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What if a Client Schedules You to Shoot During Open House?

September 4th, 2018

Dori in Michigan asks:

I just recently did a shoot that was scheduled at the same time as an open house. I was not  informed that this was going to happen. I did the best I could with what I was given, however my client is not happy with the product because there were items on the counters and the listing was not straightened up. Has anyone else had to photograph a property while an open house was happening? If so, how did you handle it? This is the first time this has happened for me.

My first reaction to someone scheduling a real estate shoot during an open house is HELL NO! Don’t schedule me to come to shoot your listing while there is a crowd of people there. Especially without talking it over with me first! This behavior, in my opinion, is just rude and inconsiderate of the listing agent. If someone did that to me, I would charge them for the trip to the property and insist on rescheduling the shoot. Also, I would likely not do business with this client again.

That said, having helped my wife do hundreds of open houses, I know that all open houses are not the same. That is, depending on the property and the neighborhood, there can be a huge crowd of people at an open house or there can be only one or two people within many hours. So it is possible to shoot a property at an open house, as long as there isn’t a huge crowd of people going through but it is essential to get the photographer’s approval first.

The other issue I’d have with this client is that preparing a listing for a shoot is the job of the listing agent. Frequently, that takes being firm with the seller to get them to do what needs to be done to get a property photography ready.

In general, it sounds like you need to be more firm at declaring and enforcing some terms of service. The following items should be on paper and discussed with every new client before any shoots are scheduled:

  • Your cancellation policy
  • Your home preparation policy – have a shoot preparation sheet that you can give to agents.
  • Your payment policy
  • Your photo delivery policy
  • Your photo licensing policy

If not, there will a higher potential for misunderstandings.

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24 Responses to “What if a Client Schedules You to Shoot During Open House?”

  • This is such a stupid response!

    So it takes you a little longer to do a shoot. Guess what how long does it take to meet with active agents all in one place and give them a card? Ummmm a lot longer than the extra time you spent at a shoot.

  • @MattAllen

    I couldn’t disagree more. There is a time and a place for everything and scheduling a photo shoot at the same time you’re expecting to have a house full of people is rude and shows a complete lack of respect for your time. If you want to go to an open house I’m sure a quick call to any number of clients you have and you could *very* easily arrange that.

    With that being said, if I showed up to an open house and it was full of people I would not shoot it.

  • @MattAllen

    Also, I don’t know about you but when I make a schedule it’s TIGHT. I schedule all my jobs in 15 minute blocks and I take great pride on being on time. I don’t have 30 minutes in the middle of my day to hang around and chat with agents, nor do I want to in the middle of a shoot day. Do that on your first job of the day and now I have to call 3-6 clients and explain that I’m going to be 30 minutes late. It’s a hassle and it doesn’t look good.

  • I’d probably excuse myself, go find a dark chocolate candy bar, and come back happy. People love to see an interior photographer in action, I envision entertaining quite a crowd… They say the best way to learn is by teaching; surely this presents itself as a great opportunity for just that – plus ya never can know who you’re talking to – sweet business opportunities are often spawned by scenarios just like this…

    Photos are precise, people are not. Loosen up, go with the flow and great things will happen 🙂

  • I would immediately reschedule without hesitation and charge a “not ready for session” fee. It’s impossible to shoot in those conditions. Time is money. And the product will be poor quality which results in no returning client with an uneducated reason of why the product was poor. – theo

  • @MattAllen

    I notice that when I click on your name it brings you to your Sothebys page. Are you an agent or a photographer (or maybe both?). Your response has agent written all over it.

    *Sorry for multiple comments.

  • I don’t photograph a home with any other activities going on. This includes an open house, excessive amounts of people in the home, contractors doing work, etc. Sometimes it’s bad enough when there are small children running around moving things in the middle of a composite sequence or playing near my gear. I’ll deal with that, but not if they also have a herd of their friends over as well or a house full of guests. I’ve found it very rare that people will understand that they are going to be in the way and going somewhere for a couple of hours would be a good thing. It happens. I’ve had the owners decide to take off and run errands while I photograph and just leave me alone in the house. I won’t let an agent do that and I’m not comfortable with owners leaving me alone, but it’s their decision to make.

