Menu

My Formula for Pricing Real Estate Photography

July 19th, 2018

I recently ran across a post from over 10 years ago on pricing and noticed that it is one of the most popular posts on PFRE. I think it is still true 10 years later.

I get a bunch of questions from real estate photographers just starting out asking for a way to decide what to charge. I think I’ve come up with a formula. It is:

Home Shoot Price = Furnace Repair Price x 1.7

First of all, when I say basic shoot, I mean a photo shoot that produces 15 photos of an average size home (around 2000 to 2500 SF… one you can shoot in 1 hour). Added services and bigger homes are assumed to be add-ons.

Here’s how it works. You call your local furnace service company (preferably a company that is well established and been in business for a long while) and ask how much it will cost for them to come to give your furnace (or air conditioner if you live in a warmer state like Florida, etc.) its regular yearly service. This service typically consists of driving to your home and spending about 30 minutes cleaning and examining the heat exchanger, etc. My data is with gas furnaces, this could vary for oil, stream, or other types of heating or cooling systems. The idea is that furnace repair takes a similar level of technical expertise as a photographer… it’s technical, takes some special training, requires some specialized equipment, and it takes a trip to the home. But in the two cases I tested, it doesn’t take as long as shooting a home. I assume that to process a shoot it takes 1-hour post processing for each hour on site. This is what the 1.7 multiplier is for.

My theory is that a furnace company that’s been in business for a while has figured out exactly what it costs them to travel to any location in their coverage area and what it costs to pay a relatively technical person to do 30 minutes work. If they didn’t have this figured out correctly, they wouldn’t be in business. So they’ve done most of the work for you, all you have to do is apply a multiplier to adjust for the fact that you are going to spend 2 hours instead of 30 minutes.

I’ve done this calculation for my home in Snoqualmie, WA (Seattle area–15 minutes east of Issaquah) and my home in Salem, OR (1 hour south of Portland) and it comes out as follows:

Seattle area: FRP=$130 so HSP=$221 rounded to $220
Salem area: FRP=$60 so HSP=$102 rounded to $100

So what do you think? Does this formula work in your area?

Share this

40 Responses to “My Formula for Pricing Real Estate Photography”

  • While this approach may look at first, crazy to some, it does have all the elements to quickly come to a conclusion of what your market (where ever you are) will support. Anyone who has been in this business for awhile, know that what one market will support, another will reject. That is why when I see figures thrown out there about what one should charge for this or that, I call foul. While one may charge $250 per shoot and clear 6 figures a year in one area. It does not mean that the other who is only charging $100 per shoot and clearing only half the amount is not maintaining the same lifestyle because the cost of living is that much less. I dare say that they are even better off because federal income taxes don’t care where you are.

    All that said, that is a quick way to start….but if you plan on growing a successful business, you need to do all the research, codb, etc. work to get there.

  • In the beginning pricing was my biggest challenge. I finally settled into a plan about a year ago that works: That is, I don’t have set prices.

    Before quoting a price I want to know what I’m walking into. Square footage? View? Waterfront? Vacant? Staged? Location/ driving time. Agent’s expectations? Number of photos and more. In other words, let’s talk!!

    It’s worked out pretty well. A few potential clients have short-circuit without concrete numbers on my site – but those are highly price-centric clients – experience has taught me that I don’t want them anyway.

    My prices are all over the board but one thing’s for sure: If we’re 100% exclusive they’re pretty darn friendly: I recently drove almost an hour each way to shoot vacant property for a 75+ job a year client, at no charge. Tiny condos can get pretty cheap too (though they always come with a reminder that it works the other way on the fancy stuff).

    Real estate photography is a relationship business. For me, constantly working to improve skill is the fun part – but after a certain point the important part (business wise) is to find the right clients and KEEP them. I do zero marketing and charge more than any other RE photographer in my area. But I’ll do almost anything to keep a client I like – even if it doesn’t ‘pencil’.

  • There really isn’t any easy way out; you have to do the work. The Furnace Calculation is a place to start as a very quick first approximation, but not everybody’s financial responsibilities are the same. It also doesn’t take into account all of the various factors such as density, competition, agent willingness to have photos made, etc. If you can only get 2 jobs per week, RE photography isn’t likely going to pay the bills as a full time endeavor.

    I don’t want to quote each job individually and I already know that customers will only remember the lowest price I mention. I always mention my maximum price to make a given quantity range of images a given distance from my office. I let them know that I offer a discount for vacant properties with a code and for multiple bookings on the same day in the same area or along my route. My discounts always reflect me saving time/money. I don’t care about the size or listing price of a home since it has no bearing on what it takes for me to make the images. I do suggest that agents contract for more images on larger properties, but I can usually cover the highlights of any property even with my standard package. Frankly, I can highlight a home with far fewer images than my standard package, but agents are fixated more on quantity than an elegant minimum so it’s hard to get away with less.

