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Shawn Speller
Real Estate Videography
on Nov 21, 2012 at 4:55:42 am

Hello Cow Community!

I am currently in the process of starting up my own small production company here in Northern Ontario and one of the areas I wanted to focus on is Real Estate Videography. There are a couple of companies that I am aware of in the Toronto area that are having success in this niche market I suppose you could call it and I see what they are doing, what they charge and it is something that I know I can do. I am aware of a few things in my area, well I know in general the real estate market isn't the greatest it's been but in my area which is a very well known cottage area often properties sell for high 5 to 6 figure amounts. The research I have done shows no one within a 3 hour drive providing this service, so it is my hope to provide this service for homes/cottages selling in the mid-high end range. Ok enough back story and if you have taken the time to read thus far thank you. My questions are:

1. Is there anyone out there that has seen success in this type of video work? any tips?

2. How did you get started, who were key people you got in contact with, who did you approach to shoot a demo, developers with a model home, the real estate agents? I am having little success in getting really any reply from agents and sales reps, and the few that have replied immediately asked for a demo which is what I expected.

3. Any general tips anyone has on getting a foot in the door with a local company like remax or century 21?

Again thanks for reading and what ever you have to say to help. I have faith in the cow.

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Tim Wilson
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 21, 2012 at 5:56:38 am

I absolutely loved doing real estate video. Even turned it into not one but TWO different local TV shows.

I'll answer more thoroughly when I'm not typing on my phone...but DO you have a demo? My wife and I had our business together, and know what WE used for a demo? OUR house. We produced the shit out of that thing, and got a yes on our first pitch, which I can't remember ever happening before or since.

This is one racket where it really really pays off to network in person. Is there some local group of business people in your area? Rotary? Chamber of Commerce? These usually meet around mealtimes. Regularly attend one that meets at breakfast, AND one that meets at lunch. Volunteer for community stuff. I promise realtors will be participating in these events. It'll be good for your soul AND you'll achieve your number one goal as a business guy: making people feel good about THEMSELVES for giving money to YOU.

Here's the thing about realtors. Almost all of them are self employed. They pay a fee to the broker just to have a place in the office, and split every single commission. They spend money out of their own pockets for signs, business cards and listings in those real estate books you see in diners. They are relentless in taking classes, because there's no longer enough business for them to miss a single trick, and these classes cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars out of their pockets. Even if the broker lets you in the door, you'll probably have to sell your services to every single realtor in that office, one at a time.

And if you don't have as much skin in the game as they do, if you aren't hustling as hard as they are, you won't get a dime.

That actually had MUCH more to do with getting jobs than our demo. They knew that we were spending money we didn't have to be at all those stupid, stupid meetings. Going to all these local fundraisers was a huge time and money suck, but by the time we made our first pitch, every single realtor in town knew our names, our business name, the story of how we came to town, and every service we offered before we ever suggested a real estate video. The fact is, before we ever showed a demo, they ASSUMED it would be great. They WANTED it to be great, because they knew we were hustlers, and we would shake every nickel out of our pockets for them, and would hustle harder for them than anyone had ever hustled for them before.

And we had to go through this every single time for every realtor in the office, because they were all in business for themselves, and were already spending a small fortune on advertising. But we didn't talk to them like we were selling advertising. We talked to them like their teammates, and they believed it, because it was true.

. This isn't like any other job you'll ever have. If they don't already KNOW you're one of them, your demo won't matter a bit. These people are gambling their family's entire future every single day, and the last thing they want to hear is one more clown wanting to stretch them thinner. But they'll always be happy to hear from someone that they really, truly believe is capable of lightening their load, not just their wallet.

Sorry for any odd typos and rambling....another more rational and grammatical post soon...

Tim Wilson
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW

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Mark Suszko
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 21, 2012 at 3:08:02 pm

Tim's description is the nice sode of that niche. The high end.

