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Is Demand for Real Estate Photography Increasing?

Published: 23/01/2018

Shawn in North Carolina says:

The last time I shot real estate photos was back in the stone age of film. I'm doing my due diligence now as I want to start again (but in a part-time capacity, at least for now). I keep reading that during 2016-2017 the market was so hot, that homes sold within a day or a few days. Is there any evidence of how a hot market has affected the value of real estate photography?

Yes, this is a very hot real estate market right now but even in hot markets, buyers still search for homes to buy online. So I seriously doubt there is any less demand for photography in hot, low inventory markets than in slow, high inventory markets. Actually, you can see the worldwide interest in real estate photography by going to Google Trends and looking at the interest in real estate photography over the past 5 years. The graph above shows the worldwide interest for the past 5 years. It is very cyclical during the year but the overall, trend has increased. Google Trends also allows you to see the geographic variation.

You can get on sites like Zillow and analyze what is going on with photography in your local market. Just look at the homes for sale on Zillow in your city and you can see what kind of photography listing agents are using. Usually, upper-end homes have professional photography (because home sellers insist on it) and lower-end homes will have more amateur looking photography done by agents with smartphones.

Larry Lohrman

13 comments on “Is Demand for Real Estate Photography Increasing?”

  1. In my market, demand is increasing exponentially. I started about 8 years ago, the only person doing this in Springfield, Missouri, and I got about 100 shoots a year. Currently, in the same market, I shoot about 1200 a year, with at least 3 or 4 competitors.

    The internet thrust real estate onto the worldwide stage. The old method of marketing - local newspapers, door hangars, postcards - was fine for a local audience, but the minute that a sellers home was available to any human with an internet conneciton, agents had to start thinking about marketing property like any worldwide product. The cornerstone of that marketing, as anyone knows, is great visuals. McDonald's spends millions a year photographing a $4 hamburger.

    I think the hot market actually hurts me. I lost a bit of business last year because, when the client books 4 or 5 days out, the house sometimes sells before we get the pictures. When the market slows, and sellers are more desperate to try alternative marketing to get buyers, the demand for pro photos will increase.

  2. One thing to keep in mind (during your due diligence process) are the current pricing levels. You'll find that there are a lot of real estate photographers willing to shoot for practically nothing. Many of the "low ball" photographers are posting their rates online, so I suggest looking at those in your local market to come up with a ballpark rate. You can then use those numbers (and their services) to get an idea as to how to offset those rates.

  3. Well, I guess I'm the odd one out, because I'm in one of the fastest growing areas in the country, and realtors aren't using pros as much because stuff is selling FAST. Hell, you can just post a few lousy pictures on MLS and the house will sell anyway, and quick. Problem is we have too many people moving in with very low inventory. Classic case of supply and demand.
    Had my worst year last year and looking to get out of shooting RE (even though I love it). I'm doing more marketing and spending more money on it than ever.
    Most agents don't know the importance of using pro photography and how it helps their advertising and branding, and what it can do for their image. At least in my market. (Boise, ID)

  4. I've continued to pick up 20-25% volume every year (since 2011) with almost no advertising. I'm happy with that. I will say that last year I did lose a *little* bit of business because of how fast the market was moving. I would have agents call me and tell me that they were listing a property and that they were going to let it ride for 2 weeks and if it doesn't sell in that time I could come shoot it. This obviously didn't happen with everybody but it did with some.

    It was also common to schedule a listing for 4-5 days out and have it sell before I got there. It happens. (Trenton NJ)

  5. As more and more agents understand the value of professional images, the demand is high.
    However, with every Tom, Dick & Henrietta owning a camera you have to fight to keep your head above water.

    As you do your "due diligence to start again" keep in mind that bad reviews travel faster than good, and a customer lost is rarely regained.
    A top notch product, consistency and over the top customer service will keep you in the game.
    Best of luck!

