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What Should Real Estate Photographers Base Their Pricing On?

Published: 07/07/2017

150unitshootAaron in Ohio asks:

I know most real estate photographers charge based on the square footage of a property but lately I have been charging a per image fee. It seems to be working but I have gotten some guff about it. I do this because some Realtors want upwards of 50 images for 1500 sq. ft. homes and 60 images on 3,500 sq. ft. home. Under the square footage model, the difference in price when charging by sq. ft. is substantial but the work load sometimes is not.

I find that charging by the image holds accountability on both parties and it forces Realtors to be more decisive instead of the "shoot it all and I'll pick the ones I like mindset". When shooting brackets for HDR, providing unlimited images based on sq. ft. and clients' desires isn't that hard but when you are lighting a house with multiple flashes, its a game changer. So my question is, does anyone else charge per image and does this sound unreasonable within RE photography?

Historically, everyone used to price on square footage but I think that is changing. I see more and more real estate photographers pricing per image which I think is a much more sensible way to price than square footage.

In one of our past discussions on this subject, Scott Hargis made the following great argument for per image pricing:

You can charge any amount you like, but the basic formula would be that the more photos you deliver, the more money you make. Your clients are perfectly able to specify quantities in every other area of their lives – they know that every candy bar they buy, every gallon of gas, every dozen eggs, is a little “cha-ching” at the cashier. They even know that every kilowatt of electricity they use will be billed, even though hardly anyone really calculates their electric usage that carefully. They’ll be able to handle the notion of each photograph being worth a set dollar amount.

I think that part of the resistance from Realtors to per image pricing is related to the fact that in the last few years many MLSs have increased or removed their limits to the number of photos they can upload to a listing and they think more images are better.

How many others are pricing per image?


Larry Lohrman

10 comments on “What Should Real Estate Photographers Base Their Pricing On?”

  1. I started out by charging by the square foot and vary rapidly found out that agents will lie when it comes to homes that are just over a price change. It's also tough to charge by the square foot and make money when you are presented with a 5 bedroom home that should more properly be a 3 bedroom home and the client wants at least 2 photos of each room.

    If you have been shooting for a while and keeping track of the time it takes, you should start to find an average time per photo over a typical home. Some images will take seconds and others will require more time to get right, but the average will be fairly consistent. This makes it much easier to calculate costs and how many homes you can accommodate per day at prices that let you meet your income goals.

    There is an urban rumor that the more pictures an agent posts, the higher their listing will rank. No consumer facing web site does this and several of us have reached out to the likes of Trulia, Realtor and Zillow asking about their ranking policy. All of the sites rank listings on when they are posted. Zillow will bump a listing if you use their POS video tool, but it's not very good. In all likelihood, posting too many photos just induces "click fatigue" and buyers may give up before seeing the features that are the most important to their selection criteria. The home magazines create desire with 8-12 images and the goal of the photos is to induce somebody to reach out with an email or phone call to see the property in person. There is also the added benefit to the agent of increasing the perception that they are superior in terms of marketing. In music, the old saying is if you can't be good, be loud. The corollary in PFRE is, if you can't make good pictures, just post a whole bunch.

    Change is always a problem. If you have been charging by the square foot and change to a per image policy, some customers are going to push back. You need to do what makes the most sense for your business and what allows you to control your costs and meet income goals. It's very easy to calculate how much money you are making if you can just multiply how many images you make times how long they take you to complete. The size of the home may affect the number of photos needed, but not how long it takes to create each one. The price of the home, some photographers base their pricing on the listing price, has nothing to do with anything a photographer is doing though it may suggest that the agent may want to pay a little more for the photographer to spend more time on the details. I'd much rather see MLS's go back to reasonable image limits and substantially increase the quality/size. There is no reason for 100 images of a home on the MLS. If the photographer can't create any excitement in the first 20, the next 80 aren't going to help.

  2. The simple answer......what the market will invest!

    You can play games with per image, square footage, time at location or the selling price....the fact is that you need to be aware of what your potential clients will invest. Your images are worth only what your clients will pay, not a penny more!

    Know your demographic, understand your competition and go with the least disruptive path while you are growing. Once you have achieved the level of quality, reputation, etc as some here, you can dictate the terms as you want to a degree, but even then, there is a limit.

