I keep getting great questions and post these so everyone can get the benefit of the answers and others can add their thoughts and experiences.
Jason’s Question: I'm thinking of joining the local Association of Realtors as an affiliate to gain access to the Surpa system so I can just enter the homes I photograph without anyone being present. It is not cheap to join in my marketplace (in my opinion). Has becoming an affiliate been beneficial to others who are real estate photographers or am I looking at increasing my exposure in the wrong light?
Answer: Yes, if your MLS allows it having an MLS Key is a big deal and it will probably pay for itself in added business. It saves your clients a lot of time since they don't have to come let you in and then sit around and wait for you to shoot. In many locations the only way you can get a MLS key is become an agent. Some RE photographers become agents just for this reason although being an agent is way more expensive than just getting an MLS key.
When I was an agent in the Seattle area photographers could not get an NWMLS key, only agents and appraisers could get one. And there was an NWMLS rule that if an agent was caught leaving a "contractor" (a photographer is a contractor hired by the listing agent) unescorted in a listing there was a $5,000 fine. Yet as recent as a few years ago Seattle area photographers have told me that as many as 50% of agents let photographers shoot by unescorted.
If you get your own MLS key and shoot listings unescorted I would pay special attention to your liability insurance. The opportunities for being accused of damage increases and the agent/broker's liability insurance won't cover you as it may if you are escorted by an agent.
Priscilla’s Question: I'm a fan of your work. Currently, I'm an amateur real estate photography on with a tour company. I'm looking for more opportunities in positions focused specifically on editing for real estate photography. Do you have any ideas?
Answer: I always recommend to beginning real estate photographers to be in business for yourself, the big tour companies are notorious for not paying a living wage! You are in general going to be better off if you run your own business as an independent real estate photographer or image editor. Peggy Taylor, in Tampa whom I've written about several times, is a great example. Peggy started out working for a large tour company in 2009. They paid her a ridiculously low amount for a shoot. She built her own business and now has her sister working with her and one other person and charges $200 per shoot and has a thriving business. It may take some hard work to begin with, but Peggy's experience shows that it can be done.
Scott’s Question: Thinking about pricing again. Does it make sense to calculate the price based on the asking price of the home? For example, if the home is going for 400K rather than 100K, won't the photographer end up doing more work, and shouldn't they get paid more? Tipping at restaurants is 15 to 20%. Wouldn't that be nice. But seriously, I'd like to hear a discussion about the percentages all the players make, and think about cutting the photographer in, even for a small percent.
Answer: Yes, some photographers do charge based on the listing price but having been in this business on both sides of the fence (listing agent and photographer) it makes more sense to me to have a shoot price based on square footage rather than list price. It's because the property is bigger and has more rooms that it takes more time to shoot; not because it has a higher list price. I think RE photographers should present themselves a contractors not sales people. I have a hard time putting my finger on it but to me it just feels out of line to charge as a percentage of list price.
A great place to get a lot diverse points of view on all the dimensions of pricing is to read through some of the PFRE flickr group discussions on pricing over the last few years.