of delivery? Or net 30 days?
  3. Cancellation of a shoot: Do you allow shoots to be canceled? Canceled 24 hours in advance with no cost? Canceled with a partial payment?
  4. Home not prepared for shoot policy: Do you have a policy for what happens if you arrive for a shoot and the home is a mess? Do you cancel the shoot with a partial fee? Cancel with a whole fee and reschedule? Do you charge for clean up time?
  5. Travel charge a standard area: Do you have an added charge if a property is outside your normal service area?
We’ve discussed all of these questions many times on PFRE and there is always a huge diversity of opinion on the way various real estate photographers deal with each of these issues. So there’s no RIGHT way to do all of these. Your TOS is your explanation of your policy of addressing these issues. I’ve summarized many of the discussions we’ve had here on PFRE in my Business of Real Estate Photography e-book but everyone needs to make choices on the five items above and perhaps other items and document them in their TOS.
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10 Responses to “What Should You Have In Your Real Estate Photography Terms of Service?”

  • The silence on this topic is pretty telling….

  • Hi Annette: as Larry says, your TOS doc needs to be structured according to the sort of shoots you do. I have assembled mine via various sources and I believe includes most of Larry’s pointers as above (except point 4 re home not prepared as I tend not to shoot high volume RE work, but longer shoots with an interior designer or architect in attendance). Please (anyone!) feel absolutely free to copy and use my doc in whole or in part or preferably edited to your needs. It’s at :

    I think it is a good thing that we as a professional photographic community put out a business-like message and having policies regarding licensing and cancellation shows that we are serious about what we do, nothing we wouldn’t expect of most other industries. By the way, one of the best books on image licensing (which includes some very useful TOS sample documents to help you get started) is called Licensing Photography by Victor Perlman :

    Good luck.

  • I think Larry nailed it pretty well and it’s been thrashed out many times before.

    Maybe the only thing to add is a policy on canceling a session if the agent, owner or key master doesn’t show up on time. I’ve had to cancel an appointment and charge a partial fee once due to an agent running late (40 mins). My schedule was too tight that day to wait around for them. I made the front exterior photos and was able to fit them in the next day to finish the job. It did give me time to grab a quick bite.

    The “Home not ready” section should be discussed with all new clients to determine what they want done if the home isn’t in good shape. Sometimes they will want photos anyway, especially if it’s a tenant occupied home and there isn’t much that can be done. Waiting until you come across one of these and then trying to call the agent is a bad idea. The agent might not be available and the clock is running while you are waiting to hear from them. In absence of specific instructions from an agent, the ToS should state a default. Either that the home will be photographed as presented or it will not and a rescheduling fee will apply.

    Keep notes on each customer and record that you have gone over your ToS with them and list any preferences they have for certain circumstances. You can always waive fees if there is a good excuse for something, but it is nearly impossible to charge a fee for something the customer was unaware of.

  • I’ll add that I don’t require a signed license agreement. My web site states my policy for RE photos and the text is included on each invoice. My Copyright of the images is automatic and doesn’t require a contractual agreement.

  • Currently in the process of writing my terms in addition to a million other things right now, but in short

    1. Photo Licensing: I license the realtors to use the photos in the advertisement in any form until the house sale is closed. There’s no point in going super in depth with the licensing, as long as you are licensing the photos for use, you own all rights to the photos, and are granting the realtor certain rights for a limited time. In other words, you will always retain full ownership. I also take all the house information offline. Since everything outside of the mls is branded, this makes sure people can’t accidentally find it branded with the wrong agent when it lists again. I don’t charge to reuse any photos for a home that I already did, that would be annoy agents and hurt my brand image with them.

    2. Payment policy: Probably going to be 50% due by day of shoot, 50% net 30. Realtors in my area love to not pay from what I can tell, but net 30 gives the flexibility to wait until they get paid so they’re less likely to turn down my business because they have no money, which I have already noticed. Likely to change a little.

    3. Cancellation of a shoot: They can cancel at anytime with no fee, no more than twice. If they cancel more than twice, it’s a fee. Not sure what yet. I’m fairly certain this will change in the future.

    4. Home not prepared for shoot policy: I give the realtors a very clear sheet on how to prepare the home, and make it very clear that they need to read this. I will ask them in the form they fill out if they want me to shoot it to the best of my ability if it isn’t ready. This happens often when you’re shooting cheaper houses. Too often right now. If they want me to reshoot another time, I’ll probably bill them a small amount.

    5. Travel charge a standard area: Flat rate pricing is a wonderful business model when combined with different pricing for entirely different areas.

    I have no problem changing my terms as needed, I just make sure the realtors see the terms have changed. I haven’t even written my terms yet but I know what they’re going to be for the most part.

  • This is something that I’ve been spending a good bit of time on lately as well. In the past I had vague terms on my invoicing. Recently, I had a client give away the photos to another agent who in turn used them to relist the home with the new owners as a rental property. While this turned into an ugly exchange with the new agent, I learned quite a lot. Specifically, that I needed to be more, well, specific with my terms of service. Joel’s posts was a great resource on the matter and he offered a simple TOS that you can mold to your own needs.

    Now, my invoices reflect more specific info about my licensing and payment terms. When I get a new client I send them a welcome email with additional TOS info. (Fees, travel fees, payment terms, turnaround times, etc) . To support this even further, I plan to attach a full TOS sheet as a page two on my invoices.

  • The one thing I need to add to mine is something about “you get what you get” if the agent isn’t present. I normally don’t have any issues with this as most agents are very happy, but I had an agent I used to shoot for have me go back and reshoot some images at properties that he only sent a new assistant to meet me at. One of the homes was quite large and I tried to explain to him in a nice way that I wasn’t too happy about having to travel quite a bit to redo almost an entire home. I think that was one of the last homes I shot for him–I need to get this in my terms soon

  • Do most people here charge when a home they previously shot is re-listed with another realtor and they use your photos? In my case, I assume the previous realtor sent the photos to the home owner after I had taken them. The home is now back on the market with a new realtor who is using my same photos, without having contacted me. First time this has happened so not sure how to proceed. I do have in my TOS that the photos are licensed to the realtor only and not to be re-listed to a third party (in this case, another realtor). Would others charge a fee, and if so, how much? 100% of the original or more/less.

  • @Caroline, I charge a new fee to any subsequent agents at 100%. Since photos often remain up on some sites after representation is changed, a new agent can copy and reuse them without having to get them from the former agent. I can’t see why an agent that has lost the listing would just give away the photos, so you should make it clear to your customers that they cannot sell (or give away) the images you make for them.

    The 100% fee argument is that you are licensing images based on value, not what it cost you to produce them. Even if you are formulating your price based on your costs, the value to the end user does not change. The original customer might also be unhappy that their competition is benefitting from their initial investment. Some photographers will not re-license images to a new agent if the original agent loses the listing. Instead, they will use the opportunity to start a relationship with the new agent and reshoot the home.

  • @Caroline’s story is exactly why I let the agent know that my licensing of images to them is as much for their benefit as mine. No agent wants to pay for photography and then have those images used for ‘free’ by a competing agent.

    @Ken is 100% correct, and if I may expand a bit – The first agent paid full price. To charge the second agent anything less is disrespectful and bad business.

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