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What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Travel?

Published: 21/08/2018

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WhatPriceAshley in South Carolina asks:

At what distance/mileage do you recommend charging a "travel" fee and what are the typical rates?

As far as what to charge for your mileage and time, here are some considerations:

Of course, the other part of the travel question is what is your standard service area inside of which you don't have a travel charge? Here are some considerations for that:

  • How much travel cost is built into your standard price?
  • I don't think there is a single simple answer to how big your service area is.
  • Your service area is going to depend on your local geography and market. I could see it being just a single city in a large metro area or many cities in a more rural area.

The main issue is you have to make sure you are not losing money when you go outside your standard service area.

Larry Lohrman

9 comments on “What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Travel?”

  1. I charge a simple $1 per mile, each way for any project more than 30-miles from my office.

    It works great and no one has objected. If it's a local but long drive, I feel compensated. If it is more than 100 miles away, the travel fee pays for a Motel 6 if I decide to rest overnight. If it is a few hundred miles (it happened once), it's enough to pay for the airfare.

    As I said. It's simple. I just do a Google Maps, Directions, and pick the shortest route.

  2. Figure out how much you would make if you packed your day full with shoots. Even if you only have one day, it does not matter. Let's say you shoot one home a day for $150. You could probably fit about three of those shoots into a winter day, so your per day rate is $450.

    Now you know if you are going to be driving half a day you should charge about $225 dollars for the driving. If $225 doesn't sound good to you, quote higher, but at least you have a ballpark figure. If that is too much for a client just mention you hope he keeps using you for the closer homes, but you can't drive half a day and lose your income.

  3. I have a very large service area and I have broken it down into cities in expanding circles that I list on my standard price sheet. I have one standard package that consists of a nominal 20 images (16-24 depending on the property). The price to do the job gets higher as I have to drive further. The charge I list is my minimum fee for doing a job in that area. Customers are welcome to ask for more images at a fixed price each.

    I started really working on how I set my pricing after my workflow wasn't changing too much and could nail down what my time per photo averaged for an entire home. I know my cost of doing business and I know what I'd like to gross per hour. The balance of the job is mostly the time and cost it takes to get there and back.

    Andrew brings up an important point if you get jobs that take a significant amount of time to get to and that's how it impacts how many jobs you can do in a day. If you are typically booked fairly solid most of the time and a customer wants you to do a job where you will lose a time slot that day, you need to charge enough for it to make sense or just say no. A really good option might be that you say yes but, only if it can be done on a day when you are already going to be close or possibly where you can start very early. I was born at 2am and don't like getting up before the chickens, but I've had some very productive and profitable days by leaving for a far away job while it's still dark and getting an early start.

    I've calculated my internal hourly rate for driving a bit less than my active photo rate since it doesn't generate post production work, but I don't back it all the way down to minimum wage territory. Being self-employed means that I'm paying a hefty tax surcharge for the privilege that has to be compensated for. A long day of driving would mean that I was only grossing $15/hour for half of the day and at that rate, I'll stay home and work on my portfolio and not hasten the day when I have to buy new tires.

    All of the best laid plans can go out of the window when a really good customer asks for an out-of-area appointment. I have one this week that is going to kill one of my three time slots and I can only do the other appointment as it's a small home that isn't going to take very long and is just off of the freeway on my way home. I have a 2 hour drive to an 11:30am appointment that will take about 2 hours to photograph and then a 2 hour drive back if there are no accidents or road closures to contend with. That's 6 hours just to get the photos onto the memory card. I was able to make it work since I don't have a lot booked this week and it's getting towards the end of the month so I can use the money. I was able to add a bit more to cover gas and lunch, but that was about it. Sometimes you have to go to Plan B, but that doesn't mean you don't have a preferred Plan A. If I were really busy, I might have found somebody in the area with a good looking portfolio and recommended them. I hate to give up work, but I can't be cost effective if I have to travel long distances. If price isn't a big issue, I'm happy to charge for the full day with some modification since I will only be post processing one set of images rather than three. I'll even spend more time on location and chuck in a couple of extra images if it makes sense.

    There are no hard and fast rules. If you are in a highly populated area and traffic, lights and stop signs can make getting across town a long trip, your trip charge will be much different than if you can drive the speed limit pretty much any hour of the day. Trip charges could also encompass parking fees and tolls. If you know that you will have to spend some time finding a parking spot and may have to lug your gear on a 15 minute walk to get to an address, that's something to consider as well. It would really bite if you had to go back to the car to get a piece of gear or feed the meter at intervals. Don't be afraid to asses a surcharge if there is construction in the area that has eliminated a bunch of street parking.

    Finally, don't break out your fee for the photography and the travel as separate lines items. I had one agent refuse to pay the trip charge and the amount wasn't worth taking her to small claims over so I had to just write it off along with that customer. You are making it much easier all around if you just quote a total price to do the job since you aren't going to negotiate anything separately. If the customer wants a lower price, get them to book more work and/or consolidate photo appointments so your are doing more jobs in one area rather than driving back and forth every day.

  4. I charge $1.25/mi (each way), for any distance further than 10 miles from my home. I get resistance, & have many opted out, but I am very busy more often than not...

  5. I charge about $1 a minute for travel beyond about 15 miles from my office/home. If I am overnight for any reason, the client pays for motel and meals also. I am busy, people don't have to know there is a travel charge, they usually ask for a total and pay, there is no detail on an invoice. If they ask for detail or have questions, we talk about it. It is completely about missed opportunity cost. They understand. The one or two that did not understand or seemed to not like it, they just go elsewhere. I charge for photography based on time also, so I have no no issues with standing around waiting for something to get finished, installed, etc. Has worked really well.

  6. I never say no, just how much to go on out of area assignments. That said, I have no standard charge for range. If I have to go north I will charge triple the amount than most other areas. Why, because of the environment, where it could take two hours to go 10 miles one way. Most clients understand and agree that it is hell going there. The others....well, they can find someone else. I do arrange for the agents to hide a key for access so that at least they do not have to go through the hassle of driving there to just stand around. That also frees me up to go when I want without some kind of set time.

    Going out of area is a service I provide and as such it has to be profitable, otherwise why bother? Those that are just covering their costs are giving away their potential profits from a service

  7. We cover a very large area and can drive over a hundred miles in a day. To prevent any large chunks of downtime, we stepping stone the shoots. So the day consists of a shoot, driving a little then another shot, then another short drive and another shot. Rinse and repeat. Generally we work our way out and then back home.

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