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Accessing Higher-End Properties for Your Video Portfolio

Published: 13/10/2019
By: Brandon

Jackson in Long Island, NY asks:

“I’m trying to ramp up my real estate photography business and it seems as though doing video is the next thing. But, I haven’t shot have any real estate videos yet and I’m not sure how I get started with that part of the business. I’ve done pretty well for my first couple of years doing the photography thing but I don’t have agents who list those big, beautiful houses that would look great in my portfolio and allow me to start getting some videos on my website that shows I can do higher-end stuff. Could you offer some tips on how to approach established agents and offer video to build that part of my business?”

First, I’m thinking that, in the same way you had to make sure that your photography chops were at a level that gave you confidence to approach agents in order to start your photography business, it’s important to show that you know what you’re doing on the video side. Studying what others are doing with video is a good start and you can get some ideas by looking at the videos submitted to the PFRE Videographer of the Month contests. If you click here, you can see the current entries in this month’s contest, and at the top of the page, there are links to previous contests going back over two-and-a-half years!

The best and easiest way to get practice in doing videos is to video your own home and your friends’ homes; just to get the technique down. Once you’ve done that, building your video portfolio is pretty much the same as building a stills portfolio--just introduce yourself to agents and make them aware of who you are and what you’re wanting to accomplish. Most importantly though, don’t even try to cover up the fact you are a beginner; it’ll be pretty obvious to the agent! Anyway, here are a few other suggestions to help point you in the right direction:

  • Model homes in new developments: Don’t call or contact the builders as it’s highly likely they won’t call you back. If they’re a builder of high-end homes, odds are they already use a very experienced videographer. Just show up at the model home when it’s open. These kinds of model homes are the best place to practice because they are beautifully staged. Typically, the person who’ll be there will be the listing agent for the development. Simply make them aware that you’re a beginning real estate videographer and you’d like to practice on that model home. It’s my guess that s/he won’t care, so long as you don’t get in the way at a busy time.
  • Home stagers: This is somewhat of a long shot. You’ll have to do a selling job just to give them a free video. Most good stagers already work with photographers but may appreciate having a video. You’ll have to convince them that your work is worth their time inviting you to shoot some of their projects. Best to talk to these people face to face if possible.
  • Free shoots for listing agents that do upper-end listings: I’ve heard arguments on both sides. Some beginning real estate photographers tell me that giving a free shoot of a multi-million dollar property was a huge advantage to them. Others will say they don’t want to give away free shoots. The fact is, this may be the only way a beginner will get to shoot a multi-million dollar custom property! You are not going to fool many upper-end listing agents that you are an experienced shooter. Be honest. Tell them you are just beginning and you’d like to shoot some expensive properties for your portfolio. You may have to show them examples of your work just to let you do a free shoot. Letting you shoot is an investment in time and a risk for them.

I’d love to hear from other videographers in our community to give Jackson other ideas to think about!


8 comments on “Accessing Higher-End Properties for Your Video Portfolio”

  1. I'll go against the grain, as usual. "Free" is a word I don't use. I will "include" a service that I normally charge for if a good customer asks or I think a photo would be better editing more than I usually include. If I do something at "no charge", I'll put it on my invoice at full price and the next line will be a 100% discount. It's word play, but I don't want customers or potential customers to connect the word "free" with me.

    Model homes can be tricky. In my area I asked to photograph some models and was not only told no, I was told no in fairly insulting language. They didn't allow "local yokels" to make photos of their properties. (They would rather use their cells phones)

    If you are already making photos, use the next vacant house where you are given a code to do some practice. It doesn't have to be the whole house. You may just want to try out a few ideas for a nice entry and maybe a kitchen or master suite. At some point you will be able to do a whole house properly and can get the chance to make some demo reels. Your best customer may help you out by giving you more time at an occupied property when you are ready and shooting the stills. The video you can "include" with the caveat that it may not be all that great.

    The agent you purchased your home from or the property manger if you rent may be able to get you into some properties in exchange for footage if it turns out.

    My advice is if you give away stuff for free, it may not be helping you. Get your practice in and build your skills someplace where nobody is going to see you fall on your face. Your best customer may be somebody you know really well and isn't going to be too critical. Other customers might be soured by seeing your first attempts even if they are getting them for free.