We've seen the horrors of the low-end though: realtors will hire kids off of Craig's to drive out and "spray" the property with their DSLR. Then they demand the kid turn around finished, polished online montages by end of day. For three properties. For a hundred bucks. Payable only after the closing is done on the house.

I don't think there's any money in the low-end realtor vid business: it may be a "foot-in-the-door" opportunity for a beginner hungry for any kind of experience, but it tends to chew up and spit out people pretty quick because the ratio of pay to effort is unrealistic and they tend to take advantage of inexperienced people to carry costs long before seeeing any payback. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying go in with eyes open and to be exceptionally careful. If you think you found a niche where nobody in the area does a particular job... it may turn out to be for a very good reason.

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Tim Wilson
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 21, 2012 at 8:11:22 pm

We never worked in high-end real estate. That has nothing to do with anything I was talking about whatsoever.

We got a couple of hundred bucks a pop, and we made it up in volume. We worked with a bunch of individual realtors to line up shoots back to back, so we'd walk away with $1500/day or so....but that also had to cover post!!!

Shawn, with that experience behind me, I can confirm Mark's observation that the work is brutal -- but it's brutal for realtors too. CNBC ranks selling real estate at #10 on the list of most stressful jobs, and I think it should be a lot higher up than that.

That's why I keep emphasizing the amount of sweat it takes. You have to have skin in the game, or they won't respect you. And if they don't respect you, they won't pay you.

My previous post was mostly about GETTING the work. Let's talk about DOING the work.

When we wrestled those back to back shoots, we had to start by working the schedules of five independent businesspeople into the order that WE needed them to be, to minimize our driving.

During the shoots, we did all the lighting and dressing ourselves. Moving plants and furniture, floofing pillows, getting something nicer out of a kitchen cabinet to put on a dining room table, whatever it took. We even scheduled shoots so that the sun was on the proper side of the house, which meant that we scouted the locations beforehand.

This was in Florida, so if the sky wasn't absolutely perfect, we'd have to come back another day to shoot exteriors. Can't shoot an overcast sky and call it a Florida real estate video.

We wrote the copy, did the vo and music, and of course every house we edited had unique graphics, including a picture of the realtor, because we all knew that the house wasn't the actual product -- the REALTOR was.

High end jobs are a snap. At $500,000, a realtor rolls the dice on maybe a $15,000 commission. In our world, it was more like $5000, and that's GROSS. They paid us one time in the process, but they'd been buying print ads every single week. They'd also put in a ton of time, so even asking as little as we were was asking a lot. Out of pocket expenses are massive, and are just as big for houses that don't sell as for the ones that do -- and a lot just don't.

Speaking of expenses, how many realtors do you know? If you know many, you'll know that lot of them keep signs in their garage because they BOUGHT those signs. They pound the signs into the ground themselves, because if they don't, they have to PAY somebody to do it for them. Nothing comes for free in their world, any more than it does in yours. That's why this isn't like other jobs. You're one freelancer selling to another, and their out of pocket percentage is higher than yours.

Shawn, if you're not willing to work like a demon, JUST LIKE A REALTOR DOES, listen to Mark. Do anything and everything else you possibly can, because this will make you miserable.

I might have a whole different set of advice for somebody pursuing high-end real estate, but I'll never know because I never did. LOL

I loved this work. I loved everything about it, including the hustling, but especially the creative freedom I got, and the feeling of kinship. And some good deals on houses. LOL But I loved it so much that I overlooked Mark's very important point. Listen to us both. :-)

Tim Wilson
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW

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Mark Suszko
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 21, 2012 at 9:16:30 pm

