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Why Not Defer Some Or All Of Your Real Estate Photography Shoot Fee To Closing?

Published: 09/06/2015

DeferredPaymentBecause real estate listing agents don't get paid until a sale closes, the deferred payment option keeps coming up. Keith recently ask the following:

I've read lots of posts about business up front, pay at close, pricing, etc. None of the pay at close really seems to address a combo - pay a bit when I shoot...remainder when it closes. There were posts about premium pricing but nothing about pay both. I'd propose $50 or 75 up front + $200 - 300 at close. Providing my adequate compensation. I still get 'something' up front to pay part of expenses. Paying at close is the same as home warranty - pay a small application fee...when home sells, $300 fee comes out of proceeds and new owner has 18 mo warranty policy with 3rd party. Thoughts about this?

We've discussed deferred payment here a number of times and the overwhelming majority believe it is a bad idea. I don't think that partial payment up front changes anything about this apporach. Here are some points that you should consider:
  1. Successful agents have enough income that that can pay for their marketing costs up front. In the long run, photographers are better off working for successful agents that pay up front.
  2. Any photographer doing this kind of closing payment type of arrangement should get the contract in B&W and even have the payment listed on the closing documents so your fee must legally and automatically be paid. The problem is, the photographer doesn't communicate with the Escrow officer who sets up the closing documents. It has to be left up to the listing agent.
  3. Typical listing agents close far less than 100% of the properties they list, so the payment on closing arrangement is extremely risky for the photographer.
  4. Doing this kind of thing means you have to take time, to track the sale of the home. Not something that most photographers want to spend their time on.
This kind of risky arrangement and a lot more work than is necessary. In the long run I doubt it is worth the extra work it requires. The photographers shoot price is small in the overall scheme of selling a property. It is not unreasonable to expect to get paid up front. Has anyone had a positive experience deferring photo shoot fees this way?
Larry Lohrman

19 comments on “Why Not Defer Some Or All Of Your Real Estate Photography Shoot Fee To Closing?”

  1. My question would be....who if any other vendors do this? If this risk is what you have to take in order to get a client...than that is not the client you want to work with. Why, because that client knows that they do not close enough properties to be successful.

    If some poor sole has to do this in order to get started, than I would....NO I would not ever do this

  2. It may not make business sense for everyone out there. I do a combination of two different methods. I have a standard rate that agents can pay up front for listing photos that agents can pay at the time of shooting, and business is taken care of.

    I also offer agents NET 60 billing for a markup of 40% to my standard rate. They have the chance to sell the home and put my check on their disbursement, or if things fall through, they pay me what's owed. I take a little more risk, but at the same time, make more money for the same service. I make invoices regardless, and I allow an invoice based CRM handle annoying agents into paying if they run past the 60 days. All agents sign an agreement with me that authorizes me to submit past due invoices to their broker to be disbursed from any current closings they have.

    In the 5 years I've been shooting real estate (4 of which I've been using this method), I have had two agents who dropped off the face of the Earth and I had to write off less than $500 in bad debt. The risk is well worth the additional money two months later in my opinion. So far, I have about 70% who pay immediately upon shooting, and 30% who would rather defer payment.

    My business practice isn't going to work for everyone, and I wouldn't expect it to.

  3. Reason against #4 is the most compelling for me to not adopt the Pay-At-Close model. I just can't budget the time to check each listing to see if it has closed. There is also the difficulty of finding out when it has closed and funds have been released.

    Agents can lose a listing or a seller may reconsider selling a property. A seller may be insisting on an asking price way above market. A factor I may not have good information on. Some neighborhoods in the area are quite a bit more expensive than others even though homes in each are pretty evenly matched in size and finish.

    I might be persuaded to take some risk for a percentage of the sale if I'm confident in the agent's motivation and I know the broker or have some good references. For day to day work, I'm much more comfortable collecting my fee upfront and not having to worry about it afterwards.