    Remember that it’s always easy to discount but nearly impossible to charge more. If you plan on upselling services to make your income goals, those services need to have lots of value in the eyes of the customers. I already know that I am not a master salesman. I need to go in with a price that earns a good living rather than thinking I’m going to feed the retirement account from selling options.

    The bottom line is how much will it cost you to run your business coupled with how much YOU want to earn. It might be that you can’t quit your day job and support yourself, your spouse and kids doing RE photography in your area full time. It could also be that you can meet your income goals, but you need to have enough cushion to get you through the first year or so. Not having enough cash on hand and being able so survive long enough is a big killer of restaurants. Even the big chains know that it takes time for a new location to get on its feet.

  • I think the furnace repair equation is a great starting point for someone just starting out. When I first started out in real estate photography I used the furnace method along with checking out pricing of my local peers. My original pricing was low, but right on point with other photographers and apparently at a sweet spot for realtors. After a year of that, I had enough data to do a CODB (cost of doing business) analysis. As I had suspected, I was pricing myself too low. In the past several years, I have increased pricing at least twice and have added many new services. The add-ons make up the difference for us. Our pricing is based on square footage with a minimum fee of $150 for houses on the smaller side (within 15 miles of our office). But now with additional services like video, drone services, Zillow walk-thru video and even simple room dimensions, what was once a $150 assignment is reaping as much as $400-500 per home!

    My best advice for pricing is to use every tool available to you… furnace repair, competition pricing, CODB, etc. Use them to get a “starting point”, then adjust to suit your income needs. DO NOT be afraid to charge more than your competition… but be prepared to justify it. Realtors are happy to pay more for better service (ie. answer the phone, be polite, be honest, BE ON TIME, deliver photos quickly, compliment their clients home, be considerate and conscience of their time, etc) Most realtors do not know the difference between a good photo and a bad one… provide them good quality photos and top-notch EXCELLENT service and you’ll always justify your pricing.

  • I like it! Could be because the FRP just happens to be within $5 of my HSP. I started by working out my cost and then tuning it to where it felt right. After a couple years I’m now feeling like it could come up a bit. I feel like I provide a very high level of service, much higher than an AC guy, so I think maybe just a tick up to 1.8x is where I want to land.

  • I have a price list but stress it is just a starting point for an estimate. I then have to factor in all those things like sq ft’age, number of structures, the amount of features that need to be covered (marketing aspects and architectural details), the size of the property, stills and stills with drone, video and video with drone, twilight stills/video and/or both. There are so many different factors that affect time on site and time in front of the computer, no one price usually applies.

    Where standard pricing does come in is with the type of property shoot Larry ID’s above. That can be pretty standard. So on my price list I have most of the different types of shooting set as modular pricing that I can link together to cover most shooting situations. But when bundled together, I can then also offer a price break since I only have to make one site visit.

    So I ID my price listing as the starting point just to give my clients a sense of possible cost. Most of my clients are repeats and are used to approximately what I will be charging. But that charge for new customers also locks them into payment in advance.

    And with my loyal clients I always do more for my charges than new clients without a track record. So my pricing is flexible. So I am more in line with David above.

  • Interesting concept. However, we are living in changing times so what may have worked 10 yrs ago really doesn’t apply anymore.

    A long-time friend of mine who became a RE agent several yrs ago gave a very poignant analysis of the real estate industry. He also has a PhD in aerospace consultation whose business has diminished over the years with everything going overseas hence the move into RE.

    His analysis is as follows: “Only time will tell. But, I suspect that the real estate business is about to go away, just like the travel broker business went away, due to Amazon, Zillow, Trulia, and other companies. I think real estate agents have until about 2020. After that, it will all be done over the Internet.”

    I might add that, along with the end of RE as we know it, comes the ability of agents to do it all and that includes photography, photo tours/video, editing, the list goes on. And along with that comes the lowering of prices by independent RE photographers in order to compete. And.. more photogs will be jumping on the drone bandwagon getting licensed so they can shoot aerials.

    I think when you look at the concept of pricing for real estate photography you have to take into consideration what’s happening in the industry and what’s going to happen in the next few years.

    Case in point: When we first started shooting for agents back in 2008 we were getting $250 or more per shoot. We were also paid very well to produce videos. Now, we’re lucky to get $100 for 25 photos. Maybe $150 if we include pole aerials. And our clientele has dropped off drastically even though our work is better than ever. It’s a sign of the times.

