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Should I Offer Real Estate Video?

Published: 14/08/2019
By: Brandon

Cam in Ohio writes:

"I know this question has been asked many times before, but I'm asking for a different reason. I've been doing real estate photography for a few years now and have built up a great reputation for quality and customer service. In recent months, more and more clients have been asking if I will do video for them and as much as I want to satisfy their needs and generate new business, I'm hesitant to make the commitment. I basically have two major concerns:

1) If I say no, I'm worried I'll lose these clients to someone who is a one-stop-shop.
2) If I say yes, and my video quality doesn't stand up to the quality of my photography, I'm worried that I'll damage my reputation.

Any advice would be appreciated!"

Cam, this is a tough situation; one that I've lived through myself and no doubt, many others in the PFRE community have as well.

I'm a high volume shooter and have built my business on service and value. When my clients started asking about video, we had many discussions about budgets and expectations and it was clear that their budgets were not in line with their expectations. Like you, I didn't want to risk having my videography reflecting poorly on my photography, so I didn't want to offer video unless I thought I could maintain high standards. I decided to set my video prices high, right out of the gate, so that I would have the necessary resources to pay for the gear that I wanted and the education that I needed. This way, if the client was willing to pay the higher price, I could commit to the project and do a great job without worrying about the time constraints. This approach has had a few positive outcomes:

  1. I was able to minimize the financial risk of acquiring the gear that I thought would help me get the shots that I wanted.
  2. I shoot fewer videos for more money; and
  3. I shoot only the nicer homes because the agents don't want to spend money on their lower-end listings.

This may not be the right approach for everyone but it worked well for me. The experience I've gained from shooting higher-end homes spawned opportunities to shoot promotional videos for local businesses which have generated substantial revenue and in fact, these videos are quickly becoming a major part of my business.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, this is a common situation in the world of real estate photography, so I would love to hear how others in the community have approached it.

15 comments on “Should I Offer Real Estate Video?”

  1. Couple of ways with dealing with this. One, you could outsource and have a trailer follow you (big pain in the ass), you could offer a simple Zillow Walk Thru" type of video or you could just refer them to someone who has the vested interest in doing this type of thing.

    Many years ago, this issue came up and since then nothing has changed. Video has not broken into the main stream. So if you want to invest a lot of money, time and frustration into this type of marketing....Good luck! I can not tell you how many wanna bee's have come an gone. The numbers are just not there.

    Bottom line, if you want to offer this service (you are nuts) just be sure that the video videophotog is reliable and easy to work with. Expect your clients to want all kinds of changes to the video they get it. Not uncommon to have three or four revisions before they are satisfied. Just not worth it.

  2. You are just throwing away business and clients if you do not get into video.

    All you need is a gimbal. Maybe use your camera with one, or get a small mirrorless, or use it with a good phone. And get a drone and certified. That is it, you are doing video. I really do not think it should be too laborious of a decision. Investment to get in is minimal, free top notch software in Davinci Resolve, and gimbals are extremely user friendly, ad is the footage from drones.

  3. I've had the opposite problem in that I'm actually pretty decent with cinematic property video, but have had a difficult time selling them to clients. I have even had month long "specials" where I would throw in a 60sec video, complete with music, drone shots, gimbal and slider shots etc for free when a client ordered a set of stills and twilights, hoping they would see the quality of the video and start ordering them as well. Well, I did several free videos that month and impressed every agent, but nada. Zip since then.

    I think the problem is two fold.

    Firstly, getting into real estate photography while I was a real estate agent gives me a perspective on the budget agents have for marketing. The lay public just knows that they give up ~5%-6% to sell their home, and so believe the agent is walking away with tens of thousands of dollars. However, agents' brokers first split the commission between the two sides of the deal, then each agent pays a cut to his broker (typically between 20%-50%), a cut goes to each of the transaction coordinators, and typically also a franchise fee with the big firms. In addition, many agencies take a cut for the agent's errors and omissions insurance premium, and some also for signage and print marketing. Also lets not forget about taxes. Here in California real estate agents are independent contractors under the supervision of a broker. There are no withholdings, so most agents (if they're smart) will ferret another large chunk of the commission away to pay the man come April 15th. What's left is definitely a livable wage, especially in high value markets, but....

