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What About Being A Real Estate Photographer And A Real Estate Agent

Published: 16/12/2013

I've had quite a few discussions with people concerning some aspect of being both a real estate agent and a real estate photographer. I find when a subject like this pops up out of the blue from a bunch of different people I usually indicate a trend going on. There were four different questions that people posed on this subject:

  1. Is there a benefit to being both an agent and a real estate photographer that shoots for other agents besides your own listings?
  2. Is there some conflict of interest if you are both a listing agent and a real estate photographers?
  3. Are there many agents that do real estate photography for other agents?
  4. What are the problems with being both an agent and a photographer?

Is there a benefit to be an agent-real estate photographer?
Yes, the benefits are substantial. As an agent you can legally go in a home that has a lock-box on it without the listing agent. This is a huge convenience for the listing agent. They just call you and say go photograph my listing over on Main St, it has a lock box on it. They don't have to go meet the photographer there. It's worth noting that this is not an issue every place in the world. Some areas of the world photographers can just go contact the home owner and do the shoot.

Also, as an agent you have an inside perspective to the real estate business. You see how it works. Understand who the major players in your area are and gives you a lot of contacts in the business. It just gives you an inside track to be up to your armpits in the business.

Is there a conflict of interest?
No, I don't see any conflict. Does anyone else see a conflict? I'm frankly puzzled why anyone would even think there might be a conflict.

Are there many people doing both?
Yes, as a matter of fact there are many more people being both an agent and a photographer than you'd think. A poll I did several years ago indicated that about 10% of PFRE blog readers (~40,000 people world wide) are agents that shoot for themselves and other agents. I believe this percentage has increased substantially in the last few years just because it's more difficult in the last few years to be a listing agent so anyone that has photographic skills and a passion for photography can help pay the bills by doing real estate photography. There is a very natural symbiosis between these two activities. However, if you are good at being a listing agent you can make more that doing just real estate photography.

What are the problems?
I think the major problem is cost. That is, I don't think it makes sense to go get a real estate license just to get the real estate photographer benefits. Training costs and fees force any agent to do several transactions a year just to break even. I don't think you can find a broker that will let you hang your license in the office and do no transactions. Can you?

Why People are doing both?
I think more and more agents are being both a listing agent and a real estate photographer because since 2009 at least in the US being a listing agent has gotten to be really hard work. Harder than it's been for as long as anyone can remember. Home sellers don't want to hear what their homes are worth so it's hard to get them to price their home at a price that will sell. So listings stay on the market a long time. Frequently more than a year. It really does help to have another source of income. And real estate photography demand is increasing because you have to have something to make a listing stand out. Photography can do that.

Larry Lohrman

32 comments on “What About Being A Real Estate Photographer And A Real Estate Agent”

  1. I can understand the conflict of interest question from a non-agent because the competition would have direct access to the seller, the listing agent's client. As a REALTOR the code of ethics forbids an agent from approaching the client of another agent with an offer of similar service. Photography would not be the same as listing a seller's home, but the listing agent is often the one soliciting the photographer so there's not even a hint of a problem here. Additionally, we work with the other agent's client all the time. For example, the buyer's agent will normally show the home without the listing agent being present.

    I agree with Larry's assessment of the situation and I will add my reasoning for shooting for other agents. I like shooting homes and having someone else help support my hobby of photography and flying (aerial photos) just makes too much sense.

    About three years ago I took the Association Executive position at my local REALTOR Association. I had no problems at all shooting for other agents as a broker, but having agents approach me to shoot their listings now makes me a little uncomfortable. I try to keep the two jobs separate as much as I can. I only shoot after work and on weekends and I use my personal email and phone to respond to agents who request a shoot using the company phone or email.

    If it's not obvious from my response, I have never used photography to support myself financially. I consider it a hobby and I like it that way. It keeps it enjoyable. As a pilot, my flying works the same way.

  2. Copying two paragraphs from my website, I directly address the "conflict of interest" issue.
    "Two professions that compliment each other. I bring both the creative vision of the photographer and the marketing of the Realtor® to the forefront. Blending the two together one tells the story through pictures, while remaining within the restrictive guidelines of MLS. When taking a picture, I think like the Realtor® telling the story while applying photographic demands, such as composition, lighting, and exposure, expected of the photographer."

