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What Are Real Estate Listing Agents Concerns When Hiring A Photographer?

Published: 29/01/2016

CustomerInputJamie who is just starting out in real estate photography in Seattle asks:

When working with new agents do you have any recommendations of questions to ask the agent? In my limited experience every agent has different expectations and I want to ensure that I'm delivering images that meet and/or exceed their expectations.

Here are the things that most listing agents will use to pick a real estate photographer:

  1. Shoot time: Can you get in and out in a short amount of time? Frequently the listing agent will let you in the home and wait there until you are finished. Their patience runs out in an hour or so.
  2. Availability: Can you respond quickly and get the shoot done on short notice?
  3. Communication: Are you easy to get ahold of and verify an appointment?
  4. Delivery time: Do you deliver photos within 24 hours or even less?
  5. Price: Can you deliver the product they expect for about the same price as the competition?
  6. Customer service: Are you easy to work with? And will you accommodate their special requests?

What drives priorities 1,2,3 and 4 is that when listing agents sign a listing agreement, invariably the first question the homeowner will ask is, "when can you have our home on the market? The answer is highly dependent on their real estate photographer. This is why in real estate photography speed is such an important factor. The homeowners are the ones in a hurry and listing agents, in turn, put pressure on photographers to hurry.

Of course, you want to discuss priorities with your client but expect these subjects to come up.

Larry Lohrman

21 comments on “What Are Real Estate Listing Agents Concerns When Hiring A Photographer?”

  1. In my own limited experience I've decided many brokers don't even know what they're looking for (other than Larry's list). They don't know what a good photo is or should do (duh- make the phone ring?)

    I'd ask a successful agent of a busy office to let you re-shoot a vacant/ staged listing for free (save the exact images they already have on your phone; use them as a guide of what to shoot (or improve upon). Send whatever time it takes in post to create a 'masterpiece' and publish a their's/ your's comparison on a web page. Join them toe-to-toe in front of a decent monitor and explain why your's are better (hopefully it's obvious). That's worked really well for me to get started, in a short period of time.

    Mainly, ask them for the business ***in person*** lots of brokers barely even read non-client emails.

  2. My biggest frustration is a variation of #4. Delivery in 24 hours or less is not an issue. Rather, the property was quickly listed at time of request for photos and tour and has the single mandatory front photo taken with an iPhone and worse, a narrative "More to come". It could be either from the homeowner's request, or worse, the Realtor's sales spiel "Sign here and will have your home on the market today" and even pulls a temporary sign out the trunk. Both are a disservice, the first avoids a negative tone as you educate the homeowner why not, the second is for the Realtor's benefit to block other Realtors from landing the listing while giving the homeowner that you are on top of it. The correct response is - "you list it when it is ready." To understand why it is a disservice, look at the buyer side. With buyers, Realtors set up a search program that sends an email as soon as it is listed. It is not unusual when I list a property that showing instructions are being hit within minutes of the listing as they have called their Realtor. What better group do you want to market too - actively looking (usually mortgage pre-approved) and the home matched the search criteria. As I tell clients (both realty and photography) you want to hit them with your best shot! They won't get a notification to re-look when you add photos or an improved narrative, as the next notification event is a price reduction.

  3. #4 if you combine it with the immediate requirement of shooting now!
    And then making my team wait or changing the schedule or not having the house staged properly.
    Of course we have ways of dealing with this, but for the most part it is frustrating.

  4. Most of the experienced brokers I work with dislike super over done HD, they hate the cartoon/unreal look and the second most comment I have heard is super wide lenses making rooms look much larger than they actually are. Price has not been an issue for me.

  5. Most of the brokers I work with dislike super overcooked HDR and super wide lenses making the room look larger than it actually is. Price hasn't been an issue for me.

  6. In my experience most realtors just want you to come and shoot their listings on their schedule. If you are not available, they will get another photographer. For the most part, they are not real worried about the cost as long you can satisfy their needs.

  7. +1 with Larry Gray.

    Your quote below:
    "..images that meet and/or exceed their expectations."

    1.Then do some minor artistic photos...get very low on your tripod and grab a nice image of a fireplace, but maybe overlooking some books set up on a coffee table.
    2. Catch a ray of light coming into a room highlighting something unique in that room.
    3. I like doing a nice artistic photo, change everything to B&W, but leave one thing in color. For example, I did a number of Christmas wreaths on the front door of a house. Turned everything to B&W except for the Red Bow. Killed every time. Everything is in B&W but the red bow. Big wow factor with agent who was unsuspecting. Sellers dig that too, especially if the sellers are downsizing and kids are all gone, lived in the house 30 get the picture. Anyway took all of 5 minutes in photoshop to create the B&W photo with red bow. This certainly meets or exceeds expectations - or at least where I shoot it does.
    3. My fav is this: If the family is present with kids, grab some quick photos of the kids playing or quick candid shots of the family. Photos of babies in the crib or lying on their belly arched up on a nice cushy blanket is slick. Baby feet in the air is always an "awwwwhhhhhh" moment. Do the black and white thing. Send the photo or photos to the agent. Obviously, don't tell the agent (though the sellers may end up telling the listing agent). You will score huge brownie points with the agent, making the agent look super good and the agent keeping you in mind as a result of this warm gesture for the agent's next photo shoot. Works with dogs and cats too, with or without the owners in the photo.

