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Access to a Home For Shooting Photos

Published: 27/09/2007

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Kris Steels was asking about the issue of getting access to homes for photographing and raise some questions that I've not discussed on the blog although I've discussed this issue with several folks via e-mail. So I thought it would be a good subject to bring up for folks just starting out in RE photography. Here is Kris's question:

I'm not sure if you've already covered this on your blog; but when I searched the archives, I couldn't find any similar topics.

How do other real estate photographers access the homes their shooting? I applied for membership with my local Realtor's Association; but was denied a DisplayKey to access the electronic lock-boxes.

The $%&**(# Realtor's Association may as well have thrown my camera into Lake Michigan. I'm angry and frustrated beyond words, as this is going to be a HUGE problem for me. My greatest selling point was the convenience for the Realtor to NOT have to return to the home to take the photos. Do you have any suggestions?

Here is my answer to Kris:

As you've probably found out to have lock-box access you need to have a RE license or some appraisers get keybox access if they have an appraisers license. All this is state and MLS regulated so rules vary from state to state and from MLS to MLS. There is no way around this requirement in WA and OR that I know of.

For the last 10 years I've been a licensed assistant for my wife... this has got me around the requirement. There are some RE photographers that do this, however, you have to find a brokerage to "hang" your license and typically this will be a monthly fee that the broker charges for liability insurance, desk space etc. Licensed agents also pay over $100/mo to MLS to be a member, and over $100/mo to the company that runs the Lock-box system (ours is Supra). So as you can see the cost to have lock-box access mounts up. If you are not doing photography full time you could find a successful agent or team of agents that need an assistant and be an assistant part time and photograph part time. Sometimes agents that have assistants pay for some or all of their assistant's license expenses.

Another alternative is to convince agents to let you schedule directly with the home owner. I think this would be very workable however, some agents sell home sellers on the concept that the Realtor will "take care of all the details" so some may be hesitant to do this. Technically since you are a contractor that the Realtor is hiring they have responsibly for you in the sense of liability. In MLS it is against the rules to let a contractor in the home and leave.

Feel free to add suggestions for Kris or site your experiences in this area this is a problem that we all have to deal with.

Larry Lohrman

20 comments on “Access to a Home For Shooting Photos”

  1. I'm confused. Are you looking for MLS access or Lockbox/Supra Access? These are completely different. The MLS, by my understanding is the program for which listings are shared beteween Real Estate Brokers, ulimately through web based access. Interestingly enough, in Missouri, the MLS only sets rules for the MLS (that is the Multiple Listing Service). However, the laws, rules and guidelines for all other Real Estate related matters are determined by the Missouri Real Estate Commission (the State of MO) and the National, State and local board of Realtors. Ultimately, in Missouri, whether or not you are able to gain lockbox access is determined solely by the local board of Realtors.

    I actually have Supra Lockbox access, and my key only costs me $21/month. It works right off of my Palm Treo, using BlueTooth. However, I am not able to gain MLS access without an active license. I do have a Real Estate license, but it is being held in referral. Thus, it is not active, and has no bearing on the fact that my local board of Realtors granted me Supra access. I should mention that when I initially requested to gain Supra access, the board originally tried to deny my request. They stated that they only active Realtors, Appraisers and Inspectors were allowed to have Supra access. I immediately challenged their refusal, due to the fact that I personally knew of 3 Non-Realtor photographers that had Supra access in my area at that particular time.

    Thus, I would suggest that if you know of other Real Estate photographers in the area that have Supra access that you use that to boost your case at the board of Realtors. If you don't know any other photographers in your immediate area, start Googling....I'm sure that there are some. Call them, ask them if they have access...and while you're at it, find out about the services they offer. You'll want to know because these people will ulitmately be your competitors...

    That's my advice!

  2. Here is Australia I have my own key for the keysafe (lock box) and liaise directly with the vendor of the property for access. If they can't be home at the time then I have their permission to enter and do my thing.

  3. I usually get a key from the listing agent or they give me the code for hard code lock boxes. The issue has never really come up as the homeowners are usually there also.

  4. We were also denied a Supra Access key almost 8 years ago and were a little miffed then. At first, we considered re-submitting our passkey application via some of the Brokers we work for but decided against that and am glad now for a couple of reasons:

    - Other than us, no one here who was doing this back then is still in business; this includes Bamboo, iPix and other independent photographers. The local Realtor's Association is already worried about the security issues and this keeps us out of all that mess.

    - Many times, we use this as an opportunity to have a late breakfast or lunch with the Realtor before going to the house. If lunch isn't possible (which is the norm), its an opportunity to meet our customers face to face for a few minutes. Most of the Realtor's we work for now are the same ones we started with.

    Kris, I feel your frustration but we've made it work okay and we don't have to pay the dues. The Realtors usually just let us in and leave, then we lock up and put the key back in the Supra box. Security is also an issue with us and we double, sometimes triple check the doors before locking up.

    Good luck.

