The Importance Of Real Estate Brokerage Photography with Virtuance

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There are lots of ways to help sell a home faster, but there is no more sure fire way to make sure to do your clients the best service possible than using professional real estate photography.

Even if your brokerage’s average sales price is not $1 million or more, you can use professional listing photography to stand out and keep brand consistency. Listen in as Jeff Corn, the CEO and founder of Virtuance, discusses the importance of this consistency.

TRANSCRIPT

Eric Stegemann: Hi, everybody, and welcome to Brokerage Insider, the podcast where we interview the leaders in brokerage and technology. I’m your host, Eric Stegemann, the CEO of TRIBUS. Today on the show, we have Jeff Corn. Now, Jeff is the CEO and co-founder of Virtuance. It’s a leading photography vendor to the real estate industry. Thanks so much for being on today, Jeff.

Jeff Corn: Thanks for having me, Eric. Excited to be here. Appreciate it. Yeah.

Eric Stegemann: So tell us a little bit about Virtuance?

Jeff Corn: Virtuance is a photography and visual marketing partner to the real estate industry. What that means is that anything related to listing marketing across the nation, that’s that is what we focus on. It’s all that we do. And we’re very fortunate to partner with tens of thousands of real estate agents and brokerages in across the entire country. And we’ve been doing it for four, ten years. We celebrated our 10 year anniversary this year.

Eric Stegemann: Congrats. That’s awesome. That’s we’re very, very close to you. We’re just one year past year at TRIBUS at eleven years now. So, you know, we all started around that that same time. And I find that a lot of the companies that started in that ballpark where you were kind of competing up are fighting against what was going on after the downturn. I find you’re more resilient and tend to stick around longer. Right. So tell me what was asked me.

Jeff Corn: Why did you start the company like first period of time ever? Right. And my answer is, is probably similar to yours would be that, you know, at that point in time, there’s only one way to go. It’s up. Right.

Eric Stegemann: So darn right. Darn right. Yeah, that’s the way I was looking at it back then, too, was that, you know, that in the real estate industry, we fortunately with my brokerage that I previously had things were going pretty well because we actually had contracts for doing foreclosures and things like that. But in the tech space, I felt like there was going to be a reinvigoration for it. And it sounds like you did, too, around the same time. So what got you into the photography side of the business? 

Jeff Corn: Yeah, good question. So prior to the founding Virtuance, I was in the commercial real estate space. I was I had come out of graduate school and want and thought I was going to be a real estate developer, worked for a commercial rete in acquisitions and then worked for most recently prior to starting, Virtuance worked for a small real estate development shop in Denver. And part of my role there was to market all of the properties that we would build and bring to the market. And one of the things that I would do in that role is to hire a photographer. As soon as we finished up a building and we were getting ready to lease or sell it, we the first thing that we did is made a phone call to a photographer and had that photographer scheduled to come out to market the property. And when I found out in that process, after doing it five or six times was that one, it was very expensive. I could not believe how much money we were spending on photography, too. It was incredibly time consuming. What would happen is I would I would make a phone call a week or two or three later, I’d have somebody come out and they would spend, in many cases an entire day or multiple days on site shooting photos. They would bring a whole light set up with them and sometimes have an assistant. And then after that, it would be crickets for about a week or two or sometimes three before I would hear back when they would provide us the final images.

And so and the images were fantastic, but it took the entire process, took three weeks and was incredibly expensive. And I would end up having, you know, 10 or 15 images of that property. They were incredibly impactful for what we did. But I had to start scratching my head after doing that four or five times and spending a lot of money to say what is going on in this process that is actually creating making it one take so long and to making it cost so much.

And so in that in that way is kind of a classic, I guess, entrepreneurial challenge of thinking, gosh, there’s got to be a better way. And so that that led me on a journey where I started getting much more interested over many months in photography and understanding what was happening in that process to see if there was a way to do a better. And about six months later, I guess you could say the rest is history. I partnered up with a good.

Friend of mine to co-found Virtuance, and we identified at the time that the biggest bottleneck to value priced photography that was awesome and had huge impact was all about the image processing. And so our focus was all about from the beginning, building an image processing system that was artificially intelligent, that would allow us to automate the majority of that process so that we could produce an incredible result that we knew was going to get results for agents and also not take a ton of time nor cost a lot of money.

