A real estate photography business involves an individual or a team who takes visually appealing photos of real property to attract buyers or renters. Your job as a real estate photographer is to help your clients make a sale. Your videos and photos will serve as marketing material.
Since you’re helping clients make money, your service is highly valued. This makes real estate photography a lucrative business.
This guide will teach you how to start a real estate photography business. We cover everything from creating your business plan to forming a legal entity and marketing.
How much does it cost to start a real estate photography business?
Starting a real estate photography business can cost you anything from a few thousand dollars to over $10,000, depending on your setup.
The reason is that buying equipment takes up the largest chunk of the startup cost. For example, a high-grade DSLR camera costs around $2,000, while a single lens can reach up to $1,000. So, if you are already a professional photographer with a good camera, laptop for editing, and lenses, you won’t be spending much.
If you’re starting from scratch, you may need at least $10,000 to get your real estate photography business set up.
The start-up costs of a real estate photography business will include equipment, business registration, and a business website, among others.
Create a business plan.
The first step to starting a real estate photography business is to create a business plan. This plan will guide your business decisions, from how you market your services to how you price your professional services. It will also address how you hope to fund your business and make profits.
A well-drafted business plan should reveal whether or not your business will be viable.
Your real estate photography business plan should address the following:
Choose a real estate photography niche
What type of real estate photography services do you wish to offer? Are you looking to focus on commercial properties, real estate drone photography, interior photography, virtual tours, or do everything real estate?
You can also start doing everything expected of a real estate photographer and later niche down.
You can command better rates as a specialist in a particular niche. Also, having a specific niche allows you to tailor your marketing efforts accordingly.
Define your target audience.
As a real estate photographer, your target market will likely include real estate agents, home sellers, Airbnb owners, hotel managers, and anybody looking to attract people to their property.
Identifying your target audience will further help you target your marketing message by speaking to their pain points and desires. Speaking directly to prospective clients is key to being hired and building a successful business.
Check out the competition.
To start a successful real estate photography business, it’s essential to know what other real estate photographers near you are doing. What services are they offering? How are they pricing their packages? What’s one thing you could offer to make potential clients choose you over others?
By conducting local market research, you can understand the nature of the real estate market in your city and how to make yourself stand out among your competitors.
Decide on a pricing plan.
Real estate photography goes beyond just taking one or two photos of a building. It involves the high-grade equipment used, photo editing, and lots more. Real estate photography pricing should be based on your time and effort.
That said, you may charge a flat rate per square footage of the property, the number of photos taken, or in the form of packages. A package may include five regular images and one real estate drone photography footage. Another higher-priced package may include more units.
Just be sure your pricing is clear and potential customers know what to expect when hiring you.
Form a business entity.
One of the most crucial steps to starting a real estate photography business is forming it as a legal entity. This is also known as incorporating your business. It involves choosing and registering a business structure with your Secretary of State.
On registering your real estate photography business, it becomes legally recognized as a separate entity independent of you, the business owner, thereby giving you personal liability protection.
Read on to learn how to start a real estate photography business legally.
Name your business
This name must be unique. Do a name search on your Secretary of State’s website to ensure another business isn’t using your preferred name already.
It’s also wise to do a trademark search to avoid using a trademarked name and incurring lawsuits from another company.
Choose a business entity.
These are the three common business structures most professional photographers adopt:
Sole proprietorship: The biggest benefit of a sole proprietorship business is that it doesn’t require filing any paperwork with the state, making it appealing to small business owners. Starting your photography business already makes you a sole proprietor, and the business takes your name.
The downside is that sole proprietorship doesn’t offer you personal liability protection. Hence, if your business is sued or can’t repay debts, your personal assets as the business owner will be used to settle. Imagine losing your home because of a lawsuit against your business. As a sole proprietor, you’ll report income and expenses on your personal tax return. This is because a sole proprietorship business automatically takes the business owner’s name.
If you choose to run your real estate photography business as a sole proprietor, it’s best to register a DBA name (Doing Business As) with your state. This will be the trade name you’ll use to work. Registering a DBA is not the same as registering the business itself.
Limited Liability Company: A limited liability company (LLC) is arguably the best business structure for small business owners, such as real estate photographers. Although it requires paperwork, unlike a sole proprietorship, an LLC offers liability protection. The company becomes a separate entity responsible for its own debts, lawsuits, and taxes. Hence, your personal assets will be unaffected even if things go south with your business.