  5. We were provided keys for two counties by brokers. Other agents in some other locations will simply tell us the combination for the lock box. And others, we have to meet the agent. I personally know of a photographer who has no RE liscense and is a siting/voting member of the local realtor board. He's probably the only person in the country with this privilege. It's simply what you can talk them into.

  6. I'm actually a licensed Realtor in Columbus, OH, and as such I have access to the MLS as well as my own Supra eKey. Security is priority-one around here, and I can tell you there's no way a photographer would be given an eKey just for the sake of convenience.

    As for the cost of the eKey itself, I really don't know. I pay for mine along with my other yearly dues (NAR, CBR, MLS), which currently clock in around a grand per year.

    If I didn't have a Realtor's license and eKey, I'd become good friends with someone who did; someone who would be willing to let you into the houses you need to get into. But honestly, the listing agent should have no problem letting you in the house themselves, and I can guarantee they aren't going to want to stand around and watch while you work (as would be my preference as well as yours).

  7. Cherie - I'm looking for the electronic key - lockbox access. I have no interest in the MLS. I'll try challenging the local board of realtors. The irony is that I was an active salesperson 2 years ago, but let my license lapse.

    I suggested doing a background check, but that didn't fly. I know of one realtor in the area who's a convicted felon; and apparently it's okay for her to go in people's homes (but not me, who's greatest offense is 2 speeding tickets in 20 years of driving!).

    Right now, there are NO other RE photographers in my area. I've googled, I've asked around, and I've checked with the local real estate offices.

    I understand the security issues, but like any other business, am heavily insured. I've invested waaaay too much time and money in equipment to turn back now. I. Will. Triumph!

    Anyway, thanks for the suggestions, and for letting me vent my frustrations!! 🙂

  8. Personally, I don't want the liability of being in a home without the agent present, the exception being only if the home is completely vacant or staged, and then only for agents I trust and work with all the time. I have a lot of liability insurance as well but I sure as heck don't want to have to use it! There has never been any adverse affect on my business by not having access to the lockboxes.

  9. Having Supra access makes sense in my area. I have three competitors, all non-agents, and they all have Surpra access. Agents here have come to expect it. And, it works well for photographers that do a number of shoots on a daily basis. I normally have anywhere from 3-6 shoots every day (I know, I know...I don't sleep much or eat well). Due to the higher volume, I can't give people an exact appoitment time. So I have to give them a time slot, much like the cable man! 🙂 So it helps tremendously to have Supra access, in case the homeowner isn't home, the agent isn't available or the house is vacant.

    I also have a great deal of liability insurance, but I also have it listed in my contract that any liability for loss or damages rests entirely on the individual or agent that contracted my services. This protects me in the even that something should happen, and it was inlcluded in my contract at the advice of my attorney.

    I think that all of these matters are relative to the area that you serve. If all of your competitors have Supra access, then you need to be able to offer it too. In my case, if it were necessrary, I would pull my license out of referral and pay all of the Realtor Association dues just to be able to keep my eKey. If I didn't have it, it would kill my business!

  10. I also agree with Susanne. I always request that *someone* be present; either the agent (preferred) or the homeowner for the sake of liability. Having the agent present is also one way to keep good face time with them. People do business with people they know and like. Also, I may want to move something to improve the photo whether that be a couple trinkets on a shelf or a couple of sofas. I wouldn't dare without someone's permission.
    I shot a vacant but furnished lakefront camp for a client back in June. I've done a lot of work for this broker and she trusts me to no end. She asked if I could just shoot this place for her if she gave me the lockbox code since it was a busy day for her and the owners lived out of state and they hadn't been to the camp yet this year. I convinced her to meet me there, let me in and take a walk around just to cover both of us. It was a good thing as the water-facing sliding glass doors downstairs had something thrown thru them. If I had been there alone, it could have very easily been pinned on me. It's not what you know happened, it's what you can prove.

  11. Nathan and Susanne,
    I think you give good advice on asking to have either Realtor or home owner present. I like Aaron am surprised by how many non-agents have lockbox access in other areas since in our area (Seattle) only appraisers and Realtors have access... many appraisers don't even have access.

  12. I take a different approach. In my area each Wednesday is "open house" day for agents to view newly listed homes. When an agent gets ready to put a home on the market, they list it for the next week's agent tour. Whenever posible I shoot on those days. Two huge benefits. First, the agent is already there, so I'm not taking any of their time. Second, there is a stead flow of agents coming through the home, all prospective clients for me. I nearly always end up handing out 10-12 business cards.

    The big drawback is that the flow of agents slows things down a bit. But for me, the other benefits more than make up for this.

  13. Rob,
    This is good for meeting agents. But this means the home you are shooting for may have no photos or bad photos for the first week on the market! When a home goes on the market it it essential that it has photos because there is frequently more web traffic when a home first goes on the market than after its been on the market for a while. Also, in the first 24 hours after a home goes on the market photos are propagated to other real estate websites and there are many sites that don't do a good job of picking up changes in photos a week after the home is put on the MLS.

    Good marketing requires ALL marketing materials are ready on Day 1. Agents that don't have all marketing materials ready on day 1 are not going a good job of representing their seller!

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