  3. I charge a base fee that pays for me to do two things: 1, show up and 2, shoot and deliver 15 photos. I then charge per photo after that. (In essence, I'm charging a show up fee and a per photo fee. I don't want my customer to fee like they are getting nickeled and dimed so my "show up" fee includes the minimum of 15 photos.)

    I charge per photo for all the same reasons articulated by Aaron above. The sq. ft. pricing model wasn't working for me. Large homes don't take me longer, but more photos do. 20 photos in a 1500 sq. ft. home takes the same amount of time as 20 photos in a 4000 sq. ft. home. I haven't had any push back on this pricing model (other than cheap real estate agents who want to pay $100 to get 25 photos!).

  4. I service 2 states with different MLS maximums for photos. I charge by number or rooms shot and/or number of images delivered.
    The agent can choose less rooms if they don't want to pay as much which is fine since that's less work for me. Or if it's a smaller house but has beautiful gardens, pool, etc, they can pay for more images.
    I think most photographers in my area still use square footage. Personally, I like to give the agents flexibility on how much they'd like to spend.

  5. I charge by the listing price of the home. This roughly correlates with the size of the home and also the value to the agent. In each tier I have a limit on the max time on site and the max number of images and max distance I'll travel associated with that tier. I also have a tier that is over a certain amount and say "Will Quote."

    This works well for me and ties the value of the service roughly to the value to the agent without getting complicated.

    I think when you charge by the image the agents tend to commoditize your offering. I'm not a commodity. I want the agents to buy me as part of the package. If the package is based on the number of images or per image pricing then they are buying pictures not me. When you buy pictures and your product is pictures they can easily just shop around.

    Like I say this works for me. I'm all in agreement with "whatever the market will bear..."

  6. I use Trevor's method.
    I do not work with people who want pictures by the pound.
    I rarely deliver more than 25 images because as Ken noted if you can't get the viewer excited with 20, you aren't going to get the job done with more.

    If you are working with agents that insist on flat rates for a ton of photos you have a poor client.

  7. Most of my income is derived from charging an attendance fee and a per image fee on top but this way tends to be for high end agents only. Mid level agents want a package price based on a minimum number of photos - often only 6 in the London market - but will also pay per image for extras when the property is bigger/nicer. The best clients I have are the ones who leave it up to me to decide how many images I make and they will buy them all. I would never entertain the idea of charging a fixed fee based on square footage as it makes no sense to me.

  8. I charge them out like mens shirt sizes - S, M, L, XL, XXL IF the small will support $175, and the XXL will support $500, then the other sizes will fall into that somewhere. But I reserve the right to charge anywhere in that range, if for instance, a small house turned into 60 photos. Most of the time that isn't the case though. I know going in what kind of bill the realtor is expecting, and I tailor my shooting/retouching to match it. I've found that within $50+/-, the realtors don't quibble about it.

  9. I was a Realtor for 20 years before starting RE photography. In the city I service, a 3 bed 2 bath home can be bought for under 100k, and 125 will get you a pretty nice starter. Based on that, my prices start at 100, because frankly, I know what agents are willing to pay. Even at that price, the vast majority of our market are still attempting to shoot their own. The trick is going to be to get the sellers to insist on professional photos as part of an agents listing plan. This will happen - sellers are seeing professional pics on Zillow, and the idea is catching on. But for now, I shoot about 1100-1300 homes a year at what many would consider a cheap price, but it works for my market.

  10. When I started I tried the pricing based on house price approach. Quickly realized that pricing by the number of images made more sense. As far as the number of images, yeah my local MLS went to a max of 50 last year from 25. So of course Realtors now want 50 images for a 1500sqft house. As a matter of example, there is a 1100sqft house up the road from me that I kid you not was photographed by the realtor, and there are at least 8 photos of a 10x12 living room that looks like they simply took a step to one side or the other for each image. That being said, I have contacted the person running the MLS in a couple of locations, and was told by them that the number of images has NO effect on where a listing shows up in a search. In fact, they told me they have that conversation with Realtors EVERY day...I guess Realtors don't talk to each other.

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