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Onsite Dangers for Real Estate Photographers

Published: 06/11/2018

Dave in Australia pointed out this article on Fstoppers titled: The Biggest Dangers Photographers Face. The article points out several  specific on-site dangers for real estate photographers:

  1. Make sure homeowners are expecting you. One Atlanta real estate photographer was shot by a surprised homeowner who wasn't notified of the shoot.
  2. Beware, many listing agents aren't very good at making homeowners aware that pets should be contained or not in the home during shoots and showings!
  3. In some areas, real estate photographers encountering squatters in vacant properties is not uncommon.
  4. Many real estate photographers are confronted by nosy neighbors who demand identification or simply call the police at the suspicion of criminal intent by the photographer.

Have you encountered any of these issues while shooting property?

Larry Lohrman

23 comments on “Onsite Dangers for Real Estate Photographers”

  1. Re: Listing agents.

    Dear colleagues from Germany, do we have "listing agents" here? we have the so called "Maklerbüros" ist that one and the same?
    Schöne Grüße aus München

  2. Been dog bit about 6 times, drew blood once.

    Been cat jumped once while entering room with closed door, nearly pooped my pants.

    Stepped in Dog and Cat poop don't know how many times.

    Been forcibly grabbed by home owner twice.

    Been put on hold at the door once while they restrained mentally ill home owner.

    Encountered very large un-restrained menacing dogs (100lb +) more times than I would like to have been.

    Warned not to enter because of squatters 1 time (million dollar plus listing)

    Almost walked into a crack house once. Was my fault, right house number but North x street instead of South x street. Was warned away by kindly old man walking down the street.

    Was threatened by one home owner after taking front shot of sold home from the street (a doctor no less) who told me he knew who I was and would get me if I did not give him my bosses number. I thanked him and told him I was from the county property assessor's office and assured him I would deliver the most flattering images of the home possible. I gave him a glowing review for bedside manner on medical website.

    Was tick bitten more times than I wanted. Really hate ticks.

    Have one stairway collapse on me as I started to climb it. Fortunately was on only second step.

    Tripped while looking through my view finder and entering sunken room more times than I would like to have.

    Banged my head into low hanging chandeliers in empty dinning rooms and breakfast areas more times than I can count.

    More asthma attacks due to mold and cats than I can count.

    Destroyed one new (Birthday present from wife) $200 jacket by brushing against freshly painted stuff that I was not warned of.

    Screwed up rotator cuff real bad helping agent move Piano.

    Conclusion, I'm clumsy and not as situationally aware as I should be.

    Be safe out on those streets my friends.

    It's a jungle out there. Disorder and confusion everywhere. If you paid attention, you'd be worried too. You better pay attention or this world we love so much might just kill you. (words for Monk Theme song)

  3. Can't really say as a photographer have had adverse experience, and a lot has to do with communication. Also, wearing a shirt with my photographer logo on it helps. Owners tell me not to go in the garage (or a bedroom) because that is where the dogs are or someone (elderly or child) is sleeping. A couple times I have gone to the wrong address (inverting street numbers or given the wrong number), the first was a relief I wasn't shooting it, the other I had shot before and the new owners were working in the yard. We had a good laugh when confused, I showed them the text from the Realtor that I was at the 'correct' house and suggested to the wife that her husband (with him standing there) didn't tell her that they were moving. It was that jovial an atmosphere after they learned I was the one who took the photos of the home they ultimately bought. The other time I do 'preventative' is when shooting the rear of the home from the opposite shoreline, I don't simply walk down the property line, but ask permission first.

    The only time I have had issues was when I had a secondary business - lock change and "first entry" documentation photos for banks (their Realtor was my client, but the bank wrote the check). Sometimes it is the nosey neighbor wanting to know what I am doing as I am picking (or drilling out) the lock on the front door, or others who call the police. In both cases I thank them for their watchfulness then educate them on what to expect - cleanout crew, repairs/rehab based on photos sent to bank, Realtor's car and she could keep them updated timetable and pricing. On one occasion I told the Realtor that she needed to call the police as I changed the locks the day prior and the key didn't work as squatters (drug dealers) moved in and changed the locks and installed remote video monitoring.

  4. Squatters several times. I get the cops called on me at least twice a month for a strange car in the neighborhood. Also was confronted by 3 teenagers as I was leaving a vacant house in a not to desirable neighborhood. Just so happen I had a Tazer in my pocket that I pulled out. They ran. The good Lord was looking out for me that day.