    Wasting time with furnace calculations just doesn’t cut it anymore.. probably never did. What you really need to ask yourself is can I survive the changes this industry is about to go through. Because if you don’t face up to what’s really happening you’ll be left in the lurch scratching your head and asking yourself “what just happened?”

  • Ken Brown wrote: “… it’s always easy to discount but nearly impossible to charge more…”

    What is your basis for that statement (which you’ve made more than once)?

    I raise my rates every year. Many times, I’ve raised my rates more than once, and by rather dramatic amounts. There was nothing that stopped me from doing it, and it was far from a bad thing, business-wise. I’ve given customers discounted rates for “first” projects, and then charged them the “full” rate for subsequence projects, and I’ve given existing customers discounted rates on specific projects and then gone back to the “regular” rate afterwards.

    What problem do you imagine occurs in these situations? I haven’t found any.

  • @Scott and Ken – One thing I’ve learned is that it depends on what part of the latter you’re on. I found that there is always work for the guy doing the best work at the top of the game, always. And that guy can usually charge what he’s worth, and his clients are willing to pay more for the best service and quality. But below that, some of the things that Ken is referring to can happen because the deal has more to do with the cost then the quality.

  • @ Kelvin — Actually, I’m going to push back on that, too, at least a little bit. It has more to do with how you carry yourself and conduct yourself than anything else. If you’re scared of your own clients, you’re going to have trouble across the board, not just with fees.

    @Joanna — I’m disinclined to listen to prognosticators about a given industry from people who have only been involved for a few years (as in the case of your friend the former aerospace consultant). Indeed, when PhD’s in booming sectors like aerospace suddenly decide that their life calling is selling real estate I tend to think that there are a lot of factors involved that aren’t being told.
    At any rate, I have to agree with you that the real estate industry is likely to change in the near-to-mid term. It amazes me that the MLS boards are still around at all — they made sense in the 90s when things like AOL and the original Yahoo were big, but in today’s internet world it makes no sense to me that something like Craigslist or Google (or Google itself) hasn’t completely taken over the listing/publicity part of the business. Just look at what CL, a non-profit, did to the classified section of newspapers, and that was two decades ago. What earthly function do MLSs serve that couldn’t be better served by a single aggregator?

    The answer, of course, is the NAR, which spends more money lobbying lawmakers than any other lobby except the US Chamber of Commerce. Think about that — the NAR is the second-biggest lobbyist in the United States (mostly supporting Republicans).
    They’ve got lots to lose, and lots to be afraid of. They beat off an anti-trust lawsuit over MLS issues from the Dept. of Justice in 2005 but I doubt that this is the last we’ll hear about it. At some point the barriers the NAR has erected will tumble and the real estate industry will join the age of big (and available) data.

    Meanwhile, so long as there are real estate brokers, there will be real estate photographers. It’s going to be a long, long time before your average Joe Sixpack is going to feel comfortable making a $200,000 (or $2,000,000) purchase over the internet as if it were Amazon.com. Until that happens, there will be an industry present to shepherd people through the process, and no matter what, houses (and RE agents in whatever form they exist) will need to be marketed….with photography.

    Photographers who commoditize themeselves by focusing on more and more volume rather than better and better images are going to have problems indeed, because there is a physical limit to how efficient you can be that is hit very early on. At that moment, whether it’s 5 houses a day or 20, the only thing left to compete on is price. So I agree that the run-and-gun model is likely to get worse than it already is.

    But I’d challenge anyone to find a parallel in which marketing has DECREASED in either importance or quality over time. If you have a good product, that people actually value, you’re going to do well. If you’re not doing well, and you can’t figure out why….it’s probably because you lack one of those two things.

  • Re: If you have a good product, that people actually value, you’re going to do well. If you’re not doing well, and you can’t figure out why….it’s probably because you lack one of those two things.

    We’re not doing as well as we’d like but it’s more than just providing a good product that people value. If agents can do it themselves, why hire us? Bright MLS gives agents the tools they need to edit their own photos.. hey, no more paying for photography! An agent can use their ipad or tablet to shoot photos, edit them, and upload them to the MLS without leaving the property.

    We still have clients who love our work and continue to hire us.. usually because they haven’t mastered the new technology or would just rather pay someone else to do it for them. But, business has cut back a lot over the past year and will continue to do so as these tools and technologies become available. Which is why we’re focusing more on pole and drone aerials. You still need to get a license to fly a drone commercially so that’s a product agents need to farm out for. Of course there are drone pilots all over the place and every RE office has them so we’re not getting a lot of call for drone shots. As for pole aerials, agents don’t have the tools or the ability to set up and shoot pole shots so they hire us. Combining photos with these services is how we market these days. It’s a whole new ballgame.