Corporation: This offers you the same liability protection as an LLC. However, most real estate photographers do not need to form a corporation as it’s more complex than required for this line of business. However, a corp is the way to go if you wish to seek funding and have other shareholders.
Registering your real estate photography business as an LLC or corporation officially becomes a company.
Register your business
As mentioned, you do not need to register a sole proprietorship business, although you may legally assign it a DBA name.
If you choose to form an LLC or corp to enjoy liability protection and reputation, register it following the steps below:
- Provide your business name
- Choose a registered agent. This person or company will receive services of process and other legal/official documents on your company’s behalf.
- File Articles of Organization (for LLC) or Articles of Incorporation (for corp).
- Provide your business address.
- Write an operating agreement outlining how responsibilities and profits are shared in your business. This document isn’t required but is good to have.
- Register for state and federal taxes.
- Check if your state has any other specific requirements.
If all that feels too complicated or time-consuming, online business formation services can help, such as Northwest Registered Agent, Incfile, Zenbusiness, and LegalZoom. These services can help you file your real estate photography business registration quickly and even serve as your registered agent. They take the pain out of legalizing your business.
Also, remember you have to provide a business address when filing your real estate photography business. However, most real estate photography businesses do not need a commercial office space. Also, it’s advisable not to use your home address since this address will go into public records. Plus, potential clients who see you work from home may not take you as seriously as when you have a commercial presence.
To solve this problem, obtain a virtual business address from a service provider. This will be a real street address in a commercial part of the city, enhancing your professional image. You do not necessarily have to work from that address, so this saves you the money you’d have used to rent and maintain a commercial property.
Secure your EIN
Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) online for free from the IRS. This ten-digit number serves as the SSN for your company and is required for business tax and opening a business account. Your EIN will also be required if you wish to employ staff in your real estate photography business.
You don’t need an EIN as a sole proprietor since everything goes into your tax return.
Buy domain name
If your business is Beautiful Home Photos LLC, you want your website to be beautifulhomephotos [dot] com. Buy this domain quickly, even though you’re not yet ready to build the website. This prevents someone from taking it while you’re busy setting up your business.
Get a business bank account and business credit card
Having a business bank account and credit card reinforces keeping your personal and business finances separate.
Open a business bank account.
Your EIN will be required to open a business bank account. This account will handle all income, expenses, and debts associated with your photography work.
Get a business credit card.
With this credit card, you can obtain credit and make payments on behalf of your business. It will not affect your credit since it’s separate. Be sure to pay back on time, as a good business credit history will be useful when seeking funding later.
Suppose you do not have enough capital to purchase the advanced gear required of a professional real estate photographer. In that case, you may raise money through small business loans or use your business credit card for purchases.
Setting up your real estate photography studio
Your studio will be more or less your office space (perhaps a home office) where you edit your real estate images.
Speaking of which, as a professional real estate photographer, you’d typically need different photo editing software and skills from a wedding photographer. You’ll want to learn virtual staging to digitally add furniture and decor to an empty room to create a beautifully staged property.
This can blow your client’s mind away and attract prospective home buyers. Because, think about it, an empty room is not as inviting as a fully furnished one.
It’s also good to learn how to create 2D floor plans of a property and 3D tours. It’s all about using technology to process the videos and photos.
Remember that you’re helping your Realtor and home seller clients to market their properties, so you want to position the property in the best light possible.
Get the right photography equipment and tools.
The photos and videos must be sensational enough to make potential buyers or renters crave the property. Here are the equipment and tools you need as a professional real estate photographer.
- DSLR Camera: ~$2,000
- Two or three wide-angle lens: ~$1,000
- Tripod: ~$200
- Remote shutter release: $20 – $100
- External flash or strobes: $100 – $500
- Drone for aerial shots: ~$3,000
- Light modifiers: $50 – $200
- Light stands: $30 – $100
- Memory cards: $30 – $100 (per card)
- Powerful laptop for photo editing: $1,000 – $2,500
- External hard drives: $100 – $300 (per drive)
- Editing software: $10 – $50 per month (subscription)
- HDR software: $50 – $150
- Virtual staging software: $20 – $100 (per month)
- Equipment travel cases: ~$500
- Business management software: $10 – $50 per month (subscription)
Create client contracts
Create a contract that lays out everything you and your clients should expect from each other. It should cover the payment terms, project timeline, range of services you’ll cover, etc.