  4. I've thought about this quite a bit over the years. Tracking these closings is a bit of a problem for most photographers. As a broker myself, I could set up notification when a property is reported sold. But by that time, the property is already closed, so ensuring that the photographer is paid at closing is still a problem. I've done the research and most agents close about 1/3 of their listings. That would require a three times your normal rate to break even, if you could get paid on all that close.
    I had one agent recently offer to pay double when the house closed. She was such a good friend, I decided to shoot the house for free, never expecting to get paid. Just the other day she brought me a check for double the normal rate. I wouldn't do this for anyone else.

  5. I have a decent (but still small) amount of listings where sellers change agents/brokers before the actual sale comes around. This can even give me additional income from re-licensing fees charged to the new brokerage that takes over the listing. I couldn't imagine how the conversation would go with the agent who lost the listing, contract or not.

  6. I think it's a bad idea. Ask yourself if you are a Photgrapher or a Lender? If people see the value in your services, they will pay for them. Just give the best service you can.

  7. You're a photographer, not a bank and don't have a financial interest in the transaction - you're providing professional services and should be paid promptly.

    If an agent needs time to pay, why not just accept credit cards? For a small percentage you don't have to chase your money - let Visa or MasterCard do that.

    If an agent insists you defer payment until closing, I think you should ask yourself why they want your financial help. I can only think of 2 reasons -

    Either they don't have enough money (or credit) to pay a relatively small amount or they're just squeezing you as a part of how they normally do business. Either reason makes them an undesirable client in the long run.

    No money means that they are unsuccessful and shouldn't be an agent - they will eventually be trying something else to make a living. If they're just the type of business person who always has to get a better deal, then they don't really value your services and when another photographer offers them a better rate you'll lose the business anyway.

  8. Starting out, I did make this deal with one agent. 6 years later, he still owes in excess of $1000. At the time, I noticed that he closed several properties without paying me. When i called him on this, he said that other bills were more pressing. Of course, I don't do this any more. The real question is, do you collect your fee before the customer gets his or her pictures, or do you invoice and go into collection mode for those who feel that "due immediately upon receipt" means net 60. I feel it's less about the money and more about the hassle and negative energy that goes along with this part of the business. For me, this still is only a minute number of clients...

    I am intrigued by Jason's practice of net 60 with a cost. It's not tied to the closing and gives agents an option while compensating for the cash flow hassle.

    Good luck to all.


  9. This strategy seems to be something to ingratiate the photographer with the client motivated by the excitement and naïveté of the newbie.
    It is the equivalent of shooting at a super low price. In the end you will be the one running short of money.

  10. Ask the Realtor how other vendors do it. Heating and Air Conditioning? Plumbers? Licensed Handyman for repairs? Lawn Maintenance? Pool Service? I can guarantee you some of those would laugh them off the face of the earth if they even suggested the idea. Some even charge twice - initial assessment and a couple days later when they return for the repair. Payment required at time of service. Others, like pool service, may have a monthly contract for recurring service to the property, but none defer all or any charges until it closes. Even the buyer pays the home inspector on the date of the inspection despite the close being imminent. If it is not a cash deal, a lot can happen...such as finance falling through, or an unfavorable appraisal adversely affecting the deal. Just way too much risk.

  11. 1. A large percentage of listings DON'T close.
    2. Sellers change Realtors at the end of their initial contract with Realtor.
    3. Seller pulls house off the market - may be just testing the market at a high listing price.
    4. Tracking closings are a pain and time consuming.
    5. To get funds at closing the mortgage broker or closing agents MUST have an invoice for your services and it must be approved by the realtor. Oh, and not get lost in the paper shuffle.
    6. With lending being so difficult, closing may require 3-4 MONTH, AFTER a buyer signs a purchase agreement. House on market - 90-120 days, closing 90-120 days. That is 6 to 8 MONTHS you wait for your money. If you get the check from the closing broker. It may be another 30-90 days to get the realtor to pay you from their funds. IF THE HOUSE SELLS OR DOESN'T GO OFF THE MARKET! NOW you have waited a full 9 Months for your money. Even utilities companies will have cut off your water and electric by then and your landlord will have kicked you out!
    7. Realtor my delay paying you from commission if they haven't already spent the money and some real deadheads just hire a different photographer as they are a dime a dozen!