    As for pricing, we go with what the market bears. It has nothing to do with furnaces or anything else. It’s what agents in this area are willing to pay. They’re all price-savvy.. one of the first things they do is check the price and if it falls within their criteria (competitively) they’re okay with it. Maybe some of you out there don’t have to deal with that but we do. It’s the way things are around here. And this goes for high priced properties. RE photography is more of a commodity than a luxury and that’s how it is treated.

    We will never have 300 shoots/yr because it’s just not feasible. I don’t know if HomeJab does that many.. maybe they do but I doubt it. I don’t even think if we invested $$$ in upgrades and technologies like Matterport it would make much difference. I think the only way to really jump that hurdle would be to become one of the BIG guys and compete on a whole new level.

  • With furnace inspections almost everyone will be thinking “let’s get it done for the least amount possible, who cares about the quality”.

    That is not true when talking about photographs. People will generally want to hire someone who is actually good.

    I feel the furnace inspection equation is only useful if you want to ballpark your area’s rates.

    The golden formula for rates as far as I am concerened is: price yourself to build your business, build it until you are “too busy”, and then the magical part of the equation — start raising rates as much and as often as you feel you can.

  • “..If agents can do it themselves, why hire us?…”

    Right. Absolutely. You need to bring something to the table that they can’t do themselves. That’s true no matter what kind of business you’re in.

    “…We still have clients who love our work and continue to hire us.. usually because they haven’t mastered the new technology or would just rather pay someone else to do it for them. But, business has cut back a lot over the past year and will continue to do so as these tools and technologies become available….”

    Sounds like you aren’t bringing anything to the table that they can’t do themselves. What’s up with that?
    I mean, if all you’re offering is the fact that you own a nice camera, or have a UAS pilot license….then that’s not really worth much, is it? Lots of people own nice cameras (certainly nicer than mine, I’m still shooting with a Canon 5dMiii), and drone licenses are laughably easy to get.
    But if you’re bringing a creative and artistic eye to the mix, and producing photographs that the RE agent didn’t even realize were there to be made, and would never have done themselves because no amount of Photoshop could produce them….that’s worth quite a lot.

    “…As for pricing, we go with what the market bears. It has nothing to do with furnaces or anything else….”

    Larry’s point is that it’s not always easy to figure out “what the market will bear”, and it happens to be true that there’s a close correlation between the ‘furnace inspection’ and ‘RE photography’ rates if you apply his formula. It’s a way to estimate when you have simply no idea where to price yourself because you’re new to the industry. I think the larger point to be made is that it’s important for RE photographers to understand where they are in the constellation of vendors that agents use. For me, early in my career, it was an eye-opening moment the day I happened to catch a look at the window-washing invoice…it was several times more than I was charging! It made me think about how important my service was to the project, vs. the window-washers (and I’m not here to trash-talk window washers but goddamit my overhead is more than theirs!).

    “…RE photography is more of a commodity than a luxury and that’s how it is treated…”

    That’s only true for photographers who choose to operate in the commodity end of the business. For sure, this represents the vast majority of the market, but there is real estate photography that is not all about price. You might not be tapped into that end of things. And interestingly, it’s not always the “luxury” or high-priced listing agents who pay more. I ended my real estate photography career shooting for mid-range agents who cared more about building their brand than anything else, and I charged them easily triple the average fee for my area. They were listing houses that were in the top 30% price-wise, but never the top 10%. I rarely shot mega-mansions or “luxury” houses (thank god, most of those are so awful).

    “We will never have 300 shoots/yr because it’s just not feasible…”

    That would be just over 1 shoot per weekday. Seems pretty feasible, to me.

  • @Andrew – we did just that, we priced ourselves to build our business and it worked. But, we were working our butts off and still not making enough to justify the AMOUNT of work it took to get this done. In some cases, agents who were very busy would ask for less photos for a lower price. This tended to get really annoying when an agent would say “I only need exteriors, ten photos is enough. How much will that cost me?” Or “I only need 20 photos for $80.”Yes, we were busy but was it worth all the aggravation? Some agents can be pretty demanding when they have you on the hook.

    Anyway, we eventually raised our price back to where it was before and immediately lost three clients. In fact, in all around seven people stopped calling us for shoots. Only two or three previous clients kept hiring us and I attribute that to the fact they’re not in this immediate area. Which brings up another interesting observation.

