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Covid-19: A Wake Up Call for Real Estate Marketers

Published: 15/04/2020

Author: Charlie Dresen

Real estate is changing and no one is looking back. Therefore, agents and any industries that support the real estate community––photographers to videographers to stagers, all need to be aware as well. I see this as an opportunity––a differentiator to set your business up for success. Real estate is a service industry and those agents offering more services will be the ones who thrive in these challenging times. As well, those agents will be looking for creative partners who not only offer professional photos and videos, but offer more services that allow potential buyers to view a home utilizing technology.

Being a real estate agent for 17 years, I’ve seen first-hand how technologies have transformed the industry and my business. For those of you who don’t know, I’m also a creator and I use video extensively to boost my business. I see firsthand, the growth of my business directly correlates with the use of these technologies. It’s my philosophy that to be successful in an over-saturated market, one needs to elevate their game and offer more relevant services than the competition. In real estate, this is no different but when the market tightens, or the industry changes like it is TODAY, the cream rises to the top.

The real estate business is OPEN. But some states are not allowing “showings” or “open houses.” So, without showings, how can the real estate business continue? Well, this is where opportunity occurs.

With Covid-19, real estate is pivoting rapidly. The buzz is “virtual tours” or “virtual open houses.” It’s all about bringing the home to the buyers. This is not a huge shift for some progressives within the industry. As many of us know, many agents have been utilizing these tools for years now. But with the current health crisis, these technologies have become mandatory to sell a home. It’s highlighting technologies like video, 3D tours, or even Facetime or Zoom “open houses.” More importantly, it’s educating the general public to expect more from the real estate community––to be able to accurately see, understand, and transact real estate remotely. This is not only important in our current situation, but also into the future when buyers will appreciate the ability to do a lot of the pre-work of viewing properties remotely prior to, or even all the way through closing.

So, in today’s real estate market, agents are scrambling to get videos made, to get 3D tours of their listings; many are even pulling out their smartphone and shooting videos for social media. Whatever it takes to get noticed in the market today, many agents are playing catch-up. That said, I can’t overstress the importance of quality. A professional real estate video that not only tells a story, but is visual appealing and draws buyers in with emotions will go much further than a walk-through shot on an iPhone.

See example here.

I also believe there will be a new wave of technologies directly resulting from these real estate industry changes.

When we emerge from this pandemic, the real estate industry will have progressed forward. The “new normal” for real estate will be a lot less driving around viewing homes and a lot more of the preliminary efforts being done online. What if every home for sale had a 3D tour and a personalized video? Utilizing these tools will not only save time, but will help streamline the efforts for buyers and sellers and improve the overall experience.

Thus, for creators out there, if it hasn’t happened yet, expect to get more requests for 3D tours, for videos, for personal walk-throughs––anything you can think of to help bring the home to the buyers will be needed. For those real estate agents looking for a boost, reach out to photographers, video makers, companies that make 3D tours, and make sure all your listings utilize these marketing technologies.

The effect Covid-19 is having on the real estate industry is profound. But more importantly, it’s educating the public of these marketing tools and moving forward, sellers will demand these technologies be used to market and sell their home. And buyers will begin to expect to see these technologies being used when they browse for homes online. We are not looking back. Real estate is undergoing changes daily and it’s time to adapt.

Charlie Dresen is a Realtor and real estate photographer/videographer based in Steamboat Springs, CO.

27 comments on “Covid-19: A Wake Up Call for Real Estate Marketers”

  1. I've been doing this work for ten years and rarely has an agent every complimented me on my work. The just take the pictures and run. I don't why this is either. Just the nature of the beasts we serve. If they do happen to call they might say this " I really like the pictures you took, however..."fill in the blank". So, no news is good news in my book! If they book me again, that's the compliment.

