Setting New Client Expectations Before the Shoot

I’ve mentioned before that it’s always a good idea to set expectations up front. When you bring on a new client, it’s important for you and the client to understand how you operate. What can they expect you to do or not do at the property? What’s the next step after the photos are taken? How do they make the requested payment for your services?

These and other questions can be answered up front to kick off a successful business relationship with new Realtor clients.

Updated 7/27/2017

Added a new section on licensing/copyright/ownership, so clients understand how they can properly use my photos to market their properties.

Updated 6/13/2014

I just added another segment to my New Client email – trip charges. If you service a big area and find yourself booking shoots that are far away, come up with a list of cities that trigger a trip charge. This way clients know you will go to those areas if need be, however due to the location, they will be subjected to a trip charge


You are basically going to be putting together a FAQ for new clients. Over time as you build your business and on-board new clients, you’ll start to hear the same questions being asked over and over. You’ll also start to find out that clients expect things of you that you might not want to perform as part of your real estate photography services. Write these items down and put them together in an email that you can send to new clients so all expectations are understood.

Let’s first go over the pieces in my welcome email to new clients, and then I’ll go over other things you might want to consider adding into your own email.

  1. Thanks
    The first thing I do is thank the client for contacting and scheduling me for a photo shoot. I tell them I’m excited to work with them in marketing their properties, and ask them to please take a moment to read the below information so they know what to expect when hiring me as their real estate photographer.
  2. Scheduling
    I explain how they can schedule with me for future shoots, and I also discuss the importance of giving me advanced notice when scheduling. I’m a one-man shop and I have a client-base who is busy selling homes. Thus, I’m busy! So I need as much lead time as possible in order to schedule a photo shoot on the agent’s requested date.
  3. Staging
    I’m not a stager. I repeat, I’m not a stager! A misconception of real estate photographers is that we should all be stagers because we “know what looks pretty”. My photos might be beautiful, but I don’t have the slightest clue as to what accessories should be on tables and over fireplaces. I have no idea where furniture should be placed for the best flow through the home. I don’t make beds, nor do I want to make a bed. I don’t clean bathrooms, which includes touching/moving toothbrushes that should never have been left out in the first place. It’s important that my clients understand what my job is and what my job IS NOT. The last thing I want to do is set a precedence that results in having to clean properties all day to get them ready for photos – and I tell new clients this.
  4. Photoshop
    It’s so easy. Everyone does it! Can you photoshop this basketball hoop out of the front? No. Can you photoshop the cracks in this wall? No. Can you remove that treadmill with photoshop? No. Like staging, it’s necessary to explain this to Realtors so they understand that I’m not there to make up for their seller’s inability to properly prepare their home for sale. Or more likely, I’m not there to fulfill a stager’s job that the Realtor didn’t think was necessary to hire in the sales process. I take photos as-is and I run my business with ethics in mind – I’m not out to fool anybody.
  5. Cheat Sheet
    After all of the bad news is out of the way, I do offer my Realtor clients a cheat sheet they can hand off to their sellers. It’s in the form of a website on how to prepare a home for sale but I find the majority of sellers don’t take it seriously.
  6. Cancellation / Reschedule Policy 

    I list what’s acceptable for cancellations and reschedules, and what fees will be invoiced should they not meet my guidelines.
  7. Inclement Weather
    I prepare my client for the process of what happens when bad weather hits. It’s not my fault and its not theirs. But it happens! So be prepared and let your clients know how you are going to handle it.
  8. Website Access
    My clients all get an account on my website to handle photo delivery, payment, etc, so I explain the payment process and account details.
  9. Cost
    Depending on what the client purchases, I describe the cost for that package. If I think they’ll potentially purchase other services in the future I’ll add those costs as well. I link to my pricing page on my website so they can verify I’m telling them the current pricing info.
  10. Turnaround
    How long until the photos are edited and delivered? I let them know my turnaround time and I make sure to note that I’m delivering a quality product. I’m not going to sacrifice quality just to get photos out 2 hours earlier – it just doesn’t make sense.
  11. Lockbox Access
    I am an affiliate with my local association of Realtors and I have access to lockboxes (Supra). I make sure new clients are aware of this access, as it means I can get into properties without requiring them to meet me there.
  12. Licensing / Copyright / Ownership / Usage
    I go over my copyright/licensing/usage rules. I put it into terms that are easy to understand. I make sure the agent knows I will NEVER release ownership/copyright to the photos. They are merely licensing the photos to use for their listing/marketing. I also let them know that in the unlikely event that the listing gets canceled, they are not allowed to sell the photos to another agent. The second agent needs to contact me to purchase the photos, and I let them know that I will never sell to a second agent without their permission first (to be nice/respectful).
  13. Thanks #2
    I thank the client again for trusting me in helping them market their property, and I reiterate the importance of quality real estate photography to attract the attention of buyers who are shopping online.

