Real estate is the bread and butter, meat and potatoes, and peanut butter and jelly of my photography business. I could probably write a book on the subject, but let's just work in small bursts. It's really easier that way.
For this installment I want to focus on the professional and human side of real estate photography. When shooting real estate there are two key factors that will keep business running smoothly for photographer and agent alike: preparation and setting expectations.
If you’re a photographer, be understanding with your clients. Real estate can be a very intense business. Real Estate agents, much like you, are not working typical 40 hour 9-5 weeks with leisure time on the weekends. In the off chance they have a scheduled weekend off, I guarantee they’re still taking calls from clients, thinking about their listings, and ready to jump if a potential buyer can only see a home at 8:15AM on Sunday morning.
In many cases you will be interacting with the current occupant or homeowner as well. Be mindful that buying or selling a home is a very stressful process. It is the single most expensive purchase most of us will make in our lifetimes. Be respectful and kind when they are present. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good way to be with anyone, anytime, anywhere, but I'll save that for a different blog.
For my beloved agents that have found themselves reading this, the best thing you can do is make sure your seller knows what to expect on photoshoot day. The tidier the home, the better it will look! My style of photography (HDR) is effective because it shows the subtle details that make a home desirable. Unfortunately it also shows every detail of a dirty floor, a rumpled TV Guide on the coffee table, and a haphazard smattering of poetry magnets on the refrigerator. Again, the tidier the better!
Newly built homes are a little different, but the same rule applies to construction waste that is often still present just before it goes to market. In my case, I probably won't be able to drag a wooden palate across the two acre backyard to get it out of the shot. If you're able to bring in a professional to stage a newly built home, do it. While you may have a good idea of how to fill the empty square footage with furniture and decorum, many of your potential buyers may not.
All of this being said, let's tackle one of the most common snags we run into when shooting real estate: arriving at a scheduled shoot to a property that isn't quite ready to be photographed.
There are several little things that make a BIG difference. Because I'm a visual artist, I've inserted a few yes/no examples below. Look at it as one of those picture games where you try to find the differences between two similar pictures...
You can see that the differences in these examples come down to a few simple details. Though they are small things, a few coats hung on a door, a trashcan left out in the open, and a smattering of refrigerator magnets (man those things give me anxiety), distract from the aesthetic of the photo.
The best way I've found to manage this potential setback is really quite simple. Preparation and expectation.
The way I've learned to avoid being a part time cleaning lady is by including a Real Estate Photography Checklist in my monthly newsletter. You can click on it at the bottom of this blog. I encourage you to make your own based on what problems you run into as a photographer. You're welcome to use mine as a starting point. If you don't send out newsletters and you're doing real estate photos on a regular basis, I recommend you start!
For agents, print out copies of the checklist and give them to the residents of your listings a few days before the shoot. You'll be surprised how smoothly and quickly the shoot will go with this little bit of preparation. In the case you're selling an unoccupied home, be sure to see the home in person ahead of time to see if there are any tasks that need to be taken care of. Also, don't forget to remove the "for sale" sign if it's already posted in the front yard.
In the cases where you (both photographer and agent) arrive at a home that isn't quite up to standard, be kind and pitch in to get it ready. Do your best to be as understanding as you can with the occupant of the home. Again, selling a home can be a very stressful process and you never know the circumstances under which they're selling, so keep a good attitude. It goes a long way and is contagious! There may be some cases where the shoot needs to be rescheduled if the property is at a point where it's going to take a small army of professionals to clean it up, but this is quite rare.
A few other subjects from my Real Estate Photography Checklist:
-Have every interior and exterior light turned on and keep them on until the last photo is taken and the camera's back in the bag (even exterior shots).
-If the home has special features like a pool, hot tub, fire pit, or fountain, have them uncovered and turned on. Make your photographer aware of special features ahead of time.
-If there are pets, contain them somewhere that they won't run through the shots.
-If you're a homeowner or agent that is present for the shoot, do your best not to hover while the photographer is shooting. I/we use our eyes and I guarantee we're looking for the best angles and features of the home.
Turn Around Time
As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, setting expectations is very important. It's just as important as the preparation stage. It is crucial that you set a clear expectation of when your photos will be ready.
In my case, I have a guaranteed turn around time of 48 hours. I've streamlined my process by setting up a mobile workstation in my car so I can get photos batching as I pull away from the shoot. In most cases I can get photos edited, labeled, and uploaded to MLS and Tour Factory (the virtual tour service I work with).
One problem I have run into a few times is receiving a call from a realtor at 8AM Wednesday morning after shooting their home at sunset Tuesday night. Because I shoot anywhere from 4 to 14 homes a day, I've developed an efficient process that allows me to exceed the set expectation. It's really not the realtors fault if my track record with them has had photos turned around in less than a day. To solve this problem, I keep a short note saved on my phone that I can copy and paste into an email or text message that refers to my guaranteed turn around time and the "RUSH" option that is available when they make the order. I also reiterate the guaranteed turn around time and the "RUSH" option in my newsletters on a regular basis.
The problem: The common snags that come with doing real estate photography.
Photogs - Prepare yourself, your client, and communicate with them ahead of time. Keep an easy attitude when you arrive to a shoot and the property is in less than ideal condition. Set clear expectations condition the home needs to be in and how soon you'll have your photos turned around.
Realtors - Prepare your listing and/or have the occupant prepare and tidy the property.