    I've been doing a little video work with my drone, but I'm not happy enough with my work yet to put it out. I've done some short clips for my best customer but not what I'd consider a full length video. Every time I am getting better and I am also getting a workflow together that will let me turn around jobs quickly. Working fast is another consideration. You have to be able to get jobs out in a day or two. Part of the speed is coming back with more useable footage than waste and getting your vision down when it comes to how you will edit it together.

    Do some tracking to make sure that adding video to your service list is going to add to your bottom line. Should you do it all yourself? Does it make more sense to outsource editing? How much gear investment is it going to take? Will your computer keep up? What are you going to do for archiving a lot more data?

    Getting the mechanics all sorted out should be job one. Once you have the confidence to know you can capture the footage, see if you can rent an AirBnB or VRBO for a couple of days that's on "the lake" or someplace nice to use for your demo reel. You could catch a deal by renting Monday/Tuesday off-season. You could negotiate a discount rate, but you may want to wait to see how your video turns out and present it to the property owner for a price that helps offset the rental. You may also find they have another nice or even nicer property that they will trade a rental or two for in exchange for a video of that one. You would wind up with two videos of nice properties in your portfolio along with a couple of mini vacations.

  2. Fun topic. We have filmed quite a few large homes over the years. The first time you do a huge home, it can be exciting & overwhelming. Here are a few tips for filming a large residential home:

    1. Practice interviewing. If you can do them well, they make all the difference on future business.
    2. The bigger the house, the bigger owner's dog seems to be. Locks & sand bags on the heavy video gear & hot lights always.
    3. Tripod legs make marks on white walls...seriously....
    4. Video days are long...drink lots of water.
    5. Oh, and since you are drinking plenty of water...there are like...tons of bathrooms to try out.
    6. And generally, bathrooms rarely make for good video. You can usually omit them besides the master.
    7. Non-actors in photography...often easy. Non-actors in video...often cheesy.
    8. People care more about how their face looks than any building.
    9. Drones in affluent neighborhoods attract the attention of people scarier than police.
    10. Hum the words "over-shoot" to the tune of spiderman. ?Over shoot, Over should always overshoot...?

    Follow those tips, and you should be all good.

    In all seriousness...just practice...any way you can.

    Great topic Brandon.

  3. Also...don't forget about interior designers & landscape designers. These creatives often benefit from stories about their design concepts and give you access to beautiful homes. These creatives are often closer friends with the homeowners than agents are, and can get you access more easily.

  4. @Ken Brown... excellent advice, Ken. That's how I do it, too. And have been for years. Put the "free" gift service on the invoice so they understand what it might cost in the future. Clients don't like surprises. 🙂

  5. Practice on your smaller, bread and butter homes first. They're easier, and if your goal is to do video regularly, you need to be able to work with all types of housing. Contrary to what many think, there are MANY agents who use video on very average homes. That's your bread and butter, and it's consistent day after day, week after week. Over time, as you get known for video, you will start attracting higher end projects naturally. For me, the AVERAGE homes pay the bills on a daily basis... if I only worked in the luxury market it would be difficult. I shoot million dollar+ homes several times a week, but I shoot average homes several times a DAY. Every day.

    Focusing on only the luxury market I think is a potential problem over time. When the market slows (WHEN, not IF), and the demand for real estate video or photography starts to shrink (agents cut back on marketing when things get tough.... exactly the WRONG thing to cut back on, but it's a natural knee jerk reaction for agents) you need to be well rounded in order for your business not to slow as well. By tailoring your video work to ALL properties and being known as the video guy for ALL properties will keep you busy as the market slows.

    Video is not marketing only for luxury homes - it really comes down to how you present it to the agents. I'll do an unfinished 800 sq ft condo at 10am and a $3M house right after. Keeps you busy, and I make way more money on the little condo!

    Just shoot video for any agent who's on board. Get it out there for people to see and make it easy for potential clients to find you, and you'll be fine. It just takes time!

  6. I'm with Fred Light on this one, and could've written most of his post myself.

    I shoot everything. On Friday was a 7 figure hilltop home with views for days, yesterday was a small 4 bed house in a bad area, and today was a mobile home in a senior park. Tomorrow I have lined up a triplex. So what then do I focus on?....real estate.

    I also agree with Fred about average homes being easier to video for one very important reason and that's views, or more specifically the lack of. Expensive homes often are expensive because there's something pretty to look at out the window, meaning also that there are giant windows blowing nuclear light in all of your shots...a technical challenge for sure. Small homes that don't have views can just be exposed for the inside and call it a blowing?, who cares when the view is of a brown lawn or the neighbor's broken down jalopy.