Additional Items

My list isn’t perfect. I add to it whenever I think of something that’s important that I want to be sure all new clients have record of. One thing that you may want to add if you find it important to your business process, is the legality of copyright. Explain to your client who owns the copyright to the photos and how they can use them. Can they use the photos on print material? Can they use one of the photos as a header graphic on their website? Can they give the photos to the seller/homeowner of the property?

You might also want to add a short section on commercial work, or portfolio work. A lot of times a Realtor will list a property and the builder will see the photos and want copies. State that the photos are to be used for marketing the listing only, and that you have packages available for purchase if builders would like portfolio work done. Some builders will want tighter shots on architectural details in the home so they may just re-hire you to take additional photos. Letting the agent know ahead of time about your policy will help prevent them from giving away your photos to someone like a builder because they simply weren’t informed.

Your Turn

What am I missing? What do you think I should add in my new client expectations email that will increase the likelihood of successful, long-term business relationships? Reply in the comments below!

Pssst – you can find my entire new client expectations email content here.

Bonus Pssst – I use GMail’s Canned Responses (under Labs) to quickly dump this template into new emails.

Want to share? Have at it!

13 thoughts on “Setting New Client Expectations Before the Shoot”

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said. One question for you, however, is what exactly do you do if you get to a home and it doesn’t look up-to-speed? Do you go ahead and just shoot the rooms as-is (if it’s there, it’s in the shot) or do you refuse to shoot the property?

    Unfortunately I find myself spending a lot of time hiding shampoo bottles, removing mats from floors, etc. At first I didn’t do any of that, but I decided it was worth the time to make sure the shots looked right because my images are a direct reflection of me. But now I’m at the point where I hate doing it and get frustrated that the agents haven’t done a good enough job ensuring the sellers prepare their homes. I do supple them with a checklist, but it’s rarely used.

    Would love to know what you do when you arrive at a house that clearly hasn’t been prepped. Any stories you can share?

  2. Jake if you find yourself running into that type of thing, I would do a walk-through with the agent and/or seller before you start shooting. Tell them you would like to go through and see if there are any final adjustments you can have them make while you are shooting the exterior. So when you get to the bathroom, request they remove the shampoo bottles, etc, for a better shot. You can then go outside and do the exterior, while they are busy working inside taking care of things you shouldn’t be doing.

    If nobody is present, take a photo with the shampoo/etc, and then one without. When you deliver the photos, show the agent the photo with the shampoo bottles and explain that this is an item on your checklist that should be handled prior to your arrival and in the future you will just be taking the photos as-is. Being nice and giving them a warning will go a long way in maintaining a positive relationship with the Realtor.

    I’ve had two instance where the homes clearly weren’t ready and I shot them anyway. One the agent showed up 45 minutes late when I was almost done and she was shocked I took the photos as-is. I explained to her that I simply don’t have time to clean up the property and I clearly state that in my policies. In order to offer the best service possible and be on time to all photo shoots, I can only take the photos as-is (I had another appointment to get to). I ended up firing this client because it’s simply not someone I want to do work with.

    Another instance was for a really great client of mine and the guy was single. He left a Whataburger cup on the table, the bed was messy, etc. I took the photos as-is and the agent was very upset, but it gave me the opportunity to stand my ground. I still do a lot of work for that agent, but it was a very rough shoot and it took a lot of discussing for us to understand each other’s side.

    If the agent cares enough about their branding and the quality of photos for their listings, they’ll make sure the properties are ready. Just be as nice as possible about letting them know your policies and expectations.

    • Lance,
      Instead of shooting as is for an unprepared property, have an additional fee for such situations. Agents can’t always control clients..and vice versa. Once they start paying for such situations (shoot unkept and cleaned up images for verification) they will not likely want to pay for something the client/homeowner could have done prior to the shoot. It ends being an additional service to be offered. However, there is a line and that is staging where it should have been done by someone else. I agree with all your other points here.

      • Like your idea James! My only concern is for agents that have the pockets who don’t care if they have to pay me an extra couple of bucks to get things ready every shoot. And that’s something I don’t want to get in the habit of doing! So you have to figure out what it’s worth to you. Is it worth keeping that client that always seems to have listings that aren’t ready? Or is it better to let them go and find another one? I’ve had both scenarios where agents ALWAYS had listings that weren’t ready. I let them go pretty quickly. But I think for good agents, a fee structure like you mention would be great because they would get the point – I’m not there to stage/clean up. You just have to be careful because if that’s something you don’t want to continue to do, it shouldn’t be part of your services offered, no matter how much you get paid to do it.

  3. Excellent and insightful article! I am just stepping into professional real estate photography and have done just 2 assuagements hence my quest to learn more is on and continuing. I am not quite yet sure on how to negotiate or deal with the clients and as of now I just go by their requirements and usually do not have any cap on the number of photos i click. Soon planning to introduce a package system. The list you have mentioned really has given some good insights, i will stay tuned for more, thanks again!

    • Thanks for reading Josh and glad you are finding useful info! Yes you will want to get some packages set up because if they ask for 1, they’ll ask for 2, then 3, then 4. Pretty soon you’ll be doing way more work and not being paid for it. We are professionals, good at what we do, and we DESERVE to be paid for it! And paid WELL! So come up with a base package and then allow them add additional photos for an additional cost. Good luck!

