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A Poll On When Real Estate Photographers Get Paid

Published: 06/09/2016
By: larry
Sharon ask for:

I am wondering how many people ask clients to pay onsite at the shoot, and how they collect. i.e. check, PayPal, etc.  I really don’t want to do PayPal since there's a fee incurred, but am interested in most popular mode of collecting fees.

Being able to take credit cards via PayPal or Square is a huge convenience for your customers whether it's done onsite, at delivery or via an online invoice. Any serious business person needs to be able to take credit cards!

We've talked about this subject a lot in the past but I've never done a poll to see how many real estate photographers get paid up front at the time of the shoot.

So please take the poll.

Update 9/7/2016: I would have guessed based on past posts and comments and discussions that the majority of readers collect at the shoot. But this poll indicates that's not the case. Interesting!

[polldaddy poll=9513991]

28 comments on “A Poll On When Real Estate Photographers Get Paid”

  1. With new clients I don't know or don't have a recommendation from another verified client, I require full payment up front. For those who come recommended I get 1/2 in advance and 1/2 on delivery. For repeat clients who have a good track record of payment, I bill at the end of the shoot. Then I have my best client who pays a chunk in advance and I work it off. And naturally, he gets more extra work than the others. I work in a small community so I just take checks but I am set up for PayPay but I don't like to loose the fees when RE pays so poorly to begin with. I have only been burned by one new client who had paid just fine for 3 shoots but the forth died since he lost the listing within a couple of weeks after the shoot. I only gave him the benefit of the doubt since he did come recommended from a valued source who was chagrined when they learned of the stiff. Can't win them all. At least with digital, you don't have all the costs of materials like film, processing and Polaroids.

  2. First time clients, FSBOs and vacation rental owners, are required to pay 1/2 at booking, and 1/2 at the end of the shoot. One off clients' expectations are harder to manage and requires me to secure payment upfront.

    Regular clients and clients with good payment history aren't bugged again until 30 days after invoicing. I've never been stiffed on payment in 8 years of operating. I work in a very small community with an extremely active luxury market. Most agents won't risk their reputation for a few hundred dollars and generally pay quickly.

  3. I voted within 30 days; but with explanation... Months ago I changed my policy (and made sure everyone knew it) to 'payment before publication'. Now I cheerfully deliver their photos and 98% of the time receive a CC payment within a few hours. The 2% slow-ish pays are high volume long standing clients that I have absolutely zero concern with, even if it did take them 30 - and it doesn't. The builders have been the tough ones. I've fired a couple, AND been fired by a couple others, always over slow payment troubles... The builders I serve now have heard that story in detail, and provide lightening-fast payment. Complaints about Paypal fees make me smile - I've paid Paypal PLENTY - and hope to pay them even more next year!! I don't think any one-person show could hit volume without taking cc's.

  4. I struggled with billing, payment and receivables for years with no perfect solution ever found. I didn't want to be too aggressive with new clients or existing clients for that matter but could never find the balance that kept my receivables in check. I am sure I would be embarrassed to know how much money I have lost over the years due to these struggles. At the start of this year I moved my business over to View Shoot and they had a program in place that requires the buyer to pay for the shoot prior to downloading. They have the ability to preview the images prior to paying so there can be no good excuse for any after the fact complaints and after a couple of hundred shoots through this system, there has not been a single complaint. The difference in my receivables and peace of mind is significant to say the least. I have had almost no pushback from clients for this method and many applauded the change. It's clean, efficient and works well. Yes, I give a small percentage to the credit card processing company but I consider that just a cost of doing business. It is the best business decision I have made in years!

  5. None of the alternatives apply to me, as I bill (by invoice) the actual real estate agency once a month for all jobs I do. I guess this way of doing it us common here in Norway, and maybe in the rest of europe too?

  6. I ask for payment up front. For good clients that I do a lot of business with, I will send an invoice via PayPal that is due on receipt so they don't have to be present at the shoot and I don't have to visit their office. I typically deliver photos the next day so the whole job is complete within 24-48 hours. Another consideration is the amount of time it would take to manage accounts if I had to send reminders and late notices. I know the local printers require payment when agents have flyers and other materials made.

  7. I require payment at the time of the shoot via check or cash. Almost all my clients are perfectly fine with this, never had any pushback. I have the option to take CC in person or online but the fees are steep. A lot of my invoices are between $500-1000 for full packages... at 2.5% that really adds up quick. I can't afford losing $5-$20 on every job. What's the most affordable way to take credit cards for large invoices?

