Do you photograph real estate for a living? Then you may want to pay close attention to some of the forces at work in the real estate industry that are having a major impact on your business.

In today’s market, many of us are hearing the real estate market is on fire! This is a true statement, the evidence to back that sentiment is everywhere:

  • Homes are selling at or well above their list prices
  • Inventories are at multi year lows
  • In many markets across the country, buyers outnumber sellers by several orders of magnitude
  • Home prices have increased dramatically nationwide
  • The number of new listings is down by double digits

That last bullet point is the one that should grab your attention. One would figure that such a hot real estate market would be fantastic for real estate photographers. In fact, I hear it all the time. Clients will say to me, “wow, your business must be on fire.” On the surface you would think so, but a real estate market this hot is counterintuitively bad for the real estate photography business.

Why is a hot market like this bad for real estate photographers?

The reasons are several, but the big one is the bulk of real estate agents — especially the new and inexperienced ones — might fail to see the value of professional photography. All they really need to do today is take an image of the front of the house with their cell phone, upload it to the MLS site and viola! Buyers will come banging down their door with multiple offers. Now I can’t say this is true everywhere, but it is absolutely true down here in southwest Florida.

Florida became one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation during the pandemic. The primary reason why is the state never truly shut down. Factor in no state income tax, great weather, relatively inexpensive real estate (less affordable today than a year ago), hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and well, you get the picture.

The macro economic factors at work have made real estate scarce. Bottom line, fewer listings are hitting the market. The ones that do, the agents listing them are doing the minimum for professional photography as speed to market and obtaining multiple offers is taking precedence. It’s understandable — a real estate agent’s job is to sell a home. In a market like this, I can’t blame them.

This is a market report for one of the markets I work in regularly, as you can see, the number of new listings is down 12% year over year. The level of inventory is also down considerably, 79%! In a normal market, Naples will have in excess of 3,000 available properties or more for sale. Courtesy of Naples Area Board of Realtors.

Builders are having a hard time too

Some other macro economic factors at work are the prices of lumber, availability of labor and shortages of other raw materials that go into making a home. Builders are having a hard time determining their costs to build.

Therefore, builders are including “escalation clauses” in their contracts, which allows the builder to increase the agreed price of the home if certain raw materials like lumber or labor spike upward. When the volatility of raw materials has been increasing like lumber has, the idea of an escalation clause has scared off many potential buyers from new homes.

How can you offset the downturn in business?

Today’s real estate market poses some serious challenges for real estate photographers. When times are this extraordinary you’re going to have to expect some loss of business. Your goal should be to minimize the downturn by overcoming some common objections Realtors will throw at you.

“I don’t need professional photography right now. I can just take a picture with my phone and put it on the MLS and the offers just start coming!”

Although this is true in today’s time, I find myself cautioning Realtors on this specific point. Like all cycles, this one too will come to an end.

Knowing it will end, I ask Realtors, how are you going to compete with the Realtors who’ve used pros all along at your listing presentation post crazy market? Invariably, the agents who’ve used pros during this extraordinary time will have a distinct advantage over Realtors who didn’t. The agents who continued to use pros and don’t stray from their core marketing strategy will have much more impressive marketing materials, brochures and photos.

Agents who’ve been through a few cycles like this recognize and understand these cycles. They plan for the future and will be more ready to get listings when market conditions change.

Though it may be easy to get a quick sale with a cell phone photo, an agent will find themselves in trouble without good photography down the road in listing presentations. Sellers will want to see the quality of the marketing materials an agent is going to bring to the table to sell their home. All those poorly lit iPhone images won’t cut it.

Try to find and work with experienced agents

Try to work with agents who’ve been around for awhile and have seen enough up and down cycles to recognize the value of professional photography regardless of market conditions. They often say experience is a wonderful teacher. It only takes losing out listings during the next listing surge for an agent to realize how much future business they can lose by not having professional marketing materials from previous listings.

You can also try to work with firms that require their agents to use professional photography.

Other creative ways to maintain your business

There are other things you can do to both help agents and your business. One of the things I’ve been doing is guaranteeing a 24 hour turnaround on listing photos. Even on the weekends! I’ll also offer free aerials and/or stock photos as an incentive to use my company. I’m always reminding them of the potential future pitfalls of being caught empty-handed at a listing presentation.

Find Realtors who advertise in local magazines. These folks will often hire you to photograph homes where they’ve represented the buyer. Because they’ve usually paid for ads in these magazines months in advance and often for months at a time. They need fresh photos, and will often hire you to photograph something in the area where they specialize.

Get your drone license — duh.

Look into 360 tours and virtual floor plans.

Consider diversifying your real estate offerings, get your FAA drone license for aerial photography. Consider 360 tours and virtual floor plans. Diversify into other areas to expand your potential client base.

There’s never been a better time to diversify

In addition to diversifying your offerings in real estate, you may want to consider other genres of photography as well.

For years, I’ve been using real estate photography as a springboard to agent portraits. Over the years I’ve established a robust portrait business, both families and individuals as a result of my real estate photography business.

In fact, when I first started taking pictures, I was primarily a people photographer. I was struggling to earn a living. I diversified into real estate and the single biggest byproduct of getting in real estate photography was all the leads for people photography generated by my real estate agents. Food for thought!

When I first started taking pictures, I was a people photographer and I was struggling! I expanded into real estate photography and my agents became the biggest lead source of referrals for people photography. These people — Realtors — know everyone. Meaning even when the real estate photography business is slow, I can still carry on profitably with my portrait business!

This is a cycle and it will come to an end

As mentioned, I’ve been around the block a few times and experience is in fact a wonderful teacher. Stick to your principles, offer great service, work on overcoming your clients objections and look at ways to diversify your business to stay in business.

Sound off in the comment section below, if you’re a real estate photographer have you experienced a downturn? What are you doing to offset the potential loss in business?