  8. @Robert

    I would seriously have a good laugh if I spotted a B&W or selective color image in the ephemeral world of RE photography. You're just hazing the greenhorns. Am I right?!

  9. Here is a set of selective color portfolio imagery from the most widely used re photographers in my area.!/page/15132/colorsplash

    I don't really have a comment, I will just let those images speak for themselves. But realtors obviously like this stuff, I guess.

    My biggest problem is with number six. Maybe it is me not seeing the forest from the trees, but when I get asked for special requests, and Larry is right this comes up all the times almost like you are being tested... But it's like look these are very low photography rates you are being charged for, no photograph in the world is priced lower. I can't really be doing that at these price points. My loss I suppose.

  10. A variation of what Robert was saying, but also the extended application of #6 - how you interact on site with owners or others. While I might take a picture of a pet, it only happens 2 or 3 time as year as the opportunity presents itself - not something I took time to set up other than perhaps a lens change. Classic was setting up lights in master bedroom, and there is the dog spread out on the bed watching me. Easy enough to slip on a telephoto for tight framing with good lighting before shooing away. Kind of a standard line I use, rather than directing owners to remove the pet, with the owner present I will talk to the pet (as if they could understand me), "You know, if you are in the picture you go with the house. Those are the rules". Backfired once as the owner called her husband over and told him to sit on the sofa. We all had a good laugh, but that is the issue in customer service - make it a fun event as you get your job done. It is also a natural extension of your creative vision as you look at potential from different angles or perspective. Even simple questions - where are you moving too - are nice starters that show an interest in them.

    Did have one where the Realtor warned me that the owners micro-manage everything, ending with "Good Luck." Sure enough, intense interest to the point of being over bearing that wasn't being satisfied with basic stuff like why bouncing light off walls, reflections in windows/mirrors, and other technical education. Pulled out my iPad and let them look at photos of my trips to Europe (primarily landscape) and daughter's wedding in the Canary Islands as I learned they hadn't been to either. That distracted them the entire time while I shot the house - and the reception/dinner and dancing in the cave totally blew them away. I need to create a special 'distraction gallery' on my iPad.

  11. @Andrew - I will comment on those photos: Awful! My real estate agent wife thought so, too. I've seen your work - if that is your main competition, you should be doing well.

  12. 1. It's only the first job or two that I do for an agent that they want to be present. I will try to give them an accurate estimate on the time it will take to photograph the property, but I can't until I've seen the home. If I were to quote 60-90 minutes the home would have 5 bedrooms, a fully mirrored master bath and dark shiny surfaces everywhere that just suck up light. They would also want to schedule the session when the sun is streaming in through large floor to ceiling windows. Agents that I have worked with on several jobs will stick around, send an assistant or have the owner on-site for as long as it takes. For vacant homes, I am usually let in, given a key or a code and asked to make sure everything is locked up when I'm done. My regulars ask what time of day will be the best for the all important front exterior and/or view photos which I use The Photographer's Ephemeris to determine and go with the next available optimum time. Sometimes I will be able to get the front exterior on the day before and photograph the rest of the house on the next.

    2. I'm mostly a first-booked, first served operation. I will work on weekends if needed to meet my customer's desires since I get plenty of days off as it is.

    3. I return calls promptly if I'm not available to pick up my phone when a customer calls. I do not use Text. I find it too frustrating when I get the single answer "yes" to the 4 questions I sent. I find it much faster to have a voice call. Email works well too if a customer needs to send me addresses and other information and email is a much more robust system.

    4. I promise a 48 hour turn around and usually deliver by the next day. If I only have one job in the morning, there is a good possibility that I will deliver the same day. There have been a couple of occasions where things have come up. I remember that I wasn't feeling too well while out shooting one day and when I got back I was completely thrashed and went straight to bed. I still delivered within my guaranteed timeframe. If they positively must have photos the next day before lunch, I'm happy to stay up for a rush charge if I can.

    5. I have stopped paying much attention to what the competition charges. I compete on quality and service. There isn't much local competition and those that pop up charge way too little to stay in business for long. I keep track of what I need to make and set my prices accordingly. If I get to the point where I am fully booked I'll know that I am not charging enough and I'll raise my prices.

