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How Should Real Estate Photographers Determine Their Shoot Price?

Published: 04/02/2016
By: larry

EnfuseLR6Diana asks a question that comes up in almost every discussion we have about pricing:

Is anyone using a sliding scale fee, such as a percentage of the asking price of the real estate ?

It would seem to me that the greater the value of the property, the more photos you would need and want to take. For example: A parcel of land with no improvements might warrant one price; a $100,000 tract home in a subdivision would warrant charging another price; and a $750,000 ranch with outbuildings and acreage would warrant an even higher price.

What are your thoughts and experience on pricing photographs for these varied properties ?

The most sensible way to price a real estate shoot is to price based on the number of photos you deliver. There's actually two major factors in pricing a shoot:

  1. What it costs you to show up at the property (your time and vehicle expenses and all the fixed costs of being in business).
  2. How many photos you produce (shooting time and post-processing time).

How many photos you shoot is only loosely related to the listing price or square footage of the property. Regardless of square footage and list price, there are always those agents that are quite happy with 10 photos and there will be some listing agents that think they need 30 or 40 photos for a 2000 square foot home. So charge them for what you deliver!

The other important factor is to make sure you recover your travel expenses and fixed costs of being in business. Figure out what your service area is and what it costs you in time and vehicle expenses to show up at any property in that area. Don't forget, you need to include all of your fixed costs into your cost of showing up. See this post for more details.

22 comments on “How Should Real Estate Photographers Determine Their Shoot Price?”

  1. Here is how effective price manipulation can be... I recently reduced the price of my base package, but increased the price of some add-ons. I have now seen my average price per shoot increase by roughly 50%, while also attracting more new clients. I think pricing is as much an art as the photographs themselves.

    I use fixed pricing based on the number of photos being delivered, regardless of square footage. I aim to charge $100/hour in the field including travel. That is what my pricing structure is based on, an hourly rate of $100/hour. If I have an add-on that takes 45-minutes average, I will charge $75.

    -Vic DeVore

  2. For me, bigger places with open floor plans take longer per shot. For example, if I'm shooting from a kitchen, across a kitchen counter into an adjoining room lit by a large window on the far side, this shot takes much longer than a shot of a traditional kitchen. Longer to set up, longer to light, longer to edit. So it seems some combination of square footage and number of images would be best.

  3. I don't like the idea of tying the value of my work to the client. Just because the property has more or less value, doesn't mean the labor is do has more or less value to me. I like basing pricing off amount of pictures I provide, the amount of rooms I must shoot, aerial shots, level of post processing, etc.

    I have found this approach meets the same goal of getting photo deals in proportion with the proprieties's value-higher value homes want more pics for great coverage and have more rooms to shoot, have more land and love aerial pics, and of course love the pics processed to magazine cover quality.

  4. Personally, I feel that most real estate agents don't need a lot of choice such as deciding how many photos they want. The majority of them would choose whatever is cheapest and then be upset later that they didn't get some particular angles. For large properties they would have to be on-site to direct you to what exactly they want. This does not work well for me. Too much management. I'm a photographer and I love architecture - I shoot real estate because I enjoy it more than most other forms of photography. I actually get excited when my client tells me it's a Bernoudy or Harris Armstrong designed home that they want me to shoot. Therefore I charge a flat fee by square footage. I do charge extra for twilight photos and slide shows or videos, of course, because they are obvious extras.

    With a nice historic home or a mid-century modern structure there are more opportunities for compelling images. More angles and probably more features. I enjoy those shoots more than a normal 1500 sq ft tract home in the suburbs and the photographic possibilities are much different. I can be in and out of a suburban ranch home in 45 minutes and have the photos processed in a couple hours or less, but a 2500 sf Bernoudy might take me 3 hours to get everything. I do tend to get lost, maybe even swept away in some of them - and if the real estate agent leaves me there by myself I will try new things and come out with some awesome and unexpected results. I figure it averages out over time. I raised my prices considerably last year to try to cull my client list, as I had way too many agents who wanted me to shoot for them. That backfired. Raising my prices had the opposite effect as I picked up more high end agents. I just had to let some drop off because they just couldn't get on my schedule.

    It was a great year last year, and I wish I had raised my prices before July - I would have made significantly more money. I think you just have to figure out what works in your area - check your competition and balance your results against theirs. Never try to undercut your competition as that usually gets you the bargain hunters. In my experience the people who want to pay the least can also be the most picky and problematic on the back end. Also, from looking at dozens of other PFRE user's web sites I know that prices vary widely on a regional basis.

