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What Is the Best Way for Real Estate Photographers to Increase Income?

Published: 08/01/2019
By: larry

Keri in Witchita says:

In my area, I have 2 companies charging $100-125 for 2500SF home photo shoots. They have up to 6 employees shooting for them and they appear to do good work but I cannot figure out how they can charge so little. I’m so booked most of the time I’d like to hire a 2nd shooter but I cannot justify the cost.

The companies you refer to are probably paying their employees, or more likely part-time contract employees, very little. How to grow a real estate photography business is a classic question. There isn’t an answer that is right for everyone in every location. Some will do it with more people (this works very well within families), some will do it by raising their quality and price, and some will subcontract parts of the business to others.

Here are several things that may affect your decisions on how to grow your business:

  1. There is generally not enough profit margin in real estate photography, so it doesn't really make sense for 3rd parties (more photographers) to get involved to share the profit. Someone always gets a bad deal in this arrangement.
  2. You should be tracking what you are making per shoot so you understand what your profit margin is.
  3. Most of the success stories we've featured here on the PFRE blog in the past involve raising the quality of your work and charging more.
  4. If you hire another photographer, not only do you have to train them, you have to train them on your style of shooting. And then you are not going to want them to leave you to be your competitor. This is what leads to the nasty concept of non-compete agreements.
  5. Customer service and marketing are typically the more important aspects of this business so if these are your weak points, it may make the most sense to focus on improving these parts of your business rather than getting more people involved.
  6. Contracting out drone work and Matterport work could make more sense than getting more people involved doing the same thing that you are doing.
  7. Many real estate photographers contract out their post-processing.

I suggest that you find yourself a PFRE coach to help you work through the issue of increasing your business.

10 comments on “What Is the Best Way for Real Estate Photographers to Increase Income?”

  1. Keri, Larry's point #2 is key. Know your costs. You should have a pretty close estimate on what is costs you per mile to get to each job, how long (averaged over a job) it takes you to make each photo from composition to delivery and how much time it takes you on the back end to do the office work.

    Your time is ultimately what you are selling, so it's good to put together a workflow that minimizes parasitic tasks. You need to know where every minute is going and where you can make the biggest savings.

    If you aren't shooting, you are burning daylight. Try to work out if going to outsourced editing will get you another appointment slot. There are people that act as office staff for independent professionals that might be able to do some of your office work. There are also people that you can contract to do your marketing, but it takes a person familiar with RE (former agent?) The last person you may want to hire is a second shooter unless your goal is to operate a photography company with several employees and pretty much stop shooting yourself.

    I don't bother with what other people or companies are charging. My cost of living is pretty darn low so if they charging less than I am, they are extremely efficient or they're headed for a brick wall. Since I know what my costs are and they're typical, I can easily evaluate what others are charging in the same are.

    I've never been able to figure out the justification for pricing by the square foot. The number of photos it what takes the time, not the size of the property. You could always come in at $95 for 2,500 sqft and just promise fewer images so your quote is less than theirs. Just make them much nicer photos. Most of the listings I see are way overshot but I rarely see ones with top quality images.

    If you are booked most of the time now, you should be happy. Due to the nature of the business, adding a few employees doesn't add much to the bottom line for the headache that it can cause. Not only should you worry about training your competition, there are things like payroll and workman's compensation insurance. There is liability if you don't hire somebody with good morals. You have to slow down and spend time to train new people and if they don't work out, you have to find somebody else and start the process over taking away more of your precious time. You may not see a good return until you can get somebody that is talented and sticks around long enough to repay your training investment. Many times you may wind up working for free so you can make payroll, insurance and the other extra stuff that goes with having employees. You can't just call them "independent contractors" and wash your hands. The IRS may consider them as employees retroactively with fines and penalties. You have to know where the differences are and make sure you are well on the right side of the line.

  2. I should have ended with:

    Do what you can to get really good at your craft. There is no easy way for a competitor to compete with that at fast food wages.