    BEST POLICY - No Tickeeee, NO Laundry. PAY to PLAY, Admission tickets are paid to get into the show, not out. Try telling the grocery store you'll pay for their groceries AFTER you flush the toilet!

    Anyone even considering going along with the, "we'll pay at closing" game, needs their heads examined!!

  12. There are a lot of people that don't like this approach, and many that make false statements about this method. I will attempt to provide a counter point to the argument and dispel some of the false statement.

    False Statement "It doesn't work" Given that we have been using the bill at closing method for 10+ years, photograph more properties than all but a few other photographers here, have hundreds of clients and only make money through real estate photography, I can say with absolute certainty that it can work.

    False Statement "You don't want to work for someone that would need to pay at closing." Really - everyone her pays cash for everything?? No one uses credit cards, store credit or 90 days same as cash? In many area real estate is cyclical. Everything is made during the summer and very little is made in the winter. When the spring rush hit money can be tight even for good agents. Offering credit allow the agent to have more homes shot and allow for us to make more income.

    False Statement "Professionals don't delay payment" My doctor sends me a bill, my dentist sends me a bill, construction projects receive final payment after the work is complete, same with plumbers and HVAC. Billing for service isn't uncommon.

    False Statement "It is the equivalent of shooting at a super low price. In the end you will be the one running short of money." Not based on my last tax return.

    Why you might want to consider using this method.
    For the exact some reason that many business offer 90 days same as cash or have in store credit cards. It gets people to buy more product than they normally would. Also when in a competitive environment, it's gives you a leg up on your competition. It also help with diversifying your income. Sure it's great to have a highly successful agent as a client, but what happens when that client retire, takes a vacation or just hits a slump. This method allow you to bring in those agents that sell 1 or 2 homes a month or less. Yes, you need more of them to make the same money, but the amount of work is the same. All that is different is the name on the check.

    When not to do this
    Don't do this if you are desperate for business. You need to be in a position where your product is in demand and losing your services is not in the agent's best interest. If you are new to the business and your client can walk away without repercussion, then some will.

    Don't do this is you are so worried about getting paid that a single fault will keep you awake at night. If you are that high strung, you may think about a job with a steady paycheck and not running a business. Clients faulting on payments happens, make sure that losing your services makes a far bigger impact than paying you. Then spend your time making money and less time worrying.

    In the end this is a marketing tactic and nothing more. For those that do it well, it can bring in big rewards. For those that do it poorly, it doesn't work.

  13. When the realtor says they want to pay a closing,
    Here is the procedure you need to follow:
    Meet the realtor at the house.
    Hold out your hand, shank hands and say hello, and greet the home owners.
    Place your camera case on the floor.
    Hold out your hand with your invoice handing it to the Realtor.
    Ask, "Do you prefer to pay with check, or credit card?"
    If they pay, go to work.
    If excuses begin pouring out of their mouth, don't argue, plead or ask again, just pick up your grear and begin walking to your car.
    When they ask, "where are you going?"
    Just respond, "To wait in my car while you go to get the check, (credit card etc)"
    When you get to your car take out one of your, "Payment Policy forms" (which they should already have a copy of) and hand it to the realtor, say nothing.
    One of three things will happen:
    a. they will dig out a checkbook or credit card. (usually a credit card)
    b. They will call you an SOB.
    c. They will go to the client and tell them there has been a policy disagreement, they fired you, and will need to hire another photographer.
    Out of the above, item A will happen 9 of 10 times.
    If item B or C happen, pat yourself on the back that you didn't spend the next several hours doing something you weren't going to get paid for.
    Can you lose a client this way? Actually, you never had one, so nothing had, nothing lost.
    This may be a HARD approach but believe me I was a remodeling contractor for over 20 years and contracts ran as high a as $500,000. My policy was TOUGH and when on the very rare occasion, I lost money you can bet it was a minimum and far less than any scheduled monthly progress payment.

