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Should You Focus on Shooting for FSBOs?

Published: 29/03/2018
By: larry

James in Georgia asks:

Is anyone doing direct marketing to FSBOs (For Sale By Owners)? I gather names from Zillow but never get a response from the mail that I send.

In general, I don't recommend that real estate photographers market directly to FSBOs for the following reasons:

  1. For the time, money, and energy that you spend, you get one shoot from a FSBO whereas that same effort put into marketing Realtors may get you a client that may give you 10, 15, 50, or more shoots a year.
  2. People that are selling their home themselves are notoriously cheap. They are doing it themselves because they don't want to pay a Realtor's commission. For that same reason, they are more likely to try and shoot photos themselves.
  3. I can believe you would not get a response from Zillow FSBOs because once they have their home on Zillow, they've already probably done their own photography.

I think that it makes much more sense to spend your marketing time and energy on Realtors who could be giving you repeat business. Better yet, spend some time going through your local broker sites finding the Realtors who have the most active listings. This would indicate that they specialize in listing property.

Sure, this means you will have to compete with other real estate photographers for the business but in the end, I think you are more likely to build a sustainable business. Eventually, once you get a clientele built up, you won't even have to do any marketing.

That said, in really hot markets like the Seattle area, the number of FSBOs are increasing wildly. Last month, net residential sales were 150% of the number of properties listed on the MLS. Probably the way to tap into this market is to be a Zillow Certified Photographer.

12 comments on “Should You Focus on Shooting for FSBOs?”

  1. As a Realtor/photographer - yes; as a photographer only - no, as it takes way too much time to market for a 1 time event. And then, with both, there is the issue of licensing and their' passing on what the bought' rationalization to whomever lists the property. As a Realtor it makes sense to market to FSBO's as around 80% eventually list, and being a realtor/photographer give you an additional arrow in the quiver. Think about it. Most realtors with 3 minutes or less contact events now will use the soft touch, leaving a blank sales contract they will need, with routine followup to stay on their mind with other suggestions (faux help) until either sold or listed. What Realltor when initially meeting a FSBO firmly in the "No, I'm doing it myself" wouldn't relish getting past the front door and in the home for an hour photo shoot! The potential client gets to know you, and you are able to give them suggestions, what additional you could provide, importance of marketing, and better het, educate them on sales techniques including competitors 'get the listing NOW' pressures then just throw it up on the MLS wall to see what sticks being their entire marketing plan, coupled with price reductions.

    Never really thought of it until one of my clients asked what I thought of the Ricoh Theta 360 camera. (Arguably, best of the lot but really poor). Apparently, one of her competitors was marketing FSBO with it - deactivating the web link after 2 weeks, want it longer, list with me. That actually got me to thinking, particularly when looking at the trash photos on his listing. I developed a FSBO package that they purchase a photography package for their marketing (well specified in the licensing agreement that can't give away, sell, or otherwise transfer) and rebate it back if later list the property since none of my listing clients pay me, their Realtor, for the photography.

  2. Realtor's see a home differently that from the owners. FSBO's require a lot of hand holding. They don't see the shoot objectively in a business-sense, like in an agent/photographer relationship. I end up spending a lot of time with them on the phone and they often want me to come back and shoot the water heater I forgot to do. I sometimes charge triple for the impending hassle.

    Many times when I shoot a house its the agent's first time at the home and they usually don't take strict notice to the wall coloring. But if the hue of the wall in an image is slightly different (because of monitor settings, room lighting, etc.) then the private seller are up in arms! (" It's “Wine”, Not Dark Red! ")
    Or they tell me to 'Photoshop' the hole in the wall.
    Or will go back on their word and refuse to pay after the shoot until they see the images.
    Or won't honor the licensing agreement and will give away the images to another agent when they find they cannot sell the home on their own.
    Then there is the wrath of agents when they find out that you "support" private sellers. Last month one of my regular agents said she was marketing a new home and she recognized my images. "I didn't know you did private sellers" she remarked with an overtone of disdain in her voice. I've gotten it before.

    The one good thing I can say is that private sellers will meet my price versus an agent who prides themselves as a top negotiator and wants to haggle me down $50.

  3. I have not marketed directly to FSBO, however the ones who found me did go smoothly and a couple resulted in more business down the road. One referred me to one of their friends who was selling their home and another recommended me to a realtor they knew who became a regular client.