    Like many, I have a tight timeline on some days and I always want to be able to work undistracted so I can do a good job in a short period of time. I should be scheduled before the open house as soon as the home is expected to be ready so there is something to put up online to show the home and get people interested in coming to the open house to start with.

  • Not properly level setting client expectations can be a very slippery slope. As mentioned above, you need to have your policies clearly defined and communicated to agents ahead of time. Reserving the right to cancel an appointment and charge a trip fee if the property is not ready for a shoot should be included in that policy. If you don’t have a policy you open yourself up to all sorts of issues, their problems become your problems and you’ll be setting yourself up for future offenses with the same or other agents.

    We’ve had several occasions where the photo shoot was scheduled at the Brokers open house and like mentioned above although inconvenient, it is a great opportunity for you to market your services to other brokers. That and many agents will have the home staged and cleaned just prior to the broker open so it can be a good time for the shoot.

    Having said this, every situation is different and even with the best laid plans and policies, things can and will happen and if you feel you’ve been fouled, you now have the opportunity to point back to your policies and in certain cases choose to enforce them.

    A few things I would ask myself when choosing to enforce your policies or not.
    – Is this agent a habitual offender?
    – Were the circumstances beyond the agents control?
    – Is there additional business at jeopardy with this agent if you were to enforce your policies?
    – Are you at the point with the agent where you’d prefer not to work with them at all?

    Relationships in this business are everything but it’s a two way street. If they are lopsided and you feel you’e being disrespected or taken advantage then it’s not a relationship and time to part ways.

    Lots of grey area in this particular example but at a minimum, it feels to me that you need to push back on this agent since cleaning up around the home is not your job and the home should have been ready for the shoot when you arrived, Broker open or not. This is a good opportunity to level set this agent’s expectations and the agent’s reaction to your push back will tell you everything you need to know about your two way relationship or lack thereof.

  • It depends what your shooting method is.

  • We have a few minutes nvolved worh straightening up items. I would ask if they wanted to add that to their shoot and pull up their client panel on my phone and let them pay for it there l. If not they have the option for me to shoot it as is or reschedule with a return trip fee. I use Full Frame as a host for the photos which is a great platform to add these items in the menu. It’s all about being clear on expectations upfront.

    One of the first answers here sounds more like what an agent would say than a professional photographer.

  • Re: This behavior, in my opinion, is just rude and inconsiderate = Quite right!
    What would I do? I would call the agent who hired me and point out in no certain terms, I cannot and will not work like this! He must reschedule the shoot with an empty property.
    Furthermore, he would get a bill from me for a full day’s fee although I didn’t photograph his property. A day’s fee because I could have got another assignment for that day elsewhere!
    Dori, your wrote, “my client is not happy ” – this could ruin your reputation which could affect future work thus jeopardizing your livelihood.

  • First, I believe Matt Allen is “trolling”. Second, I was having the same issue with one of by clients as well. The client was far from professional and didn’t treat their business accordingly. I quickly nipped it in the bud and made my policy known in writing. I also charge a hefty retouching fee for clients and homeowners that fail to abide to my prep list. This seems to help as well. Our time is very important and our clients deserve to know this.

  • Reschedule. Some agents are so focused on selling the property they do not see the problem. Explain so they understand and move on. Getting upset and argumentative is not good for anyone. Don’t let the small stuff get to you!

  • @Matt Allen: You’re talking about a brokers open. If there’s an agent at at open house they’re generally working with their clients and don’t want to be bothered.

  • Ah. My response is that it depends. I have not had the precise experience described. But I have shot occasionally during a caravan. Especially when I first was developing clients and making presentations and doing so got me a number of new clients as I was first developing my business. After my presentation to the agency, several agents would ask me to come along, bring my camera and do my best to get some shots for them. It worked.

