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Real Estate Photography During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Published: 14/03/2020

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I have the good fortune of overseeing PFRE and offering articles aimed at improving one’s photography/photography business--all with the goal of improving peoples’ results and elevating the industry as a whole.

However, I’m writing this article from a couple of different perspectives:

  1. To let you know that I’m thinking of you and the entire community and that I’m sending out good wishes to everyone in the hope that you’re healthy and taking care of yourself; and
  2. To ask you, directly, to write-in and share your own stories and ideas about how to navigate this crisis so that we can leverage our collective experiences to help one another.

Thinking of You!

The very nature of our work--of going into a stranger’s home to take pictures, not knowing what we’re walking into--puts us at risk of coming into contact with the virus. I know that there are those in our community working in countries that are either already on lock-down (i.e., our friends in Italy) or are about to go into lock-down (i.e., Spain and France). To these colleagues, I’m am hoping that the situation in your part of the world improves quickly so that you can all get back to work.

Sharing Your Ideas

For a vast majority of shooters in our field, as self-employed entrepreneurs, our photography is our sole source of income and we rely on photoshoots to pay the mortgage/rent and feed our families. As such, some may not be financially able to take time off until the crisis has passed. So, for those of us who are out in the field every day, I’m urging you to post your ideas and practices on how you’re working through this. It’s my genuine hope that we can help each other by sharing information, so please feel free to note your thoughts in the comments section below. If you’d prefer, please contact me directly by clicking here. I will gather comments that will form the core of future updates/posts.

Some of My Initial Thoughts

It’s my sense that it’s best to take precautions immediately. One of the first ideas that come to mind when trying to avoid this virus was to wear a mask at a shoot but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has made it very clear that this is NOT necessary for the general public at this time. That being said, it wouldn't hurt to err on the side of caution as long as it doesn't mean taking masks away from those on the front line who may be in an area with limited supply.

Another option to consider, for those of us who do video and/or use 3D camera technology, is to do extra promotion of those services, so that our agent clients might choose to avoid doing open houses, which will reduce the risk of exposure for people in their marketplace. What do you think of these ideas? Do you have others that you’ve implemented?

From a customer service perspective, I’d imagine that the first thing we should be doing is trying to have a chat with our customers--especially those agent clients who use our services most frequently. One of the fundamental principles of effective relationship management is preempting a concern before it sees the light of day and the best way to do this is to manage client expectations. I also think it’s important to note that the expectations should go the other way, too. We should be highlighting to agents that beyond having the home prepared and tidied for our shoot, we expect them to remind the homeowners to be more diligent in their cleaning. It might also be worth requesting that the homes be vacant for the duration of your shoot.

For those of you who are already under quarantine, I would encourage you to spend your time catching up on some reading related to our craft, listen to podcasts, watch those tutorials that have been sitting on your hard drive, and take care of as much of the administrative work that has piled up while you've been busy in the field over the past few months.

Current Resources

Currently, the Center for Disease Control has posted a great deal of information. I would encourage you to find out more on how to protect yourself from the virus.

Beyond the physical aspects of this pandemic, I would urge you to also consider the emotional and psychological aspects of getting through this difficult time. I recently saw a video on CNN in which a mental health professional shared what I thought was very useful information on maintaining emotional and mental well-being. You'll find it in the video between 6:10 and 19:50. Specifically, it gave some excellent suggestions for: managing one’s stress and anxiety; coping with feelings of isolation; and how to speak to our children about the urgency of this situation, without scaring them.

In Closing

Once again, let me say that I am thinking of you all and I’m sending out hopeful energy that we get through this pandemic, both fully and quickly. Please take a moment to add a comment or suggestion and please keep your questions coming.

We will be leaving this post up for a few days in the hopes that it will reach as many people as possible, so they can offer their input and advice to the community.

Take care, everyone!

Brandon Cooper

17 comments on “Real Estate Photography During the Coronavirus Outbreak”

  1. First and foremost, I insist on being in the house alone... no homeowners, no kids. I wash my hands when I arrive and wash before I leave, then use hand sanitizer in the car. I tell agents to have all doors open and that I can not 'move anything' (ie kids toys, kitchen counter items, etc) and it needs to all be in place when I arrive. So... I am taking care of ME.