  6. I am an independent real estate broker in the Midwest. Something to keep in mind is as more and more real estate companies move towards flat fees and discounted fees to list and sell a house there will be more pressure to cut costs, including photography. In the end all the seller is concerned about is how much is it going to cost to sell my house, they dont care about plumb verticals, blown windows or correct colors. The top listing agent in my area has sold 143 homes in the past 12 months with 26 active listings, way more than the 2nd place big box agent. She does it based on price, not photography. In fact her photos suggest an extra wide angle lens, on camera flash, mixed colors, and bad compositions. In the real world of selling real estate, buyers can make decisions on viewing a property in spite of the photos.

  7. @ Rohnn --

    Maybe you could help us out by listing some examples of other industries where the trend has been *downwards* in terms of marketing sophistication? If, as you believe, the natural progression in real estate marketing will be towards sloppier and less professional work, there must be some case studies we can examine. But I can't seem to think of any....can you help?

  8. @ Rohnn, This agent you mention might be setting herself up for a big fall. All it might take is an energetic new agent willing to work extra hard with much better visual marketing to knock her off of the hill. If she's moving as much inventory as you say, she should be spending some of that money to make it that much more unlikely that somebody is going to take her top spot.

    Photos are about getting listings, not selling the home (much). Location and price will have more impact on whether the home sells, for how much and how quickly. Humans are very visual and are drawn to things they find attractive. Plumb verticals, accurate color and a good exposure is much more attractive than a photo that looks like it was made looking out from a cave during a nuclear explosion. I found out that the top agent in my area is only 29 years old. I don't know who he uses for photos, but they are very good. The agent that used to be the top earner is still using her cell phone, takes very bad images and has been posting more images on her latest listings rather than going for better quality. She knows who I am and I see her 4 or 5 times a year. Even thought she's getting trounced in the rankings, she could certainly afford to hire a professional photographer for all of her listings and that might put her back on top. The second from the top in 2017 I finally got the chance to meet at an open house a week ago and I'm pretty sure she is going to start using me for images as the person she had been using is something of a flake and hard to contact. He's a good photographer, but a poor businessman. Apparently, my pricing is right in the ballpark before the discounts I offer for multiple jobs and vacant homes with a code/key.

    Just look at all of the things that are advertised with images. Darn near every tangible object. A $4 plastic pail and shovel set from a big box store is professionally photographed. A $40 book shelf from Ikea is not only photographed, but often photographed on a styled set with a very high level of detail paid to getting the image done right. Most of us know that advertisers use "beautiful people" rather than just somebody from the street in their ads to convince us we will be happy, cool and beautiful too if we buy the product. Even though we know what they are doing, it works. The numbers, which they carefully track, prove it. I've got in mind a mixed group of young attractive people playing on a bright sunny beach while holding a nasty tasting American beer that sells by the tanker load. They've sold the image, the product isn't very good. In PFRE, we are trying to get people to pick up the phone and call the agent and to get sellers to think that the agent with the really good photos is going to be superior to the rest of the pack in selling their home fast and for the most money. If you don't keep raising the bar against your competition, you will get left behind whether you are an agent or a broker. The city where I live is small but has several RE offices. None of them use professional photography. The images I make in town are for agents and brokers over 50 miles away. About half the listings in town are from out of town agents. The locals need to start doing something to retake their own backyard.

  9. "In the end all the seller is concerned about is how much is it going to cost to sell my house." That may be the case with some sellers, but hardly all. While cost is always a consideration, the paramount consideration is what the seller will net from the sale, and responsible, capable real estate agents will educate their sellers about this, if the seller does not already understand this. Thus, the potential selling price, how long it will take to sell the property, and how quickly the seller needs to sell the home will have a major bearing as well.

    Btw, I continue to disagree with assertions that listing photos are only for marketing the agent and not the home itself. The photos can be for marketing one or the other, or both, depending upon the market, the type of property and how well the home is presented in terms of condition and staging, and the particular real estate agent involved.

  10. Someone posted doing 1200 houses a year. Please let us know your work structure. I am doing up to 4 houses a day and outsourcing edits. I am working way more than 10 hours a day. Please... any helpful advice is appreciated!

  11. I have been doing real estate photography for almost 13 years. In that time I have seen all the ups and downs of the market. My observations is this:

    In a super hot market where things sell quickly, we sell more photography. The simple reason is that is becomes very competitive for agents to sell houses - so in the listing presentation they emphasize what services they provide - knowing that it won't make a hill of beans difference, the house will sell within a day or two - they just want the listing and are competing for it!

    In a slow market, where properties linger forever, we sell more of our additional services (video, virtual staging etc....) - the seller, and buyers need to be wowed by the property presentation to get it done.

    In the ned, we have seen growth year over year.

  12. @ Keri, You might want to think about offering fewer images. 36+ is massive overkill for most 3/2 or 4/3 middle class homes. The idea is to build a gallery that highlights the main features of the home not a PBS documentary. If you aren't doing any editing and just shooting brackets, 10 hours for 4 properties is a lot of time.

    You might want to start using flash instead of fusion. Your compositions show that can capture a room but the images are very obviously HDR. A basic bedroom is no more than a minute to complete the image in camera with one off-camera flash. Many other rooms are just as simple if the light is right.

    I do all of my own editing and very rarely use any form of HDR any more. The homes in my area have been built in clumps so once I have done a few models in a development, I'll often see the same floor plan again and automatically know where I am going to want to add light. Secondary bathrooms are so cookie cutter that I can capture them in one or two tries and have nothing left to do but apply a preset in LightRoom to make them ready to deliver. Master bedrooms are often just a bigger version of the other rooms unless I have a big four post bed to deal with. I know that I am going to do one image from a certain spot and compose another from the other side of the room to show the bathroom/balcony/etc. Since I have had to work through many issues in post, I know what I need to capture in the field to make any Photoshop work as easy and fast as possible. If I have to spend more than 3 minutes on an image in post, I'm either fixing a problem I didn't catch in the field, the room was very complex or I'm paid by the customer to do in PS what should have been done before I arrived. (I am not counting teaser images done in advance of putting a home on the market which may have a lot of editing done to show what the home will look like when the renovation is finished and the landscaping is done. )

    I limit myself to 3 full property shoots a day or equivalent. My main package is 20(ish) images and additional requested images are extra. The size of the home has no bearing on my time or cost so I don't care how big or small it is other than to let my clients know that small homes may not yield more than 15 or so images with good value. I often toss in a couple more images on larger homes so it averages out very well.

    Each image takes time to create and you should know what your average time per image is. 3.33 minutes per image is 36 images in 2 hours. If you are doing a walk through and have to carry your gear in and out, it's more like 2.75 minutes per image. Not a problem for a basic bedroom, but not nearly enough for a kitchen.

  13. Kerri-

    I was the original poster on the 1200 properties. That number certainly wasn't my intent when I started.

    Springfield MO is a city of about 180k (250k in the immediate area) with a low cost of living and reasonable home prices. When I started, although I had been a photographer since I was a kid and went to a 2 year commercial photo school, I had gotten a real estate license for financial survival, and I already knew most of the agents, and had access to the homes with my MLS key. Although I have kept the license, I don't sell any more.

    I shoot about 60 a month in the winter, and as many as 140 a month in the summer. My wife does all the scheduling. I shoot from about 8 am until maybe 4 or 5. I eat dinner, and process and send the images, finishing about 8 pm. I typically take 6 days off a month, and take two 1-week vacations during the year.

    It's a lot of work, and I'm 58 years old. But I love it. I don't get bored or tired, my family is grown and gone, my wife is retired and is an artist and musician, and I find that being behind the camera is a great way to spend a day. I create 20 pictures on a small house, 35 on a big one. Rarely more.

    Typically I am in and out of a house in an hour. As Scott Hargis once said, what we do is probably overkill for MLS photos, and sometimes its a very simple, straightforward shoot to produce clean images. Other times, I get a unique property and I spend a lot of time making "art" - strictly for my own personal satisfaction.

    My speed of shooting has increased for several reasons. I know the Nikon controls in my sleep, I know the angles and shots that I want from repetition, and I am jaded to my own work, so I don't spend time admiring most of my own work anymore :).

    You can email me if you have specific questions, I'm happy to help.

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