August 9, 2016
Not only am I a Realtor in Bryan/College Station and Aggieland but I am also a resident and a consumer. I was born and raised in this wonderful community that I call home. As a consumer I, like many other consumers in the world of the internet, enjoy viewing homes online. Did you know according to NAR (National Association of Realtors) more than 90% of buyers will search online during their home buying process? I find that no matter what city, state or price point I am viewing homes I will always find a listing where it is very obvious that the Realtor has photographed the house themselves and not hired a professional. The angles will be odd, the lighting will be too dark or even too bright, the countertops will be cluttered, or in the very special occasion I will get a glimpse of a pet or even a resident! To me, as a professional, this is unacceptable. A Realtor is hired to be the professional listing agent so all steps of the process should be handled thoroughly and the very top of that list should be to hire an expert real estate photographer.
Recently I had the privilege to sit down with the renowned real estate photographer VJ Arizpe owner of The Photo Shop and Virtual Leasing Systems. Below you will find an edited (for length) transcript of our conversation…
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get your start in real estate photography?
“I have been a photographer for 14 years now with my start being immediately in real estate. I first bought a camera to be an artist but almost immediately a realtor friend asked me to take pictures of a home. At first I hesitated…but he kept saying ‘please’ to the point where I finally caved. After that point, I immediately started receiving phone calls from numerous customers.”
“Over time I realized that there is a complete niche in this field, there are plenty of photographers out there BUT people who can do architecture/real estate well are hard to come by. I’ve learned that skill and technical ability in real estate photography is different that any other… it’s like driving a car. Once you learn to drive stick you can drive them all.”
What made real estate photography appealing to you?
“There are a lot of reasons. It’s probably the lowest type of stress photography out there. What is unique is never dealing with bad hair days or different temperaments. A building is a building. What is great is that you can’t reschedule a wedding but you can reschedule a home shoot. Another reason is the fact that I have a unique ability to help clients with selling a home from THEIR perspective. I can come in using the homeowner’s vision combined with the realtor’s vision and can turn it into something beautiful. Lastly, because the market is usually so under represented there is not much consistency. But because I have been in this market so long, I’ve created consistency. As a real estate photographer I want to be sure that I’m creating a top quality product so that I also take the realtor and elevate THEIR brand so they can get more listings.”
I know that you do other types of photography as well. Do you have a favorite?
“There are very infrequent occasions I photograph anything other than real estate or architectural. For the most part, it is mostly architectural. Part of this industry is knowing your niche, knowing who you are. My specialty is architecture and real estate, which means that I can focus and grow in this specific field. I can keep bringing new ideas and cannot keep doing same thing this year that was done last year. Because this photography is my niche, I want to make sure that we have the ability to always bring you new ideas.”
Back to real estate photography, do you rely on natural lighting for your photos or do you use an artificial lighting method?
“The answer to this is all about what that space dictates. A lot of the times the space has that perfect lighting, yet sometimes it needs to be artificially lit. But I have to follow guidelines with MLS.
I want to be as creative while representing space in its best possible circumstance.
The more direct answer is closest to about 50/50, with the level of complexity determining the answer. It all depends on the shoot and what the shoot entails. Knowing any photographer that uses one (natural vs. artifical) exclusively is rare.”
What is your favorite time of day to take photos of a listing? Do you have a favorite season as well?
“I do not have a favorite time of day or season. Each of them has different value. However, everyone loves a beautiful evening photo; nighttime creates an immediate drama. A lot of photographers do not like shooting around noon. You are limited to the shadows around this time. Noon is the harshest light but also the most even light. Evening/ late day shots can create big lines of light that shoot through a room. One can look at that as beautiful or distracting. Spring/summer are beautiful for the colors but in autumn or winter you can see through the leaves on the trees to see the house. But winter and autumn could be the best time of year for that exterior shot. Learning how to deal with any situation that you’re put in is what makes a good photographer. Knowing you can consistently put out a beautiful product for your client and realizing the benefits is extremely important.”
On your website, there are examples of “virtual staging,” where digitally, you fill an empty house with virtual furniture. Tell us more about how that works, and what benefit it provides when marketing a vacant home.
“Virtual staging is a unique tool, what is incredible is sometimes it’s the case that an empty space shows better. You’re more able to focus on things like countertops or the fireplace. Sometimes furniture is a hindrance on the shot. What furniture does is that it gives an idea of what the space can be. Some do not know how furniture will fit in there or how it’s going to work. Virtual staging is an affordable way to figure out how furniture will fit in the space. Whatever it is that you’re doing, making sure you staged it correctly is important. A lot of times when we shoot, furniture is not in there; so when they go in the home it is empty. What we want to do is find a way to bridge that gap. We found a way to affordably create rooms that show the home. The way it’s done is that there is a 3D model of furniture in which the client can choose which furniture to use and can actually place it in the space. Therefore converting it to a 3D space rather than a 2D empty room. This creates value, which translates into extra dollars for that client. We are not here for the clients to spend money on us, what they do is an investment. We help clients increase their brand to help them have a leg up on their competition.”
What are some differences you see between professional real estate photography and say, photos taken with a point-and-shoot camera?