    Most of the posts in here are from other parts of the country and I think that has a lot of impact on how business is handled. We could never use your golden formula unless we moved to another state where we’re not dealing with the “Greater Philadelphia mentality.”

  • @Scott Hargis,

    I’m not talking about raising prices from time to time. If I quote a price of $250 for 20 images in a certain area, I can always knock that down if I can get them to book more local work on that same day. If I mention $200/property if they book three properties on the same day, they will remember the $200 figure and completely forget that the price was 1)for each property and 2)that it included a discount for a multiple same-day booking. My advice is to get them sold on one’s full price and offer ways to reduce that price by doing things that earn more/hour for the photographer. If I advertise $150/session and then present a quote or a bill for $250 that includes travel, extra images, editing, etc, I’m not going to get many new clients. If I advertise $300 and then send a quote for $250 that lists a couple of discounts (new customer, already in the area that day, multiple booking) that’s not a problem at all.

    I will also advise not to price services way below market rates and think that after you have built a client list, you can turn around and double your pricing. Many of those agents will be hiring based solely on price and won’t tolerate such a big increase. Going from $75 to $150 for 20 is a huge leap. Going from $200 to $275 for 20 images is the same dollar amount, but the clientele is much different at the latter pricing. If it hasn’t been an issue for you, it’s worked in your case. I’ve had agents accuse me of the bait and switch over $25 when a property they wanted photographed was further away and I needed to charge more for the travel. They couldn’t seem to understand that I can’t charge the same amount of money with no regards for distance.

  • @Andrew, I belive that people DO want a good furnace inspector. Why pay for one that isn’t going to spot any issues that could kill you or burn your house down? The problem is that most people can’t tell the difference between a good inspector and a bad one. You have to grant them a bit of blind faith that they know what they are doing. With a photographer, they’ll spot bad images over good ones every time. They likely won’t be able to go on to tell the difference between a good photo and a great one other than only being able to say that they prefer one or the other.

  • Joanna, 300 shoots/year is not that tough in an area with enough density. That’s 30/month with two months off each year. Snow can be an issue, but two jobs each day for 9 months (20/days each) is 360 and that’s leaving weekends free. Somebody in a big city that can book 3 jobs per day (15/week) and works 10 months out of the year (600/year) can do very well and still retain many of the benefits of being self employed.

  • I noticed a lot of posts indicate prices based on 20 photos. Is that because your MLS doesn’t allow 25 photos? Here, we’re dealing with Trend-Bright MLS which covers this tri-state area (PA, NJ, DE) and they allow uploads of 25 photos. So, agents automatically order 25 photos and our prices are based on that. If you add a few more so they have extras to choose from you’re talking 25 to 30 photos per shoot.

    @Ken – Last winter was impossible here in the mid-Atlantic with nor’easter snowstorms twice a week in fact, I lost count. So, you would have to lop out 4 months from your 300 shoots/yr. At this point (we’re semi-retired) two shoots a week would work for us.

  • @Joanna Michl – Guessing the future is sexy as hell, and no PhD required! Here’s mine:

    Buyer’s Agents: Not much will change anytime soon. Big decisions are emotional events for everyone (engineers included). Buyers needed a human resource to assure, or “shepherd” them through the process. Auto manufacturers tried for decades to take out the middleman, it never even came close to working. Multiple the item cost by 10, or 100: Buyer’s agents aren’t going anywhere. They may be working for Zillow (many already are even if they don’t realize it) instead of Remax, Sothebys, Windermere etc. Regardless, they’re here to stay.

    Listing Agents: Serious pain in the forecast. Homes around here are close to double 1999 sale prices and I’m still hearing indignant declarations like; “If I can’t list a property for 3% like I always have I’d rather lose the listing (instead of listing it for 1.5 percent or less like Redfin etc). And I wonder: Has the cost of living doubled since 1999? (no). Are you doing 2X the work to list a property? (obviously not). Are you doing 2X the work to get buyers? (that’s almost funny, many buyers are waaaay more on top of new listings than their agents). I see Zillow and a few competitors dominating the listing market soon, but, by 2020? I seriously doubt it. “Time will tell”.

    RE Photographers: Thankfully there’s a bit of art to this. And, like almost every occupation, the very best will make a lot more money than the rest. Photographs that spark emotion require talent. And really, does it matter who pays you?

  • Seems a bit low, even at $220. At that rate, to make more than a fast food worker (think McDonalds) you would have to consistently shoot a minimum of 3 houses per week. Now I’m not saying you can’t do that many houses per week, but hard to unless you live in a big city. Its especially worse of if you live in the northeast where most sellers want photos in summer and fall only.