Eric Stegemann: So that’s thirty thousand foot. You know, that’s that’s very insightful and obviously you’re looking to solve a lot of problems that that agents have. You know, there’s so much to unpack there. Let’s start out with where you started with commercial, because I’d love to understand a little bit more about what you saw in the differences, because I know that when it comes to commercial, when it comes to buildings and rental units and things like that, a lot of those folks, you know, professional photography is a requirement of them.

And so 10 years ago, you were doing the photography 10 years ago. Did you see many agents, many residential real estate agents doing professional photography, or do you think that’s more of a newer, almost mandatory requirement these days? 

Jeff Corn: So I think that what’s clear is that it’s becoming more and more of a requirement and that it is driven by the consumer, it’s driven by what the consumer wants and needs, and it’s driven by who the consumer is. So if we if we rewind 10 years, I could tell you that. And there’s a there’s dozens of studies that we could quote and talk about, and they’re all going to tell you something a little bit different. But at the end of the day, 10 years ago, I would argue that somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty five to 30 percent of all residential real estate listings had professional photography. Today, that number is over 50 percent. And obviously it varies greatly depending on the market. We see a lot more professional photography in urban areas than we do in rural areas. We see a lot more professional photography generally and higher price point markets than lower price point markets. But at the end of the day, it’s really about who the consumers and the consumer today is, not the consumer of 10 years ago or 20 years ago. The consumer today is a consumer who grew up in a digital world, who is used to seeing everything visually. And the consumer today is somebody who is generally tech savvy, meaning that they expect a lot from their advisers. They expect to be provided information and then allowed to make their own decision as opposed to in the past. A lot of times I think that a lot of real estate agents felt that their role and at the time, perhaps it was more appropriate, was about making the decisions on behalf of the buyers or the sellers, educating them, but then helping them make the decision. Today, the buyers really want to see things for themselves and they want to know that they have a trusted advisor behind them. So at the end of the day, that that all speaks to a vast increase in the percentage of properties that have professional photography and professional media. And it’s only going to continue if I if I have to put any money on it.

Eric Stegemann: Well, do you think this is just something that popped in my head? Do you think that it also coincides with not only the tech savvy ness and the fact that most consumers start their search online today? Do you think also that the the rise of sites like like Instagram and those types of sites where photography and you see people really spend time framing a shot versus, you know, the Facebook of two thousand six? When I joined Facebook in 2006, it was a, you know, a photo on a BlackBerry that nobody possibly would ever say was a good for a photo that I shot on my BlackBerry. But I uploaded it to Facebook through the phone. Would you say that the the rise in quality of those sites that are not real estate agents, not professionals, have driven part of it? Or do you think it’s really just the fact of that the average consumer is expecting more from the professionals that they work with? 

Jeff Corn: It’s a great question. I think it’s actually both, I think that like we like we mentioned, yes, clearly the consumer is expecting more and they’re expecting to to interact with real estate in the same way they interact with other things in their lives. Which gets to your point right where we have. It’s not a coincidence that if you look at. the most heavily trafficked websites on the Internet, one of them is Amazon. Another is Instagram. And we could go on and on. And what is the key component of those sites? Right. Whether it’s Facebook, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, you name it, it’s imagery. It’s that that they that these companies have identified that showing images is the most impactful way to impact and influence consumer behavior. And it’s not an accident. Right. So so it’s kind of chicken or the egg. You could say, well, is Instagram the most popular site online because of the fact that the consumers like images, or is it because of the fact that Instagram kind of new, this new the psychology of buyers and then built a business around that? And you could you could go either way? Right. But the point is that there is a ton of research. This is not about people’s beliefs. This is about a lot of studies and research that indicate that consumer behavior has actually shifted. It has completely changed from 10 years ago. And the reason is because of the Internet. It’s because of the fact that we’ve got we’ve got five senses. Right. And the sense when you’re on the online, which is where most people spend most of their time throughout a workday, there are only there’s really only one sense that that can be activated.

