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How Do You Make Sure a Property Is Ready to Photograph When You Arrive?

January 25th, 2018

ClarkListingGary in Chicago asked:

Is there a good way to handle homeowners that are not really ready and expect you to stage each room Telling the homeowner I’m on a schedule resulted in a request to come back, expecting the agent to pay. I wound up spending three times as much time and had to skip the video tour because the crap from one room was in the next.

First, there are a number of ground rules that you need to make sure everyone involved understands:

  1. When you (the photographer) arrive, the property must be ready to shoot.
  2. You are a photographer, not a stager but you may make small changes that don’t take a lot of time.
  3. Since the listing agent has a contract with the homeowner to market the property, it is the listing agent’s responsibility to make sure the property is ready when the photographer arrives.

Here are the steps I recommend to make sure this happens:

  • Have all your terms of service written down.
  • Have a discussion with new clients to make sure they understand your terms of service and your cancellation policy if a property is not ready to shoot.
  • When you first arrive at the property, do a quick walk-through to make sure the property is ready for your shoot.
  • Then, before you shoot, explain to whomever is present (agent, homeowner, or both) what your time constraints are and what you expect of them during the shoot (probably to just say out of your way).

I’ve seen from working with my wife as a listing agent for 10 years that managing home sellers and getting them to do what is in their best interest is probably one of the most challenging aspects of being a listing agent. Some agents are good at it but many are not!

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11 Responses to “How Do You Make Sure a Property Is Ready to Photograph When You Arrive?”

  • I find being proactive is the best solution my agents give the seller a copy of the pamphlet I prepared. The most important part of which is on the front page, top right. I give therm a “what’s in it for me” reason to get tidy and get creative. It works very well and I’ve never had a client st that they haven’t appreciated the tips. http://www.hello-photo.co.uk/documents/preparing-home-for-property-photography.pdf.

  • I just shoot it as it, with only minor adjustments that only take less than a minute. I’ve never once had an agent complain to ME that the pictures looked bad. They understand that it’s difficult to get the occupants of a home to stage their home for sale. It’s very bad when the people are renters.

  • We have a link to our prep/expectations page that goes out with all of appointment confirmations. We try to instruct the agent to review and also forward to seller. Feel free to check it out here: http://realestateexposures.com/prep/

  • I agree with all above and Larry’s points. I have a photo prep tip sheet I supply all my clients, often sending it a couple times a year. I also try to do a pre-shoot walk through with my client to identify issues, although that it is not always possible. So if I find after all this that a property is still not read to shoot, I call my client if they are not at the location and discuss the issues. Sometimes we reschedule and sometimes, mostly, my client says I understand, just do your best. Never had any complaints with the results since my clients were forewarned as to what to expect.

    The biggest problem has been with elderly owners who don’t have the energy to pack away a lifetime of memories and don’t even see a fridge covered with photos and magnets as “clutter”. Nor papers, folders and cell phone chargers piled high on the desk in the spare room as clutter. So I try to leave those rooms with the most problems to last to give the home owner time to do their best to hide or store all the stuff that is just so normal to them that they just don’t see it anymore. Sometimes I will take a quick shot and show them why it is distracting to the overall room perception. That can help as well.

    But if it is just impossible with kids toys all over the place inside and out, clothing strewn around especially in kids room, I just won’t shoot it. But that has been very seldom.

  • I think the more time and care you take with each shoot the less you’ll walk into a messy home. It does seem a bit backwards, but that’s the way it’s gone for me. My brokers know good photos *really do* work and they put significant pressure on their sellers to prep the home. If I arrive to a disaster (usually an occupied rental) I just shoot it as is – and often they get re-shot after the occupant vacates – at full price. Instructing folks how to clean their home feels very condescending to me.

  • I don’t think it’s a good plan to instruct people how to clean their home either. But many people have no idea how much fun it can be to be creative nor how important it is to prepare. Hence there are sites dedicated to ‘bad agents’ photos’.

