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How Do You Move Your Marketing from Low-End to Upper-End?

Published: 10/04/2017
By: larry

Recently, I've been involved in a number of conversations on and off the blog suggest that real estate photographers frequently have trouble moving from low-end to upper-end shooting.

For example, Jonathan in NYC says:

I was featured in an article on a big NYC broker's website that I've shot for several times. I am wondering if I should have separate pricing for those who are able to pay more, like large companies? They list inventory of up to $65,000,000 three bedroom condos overlooking Central Park. Normally, I shoot pretty low-end stuff, which may be no different in this case, but I'm thinking about insurance and other costs or protections.

So, in time my prices will be coming up. I’m meeting people left and right, and soon I’ll be working with Architects and Designers; people that attended school with my interior designer wife. I think that is where I want to do my premium pricing.

I think the basic issue is that agents who list lower priced properties are a different culture. When you move from shooting lower priced properties to shooting $65m condos overlooking Central Park you have to completely change your thinking about the value of your work, the way you communicate with the elite listing agents and what you charge.

I think it is a mistake to have two pricing structures. If you work is good enough for the $65m condo overlooking Central Park then price your work for that market and move into that culture. Here are my suggestions that may help you make that move:

  1. Website: Your website is central to your marketing. Put only the very best images of properties that are in your target price range in your portfolio.
  2. How to find high-end listing agents: Getting to know the high-end listing agents in your market is essential. Use broker sites to find out which agents are listing in your target price range and location.
  3. Do your marketing face to face: High-end agents expect to do business based on the trust they've built from personal contacts.
  4. Read George Gutenberg's comments on this post: George shoots in the high-end market in the Palm Desert - Las Vagas market. You need to start thinking like this in your pricing.

So in summary, have one pricing structure. Charge what your time is worth. What your time is worth has been demonstrated by the fact that you've shot those $65m condo listings that overlook Central Park.

All you high-end shooters feel free to give Jonathan your advice too.


4 comments on “How Do You Move Your Marketing from Low-End to Upper-End?”

  1. Chances are that agents that represent high value properties are not expecting you to be in and out in 45 minutes if they have been in the business for a while. A condo overlooking Central Park is likely going to be as large as a single family home in many other areas and will be decorated professionally too. You will probably want to schedule a half day (including travel) to scout the condo, a day for photography and a day or more for post processing if you are going to handle it yourself so your production fee will need to be in the neighborhood of what you might make in three days of shooting several homes per day plus a premium. Licensing might also be different if the condo is owned by a celebrity or will be sold to a noted figure that may not want a full set of images posted online due to security concerns. This will eliminate a lot of secondary licensing and you will have to get approval to use select images for your own advertising.

    The pros are that you will not be as pressed for time when making the photographs and in the processing. You may also have the ability to view the home in advance and be able to determine how you want to compose the images and what equipment you will (or will not) need to bring and what will be the best time of day for each image. The cons are the licensing and that you will be under a microscope for quality. You are also more likely to be asked for re-editing or re-shoots so your Terms and Conditions will need to be crafted to handle that. You will have to be flexible on those points to a reasonable extent and have built in some room in your fees so you aren't upside down doing a job for a demanding client.

    I've heard Scott Hargis state that you should treat every job as if it were for a million + property, but my advice is to do a good job all of the time and put extra effort into jobs where you get the most return. If you get an upper end home or a home that is very well decorated, see if you can take extra time on site to work the details in each composition a bit more. Many times you can and sometimes you will have to hustle to get the "must" images in the time you are allotted.

    Set up a search with Trulia, Zillow and Realtor dot com that sends you a listing of the homes in your area above a certain price point. If you list and track the agents that have those listings, it won't be long before you can see who gets the more expensive properties on a consistent basis. Use one of the sites exclusively for the high priced properties to cut down on duplicates. Even if its obvious that the agent's are using a professional. make it a point to send them your marketing materials and find ways to meet them in person. If they conduct open houses it's likely that they will only be at the most expensive listings and will have assistants handle the others. You never know when they might be looking for a new person even if they have been using one person for years. You may also want to keep a list of the photographers that handle the highest priced listings and get in their Rolodex too. If they trust you and like your work, you might get some referrals or pick up some overflow work if they find themselves getting too busy or they have to take some time off for some reason. Just respect that you will be working "for them" in a way and don't give any appearance of trying to poach their clients. Definitely don't hand out your business cards on that job. Just do the job and make a good, but low key impression with the agent. Getting your face known can be a big boost. I've picked up a couple of clients because they had seen me and we exchanged hellos several times around town in addition to meeting at a more business oriented function.