    Secondly, I don't think many agents know how to use property video to market. Lets face it, this technology is still pretty new, and most successful agents are not. The agents doing the biggest volume (and have the biggest marketing budgets) are often also the ones who struggle with the social media thing. Not always, but often...usually even. Good luck getting them to lay out hundreds of dollars for something they don't understand how to use.

    I could be wrong, and would love tips on how to sell these videos.

  4. Timely conversation! I feel like I need to do video for the ones who ask for it, but the post processing seems daunting to incorporate into everything else I do. I don't want to do it half-ass, and I see so much video that just isn't great. But then budgets are $ and they want $$$ video.... ugh.

    I'm open to small snippets on my gimbal-iphone setup. The agents really only want it for social media here.... it's not like they are putting out TV commercials. Small scale... we are selling $1.5M-$5M homes.... not $60M homes... no production companies are needed - just middle-of-the-road marketing to appease sellers and get exposure for the property.

  5. Sounds like exactly what I went through. Then I was forced to make the move for the same reasons you mentioned. Then I made a few very bad videos for a very good client and charged way too much for them. I had no idea what I was doing. I look at them today and I am dumbfounded in the difference between that and my current production standards.

    Then I became Zillow photographer just so I could do video with a phone on a gimbal and not worry about editing. That is when the learning began. The best thing about it was I could blame everything I did wrong during my learning period on Zillow and their restrictions.

    Here is the line I gave the agents at the time, and I still use it today "Look, these videos and their production are controlled by Zillow. THEY ARE NOT CINEMATIC MASTERPIECES. You must use their App. There is no editing allowed. There is no music and no audio allowed. They are limited to 2 minutes They must be shot all at once or in a sequence of serially take clips. Anything that you don't like, except the 3 sec clip you just took, forces you to start again from the beginning. They can't be saved to show on social media." Then I go into but... "They are cheap, never the less Zillow uses them to give listings with video a higher search position and placement on their site. Zillow is very important in the industry. That is where 90% of buyers first look for homes." Your investment is a $200 phone gimbal (think DJI or Zhiyun) plus a good $150 WA lens for the phone (look at Moment lenses). Right now Zillow App only runs on iPhone, it use to run on Android but they stopped that.

    Now for what I charged, you will laugh, $35 which I now have moved to $50. Again people will laugh. It takes all of 15 minutes tops while you are already on site and there is no post processing involved. You do the math. You have no expense and you are making $140 an hour while you learn how to handle a gimbal, and what high contrast lighting will do, and how to time shots and what is an effective sequence. I would tell them "Come on now, would you pay $35 or $50 to get the top position for Zillow searches for your properties?" They understood that. Now the value is in the Zillow search positioning, not the cinematography aspect. They have a talking point for their clients "I'll get you to the top tier search positions on Zillow"

    Now Zillow has changed their policy and they will allow Zillow photographers to use any equipment and edit the video and even add sound. Now I have a step ahead of those "good videographers" that are not Zillow photographers. Even the agent can't put up and edited video only me. At this point I start learning how to edit and my Zillow "walk through videos move up to the $50 price. But I still take only 15 minutes on site and 15-20 minute in editing with premier pro. You could even use Premier elements to learn. So now I make $100 and hour doing these without reviews and input from the client. I still use the same line "These are not cinematic productions..." They however grew to look real good after I learned about and experimented with sLog video profiles etc and learned even more techniques both on site and in the editing room.

    So at this point I move to higher pricing level but I know what I am doing and have perfected a tailored workflow for on site and fast post production. So I now have a range of "video offerings" that run from $50 Zillow to Branded experiential video that start at $600. I charge for editing input from the client if they want that. I don't leave money on the table and there isn't another videographer in my area that can match the quality for the price. Half of my shoots now include some kind of video and all of my video efforts produce $75-100 an hour for my total video on site and post production time. There is no travel time involved and no additional marketing costs.

