Every so often we go into the archives and bring back an article that garnered a lot of attention and inspired some great conversation. Nowadays, there is so much more involved in real estate photography i.e., videography, 3D, floorplans, measurements, etc. and based on conversations I've had over the past few months, I get the feeling that some of us have lost focus on what our true purpose is as real estate photographers. This article is three years old but I think the topic is as relevant now as it was then; and I believe Scott's advice stands the test of time.
This is a guest post by Scott Hargis. Scott posted a version of this a couple of days ago on the post about how many photos photographers deliver on a shoot. From my personal experience working with my wife who was a top listing agent, I think this concept is right on and is important enough to be a post. (Larry Lohrman)
A few years ago, I was having lunch with a photographer friend of mine (we'll call him Josh). We get together a few times a year and catch up. He does stills, video, and manages social media for companies, individuals, and real estate agents.
Josh and I had many real estate agent clients in common, with him managing one aspect or another of their marketing, and me exclusively doing still photography. We were “talking shop” and frankly gossiping a little about the quirks and personalities of some of them, and when a particularly difficult name came up, Josh grunted and said, “That guy; he still thinks he’s in the business of selling houses.”
Josh loves to roll out these pithy little gems, and that one was so perfect that I've stolen it and used it many times since.
As real estate photographers, we do well to understand that the “real” goal of our clients, whether they know it or not, is gaining market share and getting more listings. Our photos help to market and sell a house, of course, but the obvious truth is that excellent photos are not really necessary to the process. We see many, maybe even a majority of houses on the market with truly horrendous photos… and those houses, most of them, eventually sell. The statistics are pretty clear that professional photography will sell a house faster, and for more money, but just how good do the photos need to be to accomplish that?
Not very good, it seems. Even the most basic photography seems to be enough to clear the bar and get the house sold. So why, given that, should photographers (and their real estate agent clients) want to go the extra mile and produce photos that are not just “good enough” but great? What’s the point?
The point is to be forward thinking. My best real estate clients, the ones who listed the multi-million dollar houses all the time, would do the exact same thing even when they had a $150,000 condo to sell. That crappy little condo got painted, staged, photographed, and marketed like it was a trophy listing. Why? Because my client could not afford to have ANYTHING with her name on it that didn’t look like a million bucks. Better yet, FIVE million bucks. She knew that she would be sitting on a couch in some living room next week, trying to land a bread-and-butter listing, and the sellers would want to know that they were not going to be treated like an afterthought. They would be doing their research, looking to see what this agent really did on her listings, and they would not be disappointed.
Real estate photographers are in the exact same position. We have to treat every shoot as if it were the Buckingham Palace. If we aren’t putting out effort every time, no matter how depressing the house, we are never going to rise above the crowd. We’re never going to be able to compete on anything other than price, until we can demonstrate that we can, and WILL, outshoot the competition.
It’s hard. You can’t get hung up on the fact that you’re only getting paid $150, or whatever number sounds too low to you — you have to be thinking about what you want to shoot next month, next quarter, next year, and act like that’s what you’re shooting today. Because ultimately, if you’re completely bogged down in today’s sweaty, frantic scramble, you’re never going to get where you want to be.
Our best clients are thinking this way--so should we. The goals are mutually compatible--we both want to look good for the awesome clients we’ll be chasing next year. The best real estate brokerages and the best agents function like an ad agency. They understand that they aren’t selling houses—they’re a marketing firm. It’s the difference between doing door-to-door encyclopedia sales (which I did while I was flunking out of college) and building Google. A great example of this in the real estate world is Fantastic Frank, a Swedish brokerage that treats every listing, even the little crummy rental listings, like a feature article in Dwell Magazine. They hire cutting-edge stylists and photographers and make every listing look glamorous and swank. The photography may seem shocking to “real estate” eyes; there are tight angles and broken rules (verticals! OMG!) and utterly weird things going on in these photos—but they’re GOOD. Really good. These images would be very much at home in a Style and Design magazine like Elle Decor or Vogue.
The top 10% of agents are always focused on their brand first. Want to shoot for them and bill a lot of money for it? Start thinking in those terms.