  2. I share your dismay and it took me forever to get past it. I'm pretty sure that if the agent actually does love your product or she would have found another photographer my now. You do not have a corner on inconsiderate clients. They come in varying degrees of inconsideration. You just have to decide how much it bothers you and decide if it is worth the disappointment. If it isn't, tell her. You might be surprised at the response. I fired my number 2 agent a few years ago. 50 to 70 houses a year. He was just an ass. Napoleon complex. I ended up with more business from his office than I was getting from him. The other agents couldn't stand him either. Funny thing, his business dropped off considerably. Don't be afraid to stand your ground. It's your business, you know your job and you do it well. If you're like me, pride in what you do often outweighs the money. Keep on clicking.

  3. well, some people are just like that. With the agents, the fact that that you use your real estate photography and not looking elsewhere is already working as praise. The competition is high. I never expect praises from some clients, while others are willing to share their excitement. I have one agent who was actively looking for photographers, tried a bunch and ended up with me.

  4. Some people are that way about everything in life. It's the difference in people, not a question of how good your work is unless your work sucks, which I'm sure it does not. I have clients who don't complain, but don't say anything complimentary either. However, I think I'm safe to assume that they would find someone else if they were not satisfied with the work I did/do for them. Then I have clients whom I hear telling the owners that "she's the best and the only person I'll use. It's a mixed bag and I don't pay much attention to it unless there's some merit on occasion to what they've said to me and then I will adjust myself and maybe learn something useful from them. In the meantime, all I care about is getting better and better.

  5. @Ellen Zaslaw. You nailed it on the head. I thinks sometimes the agents tells the homeowner how wonderful we are not to make us look good but to make them look good for hiring "the best in town". 26 years in the business and I get way more compliments from my commercial and hospitality clients. It is always special when someone does reach out and send a nice email liking the photos. Finding something wrong with every job....not sure if I would continue to work with that agent. That would get old.

  6. I have the same experience. In fact, many clients don’t even acknowledge that they received the photos. Often, the only way I know they downloaded them is because Pixieset sends me a notification.

    It’s frustrating, particularly when some agents only have a handful of listings per year. I never know if they’ve disappeared on me and hired someone new. But usually they call again.

    I’ve gotten used to it over the years, but it’s still a little unsettling.

  7. What about setting up a testimonial/review step in your process?
    After delivering the pictures and making sure that your client was able to download them and they are fine-
    Most business have this type of step.
    It is really helpful to get feedback and it helps create a transparent and friendly business environment. It also helps developing those business relationships.

  8. Although it's great to get a pat on the back every once and a while, the fact that they've used you for 8 years is a pretty solid testimony of your work..

    I also think you're right on as to some of the reasons this client doesn't compliment you... They feel they might loose some leverage, it's a fiercely competitive industry among agents and they view you as a competitive advantage and they want to keep their secret weapon to themselves. I think the latter is the most likely based on some of the situations I've been it... I once arranged a meeting with an agent in her office. She was very secretive about the meeting and rather then go to the reception area, she instructed me to call her when I arrived and she ushered me directly into her private office and shut the door... Once in the office her first words were "don't talk with anyone here, they don't need to know what I'm doing"... We also often try to get agents to introduce us to their brokers in hopes that we get an opportunity to present in front of their office and I've been told on several occasions "why would I do that, your my company"..

    As far the relationship with a difficult client, we've encountered a few... One in particular went through several photographers and no one could please them, finally I had to call the agent and basically fire them.. I then get a call from the broker who said "Sally just called me and said your refuse to work with her, we do a lot of business with you and I can't have this" .... I said to the broker "Let me ask you something, if you were Sally's teacher and were filling out a report card on her, what kind of grade would you give her for getting along with others. Dead silence.... I explained she had been through several of our photographers and told him, I understand why you may have to put up with her, but we don't. We also had to call one agent who did a ton of business with us and tell him if he continued to yell at our photographers and everyone in customer care each time he called in, we cold no longer work with him... He's been a gentlemen ever since but he does have an occasional flare up 🙂

    These are obviously extreme cases and everyone's tolerance in dealing with these sorts of people are different. As far as your client, what you're encountering is pretty typical, especially for agents who are top producers in what is a dog eat dog competitive work environment.

