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FLASHBACK POST: What About Being a Real Estate Photographer and a Real Estate Agent?

Published: 13/03/2020
By: Brandon

In my last article, I mentioned that I had been a real estate agent just prior to becoming a full-time real estate photographer. For some reason, it got me thinking back to the day when I started to shoot my own listings and for some reason, I remember that Larry wrote a post a long time ago about that very topic. So, I did a quick search and was pleased to find it in PFRE's archives. Given how far the field has come since Larry originally wrote that article (remember that Larry's late wife, Levi, was an agent and Larry started shooting her listings... that's how he got into the field) and given that so many more agents are taking their own photography more seriously, I thought it would be good to do another "flashback post" here.

Larry wrote it in late-2013 and many of his points still ring true today. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did! ..............................................................................................................................................................................................................

I’ve had quite a few discussions with people concerning some aspect of being both a real estate agent and a real estate photographer. I find when a subject like this pops up out of the blue from a bunch of different people, I usually indicate a trend going on. There were four different questions that people posed on this subject:

  1. Is there a benefit to being both an agent and a real estate photographer who shoots for other agents besides your own listings?
  2. Is there some conflict of interest if you are both a listing agent and a real estate photographer?
  3. Are there many agents that do real estate photography for other agents?
  4. What are the problems with being both an agent and a photographer?

Is there a benefit to be an agent-real estate photographer?
Yes, the benefits are substantial. As an agent, you can legally go in a home that has a lock-box on it without the listing agent. This is a huge convenience for the listing agent. They just call you and say go photograph my listing over on Main St.; it has a lock box on it. They don’t have to go meet the photographer there. It’s worth noting that this is not an issue every place in the world. Some areas of the world, photographers can just go contact the home owner and do the shoot.

Also, as an agent, you have an inside perspective to the real estate business. You see how it works. Understand who the major players are in your area, and it gives you a lot of contacts in the business. It just gives you an inside track to be up to your armpits in the business.

Is there a conflict of interest?
No, I don’t see any conflict. Does anyone else see a conflict? I’m frankly puzzled why anyone would even think there might be a conflict.

Are there many people doing both?
Yes. As a matter of fact, there are many more people being both an agent and a photographer than you’d think. A poll I did several years ago indicated that about 10% of PFRE blog readers (~40,000 people world wide) are agents who shoot for themselves and other agents. I believe this percentage has increased substantially in the past few years, just because it’s more difficult to be a listing agent so anyone who has photographic skills and a passion for photography can help pay the bills by doing real estate photography. There is a very natural symbiosis between these two activities. However, if you are good at being a listing agent you can make more than doing just real estate photography.

What are the problems?
I think the major problem is cost. That is, I don’t think it makes sense to go get a real estate license just to get the real estate photographer benefits. Training costs and fees force any agent to do several transactions a year just to break even. I don’t think you can find a broker who will let you hang your license in the office and do no transactions. Can you?

Why are people doing both?
I think more and more agents are being both a listing agent and a real estate photographer because since 2009, at least in the US, being a listing agent has gotten to be really hard work. Harder than it’s been for as long as anyone can remember. Home sellers don’t want to hear what their homes are worth so it’s hard to get them to price their home at a price that will sell. So listings stay on the market a long time. Frequently more than one year. It really does help to have another source of income. And real estate photography demand is increasing because you have to have something to make a listing stand out. Photography can do that.

11 comments on “FLASHBACK POST: What About Being a Real Estate Photographer and a Real Estate Agent?”

  1. Is there a benefit to being both an agent and a real estate photographer that shoots for other agents besides your own listings?
    I don't bother with listings anymore, I raised 9 kids and I will let others deal with the children (buyers and sellers)

    Is there some conflict of interest if you are both a listing agent and a real estate photographers?
    Actually I think there is, other agent will perceive you as a threat and after their listings that expire (my clients know I keep a license for the rmls back-end and sentrylock, I let myself in 30 % or what I shoot (better than a 1 day code. They also trust me to know what I am doing with 44 years as a licences-ed agent under the belt.

    Are there many agents that do real estate photography for other agents?
    To many.

    What are the problems with being both an agent and a photographer?
    None if you don't play both sides of the field.

    My Take. It does cost a lot but it has opened more doors than my competition can.

  2. Some agents will be good photographers and others will not. Some agents will be too busy. The top agents in my area have all of the work they can handle just being an agent without spending more time to learn and stay up to date with being a photographer as well.

    Right on the heels of Mike Boatman's series on Copyright, being an agent can mean you agree to be bound by the local MLS's rules regarding their policies on the rights you WILL give them when your images are posted to the service. As an independent photographer, I am not bound by those rules and my license doesn't convey the rights for the agent to pass on to the MLS unlimited rights to the images I make for them.

    There could be a perceived conflict of interest with other agents. If you are pitching the same sellers, the other agents might not be too happy about losing contracts to you and then hiring you to photograph the property. In a perfect world, they'd just shrug and hire you anyway, but there is no such thing as perfection.

    I think it comes down to where you put your time. Do you work on constantly improving your RE agent skills or your photography skills? Some people can do both and still have a life, but others can't. Is doing your own photos going to save you money or are you better off letting somebody else worry about Adobe subscriptions, maintaining the gear, upgrading the computer, etc? Let's face it, a Heroin addiction can be less expensive than a photography habit. (Says the guy that just bought a new camera and geared head, and, and, and).

