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Will Terms and Conditions Scare Off New Real Estate Photography Clients?

May 2nd, 2018

Artem in the Czech Republic asks:

I’d like to ask you and the readers a question. Do you think that before accepting an order, I should send a client my terms and conditions? That is such things as a cancellation policy, delivery terms, number of photos delivered, etc.

I think this is the right thing to do to protect myself, but I’m afraid it can scare off new clients. What do you think?

Yes, absolutely. I think disclosing your terms and conditions to clients whom you have not yet done business with is important and just the honest thing to do. Frequently, real estate photographers report that arguments arise with their clients after the shoot or after the delivery that could have easily been avoided if they had discussed/disclosed their terms of service beforehand.

Don’t forget to disclose your terms of use (licensing) with the client. This seems to be the most frequent area of surprise and misunderstanding between the photographer and client. That is, in what way and how long is the client allowed to use the photos?

You may scare off some clients by disclosing your terms of service and licensing but those are probably clients you don’t want because they expect to do more with the photos than you allow.

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12 Responses to “Will Terms and Conditions Scare Off New Real Estate Photography Clients?”

  • As long as your terms are reasonable, it shouldn’t be a problem. There is your terms and then how much you hold clients up to them. Cancellations can be a big sticking point. If somebody cancels a session because a property isn’t ready, that’s different than if they cancel due to bad weather, a health emergency, etc. It’s a hole in your schedule that you might not be able to fill on short notice. Another talked about item is when a home is a mess and the agent is not going to be at the photo shoot. Do you photograph it as is, do you call the agent and possibly wait around to hear back from them or you let them know the home has problems and you didn’t photograph it. State what you will do by default and work with clients that just want you to photograph every home no matter what it looks like. My policy is to photograph a home as-is, but I sometimes help the owner and/or agent do some quick staging if I have the time. It depends a lot on how bad of condition the property is in, what the agents expects and if the owner isn’t able to physically do much to prepare. Sometimes agents know that the property is in bad condition and just need a batch of photos to get it sold.

    If you guarantee to provide an exact number of images, you may not need to put anything in your terms. I promise to deliver between 16 and 24 images with my basic “20 image” service. It depends on the home and how many photos it takes to show it off. I make sure clients know that smaller homes will often have less than 20 images delivered. Every once in a while I deliver even more than 24 photos. It evens out over time. If I feel like I’m below 16 images, I’ll make a count and might find a reverse angle or see if I can add a frame that shows how to rooms join, but I’m often just making images until I feel I have a batch that all have marketing value.

    Under promise and over deliver. I deliver almost all jobs the next day but my terms state 48 hours. That gives me plenty of time and I’ve quoted the customer my longest time frame. It’s like quoting prices informally. The only price the customer will remember is the lowest one. If it turns out the job was bigger than they led you to believe and you try to charge more, they might accuse you of ripping them off or a bait and switch. If you say you will deliver in 24 hours and then they stick you with a bunch of editing or you need to spend more time in post than you estimated, you will have delivered late in their eyes.

    A big problem is sometimes is the question about who owns the photos. I retain the Copyright on all of the photos I make for real estate and I am only licensing the use to the agent or homeowner. I go over those terms with new clients and also print the license on my invoices. I feel my terms meet the needs for all of my client’s uses, but I’ll negotiate with them if they need more. If a third party wants to use the images for their advertising or the new owner wants to use images to rent the property, I negotiate a separate license with them and have let agents know that they are not free to give or sell images on to other people. I think it’s good to outline a couple of common scenarios to illustrate the point. If an agent loses the listing, the new agent will have to relicense the photos and I don’t discount the price. I also go over this with new clients so they don’t get mad if they see the images being used by the new agent. Charging full price keeps them from being more angry if it bothers them in the first place. I get another license fee and the new agent gets a known set of images without having to arrange for another session. It’s a win both ways.

    Visit lots of RE photographer’s web sites and look at their terms if they have them posted. If they have been in business for a while, their terms have likely been updated over time to cover issues that come up. Real estate agents are not strangers to contracts, agreements and all sorts of paperwork. Keep your terms to one page if you can and it’s doubtful that you will freak out anybody with some experience.

  • As Larry notes, if your terms scare someone away then it may be for the best.
    If they scare everyone away, that would be for the worst and should trigger a re-evaluation of your terms.

  • I think the OP is in the Czech Republic… unless theres a Czechoslovakia somewhere else lol I haven’t heard of lol!

    I think Kens points are great… being prepared and communicating is key to getting your business to run smoothly day to day in PFRE work.
    We cover many of our points during the booking process… If you are confident and solid in your terms not only will you appear very professional and experienced, but you will save yourself from situations that may end up just wasting your time. If you are good at what you do and professional and consistent, you will have lots of clients so you shouldn’t worry about losing jobs… there are a lot of agents and owners or clients that you won’t want to necessarily work with… some are only after the cheapest price and those usually are where you will be met with requests after requests to “do more” or “edit this and that” and of course they will want the photos back as fast as they can and then there will be more requests and/or complaints etc… we usually can filter out those clients pretty easily now just by how the initial contact goes… and during the booking process. You want to profit in your time and money so be careful, stand up for yourself and/or company and make sure you have communicated your service terms up front and stick to them throughout the job…

    I like what Ken said about under promising and over delivering… I just don’t want to be in the situation where Im being asked to over deliver without compensation or consideration for my time. Keep in mind that there are a lot of Clients that have no experience with hiring a professional photographer or working with one so they might not know what goes into it or whats to be expected, so its your job to present it to them. Being clear and upfront will save you so many hassels and headaches, I can’t stress that enough! I also think people in general appreciate knowing what they are getting for their money. There are too many photographers and photography companies that are being very liberal about what they will do… they will say “yes, no problem!” to everything… If you become busy you won’t last very long working in that way… you may not be as cheap or as liberal about your deliverables as the competition but I bet your product and your business will be more stable and you will feel more in control and thus allow yourself to enjoy what you do… and that will show!