  5. The type of animals that have attacked us over the years:
    Dogs and more dogs,
    a turkey,
    and maybe a turtle (it was heading towards us with that look in its eyes)

    I also think I scare off a cougar once. Not sure, caught a glimpse of something large, feline and not a bobcat running away while shooting a remote ranch.

    Closest call:
    When I use the ekey I have a very specific procedure for entering the home, even if the home is vacant. I ring the door bell, then knock loudly, then ring several more times. I then open the door part was, YELL who I am and why I am there. Then I step inside a YELL again, repeating who I am and requesting if anyone is home to call out. I then request that anyone that is not home call out. (If I ever get a response to the second one, I'm just leaving). I still almost walked in one a women showering. Fortunately, heard the water running just outside in the hallway. I quietly backed out, I took outside photos for 15-20 minutes before knocking on the door again.

    One thing that I do hate, is when I show up and there are underage kids without an adult present. In those case, I will not shoot the inside, period. FYI - The kids are old enough to watch themselves at home, just not old enough to have a strange adult in the house with them.

  6. As Larry said, communication is key. I have been really lucky in that I've never had an incident that I would consider a danger or liability, other than some tense moments with an "imbalanced" renter once, back when I wasn't picky about what I shot. I won't leave for a shoot unless I have been in contact with the homeowner to make sure everyone is on the same page. I have had exchanges with Barney Fife neighbors who thought they were the neighborhood police, but they are few and far between, and so far they've been easy to shut down. I have a policy that I won't touch personal property or decorative items; I shoot as-is, so everything needs to be staged and cleaned before I arrive (I'll line-up bar stools on occasion though). The only thing I'd consider dangerous is occasionally leaning out over railing, or standing at the edge of high retaining walls, but no problems so far. I've also been lucky that I've never had a dog issue, other than annoying dogs that insist on being in the photos... but aggressive dogs have always been locked up.

  7. On second thought, I did have a renter parade around in a gloss-style banana hammock for the duration of the shoot...

    Damn near lost my retina’s on that one.

  8. Not had too many problems happily. No rabid dogs or cats, no ninja cows or horses, no bear traps or rabid coyotes. In my area, I wear snake gaiters when stumbling around on our hillside or brush. Generally, my client at least starts off the shoot with me even if they leave after a while. The closest problem issue I have had was a couple of months ago after I had reconfirmed with my client that I had permission to shoot and shoot from my drone. He assured me that the owner had given him permission for all photography & videography and had informed her old dad who lived in the dilapidated ranch house on the 40+ acre property and not to disturb him by knocking on the door. He can be cranky I was told. So as I was flying from the empty end of the property to the inhabited section, I heard a gun shot and my drone took a sharp zag to the right, 90 degrees to the flight line and tearing along. I managed to regain control, brought it back and then went to see what was going on.

    Turns out the owner had simply left a message on old dad's answering machine which he had not checked for days. Only 3 pellets hit my drone and did not actually do any functional damage or penetrate the body shell, still. How they passed through the turning props without touching them I will always wonder about. Turns out, after a police investigation, that there were also a bunch of squatters (as mentioned above) who may have been engaged in some shady activities and were paranoid.

    The strange thing is for the first time I had jokingly asked my client if "there was anyone on the property who liked to shoot AK-49's". We both had a chuckle. Only time my drone or I have been at the delivery end of a gun. Otherwise, I have only had people interested in what I was doing, all except that one guy, also on a large property, who called the police because I was flying and shooting his neighbor's property who had requested drone photography. The cop had no idea what constituted trespassing when dealing with drones. We had a good conversation and at least the cop and I went away satisfied. I now deliver notices to neighbors in advance of shooting properties.

    Otherwise, I have had a very uneventful career in shooting properties. And I agree with Casey above that I shoot "as is" only lining up bar stools and table chairs and perhaps putting dish soap and sponges under the sink. And if a house is not ready to be shot, I always call my client and explain the situation. I have had a couple of those recently. Generally my client wants to get the property up on MLS yesterday, usually under pressure from the seller, and tells me to do my best and that we can reshoot those problem shots later. Happened twice recently. What does cause problems is when the cleaners are there when I arrive, landscaping going on with workers, trucks and mulch all over the paths and driveways, stagers putting on the finishing touches, windows covered in water spots from the outside power washing and so on. But again, some of my clients just say " try to work around them, I have to get this listed Friday." Frustrating and the final results are not of the quality I am trying to brand myself as delivering. Still none of my clients have complained, been complimentary actually given the circumstances, and generally hiring me again to reshoot some of the shots. Easier to do with stills than with a video that has to be re-edited.