  3. “What Is the Best Way for Real Estate Photographers to Increase Income?”
    Simple, just raise your fees…. Not so simple, is it?
    Going down the list…
    1. True, there is not enough profit to split for everyone to be satisfied. No matter what you pay…they always want more
    2. Knowing you CODB (cost of doing business) is mandatory if you are to be successful, otherwise just work for the mls as a drive by shooter and end up in the same financial situation.
    3. Success stories are a guide, not a plan. You have to evaluate your area demographics and know your competition to succeed. Unfortunately, quality has less to do with success than price. That’s not to say you have to go cheap, it just means that there is a limit to what you can charge. The sweet spot is different in every area and you need to research that in a number of ways to get to the solution.
    4. Hiring another photographer….unless it is family or a good friend that you trust…than you are training your future competition. Non-compete Agreements are worthless and in most jurisdictions, un-enforceable.
    5. Customer service and Marketing are at the core of successful business, anything you can do to build that area will always pay big. Think of hiring a remote service tech that can help you with scheduling, marketing and post production. They need not be in your office/home to help you out. They can work from their own homes answering calls and scheduling your shoots. Maybe they can be the one to work on your website…you know, the site you have not touched in 6 months….
    6. Outsourcing optional work like drone, matterport, etc. is something to think about….BUT….that is also a potential to have someone unethical poach your clients to another. Keep a good eye on them and be sure that they are meeting your expectations with their work.
    7. Outsourcing, if you are going to be successful and have a life, you will need to hire a team to do the work you produce during the day/night. Burning the candle at both ends will make you richer, but in the long run, it will destroy your joy of life
    8. As many know, this list can go on for a very long time, but the bottom line is this: Offer options that you can up sale, provide more services that relate, such as video, drone, etc. Look at your competition, know your demographic and understand if there is enough commerce in your area to support your vision.

  4. Who knows, maybe that company is running themselves into the ground with those rates. Happens all the time.

    Work hard and take good photos. Find a way to do more shoots and offer more services. And then gradually raise your rates.

    Slow and steady wins the race.

  5. The best way to increase income is to stay focused on taking good care of your clients by delivering quality images in a timely manner. Don't worry about what other firms charge, or how many photographers they employ. Good product, delivered in a timely manner with great customer service should keep your clients loyal and bring in referrals.

  6. Larry's response is pretty much spot on. Be careful of hiring a second shooter, it's better to partner with a video professional, someone who specializes in Matterport (but doesn't dabble in photography) or a drone operator. Definitely outsource some if not all of your post processing.

    Increase your rates. Maybe not for your current clientele, but raise your prices on your current service sheets for new clients.

    The tour companies that charge bare minimum for photography are usually a revolving door of entry level photographers and they struggle to stay out of the red. Trust me, I've worked with them in the past and it's usually a negative experience for everyone involved (the photographer and most importantly the client).

  7. @Kevin Edge,

    Adding more services can be money loser. If you are grossing $50/hr on photos and only $25/hr putting together virtual tours, floor plans or other marketing you are halving your revenue every time you have to not shoot a home to be able to deliver on those other services. I offer brochures (the art, not the physical paper) as an addon. I can do them at night and I spent some upfront time putting together some templates so I can make them in around 15 minutes. I charge $10 for the file which is less than I make from the photography, but they don't take away from the shooting day and 10-20 minutes of work is easy to fit in. If you can outsource some services so there is a minimal time investment on your part and still make enough from it, why not? You just have to hope that you don't wind up eating the cost if something doesn't go right.

    Adding 3D scans such as Matterport can also be a poor use of time. The service has to be popular enough to amortize the upfront and continuing costs to be able to offer it. Again, if it returns less hourly income by taking away from more profitable still photography it's a bad move unless you're losing too many bookings because many agents in the area demand it and are taking their business to the competition.

    Now that there is official legal policy on drones and they are very popular with agents, they are a good service to look into. Depending on the value the local market is putting on the images, it can be more profitable than the basic stills for the time invested on each job. Although, there may not be enough billable hours to simply chuck doing stills and switch over exclusively to aerial images. If you can bump your bill by $50 for 20 minutes of drone work, that's a pretty good return.

    @Matt Davis

    BNB's, independent hotels, local restaurants/bars/nightclubs are also good places to look for higher paying work. Hotel/Motel chains are tough since they hire photography from the corporate office and not the local premises.

  8. Personally, those are the rates that are pretty common here. I think my work is the best of the few in my area, but I also think that, to Realtors, hiring a professional photographer fulfills their obligation to the seller, it doesn't much matter how good they are after "good enough" so why pay more?

    I shoot pretty much steady, and end up earning about 4 times the salary for a family of 4 in my area. I'm good with that. With no employees, except my wife who schedules, I net about 73 percent of my gross income(pretax)

  9. Have you considered looking into other markets such as design / build, builders, commercial spaces, senior living spaces? Another way to increase income is selling more upgrades (add-ons) and make a little more per shoot.

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