Lesson Overview

In this lesson, I’ll cover how much it costs to start a real estate photography business from the ground up. Spoiler alert: it’s about $12,000.

In this lesson, you will learn about:

Kristian Pettyjohn, CEO of PhotoUp
Kristian Pettyjohn, CEO of PhotoUp

This is the fourth lesson in the How to Become a Real Estate Photographer course. A premium (and completely free) course written by the Kristian Pettyjohn, CEO of PhotoUp, the leading provider of software, services, and systems for real estate photographers.

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How Much Will Gear Cost: $7,850

You can get a detailed view of this in our previous lesson A No Nonsense Guide to Real Estate Photography Gear.

From this lesson we determined if you are starting from scratch, expect to pay about $8,000 for your 2D and 3D camera gear. Note this is without a drone.

Real Estate Photography Business Gear Cost Summary

Here is a quick recap of those costs:

Camera Body~2,800
Camera Lens~$2,200
Tripod w/ Photo and Video Heads~$900
Speedlites (3X plus controller)~$300
Carrying Cases~$250
Misc. Accessories~$100
Theta Z1 360º Camera~$1,000

The Cost of Formation & Insurance: $500 + $100/Mo

The Cost of Formation & Insurance $500 + $100Mo

And now onto the exciting topic of your real estate photography business formation… Okay, maybe not so exciting, but very important.

In every state you can operate as a sole proprietorship by filing for a basic license online (some don’t even require this), typically for $50 per year. Just search for your state’s secretary of state.

1. Entity Formation Costs – $550 One-Time

However, forming an LLC or corporation can help protect you from personal liability. You should, however, always consult a small business lawyer and CPA to guide you in this decision.

In my experience you can set up a simple single-member LLC for about $500. You typically will owe an annual filing fee of $50 to your state of residence to keep your business up-to-date.

2. Business Insurance – $100/Mo

While there are nearly endless types of insurance to select from, you should strongly consider at least two policies: one for general liability and one for personal property.

A pretty common starting point for general liability is $1,000,000 per incidence coverage, with a max annual coverage of $2,000,000.

Expect to pay about $50 per month for this, but rates can vary widely depending on your location and provide. 

Next, you should consider getting a personal property policy for your equipment. This covers you in the case of theft and possibly accidental damage depending on your policy.

These policies are typically a bit less expensive than general liability, but will depend on how much you are insuring, so let’s go high and estimate $50 per month.

Consult your local licensed insurance broker for more.

Business & Insurance Cost Summary

LLC Formation$500 one-time
General Liability Insurance~$50/mo
Personal Property Insurance~$50/mo
Annual state filing$50/yr
Start Up Costs$500 one-time
Monthly Expenses$100/mo
Annual Expenses$50/mo

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The Cost of Operating a Commercial Drone: $3,525 + $50/Mo

Drones! What fun! True. However, they increasingly are a regulated industry which requires licensing, insurance, and higher end equipment.

1. Commercial Drone License Training – $150

Commercial Drone License Training

First, before you can even be paid for any aerial photography work, you must obtain your Section 107 Commercial Drone License from the FAA.

This is more than just a driver license test and will require you to pay for a professional training course before taking the test.

There are many options for online training courses, but most fall in the $150-250 range. This one from The Pilot Institute is a good value at $149, but a quick search on google provides lots of options.

Note a training course is not strictly required by the FAA, but given the complexity of the federal regulations, it’s highly recommended. 

Personally it took me around two weeks of studying a few hours per day to prepare for the test. While many do pass on the first try, it is not a trivial test and is highly technical in nature.

2. Part 107 FAA Test – $175

The Cost of Operating a Commercial Drone $3,525 + $50Mo

Once you complete your training, you need to actually pass the Part 107 FAA exam. This is a bit of a convoluted process, but you can find the steps on the FAA’s website.

You will have to take the test at an authorized test center, typically proctored by the company PSI for a $175 fee.

As a side note, it’s interesting (and mildly annoying) that the test has no definitive name. You will often referred to as one of the following, among others:

  • Part/Section 107 License
  • Remote Pilot Certificate
  • Commercial Drone License
  • Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)

In all cases this refers to Title 17, Chapter I, Subchapter F, Part 107 of the Federal Code. Some light reading here. This license allows you to fly a drone over 0.5lbs (but under 55lbs) for commercial use in various conditions.

You should also note this license requires continuing education to be completed every 24 months to keep current, though this is largely free.

3. Drone Insurance – $50/Mo

While not tightly regulated, in most cases you are required to have commercial drone insurance if you are flying a drone for a client.

Additionally, drone crashes are not that uncommon, so it’s wise to have drone insurance in addition to a general liability policy.

Yes, another $50/month, but much cheaper than covering the costs of crashing your drone into someone’s house, car or godforbid a person. Learn more from this great article.

4. Drone Equipment – $3,250/Mo

You can buy a solid DJI Mavic 3 Drone Kit on amazon for about $3,000.