It's definitely a young person's game, I'll agree to that. Look at Tim's example: you have expenses in time and gas to go scout the (multiple) locations, then to drive out to the shoot, time spent dressing the rooms and lighting them (the cheap guys won't budget you any time for lighting). If weather changes (and in Florida you get plenty of rain in some months - short, but every day). Figure each house takes an hour of drive time, an hour to prep and light, an hour to shoot. Then 2 hours for the edit and compression or authoring to web or DVD or both. 5 hours for one house. You want to do three a day but the logistics may only allow 1 or 2 a day. Once you get good you can collapse the time invested down to maybe one hour for everything per house except travel. Typical pay you see on Craig's for this kind of work could be fifty bucks for the day, but say it's double, make it an even hundred, 20 bucks. For one guy. Tim had help on some of his gigs so divide the money in half. Ten an hour if you share the work with a partner. Or say they come along for free out of love or whatever. Twenty bucks an hour. Sounds good until you add in your overhead and other expenses of the business. By then you're in minimum wage mcburger job territory. So if you're working this hard, for so long, for that little, you must (better) be getting something else out of it beyond just the pay. These gigs pay back much better on properties worth a million or more. IMO, considering the time and work put in, homes under a million don't generate the levels of commissions that can afford a really good videographer on a career basis. You kill yourself running around to make it up on volume in the bottom half of the market. That's what I mean by preferring the "high end". Getting a point five or a one percent commission off a million dollar-plus sale. Versus making much less spread out over more jobs, while you carry all the burden of the expenses and job overhead up front.

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Ned Miller
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 22, 2012 at 4:41:54 pm

My experience is the opposite of Tim's, I would now run from residential real estate videos. Divide it BC and AC: Before The Crash and After The Crash. BC I did a lot of real estate vids but they were usually for the builders/construction companies of high end homes and condo towers and what they called "spec houses" because over the years I found residential realtors very cheap. Most established companies already have a "kid" doing it for $20 a shot, or the realtor was DIY. Now with Craigslist and DSLRs the competition is enormous.

In 2006 I shot as a one-man-band, 56 days for a real estate infomercial series (sorry for the poor compression):

that was on Sunday mornings on FOX called MetroScene where I followed a gorgeous hostess walking through Chicago's condo explosion. When a developer spends $200 million on a tower they don't mind shelling out $20K for a video. These guys are used to looking at figures with a lot of zeroes so when us video pros present an estimate to them it's chump change. So after the series ended I decided to target the commercial market. They often are selling to out-of-towners so video is a help to get the prospects to fly in or sometimes buy from afar.

All clients can be broken into one of two categories: Those that are spending their own money and those that are spending the company's money. With the commercial real estate clients they aren't spending their own money so they tend to not be as cheap as individual realtors.

I even had QTVR (QuickTime Virtual Reality) and iPix where I could take a 360 degree view of a room and the viewer can pan it with their mouse. I did what Tim suggested but networking with realtors, who are natural born salespeople, was exhausting. They want to sell YOU.

In sum, I would say have real estate be a sub-niche specialty of your company and not the whole enchilada. I have several niches (such as litigation support) and when I am slow I will market to those areas, but I don't see real estate as having enough biz/cash flow, unless you want to make it on quantity but then you're working like a dog. Some day when I have time I will start a thread about "how does one make the most money with the least amount of time in video production?". That has been of interest to me. I have been filming small business seminars for DEX and that is the mantra of their panels of experts: Go for the business where you maximize your revenue with the least amount of time spent, monies outlaid and physical effort. And making it up with having a zillion small real estate videos doesn't seem like the way to go. Tremendous time suck. Just a hamster wheel that requires running faster, like consumer videos.

Just my two cents.

Ned Miller
Chicago Videographer

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Tim Wilson
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 22, 2012 at 6:01:49 pm

[Ned Miller] "Go for the business where you maximize your revenue with the least amount of time spent, monies outlaid and physical effort. And making it up with having a zillion small real estate videos doesn't seem like the way to go. Tremendous time suck. "

Awesome advice.

Coupla quick notes:

1) I'll put my point in your language to be clearer: you're right that it's a hamster wheel. To be successful in real estate video, YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE HAMSTER WHEEL.