  • We have a 4 page flyer that is emailed to the listing agent when the appointment is scheduled so they can forward it to the seller. It tells them what to expect about arrival times, how long it might take, removal of pets, and etc. The agents love it. It makes them (and us) look more professional. We also offer slick copies of this flyer to the agents we work with so they can include it in their listing presentations.

  • Sounds like this is FSBO. If it isn’t, shame on the listing agent. The majority of my business is with agents, and I feel it’s their responsibility to communicate with the owner/tenant/both about what needs to be done. Most of the time the houses are clutter-free or staged and ready to go. I’ve only had really messy homes when they’ve got tenants. Again, shame on the listing agent for not telling the owner to make sure it’s ready. If the house is a shambles, I’ll still shoot it and charge my normal fee. If they want it re-shot, I’ll charge my normal fee.

  • Showed up at a million dollar + disaster today. Sent the Realtor a Photography Prep pdf along with the shoot confirmation and it was obvious he didn’t read it or forward it to his client. (This was a new client for me)

    I did a walk-through with the homeowner to explain how to prepare and explained that at this price point here in the Midwest, it’s in their best interest to reschedule.

    In hindsight, I should have had the Realtor sign off on my terms.

  • Having a lot of trouble with this. I have a one-page checklist of things to do to ensure great photos – it’s not overwhelming; very simple including things like removing pet dishes and making sure all the lightbulbs are working, no cars in driveway, remove shampoo bottles from shower, etc. However, the agents are NOT giving this to their clients on a consistent basis, if ever, and it’s becoming VERY frustrating. More often than not, not only do the sellers hang around getting in the way and trying to direct the shoot, but they will answer the door with, “Okay, just tell us want you want us to move”. ARGHHHHHH!!!!!
    Of course, the flip side of this is coming across as demanding to the agent and they may go somewhere else for a photographer, there are plenty in my area to choose from. I already have to remember this with pricing, but when these shoots are difficult (property not ready, people hanging around creating a distraction), I’m losing money, not making it. I’m also an agent and I can tell you that not one single agent in my office has ever been asked to sign a contract for photography work.
    I’d like to know how others handle these distractions, but haven’t had much luck with the search engine on this site.

  • @Pamela, A ToS isn’t a contract so it doesn’t need to be signed. It’s a statement by the photographer about how they conduct their business and what the default solutions will be to common problems such as a home being a complete mess. I agree that many agents don’t do a good job when it comes to working with sellers to get a home ready to photograph and show. Most MLS’s have a requirement that the property is listed withing just a day or two of a contract being executed but they fail to notice the exception “unless otherwise directed by the seller” which can be used to create a time cushion that can be used to do some cleaning and staging. Then again, there are some agents that can’t be bothered and just want to get a listing online as quickly as possible.

    I go over my terms of service with each new client to cover what happens if they are late or don’t show up for an appointment, the home is a wreck and they aren’t there or decide to reschedule. Ownership of the images. When and how payment is due. I require that an adult is present when shooting any occupied/furnished home. Dogs and small children are contained. etc etc.

    However you want to handle a certain situation is up to you. If I arrive at a home that is a complete mess, I don’t photograph it unless the agent has already told me to go ahead. I used to in the past, but too often I was asked to re-shoot it anyway for which I charged another fee. If I am met by a minor at a home and they are the only one present, I don’t go in. As a single guy, it’s too much risk. I don’t bend on that one at all. Since I have discussed it with my clients, I will charge my full rate if it happens. If I am not booked for more jobs I’ll sometimes give an agent a pass on being late, but I will make sure they understand that if I had another appointment, I may have had to leave or wouldn’t have had the time to do a good job. Sometimes they’ll give me a little extra for being patient. No-shows and last minute cancellations just rob you of the chance to make money from those time slots. It’s going to happen and you need to have a policy about it that you discuss with clients beforehand so they understand what your policies are. It’s no good after the fact to try and bill for a late cancellation or a no-show. You can always bend the rules a little for a good client, but you need to get paid for the loss of a time slot if they aren’t that good or just fire them.

    All of my best agents work with their sellers and homes are ready when I arrive. They may not be perfect, but there won’t be a big pile of dishes in the sink and the beds will be made.

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