  8. I've always required payment the day of the shoot. 99% of my agents pay by credit card with one or two paying by check. I keep their card on file and charge them after the shoot. I use Square which is great. It sends them a receipt which I can customize with the property address. The fee is about the same as Paypal and is a cost of doing business. It's also a write off at tax time. The money is in my bank account the next morning. No complaints at all.

  9. When the photos are ready to be downloaded I send a payment request. When the payment has been received I release the media. If it takes an agent longer than 48-hours to pay I just sent a reminder. I started doing this earlier this year after a client took 30 to 60 days to pay. Never once have I had a complaint.

  10. Almost all of my clients happily pay via Electronic Funds Transfer, which isn't among the options listed. Instant transfers, no banking of cash or cheques, no waiting for cheques to clear, no dishonoured cheques and no fees. I invoice monthly, one per agency.

  11. Of course my answer is based only on my area. Perhaps there are many of you that get stiffed. I don't. In 7 years doing this I have only had to chase down 2 agents and they paid after a few threats. I currently handle about 50 clients and they all understand payment is due on receipt of invoice. My average payment is less than 15 days after invoice which is sent via email. Half pay via credit-card/Paypal. The other half via check. The only ones I demand payment from up front in cash on arrival at the site is FSBO requests.

    Only my opinion, but I believe payment on site via anything is a distraction and creates the appearance of being a commodity. To me it's just not professional. When sellers see transactions taking place like this it just looks a bit more like a commodity sale rather than a professional service that consists of much more than pushing a button. I always attempt to look like the agent and myself are a unique well function team of people marketing their very important property. Payment on sites just look like a general contractor hiring a transient roofer or dry-waller to do a cheap cash job.

    If you have a collection problem you need to look hard at your relationship with your clients and how you are perceived before demanding payment up front or on site. Payment on receipt of invoice establishes a two way bond of trust that has meaning. I won't work with an agent I can't trust.

  12. None of the poll options for me. I invoice clients after the job is done. Depending on the client and how many jobs they give me then I may invoice them within a couple of days or within a couple of months. In my market 99% of 'agents' are companies rather than individuals.

  13. I guess I have been lucky and all my clients have paid in full after the shoot within about 2 weeks. I do make the clients who tried to haggle or low ball me when I arrived to the shoot, pay before the deliverables are sent. I send them watermarked Low res images and tell them I will send the un-watermarked high res versions when I receive payment. They usually pay real fast then.

  14. I have my clients trained well!
    Payment by check or Square (CC) is done on site, I also have one agent that pays cash.
    I do offer billing. Those payments are always sent to me within a couple weeks. If I don't have the check within 3 weeks I send a friendly reminder and always get paid.

  15. I collect at the job in full, every time, established client or new. If they forget to bring a check or prefer credit card, I charge an admin fee in addition to the shoot price. I am not in the finance or invoicing or accounts receivable or collection business. It has worked well for nine years, I will keep on. I do not provide invoices, paid or otherwise, except on request. None of this has been an issue for my clients. Keeps things crisp. And always current.

    One note, I was not paid once. It was a realtor, although the work was not real estate. He was selling all his pen and chess collections and did not know how to get the photos shot and loaded on ebay. I should have paid more attention to the fact that he was probably failing and was trying to liquidate all his stuff to pay some bills. Anyway, I got his images done and helped him load his ebay ads. He had a great story about the checkbook and I fell for it. No check ever showed and he stopped answering the phone after a few calls. Lesson learned. Cost me $400. One time. It will not happen again.

    For Matt R, to me the best way to take credit cards to charge an admin fee which covers the credit card processing and extra work. I have had no objections to the fee, none. As to some photographers saying the card companies demand blah blah blah, let them demand whatever they want. It is my business, if I have an admin fee, then I have an admin fee, and that is that.

    As to calling a fee charged to me the cost of doing business and then eating it, why would I do that? If I am charged a fee, like a toll or a processing fee, that means someone is going to pay it, I am not paying for it. Charge for everything, it is not a problem. Bad communication is a problem.

  16. I have a few clients that I bill and get checks from within 14 days. These are people (usually companies) that I have a track record with and can trust.

    Everyone else is COD.

  17. Like everyone it's a big mix.
    A majority of my work comes from the brokerages, one pays 2x/month, one pays as they go and the other just lost their privileges with me because they hardly use me and seem to forget they need to pay me according to agreed upon terms.

    Besides that, some realtors pay direct by cheque, credit card via Square (cheaper/easier than Paypal) or simply send me an e-transfer. Anything not going through a brokerage pay before I deliver images, no exceptions.

