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What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Rental Photos?

Published: 29/12/2016

Chris in NJ asks:

I have been asked to do a handful of vacation rental properties. I'm not sure if these should be priced differently than a house for sale. I'm assuming the cost should be higher since the photos will be used longer. But do you charge double? Triple? I'm not really sure. Any advice?

My guess is that the majority of real estate photographers shooting rental property photos charge the same for shooting rentals as homes for sale and completely blow off the licensing differences. Here are some things to think about:

  1. Research your local market. See what the local expectations are. If you live in an area with a lot of rentals it certainly makes sense to treat rentals very differently. That is, charge at least twice as much and license differently. Rental owners may well push back if other photographers are not doing the same thing.
  2. You should have the client sign a different license agreement for rental photos. Rental clients will think that they OWN the photos and believe they can use them forever and sell them to a new rental property owner. Are you going to transfer ownership to them or allow them to use the photos for a specific amount of time? A discussion of the alternatives is a good place to start the pricing discussion.
  3. If they are licensed to use them for a year or so then charge them your "home for sale rate" since some listings can last over a year.
  4. If you are going to transfer ownership to them then my guess is that you should charge them 3 or 4 times the "for sale rate". But I'm skeptical that much of this kind of pricing is going on.
  5. If you are shooting a bunch of properties for the same client a volume discount may be in order.

What are others experiences with shooting rentals? How many are routinely charging more for rental photos and licensing them differently?

Larry Lohrman

11 comments on “What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Rental Photos?”

  1. I've offered volume discount to a local vacation rental company which has been a great arrangement. Most of these are shot in the off season - a perfect filler during slow months. And bonus these units are always freshly cleaned and photo ready. Client provides me an entry code so I can fit in to suit my schedule, and I'm in and out in a breeze. While I appreciate the argument for higher pricing due to copyright and use concerns, there is a strong upside to treating rental agents well.

  2. Another obstacle is that the national/international vacation home marketers offer professionally-created photos for free to the client. Then, they use their leverage in the local marketplace to dictate the rate they will pay to folks like us. Despite that, I've found the rate to be OK considering the limited amount of work they require. They are usually very particular about how you create your files in camera, but there is no requirement for any post processing as they seem to prefer to do it in house to achieve a consistent look across their site. I haven't given it a lot of thought, but I'm wondering if this is effecting the market as it relates to homeowners who decide to market their properties independently.

  3. I'm a real estate agent (and real estate photographer) so people should be aware that the agent typically gets a commission of 1/2 month's rent for a rental -- so a property for rent at $1500/mo will give the listing agent 1/2 (unless the agent has both the listing and selling sides - only 15-20% of the time typically) or $750 which the agent has to split with their agency so they are getting $375 less expenses (driving to showings, advertising, etc.). When an agent sells a house, the commission is approximately 5 to 10 times this amount or more (depending on the selling price of the property and the commission percentage). So the agents don't want to spend much on photography with rentals. I usually charge the same amount as a regular listing. This same agent/client is most likely going to have many more listings for sale than for rent and you want to provide a reasonable price to do the rental photos so you will be chosen as the photographer for the "for sale" properties where the volume is much greater.

  4. I photograph rental properties for several property management companies and charge them less then other shoots. There are several reasons for this.

    Primarily, their profit margin is much smaller than selling a property. While it may be true that over a period of many years it may approach a sales commission, there's no guarantee that they'll actually manage the property that long. Property owners are known to change companies or sell the property.

    Many argue that they'll use the photos over and over again. While that is sometimes true, I've also found that many places rent for years to the same tenant. Also, companies have me re-shoot properties for a variety of reasons (empty vs occupied and fresh paint being two common reasons). Also, I personally don't mind if they use them "over and over." They keep me busy, I like the work and recognize that I could price myself out of a job quite easily. They could do pencil sketches and still rent most places, but most recognize the photos are not so much for tenants as for new clients looking for someone to manage their property. That said, they have acknowledged that they believe the professional photos help them ask more rent for their clients, and attract better tenants. So it's really win/win.

    While some places are large and require some time, many are very small and can be done quickly. I choose to charge the same no matter the shoot.

    The property management companies have real estate agents working for them.... photographing their rentals leads to photographing their sale homes, too. Even agents who leave the PM companies have continued to use me for their real estate work.

    They keep me busy year round. While there's a fall off in the winter for them, too, it's much less dramatic than other real estate jobs. This is at least in part because they are always acquiring new clients with properties to list.

  5. Something to think about with pricing multifamily apartment units, I used to do some 360-degree photos for a media company and they had me shoot 50 photos and 7 panoramas. The media company charged the apartments $2,500. Not sure what the licensing on their end was but that gives you an idea.

