Learning to Deal with the Stress Some Clients Bring

Learning to Deal with the Stress Some Clients Bring

For just about the past year now, I have been working in real estate and aerial photography. I mainly work with the agents directly and the most important thing for me to do is be able to establish a good relationship with each and every agent I work with. These agents are my clients and I want to be able to keep them as clients so they continue to come back to me for any photo, video, or aerial work they need to market their properties. Within this short little year I have been working, I've dealt with so much and learned more than I ever could have imagined.

When I look back at when I first started and look at myself now, I am a completely different person than I used to be in the sense of being able to sell my work and being able to deal with all of the demands each different client brings to the table in order to market their property in the best ways possible for them and the homeowner.

I am writing this article because in the past couple of months, I have been making my way into some higher end homes. I am proud of myself for being able to finally shoot this type of real estate but I realize this is not exactly the type of work I necessarily want to be doing because of the way some of my clients are.

Real Estate photography is all about good photos and quick turn around time. The photos and video are strictly to show the home to get a person there that is interested in buying it. The more marketing material you have as a realtor, whether it be photos, aerial photos, a complete video, or a 3D walkthrough, the more the perspective buyer is able to see that "future home" as home. For me as the photographer, my goal is to create content so compelling that you would be an idiot as a buyer to not want to actually get up and go and see the house. The hardest part on my end is being able to get all of this done in a short period of time while being able to please the realtor or client.

One of the biggest problems I run into is finding music for my videos that I assume the client would like. I usually ask them what they would prefer and if they do not end up liking the music in the finished version, I will ask them to find me a song of their choice to use. Aside from that, I have had a lot of trouble getting all the photos clients want, the solution to that is to make sure I shoot absolutely everything so that I do not have to go through the stress of driving all the way back to take another photo or two.

On top of those two problems, 80% of the time the client does not understand the amount of work I put into the videos I do for them and they think that somehow all 100 clips I shoot on my micro 4/3 camera and all 35 of my clips from my inspire are just automatically perfect and they all get color corrected, color graded, music, and edited by the press of a button. That's not how it works at all. I have to take the time to go through each and every clip, make sure it is stable, make sure the colors are right, make sure it is smooth and from there, I have to find the music, cut the video to the beat and organize the house in an order that makes sense to the viewer. 

Getting back to why I get annoyed, just yesterday a realtor really got on my nerves by giving me the wrong address to a property she needed shot. When I called her and said that I could not find the house and asked if she gave me the correct address, she got mad at me and told me that she was with clients, then proceeded to hang up the phone. Luckily, I got in touch with the company I was working with and got the actual address of the house. Note, the house I was shooting was more than likely around eight million dollars, and I told her to let the home owner know that I would be there to shoot the house. When I got up and knocked on the door, the homeowner had no idea I was even coming and felt very uncomfortable and concerned with me being on her property even though I explained that I was working with the realtor to get new photos of the home and I wasn't just some random "photographer." 

Before this incident, I had to go back and do a free reshoot for this realtor because she refused to pay for the photos due to the fact that they weren't "good" enough. After reshooting that property and getting photos that were a lot better, she had me come out to shoot another house at the same time she was having an open house without letting me know. The whole time I was shooting, there were people walking around the house and I needed the realtor to move things around or ask her if she wanted anything specific shot. Instead of acknowledging my presence and helping me out, she continued to ignore me and speak with the people coming to see the home.

I understand that is very important, but don't have an open house when you need photography done. If you want the photos done right then make sure you communicate with me so that I can do that for you because I can't read your mind. So yesterday before blowing up with her on the phone, I told myself to relax and deal with the situation because later on down the road, she may want bigger services for some of the larger homes she is selling. I just need to make sure that on my end, she is aware of the things I expect from her as the realtor so that everything runs smoothly and gets done right.