    I'm sure some people have some general formulas for what percentage of your marketing budget you target at certain levels. My service area is going to be very different than yours, so my details will be different. I tend to concentrate my marketing at the high end of the middle class homes rather than the most expensive homes. I haven't had any luck with the top end and agent's continue to use their cell phones more than a professional. Go figure. I believe that those agents are very complacent and get those listings because they have been getting those listings for years. I'm betting that an agent that is looking to move up market will edge in on the competition using professional images as the wedge. In the meantime, middle class homes are my bread and butter and keep me working and there is nothing wrong with that. My approach is quality over volume/speed. I spend around 2 hours on site and an hour or two in post/business with my normal limit being 3 homes per day. I don't compete on price at all. I offer discounts when it's to my advantage to do so. I could charge much less per job and do more jobs each day, but I'd have to sacrifice quality to do it and would end up with the same amount of money at the end of the day for more stress. I would also have no time margin to use solving lighting problems or accommodating an agent that is ten minutes late or a multitude of other obstacles that crop up all of the time. There is something to be said for preserving living wage prices in a market area. If a middle class home brings in $60 for 30 images, agents will want a luxury home photographed at $100 for 45 images. It's unlikely they'll go to $300 for 20 images just because the listing price of the home is double the local average. There will also be many more jobs at the first level, so that needs to bring in a living wage or it isn't worth taking those jobs.

  2. I agree strongly with the face-to-face advice. In a former career I dealt almost exclusively with high-end folks. They are very tuned in to personal -in person- communication.

    I remember reading on Larry's blog awhile back (Scott Hargis maybe?); "shoot the way you shoot, your style, and the right clients for you will find you"... or something to that effect... That's been my reality.

    I've shot 1- $5mm homes (upper-end in my area) but am much happier with mid-priced homes. They come with lower expectations which I find are exciting and rewarding to exceed. I can do 2 a day which seems about right for me (I've done many more; which wasn't).

    High-end comes with it's own set of challenges, at least around here. Many of the brokers can't fathom the time it *should* take. If the weather isn't ideal there's probably a return trip for view related shots. And of course, many aren't wanting to pay for all that - I lost a Sotheby's agent by offering to double my price to spend all day on a 12,000 sq ft Mansion in Tacoma. She chose a $199 photographer, telling me; "they're just real estate pictures"...

    I'd say be careful what you wish for 🙂

  3. I've been full time for about a year now and routinely shoot properties in the $1-5M range. I've also shot a $49K trailer but so long as they paid the bill, I didn't mind. The website certainly helped give folks an idea of what is possible and agree that only the top images should go there. In conversations I know a lot of folks do view the website and look around before deciding to give me a call. One of the brokerages I routinely shoot for had some middle tier condos where I got my feet wet. I always tried to produce first class work for them as they had several high end listings. A couple months of hard work and I'm asked to shoot a $4.9M Oceanfront home. Loved it and tried to nail every aspect. They've since passed my name on to another property managment company (more high end work) and have now started to shoot for two of the premier resorts on the East Coast after producing a demo image.

    I've met all of them in person several times and have even brought bagels, cookies, etc. to their office. It's a bit of salesmanship, but try to maintain relationships as best I can.

  4. @ Dave. I hear you. There will always be people that just don't get it. Personally I don't think you "lost" anything, you are better of without clients that don't appreciate what you bring to the party. Anybody that thinks that “they’re just real estate pictures”… when it come to selling high-end won't be doing it for long.

    @ Rich. Congratulations on a job well done! I would like to suggest, that if you are now routinely shooting $1-5M homes, you should take a hard look at your posted fee schedule (maybe even remove it). While shooting high-end can be a lot more fun, and it does sound like you enjoy it, make no mistake, you will work harder and longer. There is no point to doing it all unless you charge more, significantly more. If you want to separate yourself from everybody else with a camera, charge more, but also deliver more. People will pay for quality and excellent service.

    Here is a little tip for those of you who want to go into shooting high-end, but are having a difficult time convincing a realtor that you are worth the extra money. The pitch goes something like this;

    - "Mr/Ms Realtor, walk into any high end home and look at what magazines are laying on the coffee table, typically AD, Dwell, Veranda etc, right? THAT is the level of photography that this homeowner is accustomed to seeing. They don't know how that is done, but they know and see the difference. They expect to see the photography of their home to look just the same. If it does not, they will feel that it doesn't represent their home fairly..

    You see, it's not just about getting great shots of this property, but it's also about living up to, or exceeding, the homeowners expectations. Most importantly, it's about what your brand looks like Mr/Ms Realtor. Think about it, we're not just showing this home in the very best light, no, what we are really doing is advertising for more high-end listings, are we not?"

    Make that type of pitch, and they typically "get it". If they still think "it's only real estate pictures", move on and find a professional that does.



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