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How To Connect With Agent Clients When You Are Starting Out In Real Estate Photography?

Published: 05/09/2014

ConnectingNot too long ago I got some real estate photography business starting out questions from Chris in New Jersey. I think the questions are classic and important enough to look at in detail. Here is Chris's initial question:

I have been trying to get a real estate business up and running since October of 2013 and its just not happening. I may get jobs here and there but nothing remotely stable. I know other people have stable work and I'm wondering if maybe I don't have high enough quality photos? Or if I am doing something else wrong. I have the Canon Rebel T4I and mainly use the Tokina 11-16 for real estate jobs. I was thinking maybe the rebel isn't good enough, so I was thinking of moving up to a better camera (70D, 6D, or A7).

When I looked at Chris's work it was immediately clear to me that the quality of his work or what kind of equipment he had was NOT his issue. His work is very good. I asked Chris what he was doing for marketing and he said he was using Adwords and handing out business cards to agents. He quit Adwords after about 6 months because he didn't get any business from it.

Here is my advice to Chris:

  1. Its not surprising Adwords didn't work. Focus on personal contact with potential clients. Agents are people oriented they like talking to people; that's why they are agents!
  2. Instead of just business cards make a postcard or jumbo postcard with your greatest image, phone # and website on one side and this info graphic (or similar) and link to WSJ and RedFin article on the other side. Hand it out like a business card and deliver it to mail slots of all the top agents in your area (cheaper and more personal than mailing if you get to talk to them).
  3. Understand all the data in the RedFin article. It's the reason agents need professional photography. It should be your main pitch. Make an elevator pitch out of it.
  4. Also, use local brokers sites to find top agents that aren't using professionals. Deliver your postcard to them and have a quick chat about the RedFin data if possible.
  5. Deliver your postcard to listing agents holding open houses and talk to them about the RedFin data.
  6. I noticed from Zillow in his zip code there was a high rate of agents using tours. Sign up for and include a tour with each of your shoots because your competition is. This is frequently the case.

I think Chris is struggling with the classic mistake of thinking that equipment is more important than marketing! Many people that are naturally good technically struggle with personal marketing.

Update 9/9: Several commenters correctly pointed out that the data in the RedFin articles that documents the fact that profession photography increases the net sales price of the property isn't always a big direct payback for listing agents. Particularly at the low end of the market. The major benefit to the listing agent is that if professional photography gets more net $ for the seller then listing agents will get more listings. I should have been clearer about this. Doing a great job marketing property ultimately will increase the number of listings the agent gets. It's never difficult to convince home sellers that professional photography will net them more money.

Larry Lohrman

15 comments on “How To Connect With Agent Clients When You Are Starting Out In Real Estate Photography?”

  1. Agree 100% with the notion that "classic mistake of thinking that equipment is more important than marketing!" If that was true, then there would be a lot of wanna bee's that just needed to buy the best and they would make it. As has been said so many times before, it is not the equipment, it's the person using it that makes the difference.

    If you are new and do good work, it just takes time to build your client base. As a kid I started with a small paper route and got paid by the number of clients I had, learned very early, that the more clients I had, the more I made. So, I spent time almost every day (7 day delivery) promoting the paper and how convenient, yadda yadda yadda it would be to have home delivery. Took time but eventually I had to make two trips to a day to fill my paper saddle bags to complete my route....Sundays were twice as much, ugh. But in the end, I was with the biggest route in the city and stayed that way until moved on.

    Point is that if you play your cards right, follow the advice that Larry and some of the others have to offer, you can make a very very good living with this. But, it does not happen overnight.....

  2. 100% wrong. You missed the mark. The main selling point to get a top agent using professional photography is that it is all about branding, separating themselves from their competition and gaining more listings. As a real estate broker, if someone came to me pitching a postcard like that it would demonstrate their complete lack of knowledge of how a real estate transaction comes together. There are at least a dozen variables that determine the listing price and the sold price and “professional” photography is not one of them. The reports cited do not comment on the pros and cons of “professional” photography but instead focus on DSLR vs point and shoot photography.
    I would recommend the person either get a real estate license, they would make more money with less effort, or become a real estate investor/wholesaler which does not require money or credit.

  3. I don't mean for this to be a contradiction or negative, but everyone should be aware of some math here. In my area $250K is a pretty typical price for a home. The data suggests that professional pictures would get sellers another $935 on average. But, for the person footing the bill for the photos (the agent), it translates to maybe $58 ($935 X .06=$58). Who wants to spend a couple hundred bucks and get back $58? So, pitching this data to a sharp agent could backfire on you.

  4. @Pete - For a listing agent there is more arithmetic involved in their business than how much their commission increases for a single transaction if the use quality photography. When home sellers understand and see that listing agents that market their home well and sell it for more those listing agents get more listings.

  5. Guess what? I've been doing RE Photography for 20 years... and it's still not what I'd categorize as "stable". I have 50 of the top 10% of RE agents on my client list, and what that does is make the yearly gross stable, but not the day to day or even month to month income stable. Part of it is the mentality of realtors, who steadfastly believe that homes under $200K need not be photographed well... and really, I believe the number of homes that sell for under $300k is the highest volume.

    So there's the rub... only the top 10% of agents really engage in professional photography at all, and they sell the most $ volume, but they don't necessarily generate photo work that matches their sales volume.