You will also find through your FAA training that you are required to have additional equipment, including special lighting and blade protectors, when flying in certain situations.

Drone Cost Summary

Operating a drone for aerial photography is not cheap nor simple, but it is an offering popular for real estate marketing and a lot of fun!

Make sure you consider the full costs before jumping to marketing this service.

DJI Mavic 3 Kit $3,250 one-time
Online Pilot License Training Course$150 one-time
License Test Fee$175 one-time
Drone Insurance$50/mo
Start Up Costs~$3,525
Monthly Expenses~$50/mo

The Cost of Business Software: $232/Mo

The Cost of Business Software

While there isn’t too much software, you will need the basics for a marketing website, online bookings and payment, photo delivery, and digital product offerings like single property websites and virtual tours, and of course bookkeeping.

Here are my recommendations of software when starting your real estate photography business:

1. Photographer Website Builder – $20/Mo+

There are lots of options when it comes to a website. My advice is to keep it simple.

Providers like Folio Websites or even SquareSpace often are more than enough. A good estimate is $20/month for a basic website.

If you want a little help building a website, PhotoUp now offers custom photographer websites for a few hundred dollars, and the hosting (the monthly cost) will soon be included in our base subscriptions.

2. Booking, Payment & Delivery Software – $29/Mo+

Once you have a website, you need a way to allow your customers to book your services online as most website builders don’t offer this feature.

Acuity Scheduling is a good bet if you are going with SquareSpace. While lacking more industry specific tools it’s not a bad deal at $15 per month, but it is booking and payment only software.

Two more popular industry specific providers are Aryeo and Rela. Both companies offer roughly the same features, with Aryeo having more complex scheduling features and Rela having way better single property websites. 

Rela recently launched an online video editor and does more with lead generation, Facebook ads and lead management with an agent portal, giving them a leg up.

Rela runs $49/mo and $15 per property website where Aryeo starts at $29/mo and includes property websites.

3. Photo & Video Editing Software – $10/Mo+

Nothing beats the price and performance of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and with their wonderfully priced Photographer Plan at $9.99mo, it’s the right choice.

But what about video editing?

Well… here you have to decide if you want to stick with adobe or go find another independent video editing program.

While a bit more expensive, purchasing the full adobe creative suite currently priced at $54.99/mo provides everything you could possibly need and more.

More basic stand alone video editors by Movavi and Screenflow start at $149 one-time (with annual releases).

However, the downside here is video editing also takes a LOT of time and learning. As such, you may consider outsourcing your real estate video editing.

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4. Single Property Websites – $29/Mo+

There are really two names in town: Rela and PhotoUp. Both companies offer best-in-class designs, companion home flyers, and are hard to go wrong with. 

Rela we discussed above, however, where PhotoUp stands out is with a more integrated real estate photo editing and virtual tour platform.

If you already use PhotoUp’s platform for editing, using their property websites and virtual tours are included in your monthly plan, making them a great value. For $29 per month you get 5 of each and for $79 per month you get 25 of each.

5. Virtual Tours – $69/Mo+

Again, two major players here. Actually there are a million, but only two that are purpose built for real estate photographers: Matterport and PhotoUp.

Matterport’s tours are more pricey and to get the full value requires you to buy their very nice (and very expensive) Pro2 3D camera.

As your business grows, you will likely add this to your arsenal. Their subscriptions are $69/mo for 25 active spaces.

This is comparable to PhotoUp’s offer for 25 active spaces at $79/mo, but with PhotoUp you also get 25 single property websites, making them much more affordable.

Matterport does not offer single property websites.

6. Account Software + Bookkeeping – $75/Mo+

I don’t know any photographers who love bookkeeping, but your CPA will recommend that you use quickbooks.

You can probably get by with their Simple Start plan, but will likely also need a bookkeeper to do your monthly bookkeeping.

Most photographers only need 1-2 hours per month at about $50 per hour to keep their real estate photography business in check.

Business Software Cost Summary

Perhaps more than you thought, however, these are your core business systems.

Most of these have smaller plans which are smaller and larger, but below is a good estimate of your software costs once you are shooting homes on a regular basis.

Scheduling & Delivery$29/mo+
Photo Editing$10/mo+
Single Property Websites$29/mo+
Virtual Tours$69/mo+
Accounting Software (plus bookkeeping)$75/mo+
Monthly Expenses~$232/mo

The Cost of Service Providers: $0/Mo+

The Cost of Service Providers $0Mo+

Depending on your skills and preferences, you may want to outsource your photo editing or other services as your company grows.

Outsourcing to various service providers is typically preferable to hiring in-house employees as the real estate photography industry is very seasonal and margins can be very tight in the winter months.

I’m going to breeze through this section, but wanted to give you a high-level idea of the costs. 

1. Photo Editing

This can range widely from the low end of $0.50/image to $2/image. If you want a USA based company that manages overseas talent, expect to pay $1-1.50/image.

You can also hire an offshore dedicated photo editor, which typically offers better economics and quality is higher. PhotoUp’s dedicated photo editors start at just $7.62/hour and come with a free trial.