  5. I do ("using a sliding scale fee, such as a percentage of the asking price of the real estate "). I've been doing this for years (15). RE agents understand this concept since their income is also based on the home price. They are also used to working on a sale for months and not get paid when the listing is cancelled or expired.

    So, here is my pricing model from my website:

    "We have a unique pricing strategy. The amount of work we do is dependant on the size of the home. The larger the home the more photos we take and the more pages in the brochure. We charge one tenth of one percent of the sale price of the home. So, if the home sells for $350,000, the cost is $350. We take some of the risk along with you. You pay one half (based on the list price. $175 in this example) up front, and pay the remainder (based on sale price) at close. If for any reason your listing doesn't close, you don't owe the remainder. For expensive homes, the cap is $800."

    Note that my service includes a slideshow tour on my own site, 25 photos I post in the MLS, VT link posted on, and printed multi-page brochures. If the agent doesn't want brochures (or the home is sold before they're done), I apply a 20% discount.

    The agents I work with all understand this and appreciate that my "up-front" fee is affordable, and they pay the final payment only when they get paid. I have never had any problem collecting fees.

    The number of shots I take and the number I deliver (over the min 25 for the MLS) is completely my decision based on the size of the home and how good it looks. I've done vacant apartments where it was a stretch to get 25 good shots, and million dollar homes where I took over 200 shots and delivered 80 or so in the VT slideshow.

    Over the years, about 10% of the homes I photographed did not close - meaning I did not collect the second half of my fee on those 10% of listings. Given the my average fee is higher than my competition, my effective (net) fee it still higher and satisfying to me.

  6. Good question, Michael Allen

    I suggest contacting an agent who you trust and is in the MLS district, and have them send you auto status changes reports of the homes you shoot. When it upgrades, goes pending, closes, back on the market or is cancelled, you get a listing report of that home's status.

  7. @Michael Allen - That's genius... Thanks for the idea, I'm going to try that.

    @John McBay - For about $1000 per year (that includes A-L-L associated expenses) I'm a state licensed broker and MLS member myself. So I can watch all the homes I shoot (text a congrats to the agent when they go into pending), monitor the competition and double check how MY photos display on actual listings compared to full resolution (often quite different). Best $1000 I ever spent!

  8. @ Michael Allen, If I was to adopt your pricing structure I would give them two choices. Pay me in full now which is $350 or you have the option to pay me $175 upfront and the balance due when the home closes will be $325 for a total of $500. If they want to delay payment then it should cost them more for the risk I am now taking.

    I totally agree with Larry. One's pricing should be based by the image. Once you do this for awhile you will realize that on average it takes you the same amount of time to create 10 (or what ever #) of images regardless of the size or value of the home.

  9. @John McBay @mike hubrich

    >>"How do you track which homes have sold?"

    I'm also an agent, so I have access to the MLS. I set up a saved search that shows the current status of all my current properties. I check it daily for status changes and price changes (which I show in my virtual tour slideshows). As soon as a property goes "Closed", I send out an invoice. It also lets me monitor when a listing is cancelled and listed by a different agent, to make sure they have not cloned my photos.

    Another feature of my pricing model -- my agent clients appreciate that I have a stake in getting the property sold (to collect the final fee), so I re-take exterior shots for seasonal changes for no additional charge. I'm frequently in the same neighborhoods, so it only takes a few minutes to take a few new shots and less than an hour to PP and upload revised photos to the MLS and VT. This gives me an advantage over my cheaper competition. Many of my agent clients include my portfolio in their listing presentations as a member of their team. Their success is my success.

  10. I wish I could charge 1/10th of 1 percent - I'd be up over 60 grand this week. No, the only pricing method that seems to me to be ideal across all markets is price per photo. Of course, that's not the only structure that works in certain markets, but in my own market I've yet to hear of a pricing method that works better than on a per photo basis.

  11. Erik Cantu wrote the response I would have posted if I got to it first. Square footage and listing price have no bearing on my COST to do the job. Agents with larger and more expensive properties will ask for more images in most cases making them more lucrative anyway.

    My base level is around 20 images. My customers are told that I might deliver a couple less or several more depending on the particulars of the home. There is one agency (Fannie Mae, VHA, ??) that requires brokers handling the property to provide at least 20 images. The broker I work with that does those lets me know that he needs 20 as a minimum when those come up and it works well for many other homes in the area.