  9. There is an answer to this actually. Price hikes are fairly routine in business. Realtors attribute price hikes to the one thing they thought that could have led to them... compliments. Some cases it may have been true the prices got hiked because of compliments, some cases not. But, the realtor thinks every case it was attributed to compliments.

    You will notice if you go to a country like Mexico or Peru, if you give someone an absolutely beautiful piece of fruit for example, they will half act like they are practically eating a sour grape. I am not saying this in a derogatory way at all, just stating they tend to error on the side of not giving roaring approval because then they would somehow owe you more. Think I am crazy all you want but this stuff is true i tell you.

  10. I found this all the time when I did work for advertising agencies and graphic designers. Very nitpicking. I think they assumed that since they only used me and we worked together for a long time, that that was praise enough. So since their nitpicking echoed my own, I just ignored it. Especially when mostly they were with me and directing me at the shoot and had to approve the polaroids before I exposed film.

    But with real estate, I regularly get compliments. Turns me into an "awe shucks" blushing idiot. I am not used to it after a lifetime shooting for art directors. I agree with the comments above that an agent introducing you as the "best" is more about broadcasting their own branding than about you. I am often shooting a property when the owners are present and overhear such claims and often before the owner has actually signed the contract. My presence I believe is designed to prompt them to do so. It usually works but not always. I shot an olive grove and oil processing ranch last Spring with plans to shoot more about now during harvest and crushing season. Just discovered that the owner decided not to list after I had been there filming stills and video for 3 days last spring. A hit for my client but he says that's just the price of doing business. I find it hard to accept myself but then I am not much of a businessman.

    We all know that there is more than one way to shoot a property (shot by shot I mean), so there is always room for criticism. But if the client does not choose to be along side you, they have no basis for criticism. I think I would inform the client, ever so politely and diplomatically, that if they want to criticize the photography then next time they need to accompany you on the shoot. That will slow it down and increase the cost as a result, but you want to give them the very best that will please them so you are sure they will want to do that.

    When I do have a client who sticks around for the whole shoot, I usually offer to show them the shot if I have questions of my own, but the usual response is "no need, I trust you to get it right." Sigh. What I am really asking is does this shot capture your marketing point or is there something here you don't want in the shot like the neighbor's RV across the fence, or utility poles looming over the back yard fence and such things. So I just go ahead and shoot it several ways and then I am covered in post if they say later "do you have one without the utility pole, back of the garage etc.?"d

    Since so much of working with clients is more than just the photography but the personal chemistry; I find that clients who do criticize the results are generally those with whom I really don't feel simpatico and usually cease doing business with them. Does not happen often, but it has happened. They are often the same folks who don't have the house decluttered and ready to shoot or are slow payers, often both. But in addition to the chemistry, while I don't wear a suit to shoot, I do arrive in a presentable (as my old Mum used to say) for the shoot, greet the owners politely when I arrive, listen to them, find some topic of conversation to share, involve them in the tour, make them feel special since I know I am my client's ambassador. Especially on high end shoots this is important. Most owners are proud of what they have created and I find that is the grease that smooths any issues I find as I shoot that need to be corrected to get the best shots. And this is appreciated by my clients.

    Life is too short. But if you have a long term client, despite some niggling issues, I just brush it off and carry on. No client is perfect and certainly I know I am not. When hindered, I can get cranky. I don't realize it until later.

  11. Unfortunately, it could also be that this agent doesn't actually value photography that much and was just trying to look good for the client. This is real estate, not high-end marketing, not fine art. We are just tools to them.