  18. This subject hit very close to home. I recently had an agent try to pay only a portion of the fee I charged. I guess I trusted she would pay since she was a referral of someone I trusted, lesson learned. I threatened with having the photos taken down from MLS and was paid immediately. Now I am taking payment cash, check or cc via Square on site if they are not an established client or they are also given the option to pay after the shoot, but the photos are not released until payment is made.

  19. Comments like Steve D and Kitty Dadi make me thing the difference between the areas I work and what they work has to do more with establishing a personal relationship with every client. I can't see a client that I have established a relationship with stiffing me like what they described. I could see a new client maybe doing that once. I refuse to work with people that I don't have a good sense of their integrity and their belief that I am a part of their team.

    I would consider it an insult to push these policies on all for the transgressions on a few. I am not a commodity and I make it known to my clients that is they think I am then they need to move on before I even do a job for them. I'm just not interested. As a result my problem is sometimes they want to pay me faster than I can send the invoice. That's a problem if the payment does not match the invoice.

  20. @Frank - While vetting each client personally is great if you have the time to do it. It is just not practical for the majority of real estate photographers who are trying to make a living in this business!

  21. @Larry, Hope I was not being to strong in my replies. I don't actually take time to vett each client. It's more of an instinct. It just happens. I'm 69 years old and you gain instincts about people over time. I've been in this business only 8 years and do make a living at it 4-500 shoots a year 40-50 clients average $2-300 per shoot and keep obsessive business records of every shoot and can slice and dice those records down to the details of address, home size, client, miles, expense per shoot, capital expense, book/shoot/bill/collect dates, rev, time of shoot, agency, method of payment etc. I can push a button (one of many) on my giant spreadsheet and get all kinds of actual measured performance and business data. Did I say I was kind of OCD?

    I really don't make unsubstantiated claims but I do make a wild guess now and then. I invoice once a week. If a client is over 30 days I send an email reminder the same time I send invoices. I spend between 40-50 hours a week on this business including admin travel etc. Being old I want to enjoy life also and I don't work (shoot) weekends but I do work full time. I only work in a selected area (North Hills area of Pittsburgh 20 mile radius). So....

    Pushing button (push)...
    Year to date first 8 months Jan-Aug:
    Total number of shoots booked- 306
    invoiced- 293
    paid- 284 (including a few chronic late payers)
    Paid Via PayPal/CC - 157
    Avg collection time (invoice to payment) w Paypal/CC - 6 days
    Paid Via Check (USPS mail) - 127
    Avg collection time (invoice to payment) w Check - 16 days
    Avg collection time overall - 11 days

    Now what can you gather from this data? Well the obvious CC/Paypal collections are faster than checks (when measured by collections after invoice). For me anyway late collections have little impact on my business. Don't have the time right now to go into the breakdown of Number of clients that fall into what categories (annual rev, number of shoots, avg time to pay etc) but rest assured I know. This is a mature business and will be different than a start up. My clients value my business. I try to differentiate myself from a commodity shooter (which is not a bad business model but tends to have more collection problems and is driven more by price than loyalty and value). After a three minute conversation with a potential new client I know if they will be repeat business and if they will be a pain to work with. That conversation always starts with "I'm only taking on a limited set of new agents who are serious about using me and will only take a client on if they can comply with my requests for property prep prior to my arrival. If you are ok with that let's see if we are a good business fit." Then I look over their business on line while we speak, photos, solds, area, listing prices, days on market. It's not hard to vett that way.

    Again I'm a bit OCD'd so please don't take this response wrong. It might be a bit more helpful to some than just the poll results. BTW this is a great blog and has tremendous value to the whole PFRE community.

  22. I agree with Frank. We have photographed, videoed, 3D'd over 1350 properties this year. We are so very busy. Our largest clients are on NET 30 everyone else is Net 14. Some do pay at the time of the shoot, but most are billed. We charge the CC processing fee back to the client. We make sure that we have an email with the request for services. There are a few things that can be done to make sure that you get your money, everytime. If you wish more information please contact me.

  23. @Frank,
    From your first comment to your second in your reply to Larry, it seems you have late payers just like the rest of us. Yes, we all have personal relationships with our clients, just like you. We vet new clients, just like you and in our own ways. You aren't exactly unique in any of that.

    @Roger, must be nice to have the magic answer to "getting paid, everytime". It's not a reality. Either you're getting paid up front before you're starting (or some portion thereof) or you're not delivering until they pay. It's not magic, it's expectations set from the beginning.