And that is your visual sense. So until someone invents a smell of vision. Right. Or you’ll feel a computer or whatever you want to call it, when we’re online, we’re looking we’re seeing things with our eyes. And the brain can process so much more information visually than through text or from seeing or I mean from feeling or smelling. The visual cues are so much more impactful. So what’s happened is that’s why Instagram is as popular as it is. People like looking at pictures, period. They are drawn to pictures, period. The picture is always going to be so much more impactful than the paragraph of text that you have below it. And so all of that work is really to say the same old adage, right, that everyone would have told you 20 years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Right? It’s so cliche, but there’s a lot behind that. It’s very true. And it drives consumer behavior today. And so I guess for listeners who are interested in that topic, there are a ton of awesome, really fascinating research studies. If you Google consumer behavior and the Internet right, you’ll actually identify and be able to understand how the Internet has completely changed, how people choose to buy things.

And a lot of it is about the visuals.

Eric Stegemann: I think that’s I think that’s a really important aspect because without thinking about it too much. One of the things we know at Tribus from our brokerage websites is the number one thing people go to on a listing page is the photography. Right. And the number two thing is if it’s there is a virtual tour and then everything else falls down, the list like number three is actually the mortgage calculator. It’s not the the write up about it. And people think that, you know, the write up is so important. And I think what we’ve had happen over the last 15 years is the write up became less and less and less important because people just go straight to the photos. And frankly, I think consumers have gotten to a point where they know that the marketing remarks on a listing is is realtor speak, where there’s the jokes about using the word. What does cozy mean? Cozy means really, really, really small. Right. And those sorts of things So instead of reading these marketing remarks that are on there, they just go straight to the photos to visualize what it would be like living there. I think that’s so, so important. Now, you know, you talked about getting to 50 percent of things that are using it and obviously from going up from far less than that before, 10 years before. But from what you’re saying, it seems to me like every single listing should have professional photography. So how do you convince an agent in St. Louis where I have my license and I own a brokerage, how do you convince somebody there where they’re selling a two hundred thousand dollar house that they need to do professional photography on the listing? 

Jeff Corn: Absolutely. I’ll be I’ll be frank with you that that we often at Virtuance talk about there being two types of agents, and it’s no disrespect to any anybody in the business, but the two types of agents that we see are, frankly, those who get it and those who don’t get it. And when we talk about getting it, what we really mean is that that those agents who understand that in order to sell something, you have to market it. And I think that oftentimes we get so caught up in the industry, in the macro trends of, oh, it’s a buyer’s market or it’s a seller’s market or things are flying off the shelf. So I don’t actually need to even do anything to sell it. And I think that what we’ve seen over the 10 years we’ve been in business is that the agents who have that mentality are generally, all due respect, short lived in that it’s a short term mentality. They’re thinking much shorter term than those who recognize that that investing in marketing your listings is a twofold proposition. One, it is about selling the listing. All the statistics that anybody can ever share with you show definitively the impact, the significant financial impact to an agent in having professional photography. But even more than that, regardless of the market that an agent finds themselves in, it is about marketing the listing in order to market yourself, because the reality is that whether the property is two hundred thousand dollars or two million dollars, the first thing that a potential seller is going to do either right before the listing appointment or right after the listing appointment, is they’re going to Google your name almost every time and they are going to Google your name.

And the first thing that’s going to come up is or your listings, either your past or your current listings. And they are looking for how that listing is presented and how it compares to other things they see in the market. And it only takes three clicks. Right. And if I could show you, if we were sitting in front of a computer together, those three clicks. Right. In order to see all of the current or past listings of any agent. So your work, it’s all about the reputation that you are trying to create, that you’re working hard to create so that you can then sell yourself to your next potential seller as a listing agent, so that that’s the first piece. And then and then getting back to sort of the more basics of it. Our job at Virtuance is to drive traffic to your listing. The reason that we want to drive traffic to your listing is, is because it’s a pure supply and demand equation.

The more traffic we drive, the higher the price is that you’re going to achieve and the faster you’re going to sell the property. And so even if at a two hundred thousand dollars price point, we are able to help sell that property five days sooner or achieve an extra 10 showings, the impact of that could be as much as 10 percent, 20 percent from a sales price standpoint. And what if we do the math? We’re talking about an extra ten thousand dollars.

