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Should Real Estate Photographers Be Accompanied While Shooting a Listing?

Published: 27/11/2017

joinmlsBob in Albuquerque says:

I've been shooting RE now for almost 4 years. I have a licensed business and carry liability insurance. Recently, a topic came up over coffee with a client which leads me to this post.

I have a question about who, if anyone, should be present when you are shooting. Though I know many of the readers here do, but I don't have a lockbox key.

Many of my clients (whom I have known a while now and who trust me) will meet me at a listing, let me in, then leave and ask me to lock up/put the key back in the lockbox, etc. I have a few clients who believe that it is their responsibility to be present and stay the whole time I shoot. I have some who will just set it up for the seller to be home to let me in. All these possibilities can happen with seller occupied; just staged or empty listings.

I'd like to ask about other shooters' policies. Does anyone have a problem being in an occupied home without either the agent or seller being present? What about going to the shoot and the agent just makes arrangements with a (often female) seller to meet you but the agent isn't there to vouch for or introduce you? I haven't had a problem yet with any scenario but I'd just like to know what more experienced shooters do. Most of my clients know that I'm semi-retired after 25 years in law enforcement and I think that helps with the trust level. I did search the forum for this topic but couldn't seem to find any post where this was addressed and I just wanted to check with the forum about any thoughts, opinions, advice, policies, etc.

The ultimate responsibility for deciding whether or not a real estate photographer should be accompanied while shooting a listing is up to the listing agent.

However, I have direct personal experience that some MLSs have rules that require listing agents accompany all subcontractors working on a listing. During the period 2000 to 2010, the NWMLS in Seattle had a $5,000 fine for listing agents that did NOT accompany a subcontractor at a listing. An agent in our office was fined and yet most of the other agents in the office did not know about the NWMLS rule.

So my recommendation for a real estate photography shoot policy would include:

  1. Take the time to make sure you understand your local MLS rules on this subject. This will allow you to warn your clients if there are local rules or fines.
  2. Recommend that the listing agent accompanies you on the shoot but defer to their policy or desires.
  3. Be sure you have liability insurance.
  4. Some real estate photographers have a real estate license or associate MLS membership so that they can go in any active listing unaccompanied. This can be expensive for what it is worth. In past discussions, there are always arguments on both sides of this option.

What are others' experiences with this issue?

Larry Lohrman

16 comments on “Should Real Estate Photographers Be Accompanied While Shooting a Listing?”

  1. This is included in the specs listed in our website:

    We've never run into a problem with this and it often saves the agent the hassle of having to meet my partner Eric, who is the photographer, at the site. If the property is empty he prefers to shoot without the agent being there. On a rare occasion the lockbox number doesn't work and a call has to be made. But aside from that the flexibility of being able to shoot a property at your own convenience w/o time constraints involved in meeting the agent onsite is preferable.

  2. I don't have a lockbox key or have interest in having one, as I don't want the liability. But there are many other reasons I always ask that the agent or homeowner to be at the shoot besides just liabilities. Mostly to make sure the house is ready for shooting. Some agents do not do a walk through before the shoot, and many items have to be moved which I don't want to do. Many of my homes have very intricate lighting, that can take a lot of time just finding the light switches.
    with some of my agents, I will sometimes have them meet me on a shoot, do a walk through and have them turn on the lights and move anything that has to be moved. Then, if I feel comfortable enough, I'll finish the shoot alone and lock the property. Most of the time, I only want the agent on the shoot and not the owner. when the owner is on he shoot, they sometimes get anxious when you want to remove an item, photograph, or a religious article. when it is only the agent with you, you have the luxury of moving anything you feel is clutter, or detracts from the property. I have found that many home owners idea of clutter is different than the agents idea of clutter, so the agent needs to be there to reinforce the idea that "less is more"

  3. I shoot most vacant listings on my own with the agent or broker giving me a one day code or a combo for the lock box. I prefer to have somebody at a home if it's occupied so if anything turns up missing, there is less of a chance of getting blamed. General liability insurance doesn't cover theft claims, only claims for breakage. I've had owners leave me to take photos while they run some errands. If the owner isn't on hand, an agent or one of their staff will be on hand nearly every time. I can't remember an occupied home this year where I was alone in the house.

    I like the owners to be on hand so I can ask about how to work blinds (if they aren't broken) light switches, swapping out light bulbs, getting them to do a bit more staging and so they can move things that appear expensive or sentimental. I like agents to be at the property so we can verify the shot list and they can tell me what they see as the best selling features of the home.

    Discuss your concerns with your customers and make sure they don't get themselves in trouble. If they trust you to be there on your own,…….

  4. If the agent's onsite they can approve the angles (so no going back), and hopefully help with any tidying up

  5. It is important that the homeowners are the realtors take care of the organizing and cleaning up of the house (not always happens) but other than that we always prefer if everyone leaves the property during the shoot and do not disturb our flow (especially during video shoots). Also, our technique is rather slow (we use lights in every room), so the last thing I want is an agent or owner breathing over my shoulder wanting me to just finish up.
    The good thing is that our clients just trust us from the get go, we have photographed properties of governors, major celebrities and hedge fund managers with Picassos all over the walls and never had an issue about having them leave us to our work.
    If the house is a real mess, then of course we keep them at home and at our help to keep moving things from room to room.

  6. I understand all of the very valid reasons for having someone present, particularly in an occupied home. But, man, I have to say, when I have a day where one or more shoots are "people free", it's a good day for me. I can't stand having people around looking at their watches and making chit chat while I'm shooting.