  6. Photographing holiday property is a significant part of my business. I normally charge Real estate agents half the amount that I charge for a holiday property but it normally takes me three hours to shoot. The images you are supplying will not only be used for much longer time but probably on more platforms.
    Although the properties are ‘ready to photograph’, they don’t have personal belonging in – so no decluttering the kitchens and bathrooms, they do need dressing. The images are being used not to sell the house but a ‘dream holiday’ so you need to set the scene. My car is filled with props, from serviettes to bottles of wine.

  7. Like Tracey, most of my photography is vacation rentals. About 20% is RE and the balance is rental cabins. My base price for a shoot is $350 USD (1-2 BR properties less than 1300 SF). Larger properties are priced according to number of bedrooms and additional living space. My rate for RE clients is $100 less than VR clients and they receive 30-ish images (MLS gives them a bump in search results if they have at least 30 images posted). I provide VR clients 30-45 images (depending on property size) covering interior, exterior, views and grounds shots such as community pools or resort entrance signage. I also capture close-ups of keyless entry, security system, thermostat panels, remote controls and custom artwork or architecture, if requested. A typical shoot is 2-2.5 hours for a smaller property but a larger house can run 3-5 hours. I did an 8BR recently (that sadly burned two months later in the Gatlinburg wildfires) and it was a 6 hour shoot.

    As Tracey mentioned, vacation rentals are usually in good order when you arrive and require minimal de-cluttering. However staging and prep is very important since these images will be used at least 2 years for marketing purposes, so bed skirts, shams, pillows, blinds, cords, etc. require attention.

    I provide a lifetime, non-transferrable license to my clients for digital or print use. I also permit them to use the photos to sell the property, but they may not sell the images to the new owners. I had a client do that once so I fixed my contract to make it more clear. If I need to come back for a re-shoot in the future, the base charge is $100 for up to 5 images. VR clients are actually good repeat clients, as they will ask for fall color shots of the view or new images of remodeled kitchens or decks. Many also buy more properties down the road, so I have many clients that I work for every 12-24 months.

  8. Monthly rentals are likely going to be less than a SFH and will also have fewer images depending on the market and lease price. For a complex, the PM or owner will likely want to use the images for several years each time the floor plan photographed comes up for rent. I tend to discount those jobs if they don't want too many images and will let me schedule them to fill in an empty slot when I will be in the neighborhood. If they want immediate service on their schedule, I charge more per photo than I would for a SFH.

    I've only done a couple of vacation rentals and they have both been full day jobs to capture the rental and the local area. I charged between 2.5x and 3x my normal rate for listing photography and spent more time on each image then I do on a standard RE listing. My license was for rental advertising only and the area photos only to be used in conjunction with rentals I photographed. The rental price can be a good guide for formulating the price and the level of service needed. If the property rents for $200/night in season, asking for $600-$1200 is not out of line and might even be on the low side. There may also be some extra work taking images of the area in the off-season so the property can be marketed better during those periods as well. You always want to keep in touch with the clients so you know if they have done any remodeling or redecorating and will need updated photos. I delivered roughly the same number of images that I would on a listing with the difference being about half were of the local area (20-25). The marketing is much different than for a sale. There is no need to make images of secondary bathrooms, laundry room, closets, etc. A mud room in a ski area that has boot dryers is a bigger marketing point than a walk-in pantry.

    I NEVER take photos of security systems, safes or panic rooms. I don't want the liability and it's a bad idea to publish those photos online. If the owner or PM wants to create an instruction manual, let them take the images themselves. I sometimes delete alarm panels from listing photos especially if they are big enough in the frame to determine the model/brand of the alarm.

  9. Ken, I totally appreciate your concern for not taking images of security system panels. VR owners do not publish these online. These are strictly for internal use when they put together guest information PDFs. Many owners appreciate having good quality photos of their remote controls, thermostat panels, keyless entry on the door, etc. I'm also a vacation rental owner with 5 properties and being able to show guests what to expect is a great tool. I don't shoot these items unless the property owner requests them. My clients who rent by owner are the ones who usually want these shots, not those who list with a manager.

    I forgot to mention's best to provide at least 24 images to clients. Major listing sites like HomeAway and VRBO encourage VR owners to post the maximum number of images to their system (24) and give them a boost in their search algorithm for having a the max number of photos.

  10. In the UK more often than not the same companies do both sales and rentals, and I charge the same amount for each. I've never heard of anyone in my market charging more for rentals, although I can see the argument for charging more. Although in theory the agents get more usage from the photos for rentals, I find in practice I shoot rentals over and over, as the landlord replaces furniture, or has the place painted, or decides to let it as furnished as opposed to not furnished etc.

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