"I always provide a pre-shoot checklist to my agents, but I've noticed more and more lately that they don't seem to enforce them with their clients. This is extremely frustrating to me as I feel that by providing a checklist ahead of time, I am setting myself up to be responsible for its execution, regardless of whether or not the sellers hold up their end of the bargain. Part of me feels like if the seller isn't willing to put in the effort to make sure their home is shoot ready, then why should I? I get paid to create professional photos, not to clean or stage a home. Am I out of line to feel this way? What's the best way to handle this situation?"Sarah, Salt Lake City
Thanks for writing in Sarah,
First of all, you are not out of line to feel this way. Most real estate photographers rely on volume to be successful, so we need to use our time efficiently. It's perfectly understandable to be frustrated by the situation, and you're right, you're a photographer, not a cleaner or stager. It all comes down to managing expectations and communication.
I've always offered a pre-shoot checklist to my clients, but earlier in my career, I would just hand it over and expect everything to be done properly. When I would arrive at the property and things weren't in order, I would bite my tongue and tidy up to make sure the images that had my name attached to them were well represented. Over time, I noticed agents taking advantage of this and it became increasingly frustrating. I started to become resentful and it showed in my work. This all changed on one memorable day.
I was shooting a high-end home for a significant client and noticed an open bedside drawer and a laundry basket on the floor in the master bedroom, so I pushed the drawer closed and moved the laundry basket into the closet. I later got a call from the agent saying that the seller was accusing me of "snooping". For obvious reasons, I was mortified and furious. So, on that day I decided that there was no longer going to be a grey area, I would make sure my agent and their clients were crystal clear on what condition the home should be in on the day of the shoot and that I wouldn't be touching anything. It took a while before this was the accepted standard but over time, it has cut down my time on location, increased my hourly rate, and improved relationships with my clients.
This was an extreme case, but looking back, it was a blessing in disguise. Had it not been for this situation, I may have never had the confidence to enforce the pre-shoot checklist to the extent that I have and as a result, would have wasted hundreds of hours of time and energy on the wrong things over the years.
I'm not necessarily saying you should take an all or nothing stance like I did. Still, I can say with confidence that regardless of what type of market you're in, it will benefit you to make an effort to establish very clear expectations with your clients. Make sure they know that for you to keep rates reasonable and provide the best possible service, you need to be able to show up and focus on your expertise; not to clean or stage or whatever else could get in the way of creating great images that are going to help them get top dollar for their listing. In the long run, this will benefit you and your clients whether they realize it or not.