I have to say that I love what I do and I truly appreciate the realtors who appreciate the work that I do for them. Those are the clients I want, they are the clients I can offer higher services to and they are the clients that I can rely on. No matter how much stress I go through dealing with the things they need done, I know that in the long run it will pay off because they will always call me back to do more work for them when they need it. Getting angry or reacting to something the wrong way is likely to cause more harm than anything else. As young as I am and as new as I am to this work, I need to be mature and react to these tough situations in the right way in order to maintain a relationship with my clients. Everyday I learn something new and if I didn't go through all the stress of dealing with the clients I deal with, I wouldn't know how to grow myself/my business and get the work I want later down the road.

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24 Comments

Graham Marley's picture

This has to be a little vague for reasons of discretion. I had a sitdown with a prospective client for a kind of work that I absolutely hate, but would have come in handy in a secondary sense. I first met with the client's assistant, who leads the meeting off with "Karen (not her real name) is a difficult client. She's never satisfied, wants more for less, and expects you to be-" and that's when I slipped into a coma. I regained consciousness when money came up, and their offered fee (because lol, why would they ask what I charge?) was so low that I wanted to go get a coffee just so I could spit it out in shock and disgust all over the table.

AT THE SAME TIME, this was a strange point in my career, I was looking for more work, and my natural inclination is to try to make people happy. So I stayed to meet Karen.

Karen then comes in with a TOTALLY different description of what they want done, on a regular basis, and the scale of the job basically trippled. I said "So you want advertisement/marketing material for your firm, not (redacted) photos for YOUR clients?"

"Oh I want both."

"For (redacted) dollars?" (I was now getting a little freaked out.)

"Well we don't have a marketing budget but we also provide value to our clients by offering photography built in."

"...."

"So-"

"Yeah, hey it was really nice meeting you I actually have to go."

It was obvious this client was going to ruin my life. Or at least parts of it. I absolutely believe in bending over backwards to serve a client, go the extra mile, sometimes even just deal with ignorance or, well, dumb people. But set hard limits for when you just say "This is not acceptable in a professional arrangement." Any client like this has competition. Let them compete a little bit for your services. Reward normality and professionalism with your hard work and dedication.

Ty Poland's picture

hahaha this is better than my article! Some clients are tough to deal with but like you said the work can be a good entry point into more work with different clients... which is why I dealt with this woman a bit more than I should have. I have learned that there is plenty of competition out there and I would love to see her try and find someone better because I think that would be hard for her and then she can realize she is getting her money's worth

i understand that you don't wanna piss off your girl but did you mention to her that she gave you the wrong address and didn't tell the owner that you were gonna shoot the house ? if not then they will continue to walk on you. sounds like they don't really take you seriously enough to give you the right info. that's my opinion.

Ty Poland's picture

I would agree, but I will let it be known that this is not going to happen again. She has no excuse for giving me the wrong address and not contacting the homeowner when I specifically told her to.

Scott Basile's picture

I've been shooting interiors and architecture for over a decade. My luxury RE clients are consistently the most challenging to deal with. They want it all, they want it now, they want it perfect, and they don't want to pay much for it. While the work can often be satisfying, the client relationships rarely are. My commercial ID clients on the other hand are usually a pleasure to deal with. If you decide to make a living in this genre of photography, particularly luxury RE, you are forced to take the good with the bad. Hang in there.

Emmanuel Vivier's picture

RE : Real Estate?
ID : ?
Sorry for being a bit stupid, but while we love reading Fstoppers and comments some of us might not be english native speakers ;)

Scott Basile's picture

Interior Design

Ty Poland's picture

Thanks Scott! I have realized most of the people I work with, regardless of whether or not they are realtors, designers, builders, or so on, they all have something envisioned before I even shoot the place. There are a few people that are a lot pickier than others and there are many who are satisfied with the work right away. I guess what I'd like to stray off to is being able to put more time into some of this stuff but along the way, they need to realize that my time is money and if they want something better, I can do that with more time at a higher cost. Like Graham said above, there is plenty of competition out there, but that competition is more than likely going to be a lot different from me. I'll do my best to stay calm with these guys, hopefully my hair doesn't turn gray before 25 though hahaha