    On the other side of the coin, I am suggesting to clients that they use a walkthrough video. Why?

    Open house attendance is down, and may go away. Sellers do NOT want dozens of strangers (and maybe their kids) touching every surface of the house. Since it's an open house, buyers are not necessarily directly supervised. Yet the market is still strong, and sellers still want to take advantage of it if they can.

    A walkthrough video tour is now the FIRST showing. Interested (or just nosey) buyers can view the entire property ONLINE, from the comfort of home (or their quarantine)! If someone is truly interested in the property, they can set up an appointment for a personal, one on one showing with an agent. A seller is more comfortable with that scenario as they are supervised and in a more controlled environment, and can be instructed on what to touch and what not to touch. Sellers are THRILLED, buyers get to see what they want, and agents can spend their Saturdays and Sundays doing something else besides trying to hunt down wipes and Clorox and gloves at the store for their open houses. Do you really want the foyer of your open house to look like a hospital emergency room?

    As a result, my business is through the roof! I have several agents who have me do videos on some of their properties... and now they have me out shooting all the rest! They are marketing their 'virtual open houses' not only to their sellers, but also to buyers, which makes the agents look smart. It's March, typically a slower season for me, and I'm booked out for almost two weeks solid. Today I shot 5 homes, which is usually a day off for me.

    Be smart with your own health obviously, but a little creative marketing and repositioning of your business can go along way.

  2. Ditto to all the suggestions Brandon has made and to add a couple here that might help...

    My better half has pancreatic cancer and our doctor sat down with us a couple of weeks ago to discuss what she thought was the best way to handle this if I was to continue shooting. She advised that there be no one in attendance inside while I captured images. Ask anyone there to please wait outside and that I was to keep to a minimum touching anything in the homes, even putting on gloves and booties. After each shoot she advised that I wipe down my tripod and any other gear that might come into contact with the home and I should have a disposal bag to throw the gloves and booties in to dispose of later (burning if possible). Note that there is a method of taking off your protective gear and disposing of it without contaminating yourself while in the process.

    We are fortunate to have a couple of homes, so we have decided to live apart for awhile while we see how things pan out.

    Bottom line, it is hard to break good habits, like shaking hands and hugs...but this is the time we are at.

  3. Thank you for addressing this. It is a scary time. We have implemented a plan but this could change if things get worse in our area. Below is what we are sending to each REALTOR, along with a flyer that they can pass along to their seller:

    Important Notice From The Shows Great Photography Team:

    Protecting you and your homeowners and the safety and well-being of our team members is our first priority as we navigate through these unsettling times. As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) begins to have a greater impact on the communities we serve, we have taken additional actions to ensure that we continue to serve your home sellers. These enhanced safety measures include:
    ?Prior to arriving at occupied homes, a team member will call to confirm your appointment as we normally would. We will ask if anyone in the home has been ill with viral symptoms. If so, we will only take exterior photos or will reschedule when it is safe to do so. We will not enter the home.
    ?When photographing indoors, we will take the following safety precautions. We will try not to touch anything in the home, so please have all lights and lamps turned on. We will wipe down anything we might have to touch with a Clorox or disinfectant wipe. Have any closet door that needs to be photographed opened. Please make sure toilet lids are closed and towels are folded neatly or removed altogether. We will not be moving anything. Please make sure blinds are open.
    ?We follow social distancing guidelines, so it is best if the homeowner is not at home when we photograph. If they must be there, it is best if they sit in their car while we photograph. When we are photographing it is not the time to meet with the seller to have the listing signed.
    ?You can also be assured that our team members will be vigilant with already-existing health precautions such as regular hand washing and cleaning our equipment after every home visit. In addition, our team members know that we are committed to taking care of their needs, and they have been advised to stay home if they feel ill. Each team member will be taking their temperature each morning, and if it is above 100.00 they will be asked to stay home.
    Our team here at Shows Great is closely following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other local and federal health officials. We are also following the good practice guidelines recommended by the NAR for showing homes during this time. We are committed to being responsive to the needs of our customers and employees as this situation evolves. If this virus continues to spread, we may have to limit our appointments to exteriors only. If this does change, you will be notified as soon as that decision is made.
    Thank you for being a valued Shows Great customer. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with you and your clients.