2) I didn't have a problem with realtors trying to hustle me, mostly because we became friends and community volunteers working side by side. Which was another of my points: be ACTIVE in this meetings, and in the community as a volunteer, or you will be miserable.

And yes, a target for relentless hustling.

3) To put it another way, you have to become a realtor in every sense but selling the actual homes.

4) But I liked that, and I liked being around realtors, mortgage brokers, lenders.

Will YOU like it, Shawn? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that's another aspect of my point about "becoming a realtor." Once you're "in and of" that world, a whooooole lot of things get a lot easier.

5) I didn't try to do any of this after 2008, and DSLRs were only barely part of the equation, so yeah, maybe my advice is worthless now.

Wouldn't be the first time. LOL

While I didn't do this after a crash, I did do it after a hurricane -- H. Andrew, even after this recent one, still #4 on the all-time disaster list -- so things were pretty dang bad. Nobody had money to buy houses or buy my services unless they really, really wanted to.

Which is why I think that my advice about getting ALLLLL the way in as the ONLY way to succeed at this is still sound. I didn't have to sell my services that hard. They were ready to buy before they ever saw my work. The demo of my own house was the LAST step, not the first one.

6) We've talked a lot in this forum about to compete with cheap, often free, althernatives, but I found that things were getting better for quality videographers as the market was tightening - if a house isn't selling, some people decided that better marketing tools would help.

And Ned's advice is rock-solid regardless. You can do almost anything more easily than this, and if you ask, "What kind of video should I get into?" I don't know that real estate video would even go on my list at all.

But if we're starting at "I want to get into real estate video, what's the best way" there are steps that can be taken to increase your chance of success.

Tim Wilson
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW

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Shawn Speller
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 22, 2012 at 10:15:03 pm

"I want to get into real estate video, what's the best way" is my main focus.

Thanks everyone for the reply, a lot more of a response than I expected. Ok I am going to try to reply to all of the above in one shot starting from the top.

Tim, Yes I have considered the obvious to shoot a demo of my own home, the fear was however it would not mesh with the target market I was going for being a small two bedroom bungalow, but at this point with the success I have had with contacting sales reps or lack there of, it may be an inevitability if I want to do this right. I am beginning in December with my local chamber of commerce, other community involvement as business Shawn has not been fully thought through although personal Shawn has done a lot of community volunteering in the past, it is something that almost seems like an essential to get your name out there in any field. I have been informed that most real estate professionals in the area have a networking meeting once a week it was my plan to see if I can get into one of those meetings and give one hell of a 10 minuet presentation including of course a demo of my work. What are your thoughts would it be wise to do this or hit them off individually? Hustling I believe is almost a fact of life for any freelancer, I had an idea of how much would be involved with selling to a salesman and your story has just put a lot more emphasis on it for me.

To clear up a few things with everyone. Real estate isn't my only schtick, my focus is split between that and corporate video and weddings which is what I have done for years now, on the side and for firms. Where I live is smack dab in the middle of Canada's cottage country where all the "big shots" from the major cities like Toronto and Ottawa spend their summers. With some research and just living here for the past 5 years I have seen the average cottage up here go for north of $700, pun intended if you can find it. So my thought was, people are buying property up here and live 3+ hours away, what better way for these guys to show their property than an "epic" video. I knew that this line of work would involve A LOT of footwork from smoozing with realtors, to the actual production process and if anything your replies have solidified that thought. My thought is I see a market that can be created here that no one else is doing at the moment and I am going into it 110% because I would rather give it all I have and go down in flames rather than half ass it and get no where. To be honest I love a challenge.

Time has been a factor I have struggled with a bit and tell me if this is out of line I was thinking a 3 day turnaround on each video. Within 3 days of the shoot their video will be online and hand delivered on dvd.

I will have to revisit this again tonight and add a little more to the discussion but I do very much appreciate the advice everyone, thanks again. I do love Ned's quote "Go for the business where you maximize your revenue with the least amount of time spent, monies outlaid and physical effort."