  7. Just thought I'd add a "thank you" to this. I appreciate not only this thread but all the valuable information I've found here since I've been doing this.

    About this particular thread, I certainly do agree that shooting can go so much more quickly when no one is there (or, like a couple agents, they just stay out of the way and do their thing on the phone) and, generally, I prefer that. However, as a semi-retired shooter, I have to say that sometimes I've ended up having some nice experiences just taking the time to chat with a seller. A couple of times, I've even made a nice, large print of a house and given it to the seller to remember the home they are leaving behind. I know most of you are full-time folks and doing this as your main living/income and time-is-money. That said, I would encourage you, especially during the holiday season, to -when you can - take that extra few moments to chat with a seller or a new client that's present. The hourly average income may go down a bit, but the potential for fulfillment from the work may go up even more. To sort of paraphrase Ansel, sometimes you're not just taking pictures of a house, you're making the last photos of someone's home.

    Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving, God Bless and keep clicking!!

  8. At VPiX, we carry liability insurance and we use HISCOX. We carry a $2M liability policy and it's $179 a month. If you're sending out photographers to any client location, it's no different than you being any other real estate professional. Every contractor coming to you home should have insurance. Being a photographer is no different than being a roofing contractor. It's never a good idea to show up to a home and start shooting panoramas or HD still photos without a safety net.

  9. I spend around 80% of my time alone in houses. Not crazy about that, don’t like being responsible for someone else’s house. When I can I always encourage the home owner or the agent to stay; I think it’s a great way to build on my relationship with my client/agent (a friend), or I get to spend time with the home owner, it’s always interesting learning about another persons life, I’ll provide a slide show, home owners always love that, and if I handle it right they tell their agent, my client, I get a referral, my agent likes me a little bit more, I’ve help make their client satisfied. We both win.

  10. I am pretty much like Mike. Except I prefer to be alone but do enjoy most home owners. I am one of the few that keeps a real estate license as it re assures agents that I know what's needed and gives me trackable access.

  11. "But that broken end table was exactly why I don’t do staging and moving, and was also exactly why I should probably get insurance."

    Most general liability insurance policies are not going to cover damage of property while under your "care, custody, or control." If you pick up or move something then that object can be considered under your custody or control.

  12. I spend a majority of my time alone and I prefer this. Like Mike and Bill, I do enjoy homeowners but they tend to get in the way and follow me around and distract me by insisting on moving an object that doesn't necessarily need to be moved. 90% of the homeowners are like this, but are friendly and hospitable, eager to sell their house and see the photos; they offer me a bottle of water or a gatorade, and a few have even offered me a beer! The other 10% of homeowners are more hands-on in combination with being frazzled and sometimes unfriendly, acting like I'm an inconvenience.

    Luxury shoots are almost always shot alone. The people here with the big bucks either don't live in their vacation homes full-time (there's a thriving lakefront market here, two lakes in my immediate area with gigantic expensive homes on them) or are puzzlingly completely moved out. It amazes me that people can afford such a giant mortgage and still be paying a mortgage on the house they actually live in. But, whenever I shoot a luxury lakefront and the homeowners live there and are present when I'm shooting, they've always been among the nicest homeowners with whom I've ever dealt.

    I love vacant shoots. Few agents in my area have the time or desire to accompany me, and I believe that I add value by being a licensed real estate agent who is able to get into Supra boxes to save them the time and hassle of letting me in. I've been accompanied by an agent on fewer than ten times on hundreds of shoots, and it was honestly a big hassle because the agents scheduled my shoot to coincide with them getting the paperwork signed and sitting in the living room talking about the sale of the house and answering sellers' questions. A couple newer clients met me at the houses, one just walking around staying out of my way and the other facilitating moving things around.

    With all that said, I've broken exactly two things on a vacant shoot a few years ago, a plastic lamp shade for an up-facing lamp that was due to be broken anyway since it was brittle from the heat of the bulb over years and years, and the limestone facade of an expensive-looking end table. The latter I offered to pay for and the seller wouldn't let me; it looked much more expensive and quality than it really was, and she'd just taken four hours of my time in a house that should have taken me a max of 45 minutes, while I staged her house (I'm not a stager and don't offer these services) and listened to her passively disapprove of me changing anything in the living room. But that broken end table was exactly why I don't do staging and moving, and was also exactly why I should probably get insurance.

  13. It also helps, on shoots with a female seller who is either single or at home alone, for one of my biggest clients to be my dad and stepmother. I don't know exactly what they tell sellers about me, but neither of them misses an opportunity to tell sellers I'm a veteran and that I'm a licensed agent. That usually helps with the trust level there--the licensed agent part meaning I had to go through a background check and maintain a level of ethics of stay licensed. Not sure 100% if either being licensed or being a veteran actually makes female sellers feel at ease being alone in a house with a stranger who is a 6'1", 215lbs guy. I guess the fact that they've used me on hundreds of shoots without incident might help too.

  14. Occasionally the home owner is present, very seldom does this occur. Most of the time i pick up a key and alarm code and go. Same for my vacation company shoots i just get a key, they disarm the security.

  15. 75% of the time the homeowner is present at a photo shoot. 99% of the time the real estate agent is present. I don't get involved in the staging process so when things have to be moved around the agent and homeowner do the moving. There have been a few times when the agent lets me into the home and then has to leave for an appointment and I'm there alone to do the shoot.

  16. I always have the agent or homeowner present - which isn't hard to do since I also do drone videography outdoors and they always want to see how it's done.

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