    6. I keep notes on what each customer prefers in a photo set and what they want to see on a particular listing. If an agent makes a request that I can accomplish within my normal timeframe, I'm happy to accommodate them. If they want something that is going to take more time, multiple visits or me having to rent gear, I'll give them an estimate and an opinion on whether it will add value. I'll suggest alternatives if the cost-benefit doesn't look good.

  13. @Larry Gray - I find that the best, most professional agents work closely with their clients to a home sold for the most money by taking the time to coach the owners on prepping the home properly to photograph and show. The only way to get a second chance on presenting a home is to take it off of the market for 30-31 days and relist it so it appears on the top of the lists again. Otherwise, it gets updated while it sits way down the list. It very easy to sell a home if it's priced $30-40K below market with a Google street view image and one sentence of text. Getting a listing on the MLS in least amount of time possible it a disservice to the seller.

  14. A listing agent will probably consider one factor or concern not mentioned is the Portfolio (or lack of). Just like a web designer or interior decorator, a BIG concern is the quality of work (or photos) he/she has taken.
    When you have an extensive portfolio of properties - just like social media, you have to be "popular!"

  15. I've been shooting Real Estate since 2008 and have shot over 5000 homes and commercial buildings during that time. My client list numbers over 500 so with that kind of experience, I believe I have some idea of what Realtors want.

    Here are the factors that allows me to enjoy steady work all year long through all seasons:

    1. Availability - If you over schedule and overwork yourself, you will not be available for when the Realtor wants you. I hear a lot that the seller put off the decision to sell and now that they are ready to sell, THEY ARE READY NOW! Scheduling fewer shoots in a day might mean less revenue on the short term, but believe me because you are available, you will work steadily instead of your Realtor clients looking elsewhere because you were not available.
    2. Reasonable and affordable rates - I could charge more but I prefer not being the "expensive guy" and I'd prefer a steady stream of appointments due to reasonable pricing. There isn't much overhead in our business anyway, so at what point do you price yourself out of business? I've found that Brokers do not enjoy spending money on a listing they may not sell, so they are sensitive to how much they will spend on a photo shoot. Of course, the high producers totally get the value of top level professional photography and the difference of $25-$75 in photographers won't be the reason they choose. They will use #1 above to make their choice.
    3. Fast delivery - 99.9% of the time I deliver the same evening. That impresses many of my clients and is contrary to what others do if overscheduling themselves in a given day. Sometimes that means a long working day, but typically three shoots means a 9 hour day including leaving the office for the first shoot up until the final photo gets delivered.
    4. Quality of Photos - this goes without saying really, as a Realtor will expect photos that are much better than what they would take themselves. Sometimes that isn't hard to do and I often cringe to see what some RE photographers deliver to their clients. But then I look at my own photos when I first started and I want to cringe, then laugh at myself.

    That's my list and I'm sticking to it.

  16. I can't count the number of times I've been asked "do you do HDR?", even though they have no clue what it actually means. To some it means that they want to be able to see what's outside the window, to others it means hyper-saturated cartoon images (which some actually want because that's what they see out there). I wish the term HDR had never been coined, since it doesn't really say anything about what the image will actually look like.


  17. Yes to many photographers the term HDR has a negative connotation. When explaining what I do I let them know I bracket photos plus throw in 1flash photo then blend them. It is my job anyway to listen to my client and do everything I can to provide them with what they are paying for.

  18. I strongly believe in the "Race to the bottom phenomenon". It really depends on one's long term goals in this industry. If you plan on being the Mc Donalds of real estate, I predict burn-out of a period. Not only that, the act of photography becomes an unrewarding experience. I think that those who entered into this field, were motivated through a possession of appeal and business potential. I find that if one handles #6 properly, all other concerns will take care of themselves. I think it is foolish to aim for all demographics. Each one will have different standards and requirements. As photographers, we need to maintain the economic viability of this genre of photography. Other trades have guilds, which create standardization in practices. The end result, is a respectable trade that one can enter into.

  19. @ Robert

    Hahaha oh I hope you're trolling the newbies here on some of those suggestions. Firstly the B&W/selective color would get laughed at by every agent I've worked with for the past 10 years and why on earth would someone who's hired to take photos of a house want to spend their time taking photos of children and babies? I don't know about you but NOT having to take photos of people is one of the reasons I shoot properties.
    Leave those picsto the newborn/family guys.

    Our market (aus) is simple compared to the American way of doing things. Agencies here wouldnt be able to even comprehend a price by size structure. It's "x" number of images for "x" number of dollars then a cost for additional images and other add on features like drones etc. But we also generally shoot up to a maximum of 10 images here so it's far less than the American model.

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