  4. Brandon, I'm so glad you decided to move forward with this discussion. I feel we can all benefit from our individual experiences, power in numbers.
    Recently, I have added a popup lightbox on my website, explaining my policy, "No one at the home during the shoot". I am communicating this message loud and clear with clients. Overall, positive feedback. There are a few clients who are in denial and are laughing it off but they are on board with my policy.

    This past Friday I had some blowback from a homeowner refusing to leave the home. I was just about to walk, then he finally decided to sit in his car. This is serious business and I won't put my family or the rest of our community in harm's way. Nope.

    Regarding my day to day, I currently enter the home with disposable booties and gloves. No mask as of yet, they are sold out everywhere. However, I just purchased a spray bottle that shoots a continual fine mist and I'm researching a product I can spray that won't leave a residue and is non toxic. Maybe overkill?Suggestions would be appreciated.

    When finished, I dispose of used gloves and booties in a plastic bag in my trunk. When I return home I burn my clothes and camera...JK. I Clorox wipe the hell out of my equipment. I wash my hands and face thoroughly, sometimes a shower.

  5. So, I have never insisted that the home be vacant while I shoot, but I may request some of these things (owner/agent sitting in car during shoot). I have implemented a glove policy for my own protection and for client's protection. It appears that many don't open blinds or turn on lights, but in my market, that comes with the territory. I'll be touching the normal things I have in the past. I have disinfecting wipes for my camera and am now using the live view to shoot instead of looking through the viewfinder to avoid bringing the camera up to my face.
    I've also considered using a technique that a local hospital requires when I'll be shooting in a sensitive area - sanitizing my camera and then applying cling wrap to it. That way when I'm complete, the cling wrap and gloves can be thrown away.
    After I get to my car, I sanitize my camera, apply new cling wrap and go to my next appointment.
    I've also begun asking the agent about illnesses in the home in the past two weeks.

    I had not thought about pushing my Matterport as a way for the home to show without strangers, so I might add that to my marketing strategy.

    I would be wary of applying any sanitizing / cleaning agent on any client's property in case it has an adverse effect.

  6. Received the following email from one of my clients re an appointment at one of the dozens of large buildings they own:

    "We are holding off on all 'non-essential' visits to our properties. I will reach out to you after this thing dies down a bit."

  7. Hello everybody, I'm based in Rome, Italy. The situation here in very very critical. It's strictly forbidden for everyone to leave its own apartment, unless for indispensable reasons. Me, as a RE photograper, I'm totally stopped from working; all RE agencies are closed, too. All I can do is to wait and, as you suggested, I can study and update my skills. I want to take advantage from this disaster putting myself ahead from the competition when all this will be back at our shoulders. Please, start to protect yourselves since NOW, don't wait the Government to tell you. Elders are the most vulnerable. If you protect yourselves you can protect your fathers and mothers. Good luck and thank you for your tireless efforts to communicate our world.

  8. @FredLight - you are spot on with video walkthroughs. I have sent out an email to every marketing manager of every real estate company in my territory to ask them to let me do a webinar to their agents as a group on "Now more than ever" video walkthroughs. I plan to offer tour packaging at no additional charge using my RTV and Tour Buzz credits from a couple of years ago as well. I have also sent an email out to every real estate agent that goes to a landing page promoting walk through videos and a coupon for 10 free still images and a free tour package.

    Also, this is the best time to start redoing your contracts, redoing insurance, redoing all of the legal disclaimers, disclosures and privacy policies on all of your internet assets. I use the following link (my affiliate) for all of my legal templates for my website, social media, email and landing pages. Anyone who purchases from this site within the next 30 days - I will donate my complete affiliate commission to one of several local charities for homeless, victims of abuse or food shelters.

  9. @Fred Light is a marketing genius. I've been holding off on video as I need to hone my chops before taking money for it, but simple walk-through, no-frills videos sounds like a good way to wedge my foot in the door for stills.

  10. It sounds like everyone it putting in place pretty much the same policies with regards to shooting. I really only have a few additions:

    1) I have attached our policy to the confirmation emails we send to the agents. That way they know we are taking steps to prevent the spread.
    2) I have opened the option of shooting outside photos now and inside photos later.
    3) I have slashed all nonessential expenses. I strong suspect there will be a period of both weak business and a period where we will have to stop shooting. So I am building my cash surplus in preparation.

