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What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Cancellations?

Published: 16/08/2017

Don in Florida asks:

I've recently run into quite a string of cancellations of shoots. What is a fair charge for a canceled shoot?

I think there are several considerations when you are thinking about what to charge for cancellations:

  1. Your cancellation terms must be clear and up front.
  2. There must be a specified amount of time before the appointment that cancellations can be made or the client must pay the full price.
  3. I think how much you charge for cancellations should be totally driven by how busy you are. That is, if you are not busy and a cancellation doesn't cost you anything, don't impose a cancellation fee but if you do high volume and a cancellation will cost you the price of a shoot, charge the price of a shoot.

I think the way to be fair is to pass on what it costs you. In some markets where vendors are dispensable, you may loose the customer if you impose a fee.


Larry Lohrman

17 comments on “What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Cancellations?”

  1. I have in my agreement that if they cancel or reschedule after 8PM the day before there is a 50% fee. If I arrive at the location and find out it's canceled, there is no refund. I've never had to do this. I probably would only do this if it keeps happening with the same Realtor or I have to drive a ways before finding out it's canceled. Rather you're busy or not I don't think has much to do with it. You should give the impression you're busy all the time, rather you are or not. Yea, if it's a slow week, I might given them a pass because I'm being nice and things happen, but if the same Realtor keeps doing it over and over again, I don't care how slow of a week it is, they need to know that time costs money.

  2. I am high volume and last minute cancellations - 90% of the time - definitely cost me the price of a shoot. But I feel like any charge, certainly a full price one would at minimum leave a bitter taste in my client's mouth and more likely cost me that client. After all, normally it's (supposedly) out of their control. I can't wait to hear what others say about this. Cancellations (almost always reschedules) have been so frustrating to me I've considered dropping the RE photo business model.

    I've also discovered that here in the Northwest, the pricer homes, that a photographer might charge more to shoot, have a much higher frequency of weather related cancellations/ reschedules. Put bluntly, the person selling a $3mm home is the one pulling the strings - they don't want photos of their gorgeous waterfront estate with big views (missing on a gray day). Can you blame them? I don't. You can make the sky blue but good luck with the water, or replicating Mt Rainier in just the right spot... So the charge more to shoot expensive homes has been a g-i-a-n-t loser for me. These days I just try to steer clear of them.

    Hoping for ideas.

  3. There is policy and then how you enforce that policy. Word your terms so you have statements such as "a cancellation the day of the appointment MAY incur a fee equal to the full price of the job". If you have a good customer that doesn't abuse you with lots of cancellations, you can give them some more leeway. If another agent is constantly calling off sessions for one reason or another, you may want to collect fees from them to get them to schedule you when the home is ready and they have the listing contract in hand.

    If you are busy, you have to charge a fee. You will never get that time slot back. It's a lost opportunity.

    I just had a job cancel the day before and the broker made sure I knew. The seller's job transfer fell through and they weren't going to be moving. I didn't have any more jobs that day and the broker is a very good customer.

    BTW, your terms are not a contract. You do not have to have them signed by the customer to make them valid although it can be a good idea as they are more likely to read them before signing. Agents should know better than signing something without reading and understanding what it is. I keep my terms very simple and go over them with each new customer before I do the first job for them. I spell out how I am to be paid, homes are photographed as-is, I MAY charge a fee for cancellations, if the agent or owner is more than XX late for an appointment it will be treated as a cancellation, images are delivered electronically within 48 of the appointment (not counting Sundays and holidays and I retain all rights to the images. My license statement is a separate document.

  4. I have a "return shoot" fee, which I use to go back and grab a couple of extra shots, say for example, if the gardener hadn't finished, painters hadn't finished, bad day for exteriors.
    It is around 50% of my basic package. I also reserve the right to charge that as a cancellation fee. Clearly stated in my terms and rate card, and like Ken Brown says, "may" be incurred.
    I don't generally charge good clients if it is an unfortunate circumstance. But I did have a couple of repeat offenders who wouldn't check details prior to the shoot and you'd turn up to find it wasn't ready. They didn't do their job properly so they occasionally incurred the fee.