  • @Joanna, My standard package is approximately 20 images. A small home without notable upgrades could be 16 and a larger home with extra rooms might be 24. It doesn’t have anything to do with the local MLS as I don’t think they have a limit anymore and I see 90+ images of double-wide from agents (horrible quality, no composition and low value views). My goal is to highlight the best features of a home without going overboard. I often see 35+ images and many of them are just slight variations of the same composition. Is it really necessary to have 10 photos of the front of a tract home? I believe that the goal of the photos is to get a potential buyer to pick up the phone and call their agent or the listing agent and request a showing. Too many images might make them feel they’ve seen all they are going to see and move on. A viewer can also get bored and click out before they get to the photos that show the best features of the home. Beyond all of that marketing psychology, it takes me a certain number of minutes per image, plus my travel time, plus my back-end office work to do a job. If I’m providing scores of images, I have to spend less time crafting each one or accept that I am only going to gross a pitiful income per hour. It’s infrequent that I have agents pay to have more images on a listing.

    I can see that weather will be a big factor in some places. It’s blazing hot right now where I am and homes are not being listed in great numbers nor are they selling very fast. The last thing people want to do is move when it’s over 110° outside. Even work in the Eastern Sierra mountains is pretty slow. It’s still 85° at 00:30.

  • @David Spencer. Listing agents don’t get to keep the whole 3% if they aren’t also the broker. Sales prices will also be a huge factor. If you are a listing agent and get 1.5% (50/50 split with the broker), you keep $1,500 on a $100,000 sale. Just like any other business, there are expenses that come out of that as well as taxes. If the agent can move 2 of those a week, there is a chance that they can make a living wage and have enough cash flow to meet bills on time. Getting a smaller piece of a larger pie works if an agent is representing million dollar homes. It might be that with very cheap listings, an agent needs to take a larger percentage so there is enough money to make it worthwhile.

  • @Joanna Michl I’m not sure I really understand your situation? I mean, you literally live and work in an area with a high population with money rolling out of their ears… You should easily be able to double your $100 entry package to $200. IF not, you definitely have the wrong set of clients. At $100 per house, you will lose your shorts, it’s not doable. The very low down minimum for a property shouldn’t be less then $180, and that’s the sort of property where your shoes stick to the kitchen floor, and there’s dog food just about everywhere. 🙂

    Sometimes we live in a bubble, and we don’t see that it’s us who have trained our clients to pay pow prices. What am I missing here? Are you having to compete with somebody else who is artificially keeping the price down? (big company)

  • @David – Re: Buyer’s agents aren’t going anywhere. They may be working for Zillow (many already are even if they don’t realize it) instead of Remax, Sothebys, Windermere etc. Regardless, they’re here to stay.

    Buyer’s agents aren’t going away, they’re just becoming more independent and companies like Tesla Realty Group are helping make this happen. Real estate offices are downsizing and many are becoming wasted space as realtors choose to work out of home offices. It’s all going digital.

    As for Zillow dominating the listing market by 2020, we’re entering the age of disruption where companies like Chicago-based Homebloq aim to dislodge buyers from Zillow and Redfin. And the fight for dominance continues.

    It helps to look at the big picture when analyzing the future of real estate although you never really know for sure how it will end.. if it ever does.

  • @Kelvin – The higher the competition the lower the price.

  • “The higher the competition the lower the price” say those who can only compete on price. The way to not compete on price is to improve your skills, your marketing and sales abilities, your range of capabilities, or some combination of these.

  • @David – sorry, it doesn’t work like that. Maybe in your area but not here.

  • I just want to add that the photographers in this area that are earning a living via their craft are not just shooting MLS photos. They’re also doing weddings, portraiture, product shoots, etc. In fact, my partner just did a product shoot and made 5 times what we earn on a MLS shoot. So, in order to be successful you have to diversify.

  • Joanna,
    You’re a little less well-informed about “the photographers in this area” than you think you are. You’re in Philly — there are LOTS of photographers in your area that are shooting real estate and commanding a far higher fee than you believe to be the max. I know this because I’m friends with some of them. And far more than that who specialize in one genre of photographey or another. Certainly there are photographers who are generalists, doing weddings, editorial, product, etc. but it’s not at all universal.

    I recently traveled, on my customer’s dime obviously, from the SF Bay Area to NYC to shoot for only 2 days. It was an expensive 2 days…and the same client also sometimes hires a well-known photographer who is in Philly to do similar shoots on the east coast. That guy is doing just fine, and he’s in your back yard.

    Philadelphia is not intrinsically different from any other metropolitan area (except for those cheese steaks). There are photographers everywhere who operate at many different levels….and some of them simply can’t see outside their own little sphere to even recognize that those other levels exist. But not only do they exist, they’re bigger than you might imagine.

