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Key Considerations Before Getting Started in Real Estate Photography

Published: 17/08/2019
By: Brandon

Jennifer, of Belterra, TX writes:

“I’ve been a portrait photographer for a number of years. Recently, a friend of mine became a real estate agent and she asked me to shoot a house for her. I could not believe how hard it was! But I loved it! I see that your site has a lot of resources but I’m not sure if I should give it a go. I live outside of Austin. Can you help?”

When I looked into becoming a professional photographer many years ago, I did a LOT of research into what variables were at play in being successful at it. Obviously, the quality of the images produced is a big factor but the most dominant theme that came up in my research was related to marketing effectiveness. I remember reading something from a very famous Canadian photographer who said (and I’m paraphrasing): "A mediocre photographer with great marketing skills will almost always be more successful than a world-class photographer with poor marketing skills."

So, my first bit of advice would be to reflect on how much effort and money you’re willing to put into marketing yourself. There are resources on PFRE that can help you in this regard and I’d encourage you to review them. Once you’ve reflected on this, another key element that you’ll need to think through is how much money you’ll need to make to ensure the success of your business. If you have not already worked through the “cost of doing business” as part of setting up your portraiture business, you might want to check out this excellent article (the first of two posts on this topic) by one of PFRE’s ongoing contributors, Garey Gomez.

The final variable I’ll mention (and I’m sure our readers will offer many more!) is related to your location. By using a resource like Google Trend, you can get info on the number of Google searches done on the term “real estate photography” including where that search originated. While it’s completely unscientific, it makes sense to me that if people are researching "real estate photography", then the odds are good that they’ll also be looking for a real estate photographer. While this might not be a key factor in your decision-making, it might act as a useful, if not interesting bit of information for you. That said Jennifer, you’ll be pleased to know that when I broke down the number of searches done for the term “real estate photography” by metropolitan area, I found that Austin, TX, ranked fifth in the US.

So, what other advice would you give Jennifer in helping her to make the decision to jump into the deep-end of professional real estate photography?

PS.: Here are some additional tidbits from my Google Trends review for “real estate photography”:

  • Worldwide, Australia came out on top for number of searches, followed by the US, New Zealand, and Canada.
  • By city, worldwide, Brisbane, came out on top, by a wide margin, over Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, and New York.
  • In the US, the states which showed the most frequent searches were Idaho, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, and Washington.
  • When examining the US by city, as noted earlier, Austin, TX, ranked fifth in the US. Interestingly, the top four cities all came from Florida: 1. Fort Myers/Naples, 2. W. Palm Beach/Fort Pierce, 3. Jacksonville, 4. Tampa/St. Petersburg.
  • Over the past 12 months, the beginning-of-February to the end-of-June, 2019 marked the highest search frequency, topping out during the week of May 19-25.
  • Over the past five years, there was a steady, year-over-year increase in the frequency of the search from August 2014 to July 2017, maxing out during the week of July 9-15. After a significant dip in 2018, things seem to be picking up again, albeit slightly, in 2019.

8 comments on “Key Considerations Before Getting Started in Real Estate Photography”

  1. Jennifer, already being a photographer you probably know that YOU are a lot more important to your business than your photography. Of course the photography has to be good as well, but it wont make or break your business like you can.

    My advice for someone starting out in RE photography is to always say yes no matter how ridiculous the request, always shoot every property with the goal to make it both faster and better than the last one, ALWAYS be punctual and professional, and always over deliver.

    My business grew tenfold in the first year because I did all these things. I enjoy being (as far as I can tell) the best value in my market....not the lowest price (my pricing is somewhere in the middle of my competition), but the best value. I am unaware of any of my competitors shooting wides, details, and drone with a 24 hour turn around all for a reasonable flat fee and only a minor upcharge for twilights. I may not be the least expensive, but I routinely deliver 40+ flash/ambient blended images on even small houses in 24hrs, and always have a smile on my face. Do this and your business will grow.

  2. A mediocre photographer with great marketing skills will almost always be more successful than a world-class photographer with poor marketing skills.”

    This is why the tour companies are killing it. Marketing $$.

  3. I think it's a question of money. When I was doing portraits, each of my hours was worth $800. That was because of the way we sold prints of portraits. In the digital age, I'm not sure how much a portrait hour is worth now.... but an RE hour is probably somewhere near $100 in an average town. Maybe more in a big coastal city, but not likely in Texas.

    Secondly, when I first started in photography in a small town (100-200K population), I thought I needed to be a jack-of-all-trades, and in those years, i did. But now, after doing this for decades, I can see that switch-hitting between RE and portraits made my revenue go down instead of up. Yes, it was fun, and never boring, but higher revenue is probably a better goal to have then having fun. I didn't think switching to RE full time was going to work out financially, but because I specialize in it now, I have streamlined the workflow to such a high degree that it's doable. I never had that kind of discipline as a portrait photographer because the money just dropped from the sky like rain. But, portraits are trendy... people aren't loyal to a fault like they used to be (in either genre of photography), so as you age, you can see that a future in portraits rapidly diminishes after 50. Which coincidentally, is a great time to be doing RE work. It's slower, and requires a great deal of attention and discipline, perfect for people over 50. 🙂

  4. Investing the time, and financial resources to make some determinations about your ability to differentiate yourself in your market will be valuable going forward.

