More about How Works

February 18th, 2018

Joe Zekas in Chicago is a long time PFRE reader and in the past year or so, I’ve come to understand better what Joe is doing with his site and how successful it is. At first glance, I thought Joe was a Realtor but he is not a Realtor. I think Joe has a unique business model as a photographer/videographer. I’ve recently asked him to explain for us what he is doing and how it works.

Here is Joe’s description of his business:
The key to making money from real estate video, in my view, is delivering content that a targeted audience values, and building a platform that attracts that audience.

My target audience was new home buyers until that market collapsed toward the end of the last decade. My current target audience is apartment renters.

My videos are straightforward apartment walk-throughs with credibly promotional narration. They’re documentaries rather than artistic productions. They take only a few minutes to shoot and not much longer than that to edit.

Most videos are shot with a Panasonic GH5, 7-14mm lens, and a Zhiyun Crane gimbal. I also use, on occasion, a GoPro 4 with a Zhiyun gimbal and my Samsung S7 phone with a wide-angle adapter and a DJI Osmo Mobile or Zhiyun Smooth Q gimbal.

I encourage leasing agents to do the narration–behind the camera but few are willing to do it, so I do almost all of the voicing as I walk through the apartment.

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how tiny a part production values play in what I do, both for the renter audience, and for my paying clients.

The value proposition for the renters is that they get to walk through an apartment and get the info they want without taking the time to visit – and without being exposed to any of the background music that they absolutely, positively hate. The value proposition for my clients is that my videos rent apartments, save leasing agent time, increase their productivity, often explain the apartments better than their leasing agents can, and give them an edge over competitors who don’t have video. More and more renters, especially those relocating from city to city, are willing to rent site-unseen from videos.

Videos are edited in Premiere Elements and follow a simple formula. I charter a helicopter about once a year and typically use the views from that to establish the location with a fly-in at the beginning of the video. I take two employees from another company I own up with me, rent equipment comparable to mine, and usually come back with about 4,000 shots. I get requests for and license some of those shots for up to $1,500 each. I shoot a lot of neighborhood photography, sometimes incorporate it in the videos, and license sets of it to clients who have signed on to one of our higher-priced packages.

Property photography is not part of my offerings. If I have the time when I’m on-site, I’ll shoot photos of the units and license them to clients at no additional charge. I get frequent requests to do photography and always refer to professionals. I shoot photos with a Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24 lens for interiors, and a single Nikon SB 700 on-camera flash. Edit in Lightroom only.

All of my videos are posted to my YoChicago YouTube channel because YouTube is where the audience is. It’s the #2 search engine after Google. We’ve been a YouTube channel partner for years, and most of our views are generated by being found directly on a search or from YouTube surfacing them in the right column adjacent to a video the viewer has found. Search almost any keywords related to specific neighborhoods in Chicago and you’ll find my videos. As a channel partner, we’re able to suppress ads overlaying the videos.

Under my terms of service, I own all of the content and have complete editorial control over the finished product. My clients rarely request any changes, usually because I misstated something in the video which of course, I’ll correct.

My clients are major management companies. I invoice them (via my other company staff) and they pay promptly.

YoChicago is built on a WordPress theme and hosted on co-located servers of another company I own (Data Based Ads). That company has two full-time talented IT staff, and they’ve done some modest customization to the WordPress theme for me.

I build “review” pages for every apartment community in downtown Chicago and use advertiser-sponsored pages to showcase only their video and promote advertiser videos on review pages for non-advertiser properties. You can see the elements of YoChicago’s content, virtually all of which is paid for, at the pages linked on the left sidebar here:

I set my own schedule since apartment videos aren’t time-sensitive and only work a few days a week. Management companies are typically very pleasant to deal with as opposed to Realtors, and an easy sell. Frequent personnel turnover means that people I’ve worked with at one property bring me on board when they move to another.

Best of all, the website, the traffic it generates, the growing archive of photos and video, and a customer base all add up to something that’s highly salable whenever I decide I’m done with this. Or I could hire someone to do what I do for far less than I pay myself, and spend minimal time supervising them after a while.

I think what I’ve done can be easily replicated in any mid-sized to large market and provide a very comfortable living for anyone who does it. Almost anyone, I suspect, would be more aggressive on pricing than I am, and would be successful at charging higher prices.

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3 Responses to “More about How Works”

  • Thanks, Larry.

    If anyone is interested in initiating a conversation, reach out to me at yojoe at

  • Joe, thank you. You have provided a wealth of information and advice. Too much to absorb at once. I am sure I will be asking specific questions in the future. I have done a lot of photos for property management and even a few video walk abouts. But nothing on your scale.

  • Thanks Joe for sharing, this is such a great idea and company you’ve built! I’ll be reaching out because I’d love to talk to you more about how you got started and how you market to these management companies. I’m located in Minneapolis, so we’re neighbors! -Emily

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