    I'm still not real good at this and I'm learning all the time but I'm not embarrassed either and I don't risk leaving money on the table. Video increased my revenue by over 25% almost overnight by using those lines and managing the client's expectations and focusing on learning as I go. It might be different for someone else but this worked for me. Keep in mind there is no easy path. You can't just say "I'm going to learn video and start shooting production quality video for $60 million dollar homes and charge a lot of money for it and get rich."

    Now I don't expect the "video perfectionists" to agree with me. I'm just sharing the path I took to "learn as you go" and not leave money on the table. My "get serious" learning curve was about 2 years. I can now pull in about an extra $30k or so with those video offerings and a few related marketing offerings that use those videos. All of those things are to me, high margin low expense offerings. These can be achieved with focus and a plan and willingness to put in the time. You can't learn without time behind the camera and at the editing desk. If you aren't wiling to produce some crap and experience frustration to start with, you can't get paid for that learning time and in the end there is no way you can sell high end video without demonstrating you have the skill. This way you can get paid to learn. Anyone wanting to do video has a lot to learn. It's nothing like still photography.

  6. After reading a few of the responses I have some more to add to the specific questions raised.

    First Brian Roberts: you asked "I could be wrong, and would love tips on how to sell these videos."
    I have an offering I call "Facebook Postcards" Since I built and manage my own site I have the infrastructure to do this. That's not a requirement though. There are other ways to accomplish this. The concept of a "Facebook Postcard" is simply that you find the quickest way for you to create a FB ad using that video and then boost that post which points to that listing detail etc. Agents understand "post cards" and how much those cost and the ROE of those postcards. This is 20x better at minimum ROE. So you have to learn at minimum about FB business pages. That's easy. Then you tell them why this is an effective marketing tool and it's cheap! Here is an agent education video I produced to help sell that "facebook postcard" concept.

    Now copying this exact process might not work for you but using the concept I laid out and the statistics I measured should help the client to understand how to use the video in a promotion on social media and the results they can expect.

    Dana Thompson: Just do it. Become a Zillow photographer then be a Zillow videographer. No need for "post processing" low cost entry and perfect for priming your clients to higher end as you learn the skills of handling a gimbal and doing "walk throughs" they are the basic building block and not much is expected of them.

    Jerry Miller: You already know I am nuts Jerry... making it clear that revisions are beyond the typical fixed price video offering and you are willing to do them. The cost is $xx per hour, in one hour increments, including all time spent on the phone, in email, in revisions and reviews. This even works with subcontractors. Get their price, add you time in per hour handling it and then mark up their price. I don't use sub for it but I make it clear these are fixed price but if you want a "client directed video or photography shoot" it is done at $80 per man hour including all travel both ways for myself and any additional crew, all on site and of site post production, all communication time with anyone involved and all expenses. Very few revisions are required.

    Andrew Pece: I think you are right on but I don't want to get into drones, I sub that out. Drones are very dependent on the specific market. In my market they are not required very much. If they are I have a reliable sub.

    Peace to all...

  7. I came to this industry THROUGH video... I started doing video back in 2005, getting into RE photography a couple of years later. (and if you think it's difficult selling video NOW, try selling it when nobody had a smartphone, YouTube and social media did not exist, dialup was the norm, and most RE offices had ONE computer for the entire office. There was also no standard for video back then (QuickTime, Flash, WIndows Media Video, etc., so you had to encode in multiple formats.) I was shooting on DV TAPE... which was then ingested into my computer in REAL TIME. Not to mention the video was the size of a postage stamp and you had to wait forever for it to buffer.... So, it's LOT easier to shoot, edit and sell video today, no matter what people say!

    But it's all about workflow. Video is VERY time consuming to edit and requires far more time and computer resources than photographs. And as we all know, agents typically don't want to pay a lot for marketing properties.

    But I have had a great deal of success (my YouTube channel is coming up on 10M views with 20,000 subscribers), and I shoot several videos a day. Every day. With literally no marketing whatsoever.

    Why? Pricing is fair... not cheap, but fair. Turnaround is FAST. Next day always, oftentimes same day. Shooting time (for video) is fast (20-60 minutes TOPS for a huge house).

