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Thinking About Targeting Agents with Low-Quality Listing Photos? Read This First.

Published: 11/07/2019

Author: Garey Gomez

When I was first starting out, I thought that approaching agents with low-quality photos would be a good market to try to target. I felt that I had something to offer that was an improvement over what they currently had, and if I could show them that there is a clear difference in the quality of the work that I was producing, they would hire me. It seems like a reasonable approach but in my experience, it just didn't work out the way I thought it would. Here's what I found:

Quality is subjective.
We have our own notion of what a "good" photo looks like, and we go about doing it the best we can. We compose our shots the way we are inclined to, we choose to turn the lights off or turn the lights on, we choose what our window exposure looks like (that can of worms won't be opened in this article!). We make a series of decisions for every photo that gives us the desired look that we want, and guess what... not everyone will like it. You can't be a "better" photographer to everyone.

More importantly, if you are targeting an agent with low-quality listing photos, presumably part of your pitch will require you to mention that your photos are better. I hate to point out the obvious, but you are not going to win a new client very easily when you start the conversation with, "You're doing it wrong...".

INSTEAD, MARKET YOURSELF TO HIGH-PRODUCING AGENTS

Regardless of the quality of their listing photos, top producing agents are your best bet for growing your business and staying busy. The more homes your clients list, the more shoots you will book. Plain and simple. Find a way to appeal to top producing agents over the photographer they are currently using. I have been much more successful with that. I think that's because:

People who kick butt at their job like other professionals who kick butt at their job.
This is an area where I can compete that is not nearly as subjective as image quality.

I set out to kick butt at my job. I make the best pictures I can with the time I have, and I communicate clearly. I set expectations up front, and do what I say I'm going to do. I deliver next morning, and I accommodate my client's needs for scheduling and the shot list. I'm polite and buttoned up and present well in front of the homeowner. I'm a no-nonsense contractor for the agents I work with, and they appreciate that they never have to worry about what I'm doing. It's very rewarding, too. It feels great to be trusted.

Not all of my competitors operate this way as I have learned, and that's a big part of the value I offer. I charge a fair rate for it too, and I find that busy agents are happy to pay a little more for the service I deliver because they save time and are able to focus on other aspects of their job.

High producing agents tend to have professional and polished marketing.
Savvy marketers take into account every aspect of their brand; and for many agents, quality imagery is often an important part of their branding strategy. If you build a portfolio of polished, high-quality work that is different from the work of other photographers in your market, you will have an easier time standing out from your competition when marketing yourself to top producing agents.

I find that great composition is the best differentiator, personally, so I make that a goal for every photo I make. Because many, if not most real estate photographers shoot ultra-wide, corner-to-corner compositions, it's really easy to stand out when you shoot longer focal lengths and more thoughtful compositions.

Who would you rather work with?
Top producers have their ducks in a row. They have a team that shares the workload. They have their listings cleaned, staged, de-cluttered, and ready for photography when I show up. I never wait on these agents, and they pay their invoices quickly. These people don't mess around. "The best" agents only work with "the best" contractors. It's part of their brand. Get in that club.

What has been most successful for you in your marketing efforts? How have you defined your ideal client?

Garey Gomez is an architectural photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a three-time PFRE Photographer of the Month, and the creator of the Mastering Real Estate Photography tutorial series.

11 comments on “Thinking About Targeting Agents with Low-Quality Listing Photos? Read This First.”

  1. I think this is a great topic and you started it off with the right, imo, thought. The thought being that quality is subjective. In war, quantity has a quality all it's own. RE photography is a wee bit different than architectural photography, no?

  2. I want to add there is a reason why tour companies are growing and it isn't about the quality.

    Just today, I was told the 2nd biggest tour company in my area knowingly takes photos for stagers, designers and home product manufacturers who will be using the photos in perpetuity on their websites and marketing material to promote their businesses. Low priced photos. They are also selling lifestyle photo packages to realtors. What makes you better, cheaper or faster?

  3. So...here we go again with the same old "who would you rather work with". What some of these guru's seem to overlook most of the time is that there are a finite number of established "High producing agents" (Not that they are necessarily pro quality agents... a lot are turn and burn). Those agents that are doing numbers already have their ducks in a row and pestering them with your "Try me please" is just demeaning and lowers your standard in their eyes. When they are ready to move on to a new photographer, they move at their discretion. So what do you do? Do good work, get noticed by agents, peers and others and your name will float in front of them with others to choose from when the time comes.

    So, at this point do you just raise your hands and give up?... NO, instead of blowing off the agents that the "guru's" would suggest, approach them with the idea that with your skills and their commitment, you can help them step to the next level and become one of those "High producing agents". There are a ton of agents out there that can use your skills to reach that goal....Why blow them off?

    Over the years, I have learned that the most successful agents are open to selling studio condos to multi million dollar properties. Their simple explanation is that those that are selling and buying multi million dollar properties.....started out with them in condos...

  4. Frank, quality does matter, and I think it makes a lot of sense to do the best work you know how. The right people eventually notice a difference. I agree, quantity is important to our success. It's a volume business, for sure.

    Jerry, I'm no guru. Just a guy running a business who has made mistakes and learned. I'm not suggesting you should blow off anyone. Quite the opposite, actually. All I'm saying is, using low image quality is your qualifier for whether or not to call on an agent is going to limit you, and it will likely start the conversation off on the wrong foot.

    I don't think going out and shaking a few trees to get some fruit is by and means "pestering". It's a part of bring self employed. I'm suggesting, start where the volume is and target agents who are getting it done. Of course, there are only 5 agents in the top 5. But there are 30 agents in the top 30 also.

  5. I've held a real estate license for almost 25 years, it was what I did in the beginning to supplement my fledgling wedding and portrait business. I can tell you that most agents take their cues from their seller.