  11. Sent to about 400 agents via email:

    I want to give you some assurances that you can pass along to your sellers.

    I am as concerned about the recent health challenges as everyone. Believe me, the safety of you and your clients is my #1 priority.

    So, beginning Monday, I will institute the following procedures for at least the next 90 days.

    1. I have over 1000 pair of disposable gloves, and will wear these gloves on every photo assignment, keeping them on at all times while in your clients property. I will use hand sanitizer (yes, we have some, thanks to Victoria) between shoots. I am wiping down my gear with sanitizing wipes regularly.

    2. I will avoid as much contact as possible with people during the day. Lunches will be obtained through drive-thru windows or brought from home, and eaten in the car. When getting gas, I won't go inside for snacks. I won't take side trips to the grocery store or the bank between appointments.

    Please share these assurances with your clients. In addition, you might suggest to your clients to not be home during the photography if possible. I know that it is not always possible, but if it is possible, it might be prudent for them to drive out for a coffee while I photograph the home.

    Victoria and I care about every single one of you, and we want to do everything we can to be safe. We don't think this is overkill, just sensible steps to help minimize the spread of this virus.

    Randy and Victoria

  12. FYI - Cannon will only recommend using alcohol for the body, they don't recommend any other cleaner. They also state that the alcohol will degrade the rubber grip and flaps over time. So it sounds like using cling wrap is the best option.

  13. My market in Saskatoon, Canada after March 12th took a huge dive. Fear and uncertainty is in the air. Owners don't want people in the homes looking at their houses, nobody wants to view houses, show homes are closed and the market is dead. I went from shooting 5 houses a day with a waiting list to a huge number of cancellations and no bookings. I'm dead in the water! Is this a sign for all?

    Restaurants & bars are closed, school is done, people working from home, theatres closed and people are paranoid! I had to sign some papers at the bank and they have painters tape with X's as to where to stand to be within the acceptable social distancing recommendations. It's gone mad.

    Please share your stories.

  14. @Scott, reach out to the owners of those bars and restaurants to see if they want to make some photos while they are closed. I generally advise against working for free, but there may some room here to offer extended terms or some payment in kind. Think of the food in the restaurant fridges that isn't going to age well. Before it spoils and is thrown out, maybe it's not a bad idea to do some bartering. The owner may be thinking that they'll be writing a bunch of it off on their taxes anyway. Liquor laws can be very restrictive, so you may not be able to deal for a few bottles, but you might be able to gain some gift certificates.

    The same advice goes for resort accommodations. If there are some ski areas near you, chances are that the vacation rental market is blown to the underworld. It's usually tough to make in season images of those places. Now would be a good chance while they are vacant.

    If it looks like you are going to be sat around the house doing nothing, it may not be a bad idea to ask for gas money up front and profits down the road when things get back to normal.

    I'm currently learning my new gimbal that came in today so I can start offering walk thru videos that agents can use them in lieu of open houses and showings. Since it's a new service, I'll keep it simple and discount the price a whole lot. I'll be getting some money in the door and maybe getting a bunch of practice. I will show the full price on the invoice. I could also gain some new clients too.

  15. My husband taught radiation protection at a US national lab, so he suggested my protocol
    1. I’m the only one in the house
    2. At my car, I put the camera on the tripod
    3. I put a plastic sleeve over the camera. I use the cheapest gallon size baggie. It’s the thinnest and most flexible. I cut the bottom off and slide it over the camera and use a rubber band on the lens to secure it.
    4. I put on latex gloves
    5. Go in and shoot
    6. After shoot wipe down the tripod
    7. Take off plastic bag
    8. Take off gloves
    9. Dispose gloves, bag, rubber band in separate bag
    10. Put camera away

    If anyone else has any thoughts I’d love to know. Kind of awful living in a sci fi movie. Be safe

  16. Great advices for the strange times we are living. Hopefully with all the vaccines that are in use now, and the ones that are about to be approved, we will soon be able to come back to the usual way of doing business and our usual lives as well. Cheers and stay safe!

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