    I have a crazy fast computer with 128GB of RAM, so I can multitask.... editing photos and editing/ rendering video at the same time fairly quickly. And I shoot to edit, so editing time is pretty quick.

    The problem many face in video is taking TOO long to shoot, WAY too long to edit, and charging WAY too little for their time. At the end of the day you're better off working at McDonalds flipping burgers. If you charge what that time is worth, you will not have enough business to sustain you unless this is merely supplemental income. There aren't enough agents willing to spend thousands and thousands of dollars for a video except in a select few super high end markets.

    And what happens when the market is in a downturn (WHEN, not if). Those types of budgets will be long gone... (along with many of the Realtors...)

    You need to come up with a workflow that will balance that out so you can produce a good product quickly, while taking minimal time shooting and editing, therefore keeping the cost in check. And a business model that will succeed in a down market as well as a hot market as we are currently experiencing.

    By doing walkthrough videos, my 'style' can work on a 1 bedroom unfurnished basement condo to a $20M mansion and everything in between. And I do all of it... regularly. Every single day. And agents pay for it because it WORKS. It helps sell properties but more importantly it gets agents MORE listings. It's all about the NEXT house.

    By offering video you also upgrade your client base and the quality of homes you shoot. I also do floor plans, and my charge per visit has gone from $200 for photos only to roughly $600-$800 because they are almost all ordering photos AND video and many floor plans as well. One trip. 3 services. Higher price. Less travel.

  8. Amen Fred Light! We are on exactly the same page regarding the importance of workflow and many other matters. Even close on pricing based on actual time. Of course I suspect you are "Light Years" ahead of me on quality.

    The concept of one visit multi services is what I target and have found great success in doing that. You can't do that unless you can work fast on site. That comes with experience. Developing a repeatable style and process that you fine tune is vital both on and off site. I have measured and timed every action I take and I'm always finding ways to improve on that workflow.

    You did bring up one very important point in workflow. That is the value in a very powerful computer. That I don't have but I have a few of them and I'm able to process video on one while I move on to stills on the other and support them with several 8 bay Linux based very reliable raid systems. Very few people look at the infrastructure required to process, store and back up large files and large volumes of data.

  9. Like stills, video requires that "quality" look. The "look" can mask other areas where we are still working on our skills. I can take a poorly composed image, but apply my "look" to it, and it's surprising how much better it is. As a test one year, while on a couple of vacation road trips, I took on a mental challenge - a self-assignment. I called it "The Space In'Between". The point was to aim the camera adjacent to whatever I would have naturally pointed it at. Instead of the geyser or the tree, I pointed it at the empty space left to right of the actual subject matter. That exercise taught me that many times it doesn't matter what you shoot, but it does matter how you present it. The other things - the details, the decisive moment, the expression, the emotion, all if it... can one added later to the "look". The "look" is your visual signature. You can look at any of the greatest photographers - lets take Ansel Adams for instance, and if you remove his "look" from his images, the subject matter is quite mundane and boring. It's true with many of them, both photographers and images :). Homes are utterly boring subject matter, but we make them look exciting. That was something I noticed back when I did portrait photography - the guys at the top of the heap shot some of the most boring people on the planet, but if you apply a certain "look" to them, they might as well have been celebrities.

    With that said, the biggest hurdle with video is arriving at the look. The simplest way to achieve it is to set your camera up to take some stills using log settings. Then put that very flat lifeless image into PS CC and create some adjustment layers until that POC image looks amazing. Those adjustment layers can then be turned into a LUT, that can easily be applied to your flat lifeless log video, and suddenly, your biggest hurdle is not longer an issue. From there, you can add camera movement.