  9. I have only had 2 cats that didn't like me and one home owner that fired me in a shoot, said she didn't like my attitude, well I didn't like hers.

    This reminds me of one of the first questions I answered years ago on Linkedin.

    'What do you carry in your camera bag?' I answered 'A Glock'

  10. Nothing has ever 'happened', but I do get people calling the cops ALL the time... Last spring in 5 days I had the cops called 4 times! I've been in one police blotter four different times!

    For me it comes from nosey neighbors asking what I'm doing. The issue arises because I won't tell them WHY I'm taking photos of a house that is not theirs..... and I don't do that because it is not MY responsibility to inform the neighbors that someone is selling their home. Many sellers want to notify neighbors on THEIR terms, not mine. I have shot exteriors (only() for probably 30 homes in the past 6 weeks in preparation for a winter or very early spring listing.... They are maybe five months away from listing.....

    Of course, my license plate # is VIDEO, my company name is on my license plate frame, and also on the back of my shirt, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why I'm there with a big camera and a big tripod, but people seem to think they need to know WHY I'm shooting a house, and they get mad when I will not tell them. (although about a month ago I told someone I was shooting a crime scene.... Seriously... MYOB!)

    And using a drone pisses off an entire new group of people..... I actually had a guy physically push me for flying a drone across the street from his house.... demanding that I leave 'his' neighborhood. He physically picked up my drone when I landed (and I was photographing HIM!).... and I grabbed the other leg. Fortunately it did NOT become a wishbone. He threatened to call the police.... as did his crazier wife who let loose with a string of expletives that I could not imagine could come out of this tiny nutbag of a woman.... I ENCOURAGED him and ASKED him to call the police, and told him I WOULD call them if he didn't.... it got quite ugly. Then he enlisted his neighbor to help his cause.....

    People are really nuts right now. You need to be careful. Know your rights, but be careful. Nosey, crazy, unhinged people are on the loose in this country.....

  11. @Desmond

    Listing agent = Immobilienmakler
    Maklerbüro = Real Estate Agency

    Listing agent gives you the keys to an empty apartment but forgets to mention that there is an alarm....

  12. @Frank, you need to find another line of work or carry a big stick and a can of bug spray.

    I've had an alarm go off on me. I went outside and called the broker (vacant house) to get the alarm code. Alarm? What alarm? They managed to reach the owners who had moved out the day before. Two things: I didn't want to stay in the house since the alarm was really loud and if the cops showed up, I didn't want them trying to find me with the front of their gun. I didn't want to just leave and have a neighbor write down my license plate number and have police knocking on my door at home. It would be much easier to wait at the property, sort everything out and not have my name on a public record associated with investigation of B&E.

    I have a little S hook for raising chandeliers. They seem to be adjusted to just around eyebrow height on me and I never learn the first time (or the second, third.....)

    So far, it's been pretty uneventful for me, but I do try to be proactive. I never let myself into occupied homes. I've either confirmed with the owner the day before and they let me in or I'm meeting the agent at the property and I'll wait for them and go up to the home with them. Squatters are a concern in my area. I do a walk through of homes before I pull out my gear or even bring it in. I don't want to bring all of my gear in and then find somebody. If I see evidence of a squatter, I go out and call the broker/agent to make sure that the home should be vacant. Every once in a while an owner will let a handyman camp out while they are doing repairs. If I'm confronted, I'll get away and call the police. I'm not super concerned with most dogs hurting me, but that I might have to hurt them. That won't go over well even if the little monster is known to not like strangers. Asking if all pets have been confined is one of my standard first questions. I find that cats either hide under something or photo bomb every shot. I've never had one come after me. Wild animals haven't been an issue, but I should be more careful about rattle snakes and there are bobcats and coyotes in the area too. So far so good.

    People are likely the most dangerous. I've had people come up to see what I am doing and I tell them I'm making photos to help sell the home and they are satisfied. They've probably seen the former occupants moving and/or work crews fixing the place up. The sign installers with most of my customers are super efficient and have a sign properly in my way before the signatures on the listing contract are dry. I'll likely get more negative attention when I add drone images next year.