    Tony Colangelo is a well regarded coach that frequently contributes here whose insights are likely to be well worth the investment as your making your plans.

    Breaking into a competitive market it's essential to do sufficient research to be able to clearly identify and articulate your unique value proposition to potential clients.

    While it's important to have an introductory marketing strategy that will attract your initial clients. It's even more critical to have a sustainable client service strategy that will create "customers for life". (Which is also the title of a book describing how a Texas auto dealer refocused their business from selling cars to providing outstanding customer service.

    Just a few things to think about. Making better than average images for clients is a minimum requirement. But it won't make you successful over time.

  5. Having been a Realtor for 15 years, I determined early that I was going to:

    1. Work like a Realtor. They work weird hours, and so do I. If they text me at 9 pm on Saturday asking for a shoot, I'll text them back, usually in 15 minutes. Sundays and holidays aren't off limits.

    2. Become a member of their team. If they have an emergency shoot that needs to be done before Tuesday, it's my emergency, too. I'll do what I can to make it happen.

    3. Compliment the Realtor to the client. It always gets back to them.

    4. Thank them at the end of the year. For the clients that have hired me 20+ times, its a basket of gourmet cookies, for others its a gift card to Starbucks. I always have them delivered to the offices, (where folks that don't use me can see) and there is always a card that I hand write.

    For me, this business has always been about being behind the camera and building relationships, and the money comes from that.

  6. Real estate is a fast paced business. Many MLS's require agents to post their listings within 48 hours of signing a contract with a seller. Many agents don't have a workflow that prompts them to book the photography as soon as they have the contract or give a heads up to the photographer if it's likely that one is going to be coming through. All of this means that you have to be able to take jobs at the last minute and get them delivered quickly. There are ways around the 48 hour requirement, but you have to have customers that won't use anybody else to quote availability a week out.

    Home density is a consideration. You say you are near Austin, but I'm near Los Angeles although I don't market myself as covering the greater LA area. Where I am is much lower density which means I have to be willing to cover a much larger region. The upside is traffic is rarely ever an issue so if Google Maps is telling me it's 45 minutes to get to an address 40 miles away, it's going to be very close to that. If you have kids or other responsibilities that would keep you from taking jobs further out, that's something to think about. Since your friend is an agent, work with them to see how many homes have sold in the past year in your preferred coverage area. That will give you a ballpark number to work with. If it's only 24, you would only be getting an average of 2 homes per month if you owned 100% of that market.

    With regards to the images themselves, there is an aesthetic to RE photos. Geometry, POV, exposure and composition are all important. Most people develop their own style, but some things just don't work and you should have an understanding about the sorts of images that don't fit. Different aspects will change slightly if you are making images for an interior designer, the builder, the architect, the landscaping contractor or the cabinet maker. While the primary client may be the selling agent, you should be going after those other potential clients where possible as a secondary market since they can all be served at the same photo session.

    Interiors are difficult. It's not you not knowing photography. Spend some money for Lynda.com and watch Scott Hargis' series on real estate photography. Check out Nathan Cool, Rich Baum and Andrew Pece's tutorials on YouTube. KelbyOne has a tutorial on real estate photography and there are other ones advertised here. All of them I've seen are worth it. I would recommend starting with Scott's as those give a well explained, broad overview while the tutorials on Youtube tend to cover a very narrow topic or technique.

  7. When I started my real estate photography business over 11 years ago after a 20+ year career in real estate sales, I was not the best real estate photographer in the area by any means but I was the loudest. (As a matter of fact I cringe whenever I see some of those first photos). I harnessed the power of social media. I compiled a database of real estate agents in our area and surrounding areas and I would send out eblasts announcing each new listing when it hit the market that I had photographed. Linking it back to the virtual tour and the listing agent's contact info. I still send those eblasts out every morning. I spoke at every real estate office that allowed me to speak at their sales meeting and at every local board event that would have me. In addition to posting the tour links on our social media pages, I also posted a few of my favorite photos on my FB page. People love to look at photos of beautiful homes. I always try to keep my finger on the pulse of the real estate market and continue to grow with the market by offering the tools and services that the REALTORS want to promote their listings. We became more than Real Estate photographers, we became their real estate marketing machine. For one fee we provide, professional photos, a printable flyer, a virtual tour, and social media marketing. For additional fees we will add floor plans, 3D tours, print flyers, postcards, video, and just this year we added luxury photos and magazine style flyers. Those first photo shoots were all $69 each, no matter how large or small the property. Our average shoot these days is around $185 for up to 3000 sq feet with floor plans and can go as high as $700 or $800 depending on the services and the size of the property. We photographed over 1300 homes last year and we have already photographed just under 1400 this year (that is with 3 full-time photographers) and are on target for around 2000 this year. We are not in a huge city, we are a relatively small market in SW and Central Virginia. My point is, although skill is very important, it is just as important that you know how to market your business, that you never give up on your dream and you allow yourself to dream big.

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