    /pissy replies

  24. @Steve D. Yep that's it, poke the OCD guy. Not sure I understand "/pissy replies." Did that apply to your reply in that your reply should be read as a "/pissy reply" or mine should be read as a "/pissy reply" I assure you mine was not intended that way. It's just the way I am, very detailed. I can't help it. I thought Poles were not looking for unique approaches but trying to find what was the same in limited categories in an attempt to compile information for others to be used in a manner to improve their business. I was just trying to provide additional detail as to what worked for me and describe my market in detail because that market might be different from others and might not apply to other markets not similar to mine in demographics or geo location.

    Regarding "late payers" you claim I have. I went into great detail what my collections were like. I also mentioned I only had to chase down 2 people in 8 years. That would be over thousands of photoshoots and hundreds of clients. That is hardly a problem, in my mind, that should force one to alter an otherwise good collection process. To me any business that uses an invoice process, and has money in their hands on average 11 days after the invoice is sent, would hardly be considered as having a "late payer" problem. Again that only applies to me in my area where I described my area in detail in what I thought was a non "pissy" but informative way.

    At any point in time I know what my exact cash flow is as well as my work load past, present and looking forward. Therefore I know what a "problem" is and is not. I graph trends over years month over month. That enables me to manage my business and adapt to short term fluctuations in the market. it enables me know what my capacity is as well as understand in detail what impact changes to my processing or admin workflow have on my business. I can tell you to the fraction of a minute how long any post process takes per image. I know how my overhead workflow impacts my business in both time and revenue and what my capacity is for a one man operation.

    I would have thought the information I had to share was valuable in context. That is why I presented the context. That was the manner it was intended. I did not realize it came across as "Pissy" It's unfortunate that you took it that way. It was not intended as "pissy."

    In conclusion it is obvious from the detailed information I have compiled over the years I do not have a late collection problem and the reason for that has already been presented. Being detailed does not equate to "pissy." It's just detailed. Of course a person in a different frame of mind when reading the response might draw a different conclusion. That is unfortunate.

  25. I get paid BEFORE I show up. I send an invoice that they pay with a credit card. With established clients I'm more relaxed about the rules. I will NEVER deliver final photos to someone without first being paid. You don't go to a grocery store and take groceries home and send a check in the mail later. I too must get paid BEFORE my photos are consumed.

  26. @Frank. I think it's awesome that you have clients who pay you on time. Over the 10 years I've been in business for myself, I've had four clients try to NOT pay me...for a grand total of about $10,000. ALL...I repeat, ALL of them I had "relationships" with. All but ONE, I had already done business with. TWO of them I had been in their own homes. But things happen and people don't or can't pay (can't really is a matter of their own priority with money.)

    Last week I just won a small claims case where someone tried to stiff me. I took them to court and they were forced to pay me. Now I've got another client, who I've worked with several times, who has decided they don't want to pay.

    For these reasons, I prefer to get paid BEFORE I turn over final images (or a final video as is sometimes the case). Most businesses collect money before goods and services are given to the customer. If someone objects to paying first, then they are free to go somewhere else.

  27. @trevor, WOW $10k that is a real problem. I'm with you if the problem is that big. My point was in the context of only my area and my client base and my experience and my products. Typically my photo jobs never get over $500 each though my invoices do run $1k now and then. As I mentioned I don't run into that problem. I laid out my process. Not saying it would work for anyone else, just me. It's up to the individual to determine their own working environment and the proper steps to interact with it.

    Actually I'm a bit like you in telling the agents exactly under what conditions I will work for them and intimating that if they don't hold up to my requirements they can get someone else. I would not hesitate at all to take someone to small claims court and while there collect additional fees and damages.

  28. The wording of the poll allows for the equivalent of 'other.' I suspect most lean one way or the other, but ultimately do a mix. I'm 'mostly' #3 (pay first), but #2 (mix, 'other') allows me to account for my commercial accounts.

    It may be useful to run a fresh poll that segments by basic customer types. One-offs retail (FSBO, 5-shoot or less/season realtors, and the like) vs commercial (only pay on invoice and/or established relationship). Retail is 100% pay in full up front. Commercial is within 30 days. It'll sway results a lot I suspect.

    As for not wanting to pay PayPal... makes me wonder if the person's 100% cash and check. Whether credit card or PayPal, they're providing a service which comes for a fee. To be honest, I prefer paying a small percentage, which is baked into my pricing, than bear the cost (time, gas, vehicle wear/tear) to handle paper. Cash is far more expensive to handle than a credit card.

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