I had an insightful conversation last night with a highly successful portrait photographer (lets call him Jim) that has been struggling, unsuccessfully, during the last 12 months to break into real estate photography.
Even though Jim's real estate work is jaw dropping good, from what I could tell he has just not connecting with the top real estate agents that can benefit from his work.
I see many photographers these days moving into real estate to supplement sagging income from other areas of photography, like wedding and portraits, that are suffering from the economic down-turn. Real estate agents have been struggling this last 18 months just like everyone else. The big challenge for listing agents has been convincing home owners to get there price down to where the current market value of there homes is. This is not easy and very few agents are up to this challenge.
I think it is a good time to review some fundamentals of breaking into real estate photography:
- Target only the top listing agents in your area. Most of the agents (these days 95% +) are struggling to make it because they are doing so few transactions. So success critically depends on your ability to connect with these top few percent of agents and demonstrate how your photos can help their marketing stand out from the crowd (the 100s of other listings).
- Make a list of the top agents in your area so you can focus your marketing energies on the right people. This list can change from year to year. You can make this list without much work from some online research. The top agents are the ones that are listing and selling the most homes. On some sites it's hard to tell listings from sold listings but there are sites like zillow.com that show sold listings
- The very best way to connect with top agents is face-to-face. Direct personal contact is hard to beat. Sometimes you can meet top listing agents at open houses but most of the time top listing agents will let buyers agents hold their listings open because open houses are designed to meet buyers.
- When you talk to listing agents talk about specifics of the photography they use on their current listings and how you can make their listings stand out from the crowd. This means you have to do your homework. Look at an agent's listings before you talk to them. Be able to talk about "the photos on your 1234 Main St listing". This will get their attention.
- Referrals are the most powerful form of marketing. Doing a good job for a top agent, and getting them to refer you to their friends is the ultimate in marketing method. Up and coming agents frequently ask top agents for referrals on vendors they use. To get
- Be sure you are not wasting your marketing on buyers agents. Agents specialize and only listing agents need real estate photography services. Jim said he spent time regularly going on caravans (groups of agents that drive around the area looking at homes that are on the market) handing out cards. This was a waste of Jim's time since caravans are the most use to buyers agents. Listing agents tend not to go on caravans.
- Going to office meetings is useful if you are meeting top listing agents. Frequently they don't attend office meetings because brokers frequently design office meetings to help the new agents. Who attends office meetings varies widely from office to office. Don't go to meetings blindly; use your top agent list to make sure you are connecting with the right people.
- Your portrait or wedding photography won't sell your real estate photography. I see many photographers moving into real estate photography that try to have one website. In the scheme of things websites are not that expensive. I firmly believe that anyone that's seriously doing real estate photography will benefit from a site dedicated to their real estate photography services.
These principles work and they work almost anywhere. Marketing success is dependent primarily on your ability do demonstrate to the top agents in your area how you can help them get their marketing job done. You can't do this by showing them your portraits or wedding photos.