Dass Alamillo's picture

I shoot Luxury Real Estate for over 10years, and something I learn is always have all information documented and the best way to follow your assignment is by e-mail so you always have proof of what customer send you, I always say to customers that the best way to contact me is by e-mail or text message, because I always shooting (lie sometimes not) and by phone always is something missing and I want to have clear expectations from my client and from me too.
I always book the place on the calendar on my e-mail and send a reminder 1day and 1hr before the shoot, I send text message to tell them I'm on the way to the address ( i text the address just to be sure they read and know it's the place they tell me) and the best is tell them when I did the shoot, so if take 2 or 3hrs or more they know how long take the shoot and when they expect the images, it is not too much to says but this type of not verbal communication makes all easy.

I second this. Clear communication and documentation is key.

Tell the client in writing what they should expect, and what you need to get the job done. That's your contract. If you want the client to contact the owner, make that a condition in writing. If you need exclusive access to the house, send that in an email, or better yet, put that in your contract. Include that you will need to move furniture and stage the house (some people are touchy about this) and any other condition you need met in order to do the work.

If the conversation was by phone, send a follow-up email with everything spelled out. Include a line something like "If you see anything here that is not correct, please contact me immediately."

This makes sure the client knows what you need (they often don't) and they have agreed to it (having this documented is considered a contract by most courts).

Then you have to decide if that client is worth it. If not, you may need to terminate the contract and deal with the fallout.

Ty Poland's picture

I always make sure to email them or text them to confirm, mainly so I have everything in writing. Contracts are taken care of when they sign to do the job, but it may be a good idea to start enforcing these a bit more. The staging and all is another story haha a lot of realtors are good at having it all done but some of them take a very long time to get it ready and I get screwed over sometimes when I am scheduling or when I am there. I always ask before hand to make sure I don't run into any problems with that.

William Howell's picture

Your problem is you have no artistic control.

I didn't watch the video, but your pictures in the ariticle are top-notch, hence being contracted to photograph upper echelon properties.

I see by profile photo you are young and this means inexperienced, no problem, we were all young and green.

Put in you contract that you are in control of output, you alone decide what the client gets, don't worry, if your good enough and your price is right you'll get work.

And never do a job until you are paid for previous work, (that is if your pissed), sometimes people actually like it when you put them in their place.

Edit: Never not get paid, you take them to small claims court, they'll pay, or if you have a lawyer on retainer have that person send a letter of intent, either way will get your money providing they have it!

Ty Poland's picture

Thanks Will! I definitely am young but that is no excuse for them to try and take advantage. I personally think that age has no meaning when it comes to what kind of work you can do.

That video I think is one of my best so far, very smooth movements and a lot of attention to detail. The detail shots believe it or not are all handheld on my micro 4/3 with a 25mm lens. I love being able to capture those things as smooth as possible and combine them with the other shots cause it really makes the video stand out.

The artistic control is probably the most valuable thing here and when these realtors use someone else, there is no doubt in my mind they will see a difference in the quality of work. I agree with everything else though too, no matter what, they should pay attention to me and work with me if they want something done right.

Adam Milton's picture

None of these things you mentioned are at all reasonable or normal for a high profile client, it is just poor behavior and very unprofessional. Let someone else get slapped around by this person.

Unless you are getting paid a crazy amount by this realtor, you have to walk away from this person. You will never be treated better, and there is far from any guarantee that you will be brought on for any bigger jobs. To paraphrase Chase Jarvis (very loosely) you will never be hired to do a $5,000 shoot if you present yourself as a $500 photographer. They won't see you as the high end photographer, and you'll get passed up for the opportunity.

I would be livid if any one of those things happened to me, and I would absolutely let my client know how I felt, albeit with a professional tone. You are doing yourself no favors by staying silent.

Ty Poland's picture

I won't do anymore work for this client unless she wants to change the way she works with her photographers. I really don't need to put up with extra stress at all. It is very poor behavior on her part, especially as an older woman who has been in the industry for years.