    Good luck!

    Are you in the Czech Republic? Ive spent a little time in Prague and Ostrava and loved it!!!

  • In answer to your question, a definite “YES”. When I receive an enquiry, I answer immediately asking complete details about the assignment. If practical, I will visit the location. Once I have all the details I need, I weigh up the job and based on all the factors as well as my CODB (Cost Of Doing Business) I then make an offer within 3 days of the first enquiry. With the offer I enclose a contract (all my contracts, model, property releases were drawn up by my lawyers who are specialists for publishing, copyright and commercial law) which, if they accept my terms and the offer, I need signed and returned. My offers are good for 7 working days. If they haven’t returned the signed contract with acceptance of the offer within the grace period I give them a call and discuss the matter on the telephone.

  • Hi,

    Thank you so much for this topic.
    I have a question that pops my mind very often. Ken says “If a third party wants to use the images for their advertising or the new owner wants to use images to rent the property, I negotiate a separate license with them and have let agents know that they are not free to give or sell images on to other people.”
    So we are called by the agent to take some pictures to an estate. Your client is not the owner but the realtor. Imagine now a new estate, where several entities are involved. We take the pictures and deliver them to the agent. Then it comes the kitchen provider and says “oh what amazing photos, can I use them”? You sell a new licence? You sell a new license for each third party interested? If so, how do you do that if although you/we as photographers are the copyright owners of the pictures, the house has also property rights that rest with the owner and each license you issue is a form of earn money from it? What’s the relationship between photographer/agent/owner that allows us as photographers to photograph a property (not directly ordered by the owner) and then sell the pictures to more people than the one who order the job in first place?

    Can you help me out?

    Thank in advance.

  • Anyone who thinks a real estate agent can’t handle a T&C document has clearly never bought or sold a house.

  • Fair warning though, Zillow is inserting it self into this process in a way that will more & more probably screw with the nature of what is perceived as a sensible T&C.

    For that matter, realtors are expressing to me that they have concerns regarding Zillow inserting itself into their process to the point of making the realtor somebody who simply shows a property for a small commission, with Zillow acting as the broker. If true, it will be a major pain in the butt to try to construct a T&C with Zillow that suits photographers.

  • @Garett – Thank you for teaching me some history of Eastern Europe! Czechoslovakia has NOT existed since Jan 1, 1993! You are right, since 1993 it’s been the Czech Republic. I’ve learned a lot of geography and history over the years from doing this blog:)

  • @Larry Ha! i wasn’t sure if you meant the country or not… it’s an easy mistake to do!

  • I second Scott. I’ll add that the largest tour companies in the country have T&Cs. Take yourself seriously and others might just do the same.

  • @Sonia, When you make images for a customer and retain the Copyright, you are licensing those images to your customer generally with certain conditions on how they may be used. You aren’t selling the customer any control over the images.

    As to “property releases”, I’ve had two different attorneys advise me to always get one and the other telling me to not worry about it. When an owner signs a listing contract it often includes a release for photos to be taken and used to advertise the home. The sample contract I have in front of me also goes on to state that the both the broker and seller will have no control of the images after they have been posted online. (Residential Listing Agreement – Exclusive, http://www.ziplogix.com) I got my copy from a broker I do lots of business with as the topic comes up now and then. I’ve never bothered with a property release for real estate. The home is being sold so the seller isn’t likely going to be in the home much longer and the buyer, it can be argued, doesn’t have any claim since the images were made before they purchased the home. Practices and customs vary from country to country so always talk to an attorney and go with what they advise or understand the risk you are taking if you don’t.

    I pay agents a commission if they refer customers to me that want to license images and if it’s before the photo session, I’ll make them images composed for their intended use. I also charge much more to license images to a contractor since the usages are more valuable and longer term. All of my customers know that I offer photos for licensing to third parties and that lets me keep the fees I charge them down to a reasonable amount. I’m not doing this in secret. I don’t license images for use in advertising an interior designer’s work to another designer or a kitchen cabinet image to a company that had nothing to do with the cabinets in the photo.

    The term to keep in mind is “licensing”. I am licensing the images to each party or “renting” them if that’s an easier way to think about it. The real estate agent asks me to create images that they can rent to sell a home. They don’t own or control those images, I do. To do what they ask, they arrange for me to have access to the property and permission to make the images. If the agent or seller (vendor) wants to own the images so they can restrict usage, I’d be happy to create an exclusive license that they can renew periodically or sell them all rights to the photos. The price to do the work will be much higher in those cases.

    @Wannabeyou, Good point. I’ll bet that the T&C’s from many of those large “tour” companies aren’t nearly as tame as the ones an independent photographer would use. The big companies are also more likely to automatically bill for cancellations, reschedules and agent’s being late to appointments and more likely to collect as well.

  • Ken

    I know of a large tour company that requires payment upfront before a photographer will even show up at the door. This tour company is large and in several states.

    It is still pretty surprising to me that so many agents use these tour companies.

    What they have is 1) a call center 2) advertising budgets and 3) a system. A system cannot be understated imo. Having a call center is becoming less important imo since some really good subscription services will be available to RE photographers. These systems are tailored to RE photographers. Look for them. The advertising budgets are where they can outdo independents imo. But, again, I believe these new subscription services will be a huge help to RE photographers.

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