  7. I am in a similar boat as Jackson. I did a complete re-brand of my business to focus on video in 2017 and my business has gone way WAY up since. I work with fewer customers these days as cheaper competitors have moved in on the photography side...but my photo/video combo customers keep sending more and more business my way. Result? So every month so far this year I am up a minimum of 20% over the same month last year.

    But here's the problem...It's already getting boring.

    I shoot basic basic walk-through videos like Fred Light does. You can film most bread-and-butter homes in 12 minutes and the exterior on one 17 min drone battery. They're rather easy to do and they are profitable.

    But they are all the same. Which has me wanting to move into working with architects and builders on high end homes. Exclusively. Train someone to do what I do now, hand it off to them, and work exclusively on high end homes.

    Here's the problem though.

    There's not enough of them.

    I think that this is the biggest issue. Unless you live in one of the hot spots for high end real estate such as New York, L.A., San Fran, Aspen/Deven, Miami/Naples/The Keys, Boston, Vegas, or're going to have a big BIG problem finding enough work to keep you busy. Sure sure sure...there's high enough homes being built all over the country. But how MANY? Is there enough in your area? And you're certainly not going to be getting to work on ALL of them. So is the subset of the total that you likely could capture as business going to be enough?

    I think not.

    Really, it seems clear to me. If you don't live in one of the hot spots and you want to work high end projects week in and week out all basically have to be willing to travel. Week in...and week out.

    If you're not willing to travel then you have only a two choices:

    1) Hybrid It - run two brands. Basic walk-through videos or cut videos selling for "hundreds" of dollars that pay the bills and the high end brand that snags the bigger jobs that have pay checks written out in denominations of "thousands" of dollars. The high end brand might only get one or two jobs a month. But it is what it is if you won't travel.

    2) Live Within Your Means - just decide that you're not going to make as much and adjust your life accordingly. If you're not going to get a lot of work in the high-end side of things...but you want to only work in that side of things...then the money you DO get needs to pay your way through life. So just downgrade your expenses until they fall in line with the amount of money you can bring in with the expected volume you expect to realize in the course of a year.

    Really though....willingness to travel is likely a key factor in being successful in the high-end home video space and really. In fact, it may be THE factor...and nobody seems to be talking about it.

  8. @Brian Kurtz, I spent 11 years as a roadie. I know first hand that traveling for work is expensive. I would also always meet somebody nice a few weeks before a tour which never worked out very well so it was expensive relationship-wise as well. Being gone a lot is tough on a family too.

    When traveling, everything is more expensive. You probably aren't going to be in one place long enough to order things online unless you can pay for overnight shipping and can wait that long. If you blow out a shoe or tear out the backside of your best slacks, you are stuck going to the closest store and paying whatever they are asking. There isn't time to shop. If it turns out you need a ladder and there isn't one available on site, you have to buy one and leave it behind if it doesn't fit in the car or if you flew. If you take it back after using it, I have nothing but scorn. If you are flying, expect that gear will go missing or get damaged. That means needing to replace, no time for repairs, stuff on the fly, again at prices that could be on the high side. You have to consider yourself very lucky if there IS a retail store with the gear you need. Insurance against that is to arrive places with an extra day to solve problems and during the week when it's possible to get items shipped for next day delivery.

    Food is expensive. You may have to allocate some money for tips.

    My tip for flying with gear within the US is to get a hard case that can accept a very good lock and toss in a hand gun. Declare the gun on check in and you will be sent to a special TSA luggage check station where they will inspect your case while you stand there. You put your good lock on the case, they tag it "inspected" and it won't be opened along the way. The gun can be a super cheap throw away. It has to be a real, complete gun, but it doesn't have to work and it has to be unloaded anyway so there is no requirement you have ammo with it. BTW, a finished lower receiver of an AR15 is legally considered a firearm. The inspection tag does not indicate there is a gun in the case so you aren't advertising you are flying with a firearm. Considering the cost of a Tilt-Shift lens, it's worth it to be able to put a good lock on your gear and not one of those cheapy TSA locks that everybody has keys for.

    @Brian, I like your thoughts about running two brands. While it's nice to have upscale homes on your basic brand, if you want to advertise to upscale clients, you may want to have exclusively high end property photos to advertise that business.

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