Right. So so there’s that value that even in a two hundred thousand dollar listing, if we’re able to get five percent more because we drove more buyers and created a created some competition for that listing, if we get a couple thousand dollars more, that’s a big win, not only for the agent, but also maybe more importantly for the seller, because then there’s that much better chance of getting a referral from that. So it’s really the full lifecycle of the real estate agents business that we’re trying to impact. It’s not just about that one listing.

Eric Stegemann: I think that’s important. And so what I think you’re overall saying is, yeah, it’s an investment in the two hundred thousand our listing and you hope you get lots more two hundred thousand listings because of it, or you at least get some four hundred thousand on our listings because what you’re doing is is better than what probably the average competitor in your space is doing. Right.

Jeff Corn: It’s definitely all about a competitive advantage. There is no question I’ll use all these.

I’ll use the Colorado market as an example. We were founded in Denver. We still have our headquarters in Denver. We operate now in thirty two cities around the country. But the reason I mentioned Denver is because when we began in Denver, like I said, less than 30 percent of all properties had a professional media on the listing to market it. And at the time, believe it or not, the average price point in Denver wasn’t that much higher than two hundred thousand dollars.

And so what we what we saw, though, is that the competitive advantage and edge that our clients were afforded by working with us quickly created a norm in the in the market. And so today, more than sixty five percent of listings in the Denver market have professional photography, where we’re very grateful that we have the opportunity to work on the vast majority of those. And it really sets a bar right. To in order to create a competitive advantage and make sure that that you are able to walk into a listing appointment confidently knowing that you are going to compete really well because you’re using the best you’re doing the best thing you can to market that property.

Eric Stegemann: So from that perspective, and I know you said that there are lots of metrics and studies and things like that that are out there, but do you have anything off the top of your head of the average home with pro photos versus the same priced home down the street, the same model, everything like that. It sells X percent faster on average. I know I’ve seen a couple of things like NPR did one a few years ago that talked about it.

But do you have anything off your top of your head with regard to those metrics, specifics? 

Jeff Corn: Everything Virtuance does is based in numbers, right? We want to make sure a lot of times we talk about the fact that what we what we have done, emergences, we’ve combined the art of photography with the science of marketing in order to really understand the science of marketing. It’s all about numbers. Right. So at the same time, what I’ll say, Eric, is that professional photography is not all created equal. Right. So it’s very difficult to identify. Hey, what’s the what is the true difference between a non-professional photo and a professional photo? Because everybody has a different definition of what is a professional photo. Right? If I pay my if I pay my brother 20 bucks to go out and shoot a photo, does that make it a professional photo versus hiring somebody who’s built their entire career in architectural or real estate photography? Is are they both created equal?

So the reason I say that is that what Virtuance really likes to do, because we can control it and be very clear about what the what we’re comparing is. We compare all the time the results that are achieved from HD Real Images, which is our proprietary image processing system. Every image we produce is an aerial image. We compare the results from those images to everything else in the market. And what we see very consistently over the last eight years since we’ve been doing studies on this, is that we get, on average, two and a half times more showings on properties that are marketed using real images.

And also those properties sell on average about 40 percent faster than anything else on the market. So those are some big claims. We’re excited about the data that we have that back, those up. And and it’s been so consistent and it really just speaks to the value proposition that can be achieved in, frankly, a very small investment. I think a lot of times people ask me and say, Jeff, you know, you have this background in real estate. Why photos? Right. Why is that the place that you landed here and decided to risk everything to build a business around? And I mentioned to you kind of how I how I fell into that, because I do think that I frankly got got really lucky in seeing what when I was able to be in front of and see. But at the end of the day, it’s a matter of looking at where the best ROIC is. And I’m certainly very biased, no question about it. But I cannot I can’t think of any better return on one hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty dollar investment. Right. In order to achieve the kind of results that that photography can achieve. So that’s that’s what we get so excited about, is that the return on the investment is is out of this world. And it’s just it’s a lot of fun to be able to to create that and and create that success for for our clients.

Eric Stegemann: So that’s I mean, those are the numbers, I think, very, very consistent from what I’ve always heard is really good professional photography is going to sell at 30 to 40 percent faster. And that’s I think it goes back to what you were saying before. It’s simply just an investment. Speaking of that investment, though, and speaking of Jeff’s investment in the in the real estate photography business, you know, one of the things that I happen to know from just conversations with other photography companies that are out there is that the business is notoriously a low profit type of a business where you just simply need volume.