The three steps to making sure things like this aren't a problem are:

1. Have a contract
2. Have a contract
3. Have a contract

It doesn't have to be anything too formal, just an email that says something like "I enjoyed meeting with you. I am sending you this email to make sure that everything we discussed is covered. If something is incorrect, please let me know immediately." or something to that effect. Then you spell out what you agreed on, what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them.

This protects both you and your client. More often than not, most client problems happen because there was a misunderstanding somewhere. This gives both of you a chance to work out any misunderstanding before it becomes something bigger.

Side note about documentation:
I actually had to sue one of my clients for payment one time (this was an extreme case). They changed the project over and over and in the end, reduced the deliverables. I still did all the work, but they decided they didn't need to pay as much because they didn't need as many pieces in the end. I documented every request and change to the project in emails to the client. The judge told them flat out that they agreed to my fee based on the original contract, the contract was amended, the amendments were documented, but there was no evidence that either of us agreed to change my fee.

Ty Poland's picture

Because I am working through another company, the contracts are handled on their end. I made sure to inform the owner there that this happened. Because these are or have been good clients in the past, we worked with them. This may be the last time they get that treatment and the contracts, emails, texts all need to be documented for sure. One thing I am coming to learn is how important some of these practices are. It isn't worth it on my end to get stressed, but rather to learn and know what to do when things like this happen again.

Simon Patterson's picture

If you want to keep this client, I'm not sure publishing this article will help! Only if she reads it of course. On the other hand, from your description of her, I'm not sure why you'd want to keep this client...

Ty Poland's picture

hahha well hopefully she doesn't see it, I highly doubt she will and no names were used! The only reason would be because of some of the homes I would have the option to shoot, but aside from that, I really don't have a reason to keep this client if this is the type of stuff that happens.

Yan Pekar's picture

I find little value in the article. Too many words about yourself, too many self promotion images, too long description of stressful situations you allow yourself to get into, and nothing about solutions.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

The above responses are very good but I see another thing that may be going on here.

Often young/new photographers don;t get the respect from the client for what they bring to the table.

There is an unequal "balance of power". Of course ,they are the client, and are an expert in selling homes. But hopefully you are the expert in how to make a 8 million $ home look like a 9 million $ home. There should be mutual respect for your time and skills. You need to find a way to become more equal as a skilled artist, producing the work that will catch the buyers eye and get the thinking about buying.
Home buyers have two brains, one is looking at the $ to see if they can afford it. The emotional brain is going back to look at your photos again and again, imagining living there. Emailing the pics to their friend and family...saving in a folder, pinning on pinterest.

With homes in the price range that you showed, I hope that you are getting a good fee. Not the $250 that the RE agent paid fo crappy pix of my dad's house in Florida. LoL

Ty Poland's picture

I agree with you! Age does not have very much to do with the final product. I love to be able to actually work with my clients, what they like and I always do a walkthrough of the house with them before shooting a video so I know what they expect. If they ask for certain things I will tell them whether or not it fits and explain why so they can I understand. I always say the main reason for the video isn't to show everything, it is to show what makes this house, this house and get people to come here and actually see it.

michael andrew's picture

One thing to always keep in mind when shooting real estate is that your client (the agent) is hiring you for their client (the homeowner) so many of the critiques and frustrations they are passing along are not coming from themselves, but rather the unique "middle-man" situation that has been created.

They are not hiring photographers because they want to, they are doing because they need to, and that is a strange disconnect.

Ty Poland's picture

With some of these bigger homes, it is not the realtor that is the problem, it's the homeowner telling the realtor they don't like something about what they had done. I think that realtors dealing with homes at a price point like this should be investing a lot more money into photos and video so they actually have something to show. I feel like it would make a buyer comfortable to know that the realtor cares and puts effort into how they market the home because that is one reason they will want to go see it.

I am looking for a home myself now and though I'm not looking to spend millions of dollars, I still want to see some sort of photos of the place before I go there because it is very reassuring. The nicer the photos are, the more they have to show, the better I feel the home is because I can actually get a feel for it before going there and wasting my time seeing it. The world we live in now is so fast paced that this stuff is now just expected to be done, but I can see a market for the high end stuff being done right.