2. Video Editing

Increasingly popular, real estate video editing costs about $30 for a 1-2 minute final edited video regardless of the provider.

Naturally PhotoUp has you covered here if you need.

3. Virtual Staging

Virtual staging is another popular service and a great upsell to agents with a vacant home to market, expect to pay $25-30 per image and resell these at $50/image or more.

It’s most common to sell just 2-3 virtually staged images per listing, with the living room, master bedroom and dining room being the most common.

There are loads of virtual staging houses which serve real estate agents and photographers.

PhotoUp boasts the largest and best furniture library and the best overall quality. Check out examples of virtual staging over at our online virtual staging library.

4. Virtual Assistant

As you get larger you will need help with administrative tasks like customer service, photo delivery, lead generation, social media, customer outreach, etc…

Hiring a virtual assistant in the Philippines can be a smart move. Similar to dedicated photo editors, our virtual assistant service starts at just $7.62/hour.

Often you can have your dedicated photo editor also assist with VA tasks on slower days.

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Your Baseline Advertising Budget: $200/Mo+

There are two ways to get business, direct sales or marketing, likely you will do a little of both.

My suggestion is to set aside at least $200/month for digital advertising.

It’s worth testing ads with Google, Facebook, and Instagram to see what performs best for your business.

Operating Costs to Consider: $170/Mo+

Operating Costs to Consider

Then there are operating costs you need to consider, namely: gas, cell phone, internet, and office space.

1. Driving Is Half Your Job

As a real estate photographer half your job is driving. So you need to really factor this into your budget, especially with the cost of gasoline being so volatile.

Naturally this cost will be a function of how many shoots you have, but expect a jump of at least $100-200 per month if you don’t currently commute to work. 

Of course if you are traveling more than 15-30 miles to a shoot, you should consider charging a driving surcharge to help cover this cost and your time.

Also make sure you track your EXACT mileage every day. The IRS are sticklers on this, but it can also be a big cost saver come tax season.

2. Cell Phone & Internet: $70/Mo+

You probably already have both of these.

However, you might consider getting a second SIM card in your phone to have a business line. Most smartphones support this (one phone, two numbers), and it costs typically an extra $50/month.

While you probably have internet already, you may need to upgrade your account for your business as you will be uploading lots of large images to clients and service providers.

Luckily internet for most households is quite good and relatively inexpensive. I’d recommend budgeting for a $20/month upgrade.

3. Office Space

While not needed at first, this may be a consideration in the future.

I’m going to leave this cost at $0 for now, but if and when you do look, a pro tip is to get an office within a local real estate broker office.

Proximity to agents often will equate to more business.

Operating Cost Summary

This may be zero for you, but don’t be caught off guard by how much you will be driving!

Cell Phone (second line)$50/mo
Internet Upgrade$20/mo
Office Space$0/mo
Monthly Expenses~$170/mo

Operating Capital (aka Savings): $100+

Two quick items here. First, it’s wise and MUCH easier at tax season to have a separate business checking and savings account.

Typically you will need to put $50 into each to open an account. So that’s the $100 expense in this section.

The section item though is your personal savings account which you are willing to put toward your business while you get it off the ground.

That is, make sure you have enough savings to cover your personal expenses as you launch your business. A good rule of thumb is to have six months of forward capital (cash) at launch.

However, I know in reality most people will launch a real estate photography business as a side hustle, which overtime becomes their main gig.

There is no right or wrong way, you just need to evaluate your own budget and risk tolerance.

And don’t forget! Real estate photography is seasonal!

I recommend starting your business earlier in the year if possible (January-March) so you can work out the kinks and be ready to sell, sell, sell as the busy season takes off in April.

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The Cost to Start a Real Estate Business: ~$12,000

If you weren’t keeping tally that is okay, we’ve done the work for you.

Here is a good estimate of what it costs to start a real estate business from start to finish, assuming you don’t have any of the gear.

Remember, all costs are estimates and will vary depending on your specific situation and market.

One-Time ItemsCost
Photography Gear$7,850
Business Formation$500
Commercial Drone$3,525
New Bank Accounts$100
Total Start Up Costs$11,975

This is a good starting point for your monthly budget. Naturally you can do it cheaper and as you grow, costs will also increase.

Monthly ItemsCost
Business Insurance$100/mo
Drone Insurance$50/mo
Business Software (includes bookkeeping)$232/mo
Digital Marketing$200/mo
Operating Costs$170/mo
Total Monthly Expenses$752/mo

Up Next – Lesson 5: 20+ Services You Can Offer as a Real Estate Photographer

So far in this course we’ve explored how much you can earn, the daily workflow, the gear you need and how much it all costs.

Next we’ll be jumping into your service offering mix. As you will see, there are lots of options. 

My goal in the next lesson is to help explore all the many ways you can add value to your clients to generate additional sales.

Your goal should be to pick the service mix you are truly excited to offer and that will set you apart from your competition.