    "My being a Realtor® presents several advantages to other Realtors®. First, I have an interest in the home selling and would like to think that my photographs played a key role. Next, it is like a "Brokers Open" as I know the home when talking to buyers and would love to be the other half of the sale. Finally, you are able to expand your marketing effort at no cost as I proactively work for your benefit to find buyers. Likewise, an ethical issue with me that goes beyond the Code Of Conduct, your client whom you refer to me for photographic services will NEVER be a Real Estate client of mine, even if you no longer have the listing."

    While I noted specific benefits, I didn't have to put that last sentence in. However, it is good for business and doesn't rule out other photographic work. But real estate, I won't solicit and would turn down if the homeowners got fed up with their realtor and asked me. I don't even identify myself as a Realtor when I have my photography hat on, unless their agent told them. Why alienate the Realtor and future business, plus negative talk within the office impacting other clients. It is just not worth it for one listing. Now the flipside...if I didn't shoot the property and it expired, I go after those with a vengeance. Only once have I run across my photos on an expired, but I knew the history and wouldn't want that difficult client anyway.

    The only thing I haven't figured out is the current front line trend to the paperless electronic presentation. While I do use my iPad to supplement with tour and video examples, my actual presentation is the old fashion flip notebook. While converting it to Power Point or Keynote would be simple, with the notebook format, to keep them focused on that page and not reading ahead, rather than 2 pages displayed at once or a blank page above the content page, I loaded it with an 8x10 glossy "eye candy" showing off my photography to reinforce it throughout the listing presentation. With an iPad, I would lose that.

  3. I was doing both for as long time but got so busy with photography I did not have time to sell houses. Dropped my realtors license but stayed a member of my local board so as to have lockbox access and access to the email address of 3000 realtors in my area. Much less expensive also

  4. What if a seller asks about the details of your photography business? Or about how you got started? Which in turns leads to question why do you shoot for other agents when you are an agent yourself?

    How about the agent/photographer who provides 'for sale by owner' (FSBO) services such listing a home for a flat rate and no listing commission. If that agent/photographer told a client's seller or somehow the client's seller stumbles on to the agent/photographer's website and discovers the FSBO services and decides not to list with the Realtor anymore or wants to break the listing contract. Sounds like a conflict of interest and a breach of the code of ethics by the agent/photographer, once the listing contract is signed. Btw, there are realtor/photographers in my area that offer FSBO services such as this. And if I were a realtor and I knew my photographer was doing this, that would be our last job. Not mention letting the Board of Realtors know about it.

    Furthermore, a professional commitment to your clients to non-compete is mandatory. Not to mention, if you are a realtor/photographer and after shooting a home now you are privy to information prior to a new listing coming on the market, and possibly the price or prior condition of the home, are you not now a "Seller's Agent". Buyer/seller agency is another factor to consider. What if the agent/photographer knows that during the photo shoot the dishwasher leaked and was not properly cleaned up?

  5. I am a full time career agent and Im always amazed when I see seller's hire a part time agent! There really isn't anything to talk about here. If you want service and results hire a full time career agent. If that agent was really good he wouldn't need other jobs, and yes I have been through a recession and the good agents still did good. Yes the pie got smaller but their pieces got bigger.

    I can almost see the part time photographer work but not really. I have hired a guy with a real job to shoot some homes and he always has the excuse of, well the sun is better in the morning and I had to work in the morning so this is what you get. Give me a break!

    As far as doing both...NO! I would not hire my competitor for anything! If that photographer worked in my office and we were friends I might but that's really the extent of it so I couldn't see that photographer being very successful. AND Im going to go out on a limb and guess that most listing agents feel the same way.

    Thats my 2 cents worth!

  6. I do both. I own a 5DMIII and about $5k worth of other gear. I love shooting video and photography but it can be a love-hate relationship for me. Is it better for me to shoot a house for 4 hours or be on the phones trying to drum up new business? Fortunately there are one or two good photographers in my market that I know get the job done as well as, or better than me, leaving me the opportunity to prospect if that role needs my attention. I'm sure the other self shooting agents can identify with me.

    When a listing agreement is signed, there should be no doubt who knows the house better than anyone, and that's the seller. The person in 2nd place must be the listing agent. The one huge plus for me is that I really get to know the home when I shoot. I'm there for hours just paying attention and coming up with marketing strategies as I shoot. And if nobody is around, it's 3 or 4 hours of solitude that recharges me.

  7. @Julie...FSBO is a whole different animal. For the most part, FSBO means open season for Realtors to contact them. Many times they are adamant about doing it themselves (and frustrated with only Realtors calling them) but I approach it from a different angle. I offer to give them professional photography (full price, undiscounted) to assist with their sale, but then add a 100% money back guarantee if they later list with me when they are ready to list. It is only fair as I don't charge my personal real estate clients for photography.