    Now I am seldom asked by new clients or my faithful regulars to do this, but sometimes they get in a bind on time, need some shots to get the listing up and the first time the property is actually cleaned up and ready to shoot is just in time for the caravan. They are always apologetic, they understand the problems this involves. So I propose getting to the property an hour or so before the caravan is due to arrive and shoot then so that the property is ready but not filled with people. Since I don’t use flash or other lights for stills, I can shoot fast and be in and out within that hour even with my client shoving the business cards, flyers etc into a kitchen drawer fast after they have turned all the lights on, which I then turn off and try to remember to turn them on again as I exit a room.

    But all of this is worked out in advance. Communication is full. And alternatives explored in advance. These days if someone cannot fit me in before, then I will only schedule post caravan/open house. Of course there will be dusty foot prints on polished floors but a quick dry mop by the agent usually takes care of that.

    I was shooting the art of Hurst Castle many years ago with full 4×5 film camera and studio flash and had 10 minutes to shoot between guided tours during which we have to hide ourselves and all equipment. So a few wandering agents are no completion. Besides to accommodate good clients, occasionally, I think it worth while to go the extra mile as long as the quality of the photos are not compromised. That would be bad for personal branding.

  • If the event was an OPEN HOUSE then you are likely dealing with random buyers and people from the neighborhood interested in seeing the home, not many agents and brokers. In that case, you should politely inform the agent that you cannot effectively photograph the listing while an open house or any other activity is taking place at the property. Let them know that you are moving to your next photo shoot and that you will follow up via email to reschedule. If it becomes a trend (maybe next time they schedule you while painting is taking place?) then drop the client. If the event is a BROKER TOUR, and if you have a flexible schedule that day, maybe you capitalize on the scenario and handout business cards while you work. Agents and brokers may tend to be a little more respectful and stay out of your way when you’re shooting specific rooms. This happened to me one time and all of the visiting agents/brokers gave the listing agent dumbfounded looks when they saw he scheduled a photo shoot during a broker tour. He looked bad, I handed out roughly 20 cards, earned a few clients.

  • I did assume the open was a brokers open, I dont know an agent that would do photos during a public open.

    No, I’m not a troll!

    While I am an agent now, I have 14 yrs as a RE photographer in the DC area, before that architectural and fashion photography going back to 1995!

    I can see mentioning to the agent you would rather not do shoots with people present is a reasonable request. Acting like some prima donna and leaving to teach some kind of lesson is unacceptable in my opinion.

  • Scheduling a photo shoot while hosting an open house is like having your grass cut while throwing a party in your backyard.

  • @Matt

    Just because you are the one paying doesn’t mean you don’t respect the persons work. A photographer sets his/her fees based on several factors. One being time. Would you expect the photographer to blow off the next agent on the schedule for you? If so, you may end up with run and gunners. I once told a handyman friend of mine that I knew lots of Realtors and could pass out his cards. He wasn’t interested.

  • Thankfully, I have never had that happen. As an agent, I hate open houses as you never know who is going to walk through the door and one one occasion had great concern for my personal safety. I stayed close to exits where couldn’t block and let him go upstairs alone (vacant home). He left as someone else arrived. In retrospect, I think he was upset I wasn’t a female. I don’t do open houses PERIOD, but will let other agents hold them on my listings.
    As a photographer, the closest I have come to an open house is potential buyers showing up with their agent prior to the house being listed in MLS and what is known as a ‘pocket listing’ giving agents heads up coming to market. Actually, I relish that after introducing myself and giving their agent my card, I let them know am use to working around people and maintain a positive communication with them as a photographer…not an agent. I may even mention features of the house that I photographed and they are looking forward to seeing my photos. I just continue the same demeanor I use with the homeowners during the shoot making it an enjoyable experience. A variation of that was when an agent I was shooting for forwarded me…Good luck, the homeowners want to micromanage everything. I distracted them with personal photos on my iPad – like daughter’s wedding in a cave in the Canary Islands, or some European vacation – side trips when we visit her each summer. They were mesmerized with the distraction, saw me as a person, and more important I was done before they even thought of supervising me.