  5. If you need to hold off on exterior photos due to miserable weather, it might still be a good time to photograph the interiors. Sans a view, an overcast sky might be better from a lighting standpoint.

    I try to stay ahead of the curve and I work with my clients to be able to make some of the exterior photos before I'm scheduled to do the interiors. If there is a nice day and I have the time, it's less work later. That could be a very good approach in the Pacific NW where the weather can be lousy for weeks at a time. I don't charge for returns to a home if it's on my schedule. I do charge for the exterior images if I'm not coming back to do the interior images later, but that's only happened once. The exterior images turned out really well and the broker teased the property on social media before it was cleaned up and ready to list. By the time the home was emptied of debris (it was a foreclosure), there were several offers. I received $50 for around 20 minutes of work most of which was waiting for the rising sun to do its stuff. I'll take those any day.

  6. I've been extremely busy this year and I generally have a list of realtors that are willing to wait for a cancellation as they do happen a fair amount of the time. Many times I can fill the cancellation in five minutes. Last week was a banner week, though, and while I had 18 scheduled to shoot, I only photographed eight due to a variety of reasons. One was a whole day appointment on an extremely large historic home - a couple million dollar listing. The home owner canceled it and it has not been rescheduled, but the realtor is one of my oldest and best clients, so even though I was not able to fill that day with $600 worth of work as I was expecting, no charge. It would take an awful lot for me to want to take a chance of alienating him!

    However, a couple realtors may drop off my list due to repeated cancellations. I may just be too busy to get to their properties next time. Not worth the aggravation and chance of more cancellations and lost money.

    I, too, caution that I may ask for the fee to be paid if the job is canceled within 24 hours, but have only done so one time - after driving 40 miles and there was no way to get into the property. The realtor forgot to put a lock box on it and forgot the shoot was happening that day. I lost more than one shoot that day, as I could have photographed a house in the time it took to drive there and back. My client understood and we still work well together today.

  7. There are so many variables when it comes to charging for cancellations. On paper, my contracts state that up to 8 hours they may be charged 50% and 4 hours 100% of shoot cost. As others have stated, this usually depends on how my volume is at the time. To be honest, sometimes when my volume is very high I take the cancellations with a smile on my face and I go home and sit down and eat dinner with my fiance instead of hanging in my office all night.. sometimes it's welcomed. Also, be aware that there is a very good chance you will lose that client or damage the relationship for imposing late fees. Do I think that's fair? No. But that just seems to be the way it is.

    I don't find a new dentist when I get charged for missing an appointment.

  8. Just wanted to add, occasionally a shoot gets postponed due to contractual issues and we've had shoots delayed due to bad weather or seasonal issues such as waiting on exterior shots until the flowers are in bloom and leaves on the trees. We rarely have a shoot outright cancelled unless the seller backs out of the deal in which case, it's not the fault of the agent who usually has another shoot lined up for us. We would never hold a realtor/agent liable for expenses on a cancelled shoot unless the shoot was already done in which case, payment has already been made and no agent has ever asked for a refund. We always get payment post-shoot which eliminates any problems with collection of funds.

  9. I have terms and conditions covering cancellations, rescheduling and weather issues.
    It is all irrelevant if when it comes to the VERY personal issue of telling one small businessperson that they will have to pay out of their pocket for the shoot cancellation.

    They will never call you again period.
    The only time I ever exercised this clause in signed contract was a large project that I drove 50 miles to only to find that the landscaping was completely torn up.
    The agent never called to let me know and assured me that the site was ready.
    I sent a bill for time and travel.
    It was never paid.

  10. Hello all,
    Just wanted to agree with all the guys that won't do a cancellation fee. I know about 300 to 400 realtors and they are in general not very loyal. If I charged a cancellation fee I would fully expect that client to try someone else next time.

