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Do You Need Contracts in Real Estate Photography?

In: 
Published: 16/05/2019

Do you require your clients to sign a contract before doing the actual shoot? There’s a bit of contention on this subject. Some photographers believe that this is an unnecessary step in the sales process. They feel that it would be a pain point when trying to convince prospects to sign a contract or to amend it for each individual client. Or, some clients may simply get intimidated at the thought of signing a formal contract and choose to go with someone else who is “easier to work with.”

Others however, believe that a contract is necessary. How do you ensure that the client will pay you? What about ownership rights to the photos? What is the number of photos that you are willing to shoot? How far are you willing to drive for a shoot before you get paid a travel fee? A formal contract helps you clearly address these concerns with each one of your clients.

For us, it all depends on your relationship with your client. Have you successfully dealt with them before? Are they a repeat client? Do they pay on time, every time? Do you trust them? If so, then a contract may be unnecessary.

When working with a new client for the first time however, we recommend you start with a contract. This will enforce mutual agreements between both parties regarding payments, terms, turnaround times, limitations of the service, travel, and more.

Learn all about real estate photography contracts in our in-depth guide. Contracts are also recommended for the following scenarios:

Commercial Real Estate Photography

Taking photos of restaurants, shops, hotels, and other commercial establishments, usually entails a higher service fee, which is attached to a higher quality of work. A contract is recommended because businesses often use the document as part of the requirement to process your payment.

In your contract, always include the expected date of payment, the expected date of photo delivery, and the rights that the client has regarding the usage of the images.

Portfolio Work

Property builders, interior decorators, and RE contractors may ask you to shoot photos to be included in their portfolio. Remember they will be using those photos to market their business, so you need to specifically indicate the scope of usage of your photos. This is especially true if your client intends to submit your photos to journals, websites, magazines, etc. You don’t want your photos used in publications without being paid for your work.

Exclusivity

A client may be so impressed with your work that he wants to make you his exclusive photographer for his listings. Be sure to have them sign a contract for exclusivity. What’s the duration of the exclusivity? What is exactly being covered? How many projects should he provide you so you will remain exclusive to the client? What happens if the there is no work provided by the client? The more details about the conditions, the better.

Problem Clients

During your initial meeting, you may feel that this potential client has a... ”personality”... that may cause complications along the way. But you’re still willing to grab this deal because, well, you want the work! If this is the case, we recommend having the prospect sign a contract. Make sure you state the parameters clearly to avoid confusion.

At times, you may not need a contract--especially if you are servicing repeat clients. But in some situations, contracts can be lifesavers. Signing legal agreements can be intimidating and your prospects may be hesitant to sign. Explain to them that doing so is for the formality of the deal. Encourage them that by signing the contract, both parties will make sure they get what they want.

Real Estate Photography Contract Template From Shooting Spaces and Rachel Brenke

Since meeting Rachel at the inaugural PFRE Conference in Las Vegas in November, we have been working with her to develop a contract template that real estate photographers can use to overcome some of the issues we face on a daily basis. During her lecture at the conference, Rachel stressed the importance of not only registering your images to protect yourself but also the importance of having a proper contract and terms, so you don’t run into legal issues.

We also consulted numerous real estate photographers in different locations with different business models to make sure we cover everything we could. The result of our efforts is finally available for purchase.

The contract template includes the following provisions:

• Service
• Booking and payment
• Property preparation, pets, requests
• Cancellation, reschedule, late arrival
• Completion & delivery
• Property & travel
• Independent contractor
• Photographic materials & artistic rights
• Commercial license terms
• Indemnification
• Safe working environment

...and more!

The contract is available in a word document, allowing you to adjust the terms specifically for your business and jurisdiction. Also, for a limited time, this contract includes a complimentary Waiver and Release Document which is an optional document you can have the homeowner sign to further protect you.

For more information, please CLICK HERE.

PFRE Disclaimer:

PFRE does NOT receive any commission or referral fees if you purchase this product. Shooting Spaces and PFRE are online educational resource platforms for real estate photographers. Shooting Spaces or PFRE are not a law firm; therefore, should you purchase this product, it should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Shooting Spaces and PFRE encourage you to seek the advice of an attorney for any legal or contract questions.

Devon Higgins
Latest posts by Devon Higgins (see all)

10 comments on “Do You Need Contracts in Real Estate Photography?”

  1. For RE work, I don't bother with a contract. Before the first job I do for a customer, I sit down with them and go over my Terms of Service, my licensing terms and what I will deliver (and how) so they understand my process and what they are paying for. Since I'm working directly with the customer and the transaction amount is just a few hundred dollars and 1/3 or so of a day's local work, I'm not likely going to take them to court for anything less than egregious infringement of my Copyright so wading through a contract isn't that valuable. I just put my standard licensing terms on my invoice and rely on that to be my protection.