    I know that it takes me, on average, 6-7 minutes per image to photograph, finish, and deliver. That's about 2 hours per average job + travel. I know what I MUST make per hour and what I would LIKE to make per hour. The math is left as an exercise for the student.

    I bill up front and deliver within 48 hours (usually under 24). I have enough references now that I can refer new clients to if they are worried about my taking the money and not providing the service. Not having to bill on terms or track properties is less work/cost for me that I can't bill out to clients.

    I initially priced by the sqft and the agents lied. I also wound up with homes that were stuffed with many small spaces that all had to be photographed. Pricing based on the value of the property is great if you are competing against me. You're going to be more expensive than I am and I'll get the job and likely some good portfolio material.

  12. We charge on square footage. They know up front how many photos they will get depending on the property size. We provide at least 25 photos for every listing and that goes up based on the size of the property. But it's all Layed out on our website. They also get a virtual tour and we provide 3 sizes of photos for MLS, web & print. Our base price is $100 for up to 1500 sq ft. I am thinking that I may invest in getting a license so I can post photos directly to MLS and also send congratulations when listings sell! Good idea!

  13. @Becca - Becoming a member of a MLS doesn't allow you to upload photos for other listing agents. Each member of MLS has a password protected account and it is illegal to share passwords. There are administrator accounts that are used by real estate offices to allow a support person to upload photos to any agent in that office but photographers don't have this kind of account!

    The more important reason to become a MLS member is to have a lock box key and be able to shoot a listing without having the listing agent there to let you in... this is super-valuable service for agents.

  14. @Larry, @Becca,
    Larry, is correct about loading pics to the MLS. In our area (Chicago) you don't need a license to upload photos and VT links to the MLS. They provide a vendor direct feed service for a one-time charge of $250. I post a zip file with the 25 small sized MLS photos along with a text file with the VT link on MY site. The MLS service automatically picks them up within an hour. I can post using the active MLS number or the draft number so that the photos are in place even before it is active.

    Getting a broker's license is over kill -- 70 class hours and about $1,000 per year in fees and bi-annual continuing education classes (different by state) -- just to have a lock box key. I use my key less than 5% of the time, and 95% of the time the agent or the owner are present.

    @Matt Davis - "I wish I could charge 1/10th of 1 percent – I’d be up over 60 grand this week" - Wow! so if you were using my pricing model, you would be doing 75 high priced homes per week - all priced at or over $800,000. OR... 60K in British pounds is USD $87,018, so in my terms that would be 108 photo jobs -- much more than I could handle.

  15. I charge by the square feet of the house. 1st is 0-1999, then 2000-2999, 3000-3999, 4000-4999 and then finally 5000 and up and $10 extra for each 1000 above 5000. works for me.

  16. @ Michael Allen - that's correct. Which is why I said that charging per photo is arguably the only method that would work in all markets, or words to that effect. Also, neither could I handle 108 jobs in a week, and thankfully I only had 11 this week, which is probably enough for me even though I could have squeezed a few more in!

  17. @ Michel Allen $1000 per year includes all fees, education hr expenses, office dues, key rental etc etc etc ... My key related business is exactly the opposite as yours then; 95% of the time I let myself in lol. As Larry suggests - it's a very strong selling point.

  18. I spoke with a realtor when I started in this business 2 years ago and he said their was a guy that did he percentage of sale price model but shared with me that the agents in that area did not like that at all. That's kind of when I gave up that idea.

  19. @Matt Davis and others,
    Regarding charging by the photo: In my market the MLS allows 25 photos, no agent wants to post less. allows 36, most agents I works with want to post 36. So even for a small home or condo that lists for $100K I supply at least 36 photos. At $10 per, that's a total cost of $360 --- Too high in my opinion. Most agents agree it would be too high. In my model, my fee would be $100. Most agents like this. For larger more expensive homes, I supply up to 80 photos. Here the percentage model and the per photo model converge. My maximum fee is $800, and 80 photos at $10 each is the same. But the in-between range doesn't work as well. If an agent says, "I only want 10 photos", I talk them out of it or I don't take the job.

    @Becca, I'm curious as to what area you work. Your website did not say. Also curious as to why the agents "...did not like that at all."

  20. I'm somewhat of a newb at RE photos/videos. I'm wondering what method most of you use to shoot and process the photos. It seems like it would take a while to light and compose 30-40 photos if doing multiple exposures. Do most of you do fusion, HDR, or manually blending photos in photoshop and how often does a single exposure work for images in the delivered set?

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