    Consider that our incomes are a direct reflection of our client's incomes, so if one of my clients has no new listings for 3 months straight, I won't hear from them for 3 months. Their income day to day isn't stable either.

    I'm get the feeling that they also realize, that just like photography, you sell what you show. So, if they are listing the cheapest homes, and getting attention via good photos, they are aiming their careers at low cost homes, which requires more leg work and time, but pay lower commission per property. They might not what that trajectory.

  6. I struggled with a similar question awhile ago and Larry posted about it. For me, it just took time. I started in the summer of 2011, and I have tripled my business since (as of now, but potentially quadrupeled by the end of the year). I am in a market where professional RE photography did not exist until I showed up, and am happy to say, nobody else has taken me on as competition as of yet. The way I was able to do it was to get just one Realtor on board - not the top selling Realtor, but one with just enough influence to where others paid attention and took notice of the fact that all of his photos stood out... and he was doing video for every listing as well. It is to the point now where homeowners are now starting to pick up on it, and request it for their listings. I have about 4 Realtors who hire me for the majority of their listings as of now and am photographing on average about 3-4 homes per week. It didn't really start picking up until this year when some other Realtors knew about me for awhile and finally decided to try me out.

    All I have ben doing is delivering consistent and fast results. I try to be a convenience to them in all circumstances. They have a busy enough job, I want to be the least of their worries. I don't harp on payments, and am flexible with my rates depending on their needs. Business keeps coming, and I am not to the point of overworking myself. I am also starting to put together training videos and resources for photographers I may need to bring on in the near future.

    With that said, I live in a smaller market. I am doing pretty well - and have never talked about the equipment I use to get jobs. In fact, I am even trying to put together a resource for Realtors who won't hire me to teach them how take better photos. This will only increase my value as a resource in this community. I could talk all day about this. There are so many different things I have tried and the only thing that worked for me without spending a dime of money was time, consistency, and being helpful to their business.


  7. @Pete

    Agents need to look beyond the current listing.....

    Every listing is a chance to market their professional services to thousands of potential FUTURE clients.

    While it might only get them $58 on the current listing, it could get them multiple new clients who see that that particular listing and like that he/she invests in their marketing.

    Sometimes they just need to be pushed in the right direction 🙂

  8. I am in a similar boat.

    My plan is to educate the home seller about the value of professional photography for their property. I am in NYC where the demand for property is so high that an agent can literally take a single snapshot of one room and the place will sell. I'm assembling a brochure to deliver to the sellers in my local area to "encourage" them to talk with their agent about professional photography.

    I'll let you know how it goes!

  9. I agree will all that has been written and can relate to Jordan's experience as just six years ago, I started out in a large metro area that had few photographers and not much demand for professional photos. There were so many poor photos being used that even my beginner photos far out shined them. Of course, since then I have been on the Holy Grail quest to produce the perfect photo.

    Now I am shooting 20+ homes per week and contribute that to keeping my rates very reasonable, delivering photos the same evening, producing photos that gets AWESOME and WOW! comments. Quality, Service and Cost. Give them all three and the word will get out.

  10. @Kelvin

    If any of the "50 of the top 10%" agents that you have are going 3 months between listings, they are not in the top

  11. I agree that getting on the phone works 10x better than any other technique. It's easy to get a list of realtors. Get a free crm and call 2 a day and keep tabs in the crm. Set follow ups. Usually takes 5 calls to get an agent on board. But once i do they rarely leave. I use insightly crm, free but not awesome.

    Every time I shoot something I perform a radius search on zillow and send an email to at least 10 listings near by. Fsbo are a great opportunity because they want to stand out above realtors.

    Never, ever, ever shoot before you get paid. This has saved me so much time not chasing down payments. (I always turn photos in 24 hours and my clients trust that). The time saved here allows me more time to devote to sales.

    Lastly,my main agent selling points are that I save them time and hiring me makes them look like they are doing everything they can to market the property. (might even look like they actually deserve the 3% they are getting)

  12. I recently (1 year ago) set up my real estate photography business in Brisbane. Apparently this is the city that searches the term 'real estate photographer' more than anywhere else in the world. So my first tactic was to sink a bunch of cash into online advertising (adwords primarily). I lost all that cash without getting a single booking. I then decided to print up flyers, advertising a 'start up' special, which I personally went and dropped off at real estate agents offices, trying to ensure as much face to face time as possible. I had limited success with this. I then moved onto sending emails... personalised to every agent in my area, each individually written... no mailchimp mass send outs. This really got the ball rolling! Suddenly I was taking bookings, making connections and the cash flow wasn't stagnating. I started telephone marketing as well as email marketing, and they really complemented each other well. Once I had a few clients on board I could market to their colleagues, and it spread from there.
    Thats just my story. There was no need to educate the agents about professional photography, as most of them are pretty switched on about it in this city, so I guess I was lucky there.

  13. @Gavin - I can believe that one doesn't have to educate agents in Brisbane about professional real estate photography. Brisbane is the capital of real estate photography, I'm convinced there's something in your water that motivates agents to use professional photography! There are apparently many other cities that way like Seattle, Honolulu, San Diego and others. But there are probably more cities where there is a resistance on the part of agents to spend money on marketing listings. I don't know what the underlying cause is but in most of these non-progressive cities in the US agents need educating. New Jersey (the State I was writing about) is one of these locations.

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