    If I am working for a larger firm where I'm not dealing with the person that will write the check, the invoice is $1,000 or more and/or the work is much more complex, I'll insist on a contract. The contract will include my typical Terms of service plus job specific conditions and will have an addendum with the licensing terms, another for what is to be delivered and all of the other particulars. I always use my own contract and never theirs. My goal is to have an unambiguous signed document that defines what I am providing and when/how I'm to be paid for the work. I also want to make it clear who is providing what. I don't want to show up for a job that will take all day and find out that the power is off, there is no toilet on site and no security should it be necessary. I also don't want to be expected to make images during open hours of an establishment or in the middle of the night unless it's been worked out in advance. It's also not good to get a call a couple of days before a big shoot to find out that the space you were going to shoot has been booked and the customer wants to move the session a few days later when you have already confirmed assistants, equipment rentals and models or they just cancel the whole job. It happens, but you should have it in the contract that the customer forfeits their deposit in that case so you can pay for things you have booked in advance and still retain some money for all of the prep work. Don't forget an "opportunity" charge. If you've put a big job down on your schedule including editing, delivery, re-edits and time for the business backend, you aren't going to be able to fill that time slot on really short notice very often.

    For jobs in between, it's a gut feeling based on the situation whether I go with a full contract, a simple statement of work agreement or not bother at all. It's a matter of what the down side is if the whole thing falls through and when.

  2. For RE work, a contract that entails around $300 of work, works against you and is not worth it. Anyone that is going to be successful in this area of photography has to be able to judge clients and what they need to do. So, if I get a new client and for whatever reason I am not able to go over the terms, conditions, what it is that they want, etc., then I am more likely to ask for some form of payment at the end of shoot. For those that I feel have character, a good sense of ethics, I will get there payment down the road.

    When dealing with commercial clients.....I don't even schedule the shoot without a full blown contract agreed to.

    Bottom line, if you're new to this type of business, don't offend your new clients with a bunch of BS that will likely turn them off using you again. You and others may not like the "reality" of that, but it does not change it.

  3. I agree with Ken and Jerry look at the time and effort to build and get a contract signed with every client. Think about how much that cost you. Think about the value of that shoot. It's not worth it unless it's a very high price or unusual circumstances. And yes it does turn people off who have little time or even ability to go over contracts. And then there are those who want to make changes in the contract.

    I find that I go over my general terms of service, exactly what I deliver for that defined service, what their obligations are and then refer them to my pricing and terms and conditions on my web site. I do that via a standard new client email so I have a record of it. Then every time they download images there is a notice they agree to my terms of service and use as part of the download process.

    I feel that's enough and I'm covered. I also mention from time to time that "I'll track them down to the ends of the earth if I'm not paid." I only had to do that once in 11 years.

  4. Yes, every agent, builder, FSBO, stager, architect, etc. signs my agreement which states price, what my services consist of, copyright, license-for-use, payment terms, etc. In 9 years, I have yet to have one agent blink twice. They are used to contracts and paperwork. It clears up any questions or issues that might come up. Mine is perpetual unless I make changes, then they sign the new one.

  5. For most general RE photography, written contracts are not needed. That applies to upto about $1000. Over that, I would use contracts. Contracts have to be written, reviewed by your lawyer (yes you should do that), printed when needed, signed, filed and maintained. All of which cost money and has extremely low returns. To enforce a contract, you have to take them to court. That again cost time, money and aggravation, again for little gain. Instead, I found a local collection agency, they handle those clients that don't pay. I send them the invoices, they handle the aggravation of collecting.

    Contract do serve as a means of communication requirement and expectations. But that can be done verbally.

  6. I agree with everything said above. For any other commercial advertising work, I either insist on a PO but more likely have my standard shooting agreement signed. That contract outlines my terms of business, price, the specifics of the shoot and how it will be used, in other words for brochures, trade ads, national ads, global ads all of which carry a different price. With advertising agencies this does not take them by surprise.

    But with local realtors, they look at me in horror if I were to suggest such a thing. So I go over my terms of business in advance sending them a copy by email as well. I insist on payment in advance until I have a track record with a new client, or a regular client who seems to have a mental block on writing checks or even paying my credit card.

    There is just not enough money in RE photography to allow anyone to stiff you on payment. But with new clients, it is very important to discuss how you conduct your business right up front and make sure they get it so the are are no surprises on either side.

    All that being said, with long term, regular clients I make a lot of allowances. Some just can't seem to pay on time but always do pay with some gentle nudging. So I don't make a big deal out of late payments for them. I always try not to get testy either, which for me can be an issue my wife tells me. My market is so small, its easier to try to work with issues with existing clients than try to find new ones to take their place. But I have had to part ways with only one agent who not only did not pay but refused to return calls, emails, texts. I never knew why since she refused to talk about the issue, an issue that I had no idea existed.

  7. Whether or not you have the client sign a contract, you should present the client with written terms before the assignment and you should provide the client with a written usage license for the photos. Without a written usage license, the client is not legally authorized to use the photos.

  8. I don't require a signed contract before the shoot. But do have a full contract on my website. It's there for the rare occasion when an agent has questions or a dispute. Not only does it let the agent see in writing what my policies are, it more importantly let's the agent know that I'm not making up the rules as we go and everything is negotiable.

    The times this has come up are for 3rd party usage, inappropriate photoshop work & when I changed my delivery schedule. A quick conversation about the matter and an emailed link to the page on my site settles things very quickly.

    But as I am moving towards doing more architectural and commercial work, does anyone have experience with software like BlinkBid for generating contracts?

  9. @Kevin Edge, Use a lawyer that practices contract law local to you. It's very important that you know what's in your contract and that it's enforceable where you are. Software programs are not a good substitute. You should wind up with some boilerplate language that's applicable to every job and some fill in the blank addendums for details of each job. It's not that hard and I'll bet a local attorney has something already mostly prepared so what you are spending money on is a quick education about what each clause means and why it's there.

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