  • Alright, here’s the scoop. Just to give you an idea of what’s happening around here, we just visited 4 Open Houses and talked to the listing agents. ReMax, Coldwell Banker, Realty One Group among them. All four offices provide in-house media to their agents which includes photos, photo tours, printed materials, etc. It’s by subscription, a small fee, and most agents use the service mainly because it’s convenient. A lot of agents work in teams and they all use the media service. The 4th office is hooked into CirclePix who provides the media services. Evidently, they made a deal with the broker.
    So, what we’re doing is selling them on pole and drone aerials which they farm out for unless it’s already available in-house and many times it is.

    Agents who continue to work with us are usually older and more independent but not as aggressive so the work is sporadic. They’re more into vacations which is understandable. When you get to a certain age things like marketing and business strategies tend to take a back seat to just living.

    We’ll continue to shoot listings but we plan to diversify into other areas as well.

  • If anyone out there thinks they can compete with this I’d like to know how you plan to do so:

    http://insiderealestate.com/press/inside-real-estate-acquires-circlepix/

  • @Joanna, it’s great that you go out to meet agents face to face. It’s the best way to pick up business and I’m off to visit a local open house in about an hour to meet the agent. I also run into agents and agent groups that do their own photography or use somebody from the office that is provided by the broker. The thing is that I’m do far better work than any of them and I’m confident that at some point I will get work from an agent in one of those offices that’s looking to do better than their office mates. Circlepix suffers from the same problems as all of the other services; they pay photographers paltry amounts to take the photos and agents/offices don’t usually get to request a particular photographer. The better photographers often don’t stick around very long as Home Depot pays much better and they can get steadier work. If they are good, they can also get more and better work elsewhere. Brokers get all excited when they sign up for one of these service since they’ll be shown images that are top notch and they get all of the tour junk that is harder for independents to offer at a good price. As an aside, I see reports about how professional photography can help sell a home/agent, but I don’t recall seeing if a “virtual tour” slideshow has any value at all. They annoy me. There are some areas where offices do get good images from a large service firms, but many places where it’s very spotty.

    I sell myself as a service, not as the seller of a product. I show up on time, every time. I comport myself professionally, use drawing room language and work diligently to get done as quickly as possibly. I try not to do anything that makes a client feel they can’t trust me so they are comfortable giving me access codes to vacant homes so I can squeeze them in as/when which helps to fill up my day nicely. Customers always deal with me personally. They aren’t talking to an office that doesn’t know them in the hope that a message gets relayed to the photographer regarding details about a property. I often go the extra mile if I have the time by including more photos than I promise, doing more editing or spending just a bit more time staging. (BTW, I make it known if I’ve thrown in some freebies on a job so they understand that it’s an extra). Somebody working for $40 that isn’t as connected to the client as I am won’t put that extra work in.

    Bottom line, I don’t have to be the best photographer in the area, but if I am providing quality service I can charge more and I can get more repeat business. Most people aren’t going to see an increase in quality past a certain point but they will notice when they are being given lots of attention and service. One of my goals is once I have somebody using me, I want them to not be interested in using anybody else. At the very least if they do try somebody charging less that they feel the difference in the level of service. It’s happened and I only lost a job or two before they were back to hiring me.

  • Joanna, simply put, you are not trying hard enough. The vast majority of agents do not care much. To the extent that they are using professional photography, it is the cheapest and easiest for them. They are not trying to compete on the quality of their marketing materials and just want to be able to say that they are using some sort of professional, or their brokerage is making them do that by subsidizing the photography. As Larry and others have said repeatedly in this blog, you need to be searching out the relatively small percentage of agents who are more aggressive with their marketing and are looking for competitive edges. You may need to up your game in order to go after these agents, and to travel further within your metro area to work with them.

    I disagree with Ken about selling yourself as a service. At the level of photography I am talking about, catering to the agents who are most aggressive with their marketing, we are selling the usage of our photos for marketing purposes, to market both the homes and the agents who are selling them. There is of course a service aspect to this, but that is just being a professional, and you should of course emphasize your experience, skill level, resourcefulness, reliability, etc., to prospective clients.

  • @David – simply put, you’re full-of-it. I read all of Ken’s post and it was very well defined. Ken has put things into perspective and I agree with him on everything he said. We work very much the same way and it has paid off.

    However, after ten years of working in this industry, I resent someone who knows nothing about us or our clientele telling me I am not trying hard enough. That’s BS. We already have the so-called agents you refer to. You have no idea what we do or how we sell our services. In fact, we could probably teach you a few tricks. And that includes attending RE office meetings to market your services which is how we got started ten yrs ago.