  • I have dealt with this before. Not fun but I just worked through it. I actually talked to one of the agents at the broker’s open who I dropped in on one of his open houses about six months prior, and he started using me way down the line. True story (i say that because it sounds so fairytaleish).

    This is yet another reason to composite. If there is a person in your frame, all they have to do is move out of that area and you can make a photo. I do this all the time. If you do not domposite you are in for a world of hurt, perhaps without even knowing it, in this business in my opinion.

  • Never had this happen in over ten years of shooting listings. It’s actually totally out of the norm for an agent/realtor to schedule a shoot DURING an open house. They try to schedule shoots prior to open houses so they can advertise the listing in the MLS WITH photos. But, shooting during an open house, NADA!

  • As a photographer (agent too, only for convenience of accessing homes), I’ve had this happen at a buyer’s open before. Broker’s open houses, interestingly, typically will have a higher chance of having a larger number of people inside a house at once since they are advertised heavily in email flyers and print around my area, and agents love to go to luxury listings for a broker’s open to have wine and cheese and see what $2m gets you even when they have five buyers lined up who couldn’t afford the house if they co-signed a loan for it. Agents don’t always want a photographer there at that time, but at a buyer’s open you can bet that they figure they don’t have to come let me in (they wouldn’t anyway, I can access the Supra but some folks’ ways of doing things are ingrained and they just automatically think they have to let me in sometimes) when the house is being held open so it must be a great time to have me shoot it.

    I’d rather take my chances and shoot a house during a buyer’s open, because you have a better chance of fewer people being there and the agent will stay out of the way if he or she wants to know who is walking through the door. I’ve had bigger problems going to numerous homes which weren’t near ready on days I had full schedules including summer twilight shoots that would run until 930pm. THOSE piss me off and I end up rescheduling. Some sellers just bust right through protests, though–you can tell them you have an hour to shoot their home and they say, “Okay, I just have to move 100 boxes! You can finish, right?” These are also usually sellers who insist on being home whenever you are there, so rescheduling is a pain in the rectum because it’s on their terms each time, even though they know I can gain access and don’t need them there. So basically, these kinds of sellers are harder to deal with than any open house in my opinion, because you have to throw up your hands and accept your schedule is screwed or offend them by suggesting a reschedule after which they exclaim, “This is the only time I’ve had free and my husband isn’t helping and I want/the agent wants the listing up by tomorrow afternoon!” So you have either incorrigible sellers or agents trying to move too quickly who value only their time and not yours.

    That isn’t the norm in my area, but it’s still pretty common here and is way more destructive to my schedule than having to take a few shots in a room after waiting a few seconds for lookie-loos to pass through a secondary bedroom and whisper to each other, “Ah yeah, this is the second bedroom, how nice glad it has one,” and move on.

  • If I knew ahead of time that there was going to be a broker’s open, I could schedule around that and plan on being at the property longer than usual. The listing agent would have to be ok with hanging out afterwards until the job is complete and also with me hobnobbing with the crowd and handing out business cards. It could be a great way to do a bit of marketing since I’d have my whole kit out (I’d put the battery grip on too so the camera looks more impressive). Agents that don’t use a photographer often have no idea the amount of gear that I can bring to bear on a job and how much time I take composing and lighting. I wonder sometimes if they think that I just show up with one camera/lens and an on camera flash and that’s it. It would account for their reactions when I quote my prices. “Can I just get 30 shots straight from the camera for $30?” No. It’s more than $30 for me to drive 80 miles to and from the job.

    A public open house is a different animal even if the traffic is much less. I’d still be very concerned about my gear being left out and some people will just walk right in front of the camera and stand there talking even when it was obvious that I was waiting for them to move. Watch Scott Kelby’s Iceland Adventure. He’d be all set up on his tripod to get a photo of a waterfall and some tourist with an iPad would step directly in front of him to get a photo that was not going to work with a tablet in the first place. Other photographers were much more polite and would stay out of the frame or use hand signals to see if it was ok to walk thru.

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