  4. FSBOs are utterly POUNDED by Realtors on a daily basis who want to get them to list with them.

    Imagine 200 people calling you the first week you try to FSBO. Then imagine that half call for 6 weeks straight twice a week. Then half will fall off but 50 will keep calling another month. And about 10 will call forever until you list or give up.

    And a bunch will be sending mail in conjunction with calling.

    Into this chaos you send your photography promo. I honestly would not be surprised that no response is happening. It would actually be a small miracle anytime anyone DID respond.

  5. I have not had any problems shooting for FSBOs. I have never marketed to them specifically but they did account for 5% of my total revenue last year. Never had to hand-hold them and I have found that they prepare their homes better than the ones listed with an agent. Nor have I ever been stiffed by one. Earlier this year I even received a $50 tip form an FSBO. That's never happened with an agent. My agent clients know that I will shoot FSBOs but they also know that I inform the FSBO which agents I recommend they should consider if they decide to go with an agent. None of my agent clients have an issue that I shoot for FSBOs and one agent last week referred an FSBO to me. I asked the agent why he would do this and he stated it was a way to soft-sell to them while still giving them advice.

  6. There are some companies that assist sellers with things like getting their home on the MLS and real estate web sites. It makes more sense to market to them so you are on their recommended list. They will probably want a commission on the referrals, but you can just raise your prices to cover the expense since you aren't going to discount your services to a FSBO seller. Having a good website is also key so FSBO sellers can find you.

    I rarely market directly to a FSBO seller, but if I see a sign around where I live with a phone number, I'll call them up. Part of that is since local agents don't use professional photography and I want them to see my work. Any local agent that isn't checking for new local listings a couple of times a day is not serious. They will see any images I make of local homes and I can use that to get them on board.

  7. I did a shoot for one...and only one.
    NEVER again. The most demanding pain in the ass I've ever seen!
    Don't get me wrong. I know how to put my foot down...but I prefer to avoid conflict.
    This woman wanted EVERYTHING shot. Nothing was good enough.
    Ever since then, I ONLY hire out to RMLS agents.

  8. I live and shoot in a small town, and after a couple of years of photographing, I finally have a clientele of RE agents/brokers built up that keep me as busy as I want to be. I know that if I were to aggressively market to FSBO's, they would see that as somewhat of a betrayal of their loyalty to me. Having said that, I have shot a few FSBO's who have come to me through referrals from Facebook or just by reputation, but I charge them twice as much as I do my realtors. The very few I've done have been very good experiences though, and as Kerry Bern pointed out, I even got a tip once from a seller who told me "You don't charge enough!". I can assure you no realtor has ever told me that. ????

  9. @Ronald. Any agent that feels you are betraying them by photographing a FSBO has some thinking to do. It's no different than taking on work from other agents in other offices. I doubt that any agent would be willing to pay me to NOT photograph FSBO's.

    I don't have any problem charging more. I find it much easier to work with agents. They aren't as attached to the home and look beyond staging details where an owner may nit pick things that really don't matter. Agents should be working with sellers to get the home prepped for photos and showings and some of that devolves on the photographer with a FSBO. I build that in to my pricing and the time I allocate to do the shoot.

  10. I have not pursued FSBO directly but do advertise that on my web site. My requirements are clear and I charge 50% to 200% more than I charge agents. I have specific terms and limitations on the number of images and time spent on site. I require payment in cash when I knock on the door. I have everything prepared ahead of time and send them links for prep.

    I have had not had a problem so far with any FSBO and have done four over the past year. Not a lot of business but won't turn it down. My most recent was a person that had quite a few properties and had their act together very well. In my estimation a realtor would ad no value to what they did and they did it very well. They were pleased, paid cash up front and will be giving me additional work.

    Not sure if it would be worth it to chase after them but as long as you collect cash up front and set the terms it should work.

    PS I let them know up font it is their responsibility to prepare their property for my photography. I send them a link to instructions. I note this in my initial conversation and assure them I have taken great pictures of chicken bones in the corners of rooms and if their property is prepared like that I assume they want the photographs to show it like that.

  11. I have done some FSBO's and normally it's ok, like some have said they do require more hand holding, also the VRBO/Air BNB's crowd, same thing. Not a super large % of my business but great when things are slow!

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