    Look, we realize the industry is changing, that’s a given. It’s always been a struggle and it’s gotten even more complicated. We also understand our limitations but we can work through them by giving agents what they can’t get from CirclePix or HomeJab.

    Our shoots are limited these days and part of that is due to my partner’s ill health and subsequent inability to photograph listings. But, things are improving and we’re getting back on track again.

    In spite of everything our last shoot went very well and our client’s email message “wow, these are fabulous!” was worth every ounce of effort we put into it and the property is sale pending after only 11 days. That’s how we do business.

    Any questions?

  • Joanna, your earlier comments depict a business in decline, with a dwindling client base and erosion of your pricing. And you specifically described your clientele and your market area. That is what I was responding to. If you have as clients the sort of agents to which I refer, you should not have the problems you describe if you would compete on quality, and possibly expanded capabilities, instead of on price. If you are losing this kind of client to cheaper competitors, the simple answer is to offer better photos and also to seek to expand your client base.

    Really, Scott Hargis already provided a good explanation and you still don’t accept that, so whatever I might say is not likely to make a difference to you. I am really just responding to your comments in the hope it might emphasize the point for some others.

    As far as Circlepix and the like, I couldn’t care less with respect to my business, and I would advise photographers to differentiate themselves from that sort of thing as much as they can. That is commodity real estate photography. The fact that you use that example as some kind of support for your positions is telling about your view of your business model and seem to belie your last comments about giving agents what they can’t get from CirclePix, et al.

  • David, judging from your portfolio you are working with a totally different clientele than we are so your business model is on a different scale from ours. CirclePix is taking over this area. I’m sure that’s not the case where you are. If you’re not living/working in this area you haven’t a clue what goes on here.

    In conclusion, I really appreciate the comments from other posters who can relate to what we’re going through. In times like these we need all the support we can get.

  • Joanna, I started off doing mainstream real estate photography and still do some of that kind of shooting. However, my current website no longer reflects that kind of work. There is plenty of lower-priced. commodity-type real estate photography where I am. Yes, it does seem as though, at the high end, the general quality level of the real estate photography in Philadelphia is lower than in areas like LA, NYC and SF, but there is plenty of more mainstream-type real estate photography in these markets too. I probably could not do much of the kind of high-end real estate shooting in PA as I do where I am (at least not for real estate agents, but maybe for developers), but I think I could do fine with a more mainstream type of service that offered higher quality than the norm, if not at the kind of quality level you see on my website.

  • @ Joanna

    You compete with CirclePix and all its cousins the same way that BMW competes with the Honda Fit….they don’t. Why would you want to compete with anyone based on price?

    This whole discusstion is EXACTLY why I often tell people who want to “start a real estate photography business” that it’s a good idea, but only if you really, truly love photography and architecture/design. If you’re absolutely SURE that photography is your true lifetime passion, that you’re not going to get bored with it after a few years, and if you are a confirmed, long-term architecture fan, then maybe this business is for you.
    I say this because I think that photography in pretty much any genre is an incredibly difficult way to make a living. It’s like baseball, or golf, or violin — lots of people love it, plenty of them play as amateurs (some who are hella serious about it) but very, very, VERY few are able to make a living at it.
    Those who simply think they see a business opportunity are very likely to end up in a frustrating situation where they are forced to try to scrape out a living in a low-fee, high-volume model, always blaming “the market” for their troubles, insisting that real estate agents “in my area” are somehow fundamentally different from everywhere else.

    Photography, and certainly not real estate photography, is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

  • David, you probably could do fine with a more mainstream type of service as we have here. But, you would have to broaden your scope to include areas like the Philadelphia Main Line and even NYC in order to accomplish this. Depending on the location of your home base, it would involve some travel.

    We only cover two counties and try to keep our travel time down but occasionally it involves several hours r/t in which case we charge for mileage. I think if you’re shooting high-end listings and charging accordingly you can do the travel. But on a $150 shoot it’s hardly worth the bother, even with mileage added.

  • Scott, very well put, and it’s why RE photographers need to diversify. Even then, photography is a difficult business. We shot weddings before we got into real estate. In fact, we were documentary film producers for a number of years. I worked for a company that no longer exists as a contract photographer for real estate listings. Back then, all we had to do was shoot the front of the house w/a Kodak DC260.

    When we started shooting our own listings it was a lot of work but agents were willing to pay more for the service. So it seemed like a good business to be in. These days, with all the competition from big companies and the technological revolution taking over, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to get into RE photography. Unless they’re a licensed drone pilot. 😉

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply