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Is It Possible To Do Upper-end Real Estate Shoots and Also Do Low-end Shoots?

Published: 07/09/2016
By: larry

UpperEndPricingA Los Angeles area real estate photographer asked the following:

I've been photographing real estate for three years now, supplementing with a part-time office job. I'd say my rates are average for the Los Angeles area (starting price of $200 for 10-15 images with estimated 60-90 minutes on set, and $50 for each 5 additional images), and that the quality I deliver is commensurate with rates a little higher than what I currently charge. I'm using the method of multiple hand-blended flash and ambient frames and have begun brushing in color corrections and placing dark gray gradients on TV screens when necessary, so I spend a lot of time in post (up to 5+ hours for 30 images). Of course, I can't currently afford to lose the clients that are used to that price point, so I've retained that as I strive to get more busy.

Recently, I developed a business relationship with an agent who concentrates mainly on the high-end market, but gives the best of marketing efforts even to properties in the low price range. He prefers to manually approve all compositions on my iPad and there's a lot of styling involved for each shot. As an example, for a recent 15-image shoot, I spent 3 hours on site. This agent is willing to pay for the additional time involved, and we both feel that what I billed him was fair, but I'd like to figure out a pricing formula or method that allows both myself and my clients to predict with some accuracy what the final price would be including additional time on site. I'm also not sure how to best have that conversation with new agent clients who inquire about my work—some will want me in and out as quickly as possible, but I know there are other agents out there like this one, and while I don't want to turn down new business from agents with a tighter budget, or scare away those wanting higher-end work by quoting an unrealistically low number. I believe Scott Hargis once said in the forums that you should shoot the kind of photos you want, so that you will attract the kind of clients who appreciate those photos (paraphrased, of course). But right now I feel stuck in between price tiers, so to speak.

Here is my advice:

  1. I've looked at your work and it looks upper-end to me.
  2. Your price has to take into account how long you spending on-site per image and how long you are spending doing post processing. I agree with Scott - do the kind of work you like to do, and you'll attract the clients that appreciate that level of work.
  3. You could easily charge an extra fixed fee when the client is onsite reviewing and giving you input on each image to make sure your extra time on site is covered. This would make your shoot price predictable for both agents that want to give you onsite input and those that don't.

I'm sure others will have ideas as well.

5 comments on “Is It Possible To Do Upper-end Real Estate Shoots and Also Do Low-end Shoots?”

  1. This post is full of concealed information so it is impossible to dial in an answer that would hit anywhere close to the bull’s eye for this question.
    That said, from what I gather it sounds like this photog is charging too little for the amount of time spent on each project ($200 for up to 90 minutes on site and then up to 5 hours post……not to mention the logistics) there is no way this can be a viable full time business. It also sounds like the agent is taking advantage of them by “manually approving all compositions” for that price.

    So with the surreptitious information at hand, the only conclusion I can see is that this photog needs to:
    One - Consider what they can actually perform in a work week the way they are working now.
    Two – Consider having options that will offer the “Control freaks” access for an additional charge.
    Three – Consider offering packages as a base for the agents to choose from, let them know that they can add options to fit their particular needs, be it more time, photos, etc.

    Bottom line, Shoot the kind of photos you want, BUT charge the appropriate fee to make a living.

    PS, I do not think a pro would look at shooting a “Upper-end” or a “Low-end” property any different, you do the best you can with what you have.

  2. If you are charging $200 for 90 minutes on-site, 3 hours would be $400 for the same number of delivered images. Consider how many sessions you are willing to do in a day and whether spending the extra time with this client changes that figure. If they are eating up 2 time slots, they should pay for that or you could be doing another job for another client and doubling your revenue. Hopefully, you are shooting tethered (wireless) and can keep a session moving quickly. Charging on an hourly basis might be reasonable in this instance. The number of photos delivered will be subject to how quickly your client can make up their mind. If you were charging $100/hour with a $200 minimum and 1/2 hour increments, that might provide for a good income. For non-RE work, I'd suggest a different model. After you have done a bunch of RE, it gets to be much easier since most modern homes are similar. It's only when you get to high-end luxury homes that things tend to change radically. For those jobs, it best to try and get a walk through in advance so you have time to think about the approach and bring extra equipment that may be needed.

    5+ hours in post for 30 images is a bunch and you may want to find ways of knocking that back to no more than an hour or 2 at the most. You should be able to process most of the photos in under a minute each if you have them mostly done in camera. A small bathroom or a basic bedroom can be shot in a minute and run through post in about the same amount of time.

    I usually only have an agent work along side of me for the first session and after that, they don't bother. I do ask for their input on what they see as selling points for the home and what I need to be sure to cover so the images match the description they plan on writing. I'll also get them to walk through a property with me to formulate the shot list if they are at the property when I am scheduled. I work with art directors for product photography jobs and some are pretty good. Others only slow me down. I charge more when working with an director vs. when I am just given a brief on what the customer wants delivered. RE is like drop-and-pop, white seamless photos much of the time, adding more cooks won't improve the soup.

  3. It is possible in my estimation. I do it all the time but one critical difference is I let them know if they direct and review and approve each shot as it goes than I work on a hourly basis including all travel time, on site time, review time, post processing time etc. Doesn't matter how many shots. I'll click show review track exchange mails etc but it's at an hourly rate with hour increments (not minutes). Otherwise they can look at my work and see if they are willing to trust my judgement or not. I can understand some requests and control on upper end properties where they are paying a lot of money for images to start with and the property is worth millions. But "lower end properties" is relative. What size and price of properties are you talking about?

    Otherwise ditto on what Ken and Jerry and Larry said.

  4. The problem here IMO is that you have not looked at pricing from the proper perspective.

    You say "my rates are average for the Los Angeles area (starting price of $200 for 10-15 images with estimated 60-90 minutes on set"
    Then you go on to describe 5+ hours post processing time. That effectively means you spent the whole day on one job for $200.

    At that rate you will have a hard time living in L.A.
    You also say "I can’t currently afford to lose the clients that are used to that price point"

    Actually, you need to lose them pronto.

    There are a ton of high end realtors in L.A. If your work measures up they will take you seriously.
    You need to get your pricing to a credible level. Your current pricing puts you solidly in the world of low end photographers. The agents you want do not consider this category of photographer because they see them as unsophisticated.
    They believe in charging the right price for what they believe is a better product. Note that they are selling a shelter that people believe is worth many multiples of a tract home when conceptually they are not too dissimilar.
    They feature Sub-Zero refrigerators not Samsung yet both keep food cold.

    IMO you need to start setting up meetings with agents you want to work with.
    Show them a portfolio of your best work.
    Set a minimum price for a day's worth of work.
    Note, you will not get a job every day. However if you get two jobs a week at $700 each you will equal 7 days revenue for two days of work.
    The price you set needs to calculated on what your costs are and what revenue you need to generate. Not what some person thinks he wants to pay.
    As you continue to market (every day ...forever) you will slowly acquire clients who will pay what you want gladly.

    I never want to pay my mechanic $500 for a repair. However I do because I believe he is worth it. He did come by that price by looking at others but by calculating his costs, figuring what revenue he needed and priced accordingly. Some of my friends wont use him because they feel he is too high but he is always busy because of the clients who believe in him.

    I have been fortunate to have a steady stream of high end clients. For them, the decision is a business one, not an emotional one. The emotional clients are not the ones I want because they are indecisive and cheap. IOW not professional.
    My smallest package that I offer off-season is $650. I have competitors but they are roughly in the same ballpark.
    The client base we work for is never swayed by the bottom feeders that drop flyers off every day quoting $149 for a 3000 foot house. They want the reliability of professionals who deliver the look they want in a timely manner. They don't want surprises.

    As Jesus said "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want." In the same way there will always be cheap photographers and you don't want to be one.

  5. If the job is straight forward and it can be completed in the normal time frame, keep them on your regular program. If they are really picky and/or like to help pick compositions, give them a custom shoot. Charge for your time on location, billed hourly option. Offload the editing to a professional retoucher. Spend the free time enjoying life. It all comes down to whether or not they want to pay the freight. Personally I'd rather shoot for four hours @ $200/hr and then spend $100 having the images edited by someone else who will blend the layers, mask the windows and clean up a bunch of stuff that would just eat up my day.

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