    When an agent calls me for the first time, it is almost always because they have lost a listing to an agent offering a comprehensive package of services, including professional photographs. My photos go onto the MLS, feed out to Zillow, Trulia, etc, and directly into the phones and laptops of people looking at homes - thousands of them. It doesn't take long for the seller to say "I want an agent that makes my house look like THAT.

    Most agents, on the other hand, don't think about it. These aren't pictures of their kids going on a wall or being passed down for generations. We are, simply put, a vendor. Like the termite inspector and appraiser, we are an expense that moves a listing from sale to close. Don't get me wrong, they see the quality in what we do, but if a house in a hot market is selling for full price in 24 hours anyway, they see it as an unnecessary expense - and in the short term, they may be right.

    So personally, I do the best I can on every home, because I know they are all going to live in the internet forever. I post on Facebook for my Realtor friends to see, I thank my clients every chance I get, and I tell sellers to make sure they list with an agent that has a comprehensive marketing plan that includes a professional photographer. But I never chase Realtors that use a cellphone, and I certainly never suggest to them, or anyone else, that they are running their business wrong.

  6. When I started in RE Photography it was for a few friends who happened to be agents and convinced me to give it a go. As I got better, in no small part because of PFRE and honest feedback from those first few agents, I started to send notes to agents who had listings with crappy photos, most (perhaps all) of which were taken by the agent him/her self. I also utilized the much maligned tactic of offering the first shoot free. But here's the dirty little secret... it worked. Several of the agents who took me up on the offer were just starting out and have developed into those high producing agents Gary is talking about. Agents, like photographers, have to start somewhere. Maybe I was a little lucky to catch rising stars, but I know that if I hadn't tried, they'd be sending their nickels to someone else today! I haven't used that strategy in several years because now enough new clients come via referral, but it was part of a winning start-up strategy for me.

  7. I have occasionally tried targeting some advertising to agents with low quality/self shot photos. Never got any results that way. I have heard it said that agents who use photos like that just don't 'get it' when it comes to what good photos can do in terms of appeal for the listing and they are unlikely to change their minds about it.

  8. So, after I got started, and before things really took off, I combed Trulia each week and created a spreadsheet tracking both the agents and agencies that were listing as well as my own subjective rating of the photo quality. I utilized this as a way to target potential clients and agencies to pitch to. It worked alright for me as I usually offered a try before you buy scenario for the listing that I found them with. Many agents didn't respond, but the ones who did usually bit of the free trial. Some are now great clients but many just used the free opportunity and moved on.

    What I found highly effective (almost an 85% booking rate) was this: After making my spreadsheet of properties, I'd utilize our Appraisal District website to find the owners of the 5 - 10 properties with the WORST photos for that week. I'd send out a postcard I had designed that pointed to a special landing page outlining the benefits of professional photos of their new listing. It told them to search for their address and compare photos. The owners would pressure their agent about getting professional photos (usually much to the agent's chagrin) and the owner would usually suggest me.

    Now that I have an established business and work mostly by word of mouth, I don't think this would be as effective. But for someone starting out hungry for work to practice and build a portfolio, it worked great.

  9. There are not too many active listing agents in any given area. I would not "target" any of them. I think that right there is many people's problem. Think of marketing more as cultivating and befriending than "targeting", and I bet your success, especially in the long run, will greatly improve.

  10. This is an interesting topic. It is often a double edged sword. Because we market ourselves saying you want the best and want to set your properties apart by having great marketing. But I often times find that once you begin working with those top agents they don’t like to share their trade secrets. And while my business has grown strictly by word of mouth and I have been quite successful it still bothers me that agents are reluctant to share my name. I understand it and often times have to mention that I am independent and my business relies on their referrals just as their business relies on their clients referring them. But I do agree that everything in this line of work is subjective. Some agents truly cannot see the difference but there are always those that do. Don’t chase the ones that can’t seem to get it. I find it’s often better if your clients come looking for you.

  11. @Gary, Part of the problem is how you define "target". If I am sending out marketing materials that cost me $.40ea, I'm not going to send them to every agent on my list (over 1,400 agents). My email list doesn't cost me anything to send out other than what I spend to build a new marketing letter. Many times getting a new customer is just a matter of them hearing from you at the right time.

    If I'm out on a weekend visiting open houses, I'll prioritize agents that sell more homes, but I'll also pay attention to the lower end with agents that are newly licensed and are looking to make a name for themselves. I have T,Z and R send me new listings in my area over a certain dollar amount that I go through to build my marketing list and it also gives me insight to which agents are moving the most properties (I don't care if they are the dollar leader) and which agents I've never seen before. If an agent has moved from out of town, I want to get to them first. I also have T,Z and R send me open house listings for my area. If I have the time, I'll go visit a few agents, especially if the open house is in town.

    @Frank, Most of the big "tour" companies pay less than minimum wage to their photographers so your "in" is service and consistency. I've had existing customers try them out and most eventually come back. They know it will be me doing their photos, I give them a solid appointment, I have good turn-around and if they want something special, I will accommodate them. If you went to your doctor's office and were seen by a different doctor each time, you probably wouldn't like that. Building a personal relationship is something that a bulk provider can't do and their front line staff probably don't care about.

    It's certainly not a bad idea to go after the top agents in your area, but if you see that they already have above average photos, they may have a solid relationship with somebody. If that other photographer pays attention to the relationship, not even a lower price may get you in the door. I have several agents I'd like to work with where that situation applies. I keep a soft sell going so they know I'm still around and wait.

    For me it comes down to using my marketing time and money for the best return on that investment. Also, I'd rather have 40 agents that I do one job a month for than 4 agents where I do 10 each month. It also can mean that I have customers in more offices which is better for word of mouth referrals.

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