So what has Virtuance done to try to make sure that it’s not a keep the fact that you’ve been going for 10 years, keep it going for 10 more years in the fact that that what brokers and agents are willing to pay for photography is not a premium price point.

Jeff Corn: Yeah, no, it’s very interesting and I think all due respect, obviously, to all of our competitors, there’s some great companies in the space. And what we’ve done is a couple of things. We recognize that the biggest challenge in real estate photography is creating a product that is consistently high quality across the country every single time and is at a reasonable price point. And that that consistency can be maintained across the entire experience of our customer.

And the way that we did that is was is pretty cut and dry. We’ve we built what we call HD real. It is an automated image processing system. It’s a machine learning technology that uses artificial intelligence to ensure that all of the images that we produce have the result, get the results that our clients are seeking. And the way that we did that is by looking at what it was that actually causes a buyer to click on a listing online, literally to move their mouse over the image and click.

And we did a ton of research around that to identify what that what attributes needed to be in that image. And then we built the system. We took two years and built up our engineering team, built a system that completely automates that process. So getting to the specifics of your question around margins, the reality is that our technology allows us to produce an incredibly high quality and incredibly consistent product without hardly any human interaction, which thereby it increases margins dramatically. So we’re really proud of the fact that we have arguably the best margins in our space. And I think it’s really important for any vendor, any partner in a vendor relationship, a partnership, whatever it is, to make sure that that the relationship works well for everybody. Right. And a lot of times if we’re cutting to the chase, that means everybody’s got to be making money in that relationship or else it’s not going to work really well long term.

And so one of the things that Virtuance is really committed to is the fact that we are partners with the real estate industry on a full service basis, meaning that we make money through what we do as a full service, photography and visual marketing provider. We have a lot of technology behind that that helps us ensure that we have strong margins. But we’re not we’re not using that as a as a loss leader in any way towards trying to sell other products or other things that maybe have a higher margin. We’re all in on exactly what we do every day, all day long, and we’re excited to continue growing it. And I think the short answer to your question is a lot of it relates to our technology and streamlining the process, creating a better user experience, and then also making sure that in the creation of the product itself, we’re utilizing technology to to the greatest extent possible.

Eric Stegemann: You know, a lot of what you just said is actually carryovers to how I think about things here. TRIBUS, it’s kind of funny. So some of our competitors at TRIBUS, they do think of real estate, CRM and websites for brokers and things like that as a loss leader to try to sell their marketing services, their ads, programs, et cetera. And I can’t tell you how many companies that have gone into that space and said, oh, well, we’re going to offer a version of our product for X and then try to get agents to upgrade to.

So our relationship should just said, hey, guess can I interrupt you for just a second?

Eric Stegemann: I think something might be happening with your microphone. It became really scrambled all of a sudden there. Can we can you check that real quick? Take a second. Just check it real quick and then maybe start that question over again. I I can barely, barely hear you right now. Mayor, first, second, let me just check my equipment, maybe it’s my microphone for some reason. Should I say something again? Now it’s still it’s still scrambled and I switched to just use the straight to. If I were. I can’t I know you just said something, but I mean, it’s so faint and it’s scrambled, I can’t. I got you. That’s getting better. Getting better, not you. 

Jeff Corn: And come right back. I just want to make sure that screw group the.

Eric Stegemann: OK, got it. How is it now? Oh, much better, much better. 

Jeff Corn: Oh, yeah, something went wrong. 

Eric Stegemann: No, no problem. No problem. So just pick it up if you want to just start over at the end of my question, which was how do we get as a broker? How do you get more agents to use it? Just jump countdown three to one and pause for a second and then just jump into the questions and we’ll chop all of that out of there. 

Jeff Corn: Three, two and one. So it’s a great question, Eric, and I think that any of us who’ve worked with brokerages and agents for a long time certainly know that one of the toughest parts of the business is to ensure that agents adopt technologies regardless of how beneficial those technologies can be for them. It is often, if not always, the most challenging part. And what it comes down to is a few things. I think, number one, it’s about education.