    @Jason...No Realtor works 24/7 100% of the time. What do you do to fill the free time? If not photography, it is something else. With good time management, it is possible to run two businesses. As always, you are networking to find additional real estate business, and photography actually supports it. "Congratulations on your engagement and pending wedding" (I am shooting) you will own two houses...selling/renting one or both and buying a new one? Likewise with a maternity shoot - is your 2 br townhome going to support the growing family? ANd the list goes on. I learned very early to limit my listing to nothing below $200k with a maximum of 10 listing at any time, as the $100k listing takes as much work as the $200k or greater and I can be selective. Actually, I am thinking about moving that up to the $500k range as the business plan incorporates both real estate and photography as a single full time unit.

  8. Here in Albuquerque, NM, I know of one agent - photographer who has been a photographer for 39 years and an agent for 5. His work is excellent, as good as mine, and he photographs for five other agents too. Other than that, the quality of photography here is mostly very poor, very dark images, lots of comic book HDR and very poor use of the camera. From what I can tell from the thousand or so homes I've seen, I would say only 5% of them are of high professional quality.

  9. I am a REALTOR I shoot for myself shoot and I also do virtual tours for others...I am sensitive to my photo customer's fears and advise them that if they are concerned that I am a realtor...just call me after they list, then I can't ethically ask for real estate business without exposing my license to problems...every photographer has larger customers and how do you know they are not leaking the prelisting info to those customers as leads? I have found paranoid agents don't make good customers, busy agents make great customers.

    I have been able to grab the interest of a developer in the marketing that I do for myself and others, and as such I have the possibility of a 70 unit development. Just by the fact that I was able to show him what I do...he even hired me to do some presentations for another company he has...Business that I obtained on my own with my skills. I will never step on another agent toes with their listings, a rumor like that could destroy your business...Just be upfront with the agents, and if asked always refer back to your agent customers, and compliment them on their marketing savvy. This is a good business practice and can keep you out of trouble, but it can get you more photography business.

  10. I've been a RE estate agent for 12 years now and began my photo business about 3 years ago. Contrary to a few of the posts I've never encountered any conflict of interest and most times the agents I shoot for will make a point of telling their Seller that I'm an active agent also. A few other benefits that I didn't see mentioned is being able to get in the home without the listing agent if a keybox has been installed (anything to help agents manage their time effectively is greatly appreciated), getting to see the homes before they go live (I've sold two to date and the agents thought that was great) and having an agents understanding as to what should be emphasized in the shoot. I totally understand Terry's comment about being able to recharge while shooting a home. I also love the solitude and it's a great time to decompress. Also, I've never had to advertise my services and my business has been all referral and word of mouth. I currently shoot for about dozen agents in my office and about and another 6 or so at other Brokers.

  11. There are meaningful benefits to being a Realtor and a Real Estate Photographer; a heightened sensibility to what the marketplace wants to see, being comfortable with advocacy and potential conflict of interest (I excel at confidentiality 😉 and would never attempt to cross that line or poach a client for any reason. Because ours is a referral business there's also a high awareness of the importance of customer satisfaction. In my photographer role it's my job to make the Realtor look good and to make the Seller happy with how their property is being presented. And also to protect them in the process with knowledge gained in real estate that's second nature to me, but not common knowledge to all Agents or Sellers. However, I'm careful to always ask if they want my staging feedback as we're shooting or doing the walk through. Agents I work with often proudly mention that I'm also a Realtor, sharing my photos in their Listing Presentations. Most of my photography clients are referrals from other Realtors. I try to tell a story with my photos that show the best qualities and the flow of the home. I can also help other Agents who may not be as tech savvy since I know their systems.

  12. I'm a FULL TIME real estate agent. But, I do take all my own pictures. Thanks to Larry and this blog I have improved my skills and pictures. My house marketing plan includes virtual tour slideshow, virtual tour video, intro video, on-line (interactive eMag) and hard copy brochures, house business card, media ads, house flyer, and blog posts. All of these pieces use the same pictures / video clips -- but in different formats. Almost every one of these pieces goes through PowerPoint. And, they also may require audio and video editing. I also typically USE 60 - 120 pictures of a house -- and sometimes that many again about the location (the beaches). And, if a house on Cape Cod is listed in say February, and doesn't sell soon, then many of the pictures have to be retaken in the spring / summer. Lots of work, and I don't know any pro real estate photographer who does all of this -- or would do it at a price I could afford. I also do most of this for my wife's listings (also a full-time real estate agent). And, I have done it for one or two agents who were selling their own home. I have been asked by several agents to do this for them, but I have always declined. I don't think it is a conflick of interest, but I view what I do as a competitive advantage and I don't want to compete with myself.