You may hire a lawyer to create the contract from scratch or use a template online and have a lawyer review it for accuracy.
Get business insurance
Business insurance is vital for your real estate photography business so you don’t settle out of pocket when your equipment gets suddenly damaged or stolen. Moreover, some clients only want to hire insured professionals to avoid problems when there is a loss or injury on their property.
There are many kinds of insurance, but general liability insurance should be enough for most professional photographers.
Set up business accounting.
Set up business accounting to monitor cash flow, business expenses, credit, etc. This will make your tax filing easier. Use accounting software or hire a virtual assistant offering accounting and tax filing services.
Get business licenses and permits.
Inquire from your local photography community to know what licenses and permits are required in your state.
Promoting your real estate photography business
We can’t discuss how to start a real estate photography business without mentioning the importance of marketing. You need good marketing skills to start landing high-value real estate photography jobs. The sooner you start getting hired, the quicker you grow.
Here are marketing strategies for real estate photography businesses:
Create your real estate photography portfolio website
A portfolio website is a real estate photographer’s most valuable marketing tool. Your portfolio shows how good you are and what kind of photos and videos clients should expect. Your portfolio website is your best marketer as a professional photographer, so put your best works in there to attract clients.
Start a real estate blog.
Blog about selling a home, commercial property marketing, home staging, etc. Anything relevant to real estate agents, home sellers, and Airbnb owners. Be sure to mention the importance of good photography in the content and link to your portfolio.
Social media marketing
Post engaging photos and videos on your social media platforms. Search for and connect with Realtors in your area, and join a real estate online community on Facebook. Avoid posting sale-sy content all the time, as it can drive people away from your page.
Paid ads will get you seen by prospects more quickly. Use ads on Google and social media.
Word-of-mouth and referrals
Ask your family and friends to recommend you to their friends who are into real estate. Connect with real estate agencies in your city.
Find real estate websites and directories and sign up. These are places where your target audience hangs out. Get seen.
Local advertising and print ads
You can also leverage traditional advertising methods like bills and business cards.
Pros of starting a real estate photography business
- Real estate photography is a specialized field with high demand, and professionals can charge premium rates for their services. You are helping people market their properties.
- As a real estate photographer, you can set your schedule and exercise your creativity in capturing and presenting properties in the best light.
- Working closely with real estate agents, architects, and interior designers can provide valuable networking opportunities and potential referrals for future business.
- There’s a good chance of repeat business when working with a real estate agent.
Cons of starting a real estate photography business:
- High-quality camera gear, lenses, and other equipment can be costly, requiring a significant upfront investment.
- The cash flow is usually not uniform all year round.
- You must sharpen your photography, editing, and marketing skills to win lucrative contracts.
Frequently asked questions about real estate photography
How much should I charge as a real estate photographer?
The best way to set your pricing as a real estate photographer is to research your local photography community to find out what others like you are charging in your area. Things to consider when setting your price include:
- The value of the property
- Location of the property
- The client’s status
- Turnaround time
- Travel expenses
- Time and effort required for editing
How can I learn real estate photography?
You can learn real estate photography by taking online courses on Udemy or Coursera. Real estate photography is a very specific and professional niche, so you need to learn about the local real estate industry, architectural basics, and how to run a business in addition to taking professional photos.
Another way to learn real estate photography is to work as a photographer’s assistant.
Do I need certification to become a professional real estate photographer?
You don’t require any formal certification as a professional real estate photographer. All you need is the skills, equipment, and a strong passion.
What type of camera is best for real estate photography?
A full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera with a wide-angle lens is generally preferred for real estate photography. This combination lets you capture a wider field of view and maintain image quality, especially in low-light situations.
What software do I need to edit real estate photos?
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop are popular choices for editing real estate photos. You may add 3D virtual staging software to make your services stand out.
Should I offer additional services like virtual tours or drone photography?
Additional services like virtual tours or drone photography can significantly enhance your business’s value proposition. These services offer clients a more immersive experience and a broader property perspective.
How do I handle photo rights and usage agreements with clients?
Starting a real estate business is a great step, as this field is highly lucrative. Just be sure you develop your skills, including strong communication skills, and possess good gear to capture high-quality images. Get exposure by building connections with real estate agents in your area, as these are your primary prospective clients.
By following this step-by-step guide on how to start a real estate photography business, you should be well on your way to becoming a big-time photographer in the real estate industry.
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