    As an agent, there is value in selling "your" photographer as the top Arch/Interior photographer in the area. In the area I serve, agents do a pretty dismal job of making photos. I've seen a few that have gone with out-sourced, way over-processed images that still doesn't cover up their poor compositions and poor subject choices. When I talk with them I'm told they purchased a top of the line camera (DSLR or Sony mirrorless) and don't need to hire anybody. The reason I chose to visit their open house was precisely because their images looked like poo. I have to smile, bite my tongue and invite them to keep my card on file "just in case".

    Any agent just getting started has already spent a pile of money. The last thing they should be thinking about is spending another big pile of money to do something they can hire in when needed.

  3. Oh so how things have changed....

    There is no benefit for access when any successful agent knows that they can just put a combo box on the property for the photog's access. If they are inclined, they can send over an assistant to let the photog in.

    Conflict of interest??? Really, where did that come from?

    Representing the property and shooting your own photos....maybe for those starting out in the industry and have little work. For those that are successful and turning properties, they know that their time is more valuable than trying to do everything in house. Just like photogs that think they must do all of their post production...they are limiting their growth...and income.

    The issue with getting a RE license is that while it is easy to get within a few weeks and little expense, it is the ongoing fee's, insurance, etc. that are a waste of money if you are not going to go all in. Many organizations are like this, get the excitement up to be this or that "professional" and then hit them with the yearly memberships, insurance (which the organizations have a interest in), etc. and that is where these organizations really make their money. Make it easy to get in....make it costs to stay in....

    "Why are people doing both"....not even in 2009, now in 2020 they are not. Listings rarely go 3 months let alone a year, most in So Cal go within weeks.

    Bottom line... Show me a very successful Realtor that shoots their own listings... I shoot for many and they laugh when ever the subject comes up if they had to shoot their own. They make millions representing their clients on the sale of their properties by putting together a team of professional associates to get the job done.

  4. I started shooting for my Real Estate agent wife 8 years ago (as a nube) because we couldn't find a photographer or videographer to make the kind of images we wanted. One advantage is I am able to spend hours (sometimes days) to shoot a property as I'm not having to shoot 20 properties a week. Now as an agent I'm able to communicate how important it is to create accurate, beautiful images that capture the customer as opposed to simple visual information.

    The disadvantage is it costs me more $$ to do it myself as a low volume shooter when I consider the highest and best use of my time. Its also harder to scale in the busy season. I keep shooting our higher-end properties it because it's my personal artistic outlet and I'm good at it 🙂

  5. As a broker for over 35 years, for most of that time we were only ones who took photos, and only recently have photographers only been in the market. In our small community the only good photographers are also agents. Some see conflict if they are worried about the ethics, but I have never had a problem or a word mentioned. I get more calls then I’m willing to accept and I believe it is because I do know what buyers want to see, and that is reality in well lit views and well composed. Buyers do not want to see HDR, they do want to see a room that looks like the images used by the seller. Good arrivals thanks for reminding folks.

  6. @Robert,

    I have been a Broker for just over 25 years. I moved to the Midwest with my wife and a degree in commercial photography, and couldn't find work. I literally became a Realtor because the guy who sold my house looked like he was pretty financially successful. When photography became important to Realtors 15 years later, I slid into the perfect situation. Although I still hold the license, I don't sell. Haven't in years, but I use it to get into listed properties with a lockbox.

    I consistently shoot 1200 houses a year, and use HDR on about 80 percent of them. I've never had complaints, and find HDR to be a useful tool in my business.

  7. "“Buyers do not want to see HDR…”

    Really? Ever look at listings on Zillow? I’d bet 60-70% are HDR."

    60-70% could be, but that doesn't mean that buyers like it. It's just how most RE photographers get started and keep prices very cheap.
    It's more accurate to say that the typical HDR photo that's hazy, color shifted and soft is what buyers don't want to see.
    Some photographers can do an amazing job with only bracketed photos. I sometimes blend a bracket in LR and use it as a base ambient layer. I don't just shoot 5-exposure brackets and drop them on Photomatix or other "HDR" software and deliver that to a client. It can often look horrible. My photo business goals include shooting much more upscale homes and architecture. To get there, I have to build the skills and show a portfolio that will get me those jobs. If I'm going to work 12 or more hours a day, I want to be billing $5k plus for that day and not 5 jobs at $99-$199ea.

    Sellers want fabulous looking images of the homes. Buyers want images that look like what they will see in person. Agents want good enough photos that don't break the marketing budget. It won't make sense to spend a whole day shooting a $90,000 TBSH and conversely only spending 2 hours on a multi-million dollar view property. Agents would love to only pay for 2 hours of work on the mansion, but they also understand that it's worth the expense to spend the time to do it right.

  8. Although I was a photography and commercial art major in college, I started selling real estate in my early 20's and had a very successful real estate career until 2008. We all remember what happened in 2008. My youngest daughter was about to start college and I had just bought a new home and I needed to make a living. I got a digital camera, brushed up on my photography skills (which I still cringe whenever I see some of those early photos), pulled furniture out of my own home and started my photography and staging business. I never sold another home after 2008 but I still keep my license active. It helps me to monitor the market. I can watch the new listings and know when homes we have photographed go live and with my MLS Vendor account, I can upload their photos and virtual tours to the MLS. I can still use my lockbox key and attend REALTOR functions where I can mingle with other REALTORS. One of our marketing tools is our Open House website where we post info about the open houses of the homes we have photographed. When the REALTOR posts their open house on our MLS, I am able to pull the info and add it to our website.... The REALTORS love this service and it is something I would have a hard time keeping up to date without being a member of our MLS. It costs a lot of money each year to keep my license active but it is well worth the cost.

  9. If Zillow listings are 60-70% HDR, that means agents want HDR and one of the reasons is probably the price. Keeping prices cheap? No, just a different option for agents to choose from.

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