  13. Another benefit is when the agent is late for the photo appointment, the photographer doesn't have to wait......

  14. I have a real estate license as well and find it as a huge benefit. I don't do the volume of photo shoots for other agents that I once did but it is beneficial for both buyers and sellers. I market my real estate marketing and photo quality to potential sellers and pretty much close any listing appointment with my portfolio. If any agent feels threatened by having another agent marketing their listing I just tell them by doing the photo shoot it allows me to preview their listing. I also advertise it to my buyers and let them know I see more homes than possibly any other agent out there since I photograph between 5 and 15 homes per week.

  15. I am a Real Estate Broker and shoot for myself, our brokerage and many agents at other brokerages. I have never had any issues and in fact it gives me a heads up on new inventory.

  16. I have been doing both for about 3 years and as my photography business continues to grow I look forward to the day (hopefully) in 2014 when I can drop my real estate license. The only conflict I had was (before I had a strict prepay model) dealing with an agent that would not pay her photography bills and then getting into a real estate deal with her. It was very strained and as a result, I stopped doing photography for a time because I perceived it as a direct conflict. The advantage of doing both is that realtors know and trust me and it is easier to get business as I am out among their community talking about real estate matters. Easier to be in their social circles, but I imagine it is equally easy maintaining a relationship on social media as the professional real estate photographer. In NM any professional can apply for lock box access for a fee.

  17. "There are meaningful benefits to being a Realtor and a Real Estate Photographer; a heightened sensibility to what the marketplace wants to see, being comfortable with advocacy and potential conflict of interest (I excel at confidentiality 😉 and would never attempt to cross that line or poach a client for any reason. Because ours is a referral business there’s also a high awareness of the importance of customer satisfaction. In my photographer role it’s my job to make the Realtor look good and to make the Seller happy with how their property is being presented. And also to protect them in the process with knowledge gained in real estate that’s second nature to me, but not common knowledge to all Agents or Sellers. However, I’m careful to always ask if they want my staging feedback as we’re shooting or doing the walk through. Agents I work with often proudly mention that I’m also a Realtor, sharing my photos in their Listing Presentations. Most of my photography clients are referrals from other Realtors. I try to tell a story with my photos that show the best qualities and the flow of the home. I can also help other Agents who may not be as tech savvy since I know their systems."

    I was going to chime in, but Judy took the words right out of my mouth. I would have made the same points. Well done Judy.

  18. Realtor for 10 years / photographer for 8. I never shoot for other realtors. My pictures help brand me - not other realtors. Shooting my listings helps me get really familiar and intimate with the home. After all, that's what I'm selling. I also the know the market and what important to buyers.

    But I shoot because I love it - not to save money. Real estate is not an easy job and spending some hours shooting gets my creative juices flowing which give me balance. And without balance, life ain't fun.

  19. Jenny Ames is on track to sell $150 million in Chicago real estate this year, and she sold well over $100 million last year. She does all the photography on her own listings. At about 9:20 in the video she talks about the value of photography and why she takes her own shots.

    Jenny does have one of her team members do the post-processing.

  20. @Joe Zekas, Thanks for the video link. Beyond just talking about photography, Jennifer emphasizes staging and presentation as well. It's easy to see how she could sell $100 million of real estate in one year. I had a look at her pictures and while they are much better than the camera phone work in my area, there are issues that are holding them back from being something that would appear in a high-end real estate magazine. She may want to reconsider shooting all of her own photos and work with a professional photographer on her more up-scale listings. From her interview, she is often squeezed for time and with a family, that is a big consideration.

    Jennifer brought up a good point towards the end of the interview. She commented that ALL of the people are now using the internet to research listings and that an agent's image is not improved by having poor marketing materials, especially photos.

    It might save a real estate agent a little money by shooting their own listings if they have the time and the talent, but they should weigh the benefit of saving a few dollars on professional photography with using that same time to prospect for more listings. Keeping up with new gear, software and improving technique takes a large commitment of time. The same can be said of being a real estate professional.

  21. Larry - You've definitely put things into perspective, this is an excellent article and extremely timely. Thanks for addressing this!