    I struggled with this when I first started—not just a lack of complements, but a total lack of any feedback—I always want to know if I can do things differently or better... What's working, what's not? Of course, I would hear about it if I screwed something up! Now, I get enough complements and feedback from other agents that I feel valued.

  12. I have had 3 females and 1 male client who was never satisfied in the past 20 years. They kept calling anyway because fixed what they criticized. They have retired. I just kept getting better. Being the best is not all that it is cracked up to be either. Someone out there markets better or has a gimmick that I do not do to have to get clients. I am not a razzle dazzle person so a lot of expensive gear is not my thing. As far as expecting compliments GOOD LUCK WITH THAT ONE. Few and far far far between. My attitude is if they call me back then they like what I do. Now it is finding others to do the same.

  13. I've had the oposite happen with a couple of my best clients. They have written testimonials for me that are awesome. One even says, "when Michael is not busy working for me, I would reccomend you hire him for your photography."

    But, I've also had my share of complainers.

  14. I think a lot of it has to do with ego, on behalf of the client/agent. There could be a ton of subtle reasons as to why they don't compliment, but ultimately it boils down to ego. Fear of raising prices, fear of other agents hiring you and taking away something they believe is unique to their marketing (your expertise in photography), keeping the spotlight on them (they're the expert for choosing you, right!?).

    I have a handful of clients like this, I keep the working relationship very transactional and business like, I don't small talk with them, I show little interest in anything they're doing (in business or life), I provide them with a very high quality service/finished product, collect a check and move on. Don't take it personal, it's business.

    On the other hand, I have clients that have become almost friend like. During shoots we talk about our kids, what's going on in life, trends in the business, and generally have a good time on photo shoots. They pay lots of compliments, we boost each other up to the homeowner, and it's all fuzzy and warm.

    Not all clients are the same, some are pleasant, others are rigid, some pay right on time, some lag. It's important to be flexible in this business, in all aspects.

  15. Most of my customers are nice enough to write something nice about the photos I make for them when they acknowledge receipt of the files. Always make sure you hear back after you send out the links. It's a great excuse for a contact and you also make sure they have the photos.

    Sometimes agents will talk up the photographer as a way to talk up themselves. Aren't they so clever to engage the best photographer in the area? Of course when it's me, it true. I'm still working on that modesty thing. I will also say nice things about an agent I am doing work for. The goal is for the seller to feel like they've made a good choice engaging that agent. If the agent's credibility goes up, they get more listings and hire me more frequently to make the photos.

    I much prefer to work with people I like. We don't have to be best buddies, but life is too short to deal with nasty customers. I have a couple that are very standoffish, but they aren't rude or condescending. They just aren't all that social. I see it as a bit odd they are in RE as it's based a lot on personal connections.

  16. I have a few client exactly like this. Clients who I haven't heard a nice word from in 5+ years (though they continue to use me for everything) but then I'll hear them talking to their clients while I'm shooting "Wait until you see the photos. He's the absolute best! You're going to be blown away I promise!"

    It doesn't bother me much but a nice word goes a long way.

  17. I don't expect compliments, although I sometimes get them.

    To a Realtor, we are a vendor - a step to get from listing to closing. They aren't hanging these images on the wall or saving them as an heirloom. I have always said that you had better get self-satisfaction from real estate photography, because the agent often doesn't care.

  18. I ask each and every agent for feedback on my photos via text. As a result I get feedback on 95% of the shoots. If I don't ask, I don't get.

  19. I am not sure what the point of this article is. It provides only one example of a client who does not compliment the photographer and can only speculate about the reasons for the lack of compliments. Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be a real business problem here, since the client continues to be a long-term client. Perhaps it is just something about this particular client's style and personality; but even if that is the case, I don't see any sort of client-relations issue unless, perhaps, you think the criticisms are unreasonable.

    If there were a significant number of clients who did not give compliments and were also offering consistent criticisms of the photos, that would be a cause for concern.