    In this market I have people postpone all the time, but rarely fully cancel. If they do cancel it is almost never the Realtors fault, and usually because the house sold before the appt. (Our MLS just started doing an official category called "Coming Soon" with signs...

    I absolutely will charge a fee if someone wastes my time though. I show up to homes that aren't ready all the time. They either get pictures of what is there, or they have to pay for me to come back another time. Or if I have time and can help the owner move things from room to room to get ready I will charge for that too.

  11. There is a difference between a cancellation and rescheduling. My clients will reschedule all the time and no worries. There are a lot of moving parts and sometimes the painter, stager, plumber yada yada does'nt finish on time.

  12. This doesn't happen often, but I strongly disagree with Larry's third point. From a business standpoint, it should be a given that you are fully booked. Whether that's a shoot you've got to be to, a dentist appointment, picking your kids up from school, or your Friday afternoon rock climbing, it doesn't matter! How can you unambiguously convey your time is worth xxx sometimes, but your time is worth nothing other times? That confuses everyone, and devalues your time. It's better for both you and your clients, in my opinion, to be consistent and make sure they know you are always busy. That way, things like asking you to stay at a shoot for an extra hour because the gardener was there don't happen. If you're to do anything, let them know after the first one or two cancellations that from a business standpoint it's difficult to absorb these cancellations for free. Let them know it can slide once (or twice), but after that they are on the hook for them.

  13. Like so many aspect of a photo business, so much depends on what your business model looks like. I have a few good clients that keep me about as busy as I want to be, which is seasonal and that's the way I like it. RE is also not my only photo business. So sometimes I have time to spare or time that can easily be re-arranged and other times not. So for my regular clients, they are loyal to me so I return the favor and have never charged for a cancellation since none so far have been due to things that are their fault. Generally weather but sometimes owners or in place renters who did not get the place ready when stated or had gardeners and/or cleaning people arriving at the time of the shoot. Sometimes I can work around them, other times not. But I don't charge my clients for the wasted time and they are always very apologetic plus it does not happen very often.

    But if I had a new or seldom used client and I was busy or even had to turn down an assignment, I would charge if I arrived and could not shoot. It is on my Terms of Business, but as Ken and others have said above, it is at my discretion. I charge enough for my work that I know my clients know my worth especially since they keep coming back.

  14. @Dan Bigley, Your sentence about your dentist charging you a fee if you're late and you not switching dentists is a good comparison. I am upfront about my cancellation policy and review it with every new customer before I do any work for them. I also remind them if they cancel and I'm letting it slide. I don't worry about losing a customer over charging them that late fee (on the second or third occurrence) since if that's all it took for them to stop using my services, I wasn't providing good enough service. The dentist is never going to get that time slot back if you miss an appointment. If you have a customer that values your time so little, maybe they need to be fired (or invited to quit) so you can free up the time to work with somebody else that does value your time.

    A movie location I manage requires a non-refundable deposit to put a production on the schedule. Part of the reason is that it takes some prep work to be ready for them and also because small productions are really flakey. We can only host one production at a time and if somebody backs out, it's highly doubtful that we could recontact somebody else to take the spot as they have likely made other arrangements. We do the same thing with certain unique wardrobe items and props. You want the Mig-15 next Thursday, you pay now, comrade. No Refunds.

  15. Wow - Lots of responses to this one. Obviously a "hot button" affecting us all. In my case, I DO charge a nominal cancellation fee if there is no good excuse in play. Postponements are a little different and are handled case-by-case.

    I would like to add here, as others have, what burns my butt most often is homes that are not READY! Lord knows, I've beat the agents to death about clearing clutter and making beds and "picking up" but the NUMBER ONE offense is they just don't "get" is to make sure EVERY single lightbulb works! THAT one thing makes both the agent and the photographer look unprofessional, not too mention it is bound to consciously or unconsciously turn off some online viewers.

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