  22. I totally agree with Charlie Dresen's comments. As a full-time Broker, entering my 25th year, I have always photographed my own listings, but I do not have time or desire to shoot for other Brokers. Shooting the home myself gives me control of the creative process and most importantly my time. It helps me with a connection to properties I am selling - a bond if you. It also allows me to distinguishes my photos and videos from other brokers in the area, to maintain a variety in my day (mixing fun and work) and retain a love for my real estate career after 2+ decades.

  23. Reading this I see the US Agents are not really different from the Dutch.
    I am a certified RE agent from the Netherlands and here it is common an agent also does valuations (about 20% to 30% of annual earnings).
    I guess a professional full time agent can only be successful as a photographer if there is a certain part of hobby (Like Tony Meier even call it fun) in photography.

    In my 12 years of experience as an agent I always find it hard to concentrate while shooting when the client is home and in times I was really busy with selling and valuating I (honest enough to say it) tended to rush my photography. Processing pics in an office environment was impossible for me, so I always had to do it at home and again I tended to rush it if I was busy at work or busy raising my kids. I think improving as a photographer and making flawless RE images and being in a rush is not a good combination at all.

    In my opinion being a successful listing agent and photographer is possible if the person is determent enough and show perseverance.
    But time-pressure is a real danger, so overall I think it can ONLY be done if you can focus business in the High End market.
    In my case the high end market is too small as I live in a more industrial area with a big market at low prices.

    So for me the problems (point 4 of this article)
    1 = time pressure / rushing
    2 = are there enough high end transactions to market on in your area
    3 = in my country most agents not make much out of photography themselves (they grab an Iphone or point and shoot and thats about it)

    Maybe my is English is not perfect but I am not native speaking.

  24. I'm Both. REALTOR for almost 25 and shooting professionally for 5. I've met most of my clients because of my real estate activities. that's why they trust me to deliver.
    Being a REALTOR gives me unique experiences to know what is wanted by REALTORS. Seems to be working...

    John Walsh Twin Cities, MN

  25. I think it helps. I know what sellers want to see. I know what buyers want to see. If agents are concerned or suspicious, I can take care of that with a simple disclaimer. It basically reads that I will never list the property in question as long as its the property of the same owner. In other words, once theres been a transaction and someone else owns the property, I am free to list it if approached. But while it is in the hands of the current owner, I am not. Its just a couple of sentences where I include the owners name. Its really only for agents who don't know me because those that do, know that that's just not something I would ever do to them!

  26. Like Charlie Dresen, I am a full-time realtor and I shoot all my own photos and video. I would never consider shooting a project for another agent as my business is built upon my imaging work. I don't understand those realtors who have commented here that they "are waiting for the day they can drop the real estate license and shoot photos full-time". In my ten years in real estate I have never earned less than $150K per year - after expenses, pre-tax. I can't imagine realizing that kind of income from charging $250 per photo shoot. The predominant real estate photographer in my small tourist town of Bend, Oregon now charges $150 per shoot plus another $75 if the realtor wants a twilight shot. As long as the majority of the realtors I compete with remain too darn cheap to hire a pro - and blast away with their point-and-shoot cameras (and even their iPhones!) - I will continue to have a very lucrative real estate business.

  27. As an Agent and photographer, I prefer to photograph my own listings for obvious reasons. I have done it for other agents in my office many times without a problem. It is not a service I offer to my company, but if someone needs it done quickly and professionally, I am more than willing to assist and I charge nominal fee for a set number of images. Professional photography is slowly catching on in our market place, but the number of agents photographing a home with their iphone is on the rise.

  28. Thankyou Larry for this wonderful blog and the great book on real estate photography, which i downloaded yesterday. This thread is of particular interest as i have been working as an agent in french Real Estate since 2007 and have been developing my photography skills in order to offer my services to prestige clients with €1m plus properties, in other parts of france (within the same company). You have helped with my decision making and guided my path, so for that i say THANKYOU!

  29. It's nearly five years since this blog was first posted and the situation has become more complicated. Many RE offices, at least around here, have approx. 3 in-house photographers on staff and agents pay $50/mo for the service which also includes drone photography. Agents also have the option to shoot, edit and upload their own photos if they choose. The MLS has made it easier for them to take control of things eliminating the need for outside photographers like us. So, it's a trend which will only get worse in time. I don't know where that leaves us but it appears we may have to change locations in order to find new business.

  30. It's good to know that real estate photographers can easily go and take pictures without the listing agent. I imagine that it could be complicated to plan a time for the two of them to meet up. This way they both benefit and can continue to get their other jobs done.

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