  20. @David Eichler, It's important to get feedback from customers and if they aren't reaching out to you, you need to engage them. Some people aren't going to come forward and criticize what you are delivering if they aren't 100% happy. They'll just replace you with somebody else and never say a word.

    I like to find out from my customers what their top priorities are. For some it's turnaround time. For others it's quality. I have a few where it bounces back and forth depending on the property. If you are sending out great photos in 48 hours and your customer would rather have "good" photos the next day, you aren't ticking the right box. They might not be able to see the difference or care. It may be just inertia that keeps them sending you the work, but they might try somebody out that guarantees next morning delivery. There could be things such as fires in fireplaces, sky replacements, minor staging on site (toilet lids always down, trash cans removed) that they want to see or they don't want. I talk to agents that are paranoid they will get fined for a sky replacement or simple edits like cloning out security sensors/keypads. I do those things often as a matter of course, but if they are scared they'll get a nasty email from the MLS, I don't have to do those edits. So if I'm doing things that I feel are adding value they don't like, I'd want to know before they decide to stop calling me.

  21. Ken, then the writer should say so explicitly, but he does not. The article tries to get to a point at the end (the topic should be clear from the start), when it asks about challenging or interesting long-term relationships, which suggests that the point is not really specifically about feedback, but something more general. Yet the body of the article suggests the subject really is feedback, though it only relates this to a specific client and does not elaborate on the subject of feedback in any useful way.

    It is not really a well-written article and I don't think it is very helpful, in and of itself.

  22. Sorry, my critique above was a little off. The title of the article does suggest a distinct topic, but the article doesn't really follow through well with that as I have explained.

  23. It comes down to the person your dealing with I think. I've got some in both categories and I generally roll with the fact that if they keep booking us then they love the work and be happy with that. Usually you'll certainly know if there is a problem as that's when you'll hear from them and I work super quick smart to get anything fixed and not help up the workflow at their end if anything comes up (whatever that may be). I know where I sit against most competitors and know our work is very high standard and most importantly very consistent on quality at a high level compared to some who fluctuate a lot in quality ive noticed, and I don't push to be the most expensive around, I like to sit just right where they're getting slightly more value than their paying for and it seems to work well where i'm happy & the clients are happy which is the most important!

  24. This seems to be an n=1 type of observation. No reference to this being a continuing trend or anything. Really, I think it boils downs to the author being frustrated at being nit-picked by one customer.

    The vast majority of my customers don't take time out of their day to tell me how much they like my work. I've shown up at homes where the agent isn't there and I always greet them by saying, "Hi...I'm Brian the Photographer." They say, "Hi" and I follow up with, "I take it you've been expecting me?" (because something they have NOT...in which case I need to address that right away).

    They (almost) always say, "Yes. We have." And very often that if followwed up with "[AgentName] told us all about you and how your photos are the best." <<< or some version of that.

    But the agents don't usually sing my praises to me myself. I think that mostly they just feel that the check is a thank-you enough. And honestly...I feel that way too. Just pay the invoice asap once I send it and don't let it hang out there for a few weeks and I'll consider you to be throwing tons of praise my way with that gesture.

    I do have one client that kinda drives me nuts to with all kinds of little annoying requests. In fact, she drives me up the wall. She's always trying to tell me "Not to forget" some show in front of the seller when...I don't forget any of the shots she points out. There's a bunch of little stuff like that that irritates me about her, but she's one of my highest volume customers. So I just accept that this her little particularity and she's really nice and easy to get along with. She just has some kind of control issues or nit-picky issues. That's who she is and I don't think she's going to change so I just deal with it and cash the checks.

    That will be my policy forever I think.

  25. 99 percent of my clients give me no feedback. I only know they liked the work is because they keep hiring me and occasionally I overhear them bragging about me to their clients.

  26. I have several clients that do directly complement the services we provide, many do not. But, the biggest complement of all is when they refer my services to a friend. They may not tell me directly, but that referral says a lot more.

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