Isn't that the goal of everyone in the world of business? :) If I knew where an undiscovered oil field is laying I would be the first person out there with my straw.

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Jeff Cadge
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 23, 2012 at 4:54:41 am

Hello Shawn,

I wouldn't spend time filming your apartment but instead find a really nice house to use for your demo.
Explain to the home owner or realtor that you're an experienced filmmaker and you're moving into the real estate videos and offer to do this particular house for free for your demo. Make sure the house has something special such as great decor, awesome views etc.. something that will make your demo highly effective.

I'm sure you know this but make sure you have a wide angle lens for filming master shots, it makes the rooms look bigger.

Good Luck,

Jeff Cadge

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Bill Davis
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 25, 2012 at 1:34:24 am

Okay, here's my story.

When I was starting out in video, one of my first gigs was on a local TV show called The Home Hunter. My job was to take the "home tour" tapes home and using a machine provided by the production company t, I'd write the narrative descriptions and do the VO as an audio insert on the second audio track.

I worked for them for a few years and they even provided me with a leased car for a couple of them (ah, those wonderful old days when "TV show work" was pretty much a prestiege gig!)

They started out with a 1 hour show that featured between 12 and 15 individual resale homes. With an open, close, and bumpers filling out the program.

Flash forward 30 years and guess what? That show is STILL on the air today in Phoenix! The daughter of the original Host now does the on-air work.

But over the decades the show has changed RADICALLY from it's original form.

First, it dropped from an hour to half an hour. (then it went BACK to an hour later!) It also started moving away from "broker listed" resale properties and moved toward featuring mostly NEW models from major builders. I suspect it was a lot easier to close one sale to a large home builder rather than signing up a dozen small agents. Then the show transformed again. It got picked up via sponsorship by a big Realty company - and shifted it's focus to being more an "advertorial" show primarily focused on "home related trades" - which is where it is today. It's an assembly of some model homes of the sponsoring companys "communities" "" sandwhich'd between sponsored segments on stuff like window coverings, energy management systems, mortgage specialists etc.

The point is that over the past 30 years, the market dictated what the show needed to evolve to survive.

Looking back, the market wasn't actually interested in a TV show about individual re-sale homes so much. Now I absolutely acknowledge that's what I was involved in is very different than doing videos for individual realtors as a promotional tool.

But I learned a lot about doing videos about homes since I've written and narrating probably 300 "home tours," That show got me into my first production suites and TV stations and got me interested enough in shooting to teach myself to do what I'd watched the videographers do every week.

So I speak from some authority when l tell you that if you're going to do "full tilt" narrated home tours - creating copy for the first 50 properties is pretty easy - it's when you hit the 135th kitchen that things get difficult. Oh, it's ANOTHER pan showing a small space consisting of three white walls and mid-priced generic appliances. Whoopee! This is when you'll start to REALLY earn your money! (Pro tip: "small" is a bad kitchen descriptor - "step-saver" is much better! :)

The point is that it's a specialized field that takes a lot of time and dedication to extract significant money from. But it's also a great training ground since it teaches you how to work smart and hard and fast!

Hope these thoughts help from someone who's also worked in the real estate grind.

Good luck!

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.

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Nick Griffin
Re: al Estate Videography
on Nov 23, 2012 at 1:17:36 pm

[Tim Wilson] "that's... my point about "becoming a realtor." Once you're "in and of" that world, a whooooole lot of things get a lot easier."

This should be obvious without saying it, but it's not just real estate. Your chances for getting gigs in any industry or segment goes WAY up when you're rubbing shoulders on the inside rather than knocking on doors from the outside.

That's why my partner and I belong to select trade organizations, attend their meetings, volunteer to sit on their committees and schmooze at their cocktail parties. Not everyone needs or wants what we do, but for those that do we're an easy choice -- because they already know us.

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