  13. @Neal, I'm with you on minors being the only ones in the home. I do not allow myself to be alone with a minor in the home. The liability/risk is way too high these days. They should be put in their cage, the garage or stored off-site and supervised by a licensed adult.

  14. So far, not too many issues. I always require the agent, their assistant or home owner to be on a shoot. if there is an empty home they want shot and the give me the code, I am usually very cautious when entering the home. I once had the alarm go off in a hi end home, so I went outside and waited by my car until the police got there. they called the home owner to get it shut off. I didn't know that a home owner gets a fine if their alarm goes off too many times.
    I have tee shirts with my name and logo embroidered on the shirt to give a professional appearance, and I carry some business cards in my pocket. I also print the agents request to shoot the property with me to show anyone who challenges me (none so far) on why I'm there.
    While shooting a night shot of a home on a golf course in Sarasota, I backed up to the lake to get the best angle, and a 7' alligator hissed at me and hit my tripod with his tail as he went back into the water (might have been a female, but I was too busy running and praying to see its gender).
    I've been bitten by red ants (not a lot of fun!!!) and got a tick bite while photographing on the golf course. now, if I know where I am going to be working, I carry high workboats with socks, off spray, Benadryl for the bites, cans of off and jeans in my car to be ready for any shooting situation.
    I try to make the realtor or home owner move anything of a personal nature, or heavy objects, as I tell them my insurance does not allow me to move anything. but I sometimes will rearrange and stage some of the furniture if its light and not where I want it.

    when shooting night shots, I normally request that the agent is there, (usually about 1 hr. earlier than I am planning to shoot, and make them stay until I am ready to leave. This gives me someone to watch my equipment, gives me feedback on the angles I want to shoot , and makes them realize why I have to charge the fee I do when they see how long it takes to setup, shoot and breakdown. most of the places I shoot in the Sarasota area has been safe.

    Oh, there was a time in Tampa, (before drones) I was shooting elevated images of a home in the country, (using my 40' aluminum pneumatic pole) and was almost electrocuted. I was standing on an aluminum ladder and just lowered the pole I was shooting from. As soon as I got into my Van, a bolt of lightning struck a tree about 20-30 feet from me. Tampa is the lightning capital of the united states and lightning can come out of nowhere.

  15. One more thing I forgot. last week, my agent requested that I shoot the country club in the community as an incentive to purchase his listing in the area.
    I didn't want to annoy anyone at he club, in the pool or on the golf course so I parked in the furthest parking lot and decided to do aerial images of a country club from my drone, about 150-200 ft up.

    As soon as the drone lifted about 50 ft, an irate tennis player came storming off the tennis court and started screaming at me to get my freekin drone away from him and off his court. I humbly apologized and told him I was not photographing him, but the house across the street. that was the first time anyone complained about the drone. most of the time, people are interested and excited to see the drone in flight. I even let them hold it and show them what I am doing, to make them feel welcomed.

  16. I tripped a silent alarm while shooting a vacant property and ended up on the floor with 5 guns pointed at me. Cuffed and put in the car until they verified with the owner that I had permission to be on the property. They actually read me my rights and said I was under arrest for “breaking and entering”

    I wasn’t too concerned because I knew the owner would eventually clear me but I’d never had A gun, let alone 5 guns pointed at me before, that part was super unsettling.

  17. These are hilarious... and frightening to read!

    I think I have been lucky over the last 10 yrs as I have had little issues on the job... but of course something will always come up.

    Dogs have not been a problem but was attacked by a (seemingly very friendly cat at first) wouldn't let me down the stairs lunging and swatting at me.. I had to fend it off with my tripod and escaped down the back staircase (thank goodness for back staircases)...

    I was bitten by a Gerbal... all I did was barely quickly tap on its cage and say "hello buddy" as I was crammed into the corner over its cage and the next thing I know its teeth are in my finger! Bled all over the home and got hydro peroxide and bandages from the kids bathroom... required tetnis shots...

    If there's a tick in a 100 mile radius, it will be on me... once shot on a rural property for a portfolio/publication shoot and came home with 20 or so ticks...

    Was chased in my car by an angry southerner with a yipper dog, only to pull over in a church parking lot and be accused of casing the neighborhood. He said he already called the police to which I replied good, I'll wait... but then he wouldn't stay long enough to wait on them... I didn't want him following me home...

    and a couple people yelling at me for parking on the street in front of their house... to which I always reply with "its a public street... do you need to park there?, I can move but would rather keep working..."