  14. @ Neal -- I don't think you're understanding the business model that's being discussed (or else I don't). "Payment at closing" as it's being proposed here should really be called "Payment IF closing" because the premise is that if the listing doesn't get sold, the photographer will not be paid (or will forfeit whatever portion wasn't paid up front, if any).
    So to compare this to credit cards (which lots of RE photographers accept), net 30 billing (which is pretty standard practice), or "90 days same as cash" (which sounds like an awful idea, to me) is pointless, because they're not really comparable.

    @ Richard -- If someone behaved that way with my clients I'm confident that the most common response would be both "B" and "C", because it makes the vendor sound like an arrogant, insecure jerk. There are certainly people who will put up with it, and I'm glad you've found them....but they're not people I would choose to hang around. It's standard across almost every profession to invoice for goods and services....and responsible businesspeople pay their bills. At least, my clients do. Why wouldn't they?

  15. @Scott - I understood that it was pay if sold, but I should have worded my comment better. For one I forgot the basic premise that you need to price in a manner that compensates for those properties that don't sell and have a strong photo reuse policy. Since we deal with a large number of agents we have the benefit of allowing the photos to follow the listing. Each agent gets charged a $20 posting/usages/sitting fee and the agent that finally sells the property pays the bill. That significantly increase the sell percentage and the extra sitting fee help offset those that don't sell.

  16. @Neal...I don't know what doctor you go to, but each of the 3 I go to require the co-pay at the visit (two at check-in, the other as leaving). Likewise when wife was admitted from ER, while inpatient has $0 deductible (great policy) had to pay the $150 ER deductible that evening. Similar with outpatient/day-surgery procedures, colonoscopy etc, deductible up front. Likewise, as I type this I am sitting at home waiting for the AC guy sometime between 1 and 6 PM - blown afternoon, but at least it is rainy. That will be $79 for the house call, plus whatever is required to fix problem - paid before he leaves. Scot was rich "Paid at closing" is really "Paid if closes" unless you have specifically addressed that issue - which only adds injury to insult as now they are paying with no hope of selling as the deal fell through.

    I have only had one Realtor inquire and was an easy conversation why not. My policy - New clients pay at shoot, established clients I will bill net 30 days and on some foreclosure properties they need the bill in a timely manner to forward to the bank property manager for reimbursement. Many established clients insist on paying at time of shoot and I send them a bill, $0 owed, for their records. While I don't accept credit cards, a couple who prefer to pay with credit cards use my PayPal account as it can come from either their checking or credit card. Better yet, the relationship is such that they indicate is a money transfer to a friend and I am not dinged a service fee.

  17. As a very successful agent myself, what I am about to suggest wouldn't work on me personally: What if you offer this to the agents but it cost 2 times as much. At the end of the day, business is about cash flow and after your machine is running you may be able to charge these poor shmucks 2 times as much and then even more after a certain date. That is, if you want to be a bank instead of a photographer. Nothing wrong with that. Banks make a killing and these agents pay crazy amounts of interest for commission advances and so on, so there is profit to be made here. The poor people in our society pay the most for everything. It is what it is. I certainly wouldn't do this as a means to get business if you aren't already a successful photographer. My suggestion is another business altogether. If your business isn't strong then you can't also be a bank.

  18. The ONLY way I would accept payment contingent on whether or not the listing sells, is if the money was put in an escrow account. If the homes sells, it is agreed you get the money. If the listing went to another agent, your client gets the money. Of course, the amount would be 2x or 3x your usual fee. Maybe even more if agents only have a success rate of 33%.

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