  4. Hey Lance,
    Great article as usual and really helpful in dealing with new clients. And that’s where I am right now a newbie. I just launched my Real Estate Photo business about a month ago and over the past week, shot 7 different properties for just one Realtor! He’s been a real pleasure to work for and completely recognizes the value of having homes staged prior to photographing. This agent is really tuned in on the value of photography and also really seems to like to spend money:) Some of the homes I was shooting were re-shoots, because he wasn’t completely happy with the first photographers shots, so I felt obligated (self-imposed not agent induced) to prove myself and my company’s value by going above and beyond.

    However, because of that need to please on my first outing, which he didn’t know he was my first client, I found myself spending way to much time on the post-processing trying to create master pieces for this realtor. I even found myself changing out skies for free, because the original skies were all white. He didn’t ask for them, I just did them. I probably should have asked and sold him on changing out the skies? Thoughts on that?

    I offer Virtual Tours as part of the photo packages and am not clear on my responsibility for adding all the property information, photos descriptions, etc. I initially asked them to send me all the pertinent info so I could plug it in before sending them all the branded and unbranded links, but 3 days later, I’m still waiting for that info. So I decided to send them the links to the Tours as is and then they will have the ability to add all property information, rearrange photos, add music, etc.. How do you handle the virtual tour setup? I’m using TourBuzz for the Tours

    Since I’m new to this process, I expect to be on a learning curve and will find better and faster ways to do things, but your Tips have been extremely helpful in breaking down the process. I’ve even adopted your naming convention for labeling Lightroom files and image names.

    Thx for all you advice and information Lance, much appreciated!

    • Greg thanks for the nice comment! Welcome to Real Estate Photography! 🙂

      It sounds like you have a busy agent and that’s great! The joy about running your own business is you get to decide what you offer, and for what price. Personally for me, I put blue skies in all photos by default. My competition doesn’t do it, so for me it’s a way to stand out. Additionally because I focus more on quality, I leverage sky replacement as just a standard that should be done for all shoots to get the best image. And it’s true! The white skies don’t look as good as a blue sky! It’s a way to show agents you care about the details and the final result. I don’t think I would have that as an a la carte item. I would either not do it at all, or bump up your prices a bit so you can feel comfortable doing it for all exteriors. I don’t think it’s a decision that should be placed on the agent.

      I don’t put any property information or photo descriptions into tours. If the agent wants that info they can build their own tour. I tried at first to scrape MLS sites for the data because like you, it’s just impossible getting that info from the agent themselves. But obviously scraping the data is not something that should be done, plus it was just taking too much time. To be honest, out of the 4 years I’ve been running my business, not a single agent has asked me to put property information on tour links. Funny thing is – you know what I HAVE been asked to put in my tours? Music. 🙂 I don’t use music because I don’t want folks pulling up tour links at work and having music come out of their speakers. Plus it seems kind of cheesy to me to have music going just for a slideshow of photos? But everyone has their own opinion on that.

      Glad you are finding the file naming useful – it really helps in keeping things organized!

      All the best!

  5. Excellent thread Lance! I’m a 32 year old entrepreneur from San Francisco who has been professionally selling real estate for 7 years. glad i stumbled on your website!

  6. Hi Lance,
    You have great suggestions, and I use your naming structure verbatim…..good stuff!
    I’ve just started my business, and I’m struggling with getting my first client. I know my photos are good (always room for improvement, though), however I still can’t seem to get my feet wet with a realtor. I’ve visited all the local realtors offices and dropped off booklets of before/after shots to show them my work. (I had some friends let me shoot their homes). I’ve dropped flyers into mailboxes and put up on local grocery store bulletin boards. My next thought would be to visit open houses or presentation suites (showhomes set up by builders). Should I offer free shoots? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Hi Nancy!

      Most of my new clients have come from referral, or by finding my website online. If they find me one they are usually interested in video products. I think agents going after video are more savvy and search online whereas an agent just looking for photos is probably going to ask a fellow agent.

      So I think it’s important to get work, and build relationships to start getting referrals. You don’t have to shoot for free, but you can heavily discount. Just be sure you set a time limit and let the agent know what the full price will be once the trial is done.

      Reach out to some offices lime you have already, but offer discounted rates to the first X agents that contact you. You can also browse listings online and look for poor photos and contact those agents. Most agents that do it themselves will probably be a hard but to crack. But my biggest client that I have came from emailing them and explaining why I am better for them than their current photographer. They did a trial with me and I have been shooting for them for 2 years.

      You need to get some work under your belt so agents see the service you provide. At the early stages that might mean free or discounted shoots, but just remember to clarify that everything is temporary.

      I would also recommend to start networking whether be real estate events, or with others in the industry like home stagers. If you build a relationship with stagers they’ll convince their agents to use you because they know the level of service you’ll bring.

      Good luck, it’s not easy and it takes some Tim but if you stick to it you will win!


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