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Advice on How to Get Started in the Real Estate Photography Business

Published: 25/04/2018
By: larry

Darrin from the east Los Angeles area says:

As a new real estate photographer just starting my business, I'm still learning what real estate associations are, how the real estate industry works, etc. So I'm literally at step 1. I'm wondering what are the most effective ways of getting my first clients. Should I beat the pavement and visit RE offices and hand them my marketing material? Should I try to get presentation time at an office or association? Should I try Facebook or Google ads? I'm willing to grind; I just want to grind in the most productive places.

In general, face to face marketing is the strongest way to market Realtors because they are very people oriented. Going to real estate offices is one way. Give a presentation if you can but some areas are so real estate photography savvy, that it doesn't work well anymore. Going to open houses is another way to meet face to face with listing agents.

Here are two past posts that go into detail about how to market listing agents:

  1. A summary of what readers have reported working
  2. A success story from a reader in the Seattle area

Also, here are some listing agent marketing materials that we've developed over the years. Probably the most useful is the condensed version (one double-sided page) and the jumbo postcard version.

5 comments on “Advice on How to Get Started in the Real Estate Photography Business”

  1. I suggest starting with your landlord or the agent you worked with when buying your home. You may get the chance to gain access to homes to photograph and build your skill and a portfolio with somebody you can admit to that you are just starting out. You can also do the work for no charge or a very low fee and not be under massive pressure to do a perfect job. You also won't establish yourself as a low cost photographer with a bunch of agents right out of the gate.

    I started by making photos of my own house, but it quickly became stale to photograph and it was too easy to remember the settings I used. Part of the challenge of RE photography is being able to work through fresh composition and lighting problems without much time to come to a decision.

    I get most of my clients by going out on weekends and visiting them at open houses. You are a local service business so paying for ads that reach a wider area don't do you any good and aren't worth paying for. I personally dislike Facebook and many people have found out recently what business FB is really in and how they make the bulk of their income but some photographers get lots of work through FB. Even if you go that route, you still need to have your own web site and an email with your own domain name. Selling yourself face to face and being able to cold call are harder than the photography for many people. It's something you will have to work hard at if you are very uncomfortable with it. The photography part can be much less nerve racking.

    If you can put together a presentation to give to real estate office and association (MLS) meetings, it can be a good opportunity to get your name out there and collect some leads. Again, if you are stage shy, you will need to work up to making a good presentation in front of a bunch of people. There are people that work with business professionals as a coach to help them with their presentation skills. My local MLS has a "lunch and learn" program where the presenter provides lunch and gets the chance to present to a group. Bring in a really good lunch and maybe word will get around so the next time you will get even more people. It could cost $50-$80, but that's pretty cheap advertising.

    See what you can offer that your competition isn't. A lower price isn't always going to help and it's a bad first move. Being available evenings and weekends when other photographers won't book jobs could be a good hook. You may also want to specialize in twilight images (morning and evening) if the competition is often booked and can't get to all of the ones that customers want. A morning and evening twilight shoot at $100ea can be pretty good income for the time required. Spend time in the area building a portfolio of community photos that you can license for free with each paying RE session. Don't forget to pitch commercial real estate agents and local businesses such as BnB's and independent motels. It's often the same skill set at photographing homes and it can generate some positive local references.

  2. How much does a newbie need in their arsenal? Drones, floorplans, video, pole, etc.? I personally just want to shoot a house, make a virtual tour and be done! Darrin: do you plan on being able to provide all those services and more from outset? Is it necessary? This is what is stopping me....would love some comments. Thanks.

  3. Joining two realtor groups as an affiliate member has been helpful for me. In my area we have the Athens Area Association of Realtors and the Athens Chapter of the Women's Council of Realtors (men can also join!). It's been great way to get to know agents, and I think it has helped the agents gain a level of comfort with me because they see me often at their events and have gotten to know me as well. It's also allowed me to get to know other affiliate members like inspectors, mortgage lenders, closing attorneys, etc. who have sent referrals my way.

  4. I have been both a full-time real estate agent, and then separately a full-time real estate photographer.

    Get to know your customer from the inside out. They face numerous rules, laws, and ethical protocols unfamiliar to those outside the real estate industry. Many of the restrictions on what agents can do to advertise real estate impact the kind of Photography you should provide.

    And besides, it should be endearing and engaging to prospective agents/clients as they discover you understand and empathize with the restrictions they work under.

    Get access first-hand to the local MLS rules regarding, for example, image dimensions in pixels and edits that are and are not allowed. Shadow a highly successful agent like one you would aspire to have as a client through the entire life cycle of two or three of their seller clients. Learn how they submit photos to the MLS, how they prepare Flyers with photographs, how they do or do not seek client approval of photos, how they clarify to their clients in a memorable way how copyright enters there photography, etc etc

  5. For acquiring clients, I tried cold-calling, business cards, and postcard marketing. I even sent postcards directly, with a discount offer on the first shoot, to as many active realtors as I could, along with a note, straight to their mailbox. None of that worked... What did it for me? Email drip campaigns. I made a database of as many agents as I could locally, and just sent them HTML ads with my work.

    If 2 out of 100 respond in a single campaign, that's a success. Why? Because if you do a great job, they'll tell their other realtor friends about you, and that's where business comes from. Nothing beats good old word-of-mouth! Most of my clients have all been the referrals of some generous clients.

    @Sharon, it's admittedly getting tougher to provide nothing more than stills, but if your caliber of work clearly outmatches your local competition, you can definitely carve a sustainable niche. Some realtors still have the designer's eye. On top of that, you can also expand your services to higher-end clients including interior designers and builders. I'm not sure where you live, but here in Vancouver, BC construction - large- and small-scale - is booming, and there's much work to go around. If you're already supporting yourself with a job now, you can take your time and build up a strong portfolio. I've learned my principle skills from both Scott Hargis' book & video series. Then you sort of develop your own methods, tricks, and whatnot, over time...

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