It’s about it’s about brokers working hard to educate agents on the benefits, not just the features and what it can do and what a product does, but the true benefits. That’s easier said than done, but it’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle. The second thing is that, you know, we’ve Virtuance has worked hard to create what I think of as the easy button for real estate photography and for listing marketing. And certainly we’ve had the opportunity to work with you, Eric and TRIBUS, in creating success in integrations and otherwise for a number of successful brokerages.

And I think it’s a case in point with the things that brokers can do to easily put themselves in the best position to create adoption brokers when more listings have professional marketing on them. No question about it. What we’re seeing is a couple of things. One, building integration into a brokerage portal with TRIBUS, for example. Right. And obviously there are others is is a great way to drive adoption. What we’re trying to do is say, hey, look, what is the last thing agents need is another website that they have to go to another log in that they need to click on and in order to access a service or a partner. So I think it starts with that integration is huge. It’s about what do what are agents already doing? What systems are they already using right there already? They already access a system that is driven by trolleybus or somebody else. Let’s make sure that it’s super easy when they’re there to place an order for their listing, marketing or otherwise. And then the other thing is about image delivery. Right. What we’re trying to do is not just about producing really high quality, consistent listing marketing.

It’s also about making it so easy. If we are making the agent’s life harder, shame on us. Our entire job and being a partner with the industry is to make everybody’s life easier so that agents in particular can spend more of their time on income earning opportunities. Right. And downloading photos, uploading photos, getting photos onto a listing that I’m sorry, but that’s not where I as an agent want to spend my time. And so so Virtuance has worked really hard to make sure that we have integrations into dozens and dozens of different software systems that that agents are already using so that it can be as simple as one click. And the other thing is, is along the same lines, it’s about making sure that’s an easy online experience. Right. Like the last thing that an agent wants to do when they have to get a property listed tomorrow is have to worry about like playing phone tag with their photographer. Right. And so Virtuance has worked really hard to build, frankly, the industry. It’s only completely online system that allows anybody to come online, see exactly what availability there is all across the country in real time, choose who they want to shoot their phone, their photos, and then click a button and have it be done and confirmed. And that’s it. So, you know, there’s a lot for us that’s about making sure the broker understands that we want to make an agent’s life easier and thereby benefit the broker and the brokerage, obviously.

Eric Stegemann: Well, I think that’s super your stage process to help a broker get into it, and I know it’s something that we’re rolling out or just rolled out to our clients to make it easy to jump into the Virtuance platform. So I can’t wait to see more agents be able to go out there and order photography in a very simple, simple way. And I know you and I have had conversations of making it even a step easier and to completely automate the process for the most part, which is something that we have an initiative to try to execute on some of that workflow product for next year at TRIBUS. So. Well, Jeff, thanks so much for joining us. It’s been very insightful and I think hopefully our listeners all know how important photography and professional photography is to the industry. Thanks so much for joining us.

Jeff Corn: Yeah, I appreciate it, Eric. I really have a ton of gratitude to you as well. And I think one other thing to just finish up here that is I appreciate and I think that we both, from a company standpoint, share the independent mindset to. Right. That’s very powerful. And I know that I know it’s been impactful for you, too. And it’s all about helping the agent, helping the brokerage, making sure that we’re moving the industry forward. And I really enjoyed chat with you, so I appreciate the opportunity.

Eric Stegemann: Yeah, no, thanks again. So it was good. It was good catching up with you. Well, everybody, you’ve been listening to Brokerage Insider, it’s the podcast where we interview the leaders in brokerage and technology. You were listening to Jeff Corn. Again, he’s the CEO and co-founder of Virtuance. It’s a leading photography vendor in the real estate industry. And you can check out more about Virtuance and what Jeff and his team is doing over there with their proprietary HD real product over at Virtuance.

That’s virtuance.com This is Eric Stegemann , the host of Brokerage Insider. And please make sure to subscribe via your favorite podcast player to get this episode and future episodes automatically download it to your device. Thanks so much for everybody for listening.

CEO | Director of Strategy
With more than 17 years experience in the real estate industry, including being a Realtor and Broker / Owner, Stegemann brings a wealth of knowledge to this job as CEO of TRIBUS. He focuses his time on helping brokers enhance and expand their business and working with the TRIBUS labs team to consider what's next in real estate.
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