  10. I'm in line with Brian above. I do not shoot large volume but instead shoot low volume for just a few clients. I introduced video a few years ago just to test the water and did it at low rates when bundled with my still products. I wanted to not only introduce my clients to the coming medium of video, but have nice properties to practice on. I was not new to video but I was to video at this quality level and for this market. I have to be grateful for stumbling on Grant Johnston's tutorials which helped me polish my productions, learn what basic equipment I needed, how to use it, settings and how to edit the results. As I result I started getting a lot of video work. I am in a small market with not that many properties to shoot so I wanted to get a bigger slice of the cake that shooting stills, drone and video would offer. And my clients found that they were getting more listing as sellers started demanding video along with stills. But the last few months all this has slowed down here in my little spot of Southern California. So to save money, my clients seem to be dropping the video. That and the agency sold and the new owners are not even using the videos I shot for my clients in favor of using the stills as a video slide show with a tedious voice over! So while my individual clients understand the value of video, the new agency seems to not see the intangible value of video. Not everything fits on a spread sheet.

    So I am fully in accord with the idea of introducing video slowly. One to make sure the quality level is up to standard and two to get your clients sold on the idea. Speaking of which, it would not hurt to discuss with your clients the marketing advantages of offering video to the sellers (sellers who are now demanding video, those that have video sell faster, at higher prices and so on). But the video has to be good since many folks have jumped on this band wagon and are doing good videos. Most in my area are only doing 1 minute or less videos with just 10 to 15 clips, no transitions and edited at 2 second clips or less with vigorous music. Myself, I do one version like that for social media use or as an introductory video for cold sales, then also provide a full video that shows the whole property as a more relaxed pace for those buyers that want to see more, not just a fleeting impression. But that's just me.

  11. This is the most comprehensive comments sections on this subject we have ever seen! Wow...pretty much everything has been covered!

    We built our entire careers around film for architects, builders, interior designers, & landscape designers. While we don't know anything about real estate or working with realtors, the market is extremely lucrative for video & architecture. If you develop a style that works for successful project bidding, the pay is $3,000 - $25,000 for 1 video. We once saw 100K for 1 video for a skyscraper bidding video. Many of these videos are never shown on the internet, and are closed doors videos only.

    So while it may not pay off for the real estate market sometimes, get good at it...and you may end up some lucrative offers. Once you have the tool (video) that receives the board room's worth quite a bit.

    Just practice a style and try something original. That's what worked for us.

  12. What sort of video are your customers interested in? Highly produced or short walk-throughs? If you have to start breaking out lighting, sliders and jibs, you are going to be there for hours and then editing for hours. A simple walk through video that only needs a minor amount of editing to tidy up ragged ins/outs might meet the needs of customers.

    Cost is always a huge factor. You have to buy gear and software. You may need to upgrade your computer to process video files in real time rather than eons. Once you've made the investment in a video camera or accessories to use your still camera as a hammer, can you do the work the customers want?

    I held off on getting a drone until the market was willing to pay for it (and the licensing scheme was worked out). When it first started being a thing, the agents wanted it but they wanted it for free or for $20. Still, only a few were really keen to have aerial photos so a drone might only be used a couple of time a month. Will adding video have any return on the investment? A tough question to answer up front is if it will lower your hourly income compared to your stills business. Are you losing stills business due to not offering video? I added a drone because I was getting push back from customers that didn't want to hire an additional company/person to make the aerial photos and there are plenty of drone operators that will also do stills (poorly). The trouble is that due to the airspace restrictions around me, I'm not making back my investment very fast due to not going maverick and not getting authorizations as required.

    Video and stills are both skilled crafts. If you have been doing stills and are thinking of adding video, you have another learning curve ahead of you to get good at it. The same goes for somebody that does video trying to get into stills. Much of the equipment can be the same, but both are their own thing. Is the trade off for not doing video and losing a few jobs better in the long run over spending the money to add video and possibly earning less? If you have video capability now, practice creating some when on jobs where you have the time to see what sort of workflow you can work out and how much time it takes you. The off-season could be a good time to work up skills in video if your stills business slows down. If you are booked well in-season, it could be too much of a distraction.

  13. I didn't read through all of the long diatribes here, but one thing that should be noted is that if you have someone asking if you offer "video" services, be sure to get them to clarify what they mean by the word "video". For some it may mean a simple slideshow that plays automatically, for others it may be a Virtual Tour (I was talking to a client the other day who referred to a Matterport tour as a video). I would not assume that clients asking for "video services" are actually referring to an authentic video.

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