    I stopped shooting public pools and amenities if people are present... never been yelled at but don't want to disrupt the owners privacy of using their amenities as with the advent of RE photography... they probably see photographers each week or several times a week in some areas here... So its a separate order and charge and the agent has to be present and preferably gained permission from the HOA and I urge the clients to ask for access before opening or after closing... most agents realize that its not really worth it lol! I always tell them its low on the priority list anyway as that can be found in the listing and not a selling feature usually...

    I did almost fall off a railing in a new home I was shooting for a builder -- It was a second story for a tight living room that was two stories high and I was shooting a tight sharp angled view down so tripod was leaning and adjusted over the rail quite a bit but I had to stabilize it... just happened to feel it give and looked to my left to see it pulling away from the wall... it wasn't even screwed in.. I grabbed my camera and the rail in an instant and called the builder to let him know... he wasn't happy at all... and now I always check railings and steps etc... oh and always try to pay attention to where your stepping as you walk through a house looking for shots.. tripped many times and fell completely on some steps out of a basement, they were concrete and I broke my camera and lens as it hit at the lens mount... thank goodness for a backup... always have a backup...

    Never had squatters or vagrants in a home but I did shoot an empty warehouse (before pics) with some homeless people still inside... but they were luckily non confrontational... scared me though as they came out of nowhere and I had been there a while thinking it was empty...

    Have met some strange homeowners but require that an agent is present when owners are there and so it has always stayed controlled... although I was shooting a rental condo downtown and was waiting on twilight shots off a balcony of downtown when I turned and saw two guys enter and so I went to introduce myself with a smile and they just started cursing at me and going on about not being told about it... they threw me out in the nastiest way... they were actually so rude that I gave it back to them and told them the owner and agent had communicated with them about the job and was told they were not living there anymore...and that they need to review their rental agreement... funny thing is they had to pick the lock to get in... I was like... why don't you have a key? The agent was mystified when I called her from the parking lot... she was told they didn't live there anymore too as was the reason we were shooting photos... so thats the only time in 10 yrs Ive actually been thrown out of a job... lol!

    Being safe entering vacant properties is a MUST! I always lock doors after I enter and take the key or keep it in side with the lock box so no one can enter as Im shooting and take my money or my stuff... lock your car doors and hide your gear if you leave it in car... make sure your bags and purses etc are not in view and I do that no matter what part of town Im in... downtown, uptown... country... doesn't matter... you never know. Taking some self defense classes is a good idea and having something that you could use to defend yourself if you have to shouldn't be overlooked... I had a realtor once who met her sister on a job we were shooting, her sister was a popular house painter in the area and as I was shooting, i heard the agent yell... "OOOH MY GOD!! Garett my sister is PACKING!!!" I was like, what? and went in to see what was going on and her sister had bought a gun and had a carry permit... she was young and attractive and said she was always on job sites with men and was alone working a lot in new builds, she apparently had some situations that prompted her to get one and she said she wears it to keep anyone from even approaching her in an unwanted fashion... I thought she was smart and made me think about the fact that as RE photographers we are subject to situations that warrant extra precaution and thought... Oh and I agree with the above posters about not being in homes when children are present and no parents... I won't be there without the agent and we explicitly also demand that no animals are on the property without being crated or locked in a garage or room we are not shooting... I don't mind them if the owners are there and always ask them to contain them if they are and never had any push backs or problems with it... of course that came about after the cat issue lol!

    Anyway, I love this job but you definitely have to think ahead and prepare for situations... packing mud boots and OFF and have an emergency kit, battery charger with air compressor for flat tires and phone charging type devices in your trunk, duct tape, flashlights, extra pair of pants and shoes is smart as some others have mentioned above...

  18. Here is what I'm surprised about...

    There are no stories here about people getting serious hurt from falls. These patios and stuff...walking around...looking through cameras...stepping back. I've nearly done it a few times so I know that there are plenty of people who took a step back and there was nothing there and took a tumble backwards...and depending on how hard whatever is on the likely could lead to serious injuries. My guess is that common falls is high on the list.

    But the one I expect to hear people getting killed about is drones. Namely walking across streets looking at screens and getting run over by a car. I think it's only a matter of time before that starts to become THE leading cause of on-the-job death in this profession.

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