“It is very common for realtors to not hire professionals and go with a point and shoot. If a client is experienced enough, they can create a great shot. The real difference is that the realtor’s job is not necessarily to be there to create the marketing strategies. A Realtor’s time is better spent on getting more sellers for their buyers. They’re professionals for selling and we are professionals for creating great shots. We create more time for realtors to use their strengths while photographers use theirs. The difference becomes: do we have the tools in our bag to capture that space the way you need to capture that space? Point and shoots do not have the range of light a color and usually the lens isn’t even wide enough but you want to be sure that you show the space appropriately. Does that mean the realtor needs to invest in a new camera to get the photos without hiring? Yes. But that extra hour shooting could’ve been spent selling that home! There have been times where the photographer is shooting and the house already sold. That’s the realtor’s job. What would’ve happened to that buyer if the realtor was busy editing photos?”
Some agents see the relatively high cost of a professional photo shoot for their listings as a deterrent. Would you say there are different levels of professional real estate photography?
“When it comes to thinking of the cost of photography being a deterrent, what it comes down to is this: how much are you willing to spend on your own brand? It’s like gambling while you’re the house; eventually the house always wins! Overall you will come out on top. I’ve never had a client complain about spending more on photography than needed but have had clients say that they sold more because of our service. It doesn’t matter what your niche is, you want to make sure that you’re marketing to YOUR niche! Yes there are different levels: it depends on how much you’re willing to spend and what project it is! All projects deserve professionalism. Clients love their home. Their home is a very personal and special object for a family. It is part of the family and people have a hard time from separating themselves from this space. As a realtor, you need to represent this home in the same light that that seller would want it, no matter the type of home. Each level deserves a professional photographer. You want to be able to capture the story with these photos and be able to tell the home’s story. I would recommend all realtors to use professionals, making sure that they’re getting back consistent quality. On the highest end, I want to make sure that an expensive home is shown that way because of all the time and energy those sellers put into that home. Also have to remember that in any line of work, there is a certain cache that some cannot afford. The fact that you’re willing to spend money gives you a leg up on the competition. Not only does it happen, but it is consistent and beautiful.”
Do your clients see a difference in the response to their listings when you photography the homes? For example, do you have any data regarding sale price and the time a house spends on the market when the listings use your photographs?
“We have general data: we know over 93% of people will look on the internet to look for homes before they even make contact with a realtor. The statistics give you different costs that houses sell for. Houses that use professional photography will sell more than a house without professional photos. When it comes to our specific images, what we do know is that clients have loved quality. If I create something that just anyone can create, I wouldn’t have many clients. But when we go out there to do a photo-shoot, we have consistency in photos and our client can be confident in them.
The person who you’re bringing in is an extension of you. It is as if I am an employee. When I show up, I should be able to laugh with sellers and ask about family while at the same time being professional. We do not move anything unless our client is ok with it. You need to be sure that you are comfortable with the photographer. Why would you want them in your house to represent you?
Does the photographer have the proper insurance? You need to be sure that whoever is in there is professional in that they are a legitimate and credible business that has all certificates and insurance they need to make sure they can cover it.”
How do your clients benefit from professional photos in their marketing of a home?
Please see the following article on real estate photography statistics…
What is the most rewarding part about the work that you do?
“Me, personally, I love people. My line of work allows me to spend everyday talking to new people and enjoying people’s faces. I love to work inside and outside and play with fun technology and have a great time meeting new friends. It is valuable to me spending the day enjoying company and making other people happy. I travel all over the country and even internationally and get to work on fun places. It’s a blast, a lot of hard work and not as glamorous as it looks but it is fun and worth it!”
Final question and it has two parts…what is your favorite piece of real estate that you have ever photographed and what is your favorite piece of real estate that you have ever photographed locally here in Bryan/College Station, Texas?
“If I was thinking about this, both are local. The way I know something is extremely valuable is that I find myself jealous that I don’t have it. One of my favorites is a library built by a local builder. It resembles the library from The Beauty and the Beast and it is PHENOMENAL. The custom works, fireplace, nooks to read in, it is so amazing that I wanted to continue to work with that builder indefinitely. It was tremendous.
Another favorite is a property right outside of College Station. A client had purchased a state park from Texas and to get to it you drove down these winding roads. The road is flanked by beautiful pine trees and when you walk into this 6000 square foot 2 bedroom home on a lake you see that the entire back wall is glass. You feel like you’re walking straight out to the lake. The ceilings had large reclaimed lights from maybe an old train station? They were so massive. It was one of those spaces that you walk into and your jaw drops in awe. Both of my favorites are in College Station. The beautiful places here are tucked away behind trees and you just have to run into them.”
“Photography is one key element in tremendous marketing. We need to make sure as Realtors and Brokers that we are always looking at tech as a growing process. When I first started I took pictures with a flash, lens, camera. Now we have elevated to mass and virtual reality tours. We’re able to do whatever it takes and whatever the client needs.
When you’re investing with someone, you need to be sure that that person is going to be around five or so years from now. You don’t want to spend your time doing the cheapest version there. You want to be sure you’re growing with someone who grows with you. You want to be sure you have the foresight.
Can we create an experience? Can we create a story? If your photographer wants you to do well, they need to attitude that says ‘when your business grows, my business grows’. That’s what you need from a photographer.”