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Why Your Phone Camera Is Not Enough To Make Great Property Videos

We have a lot to thank our smartphones for, from access to information to social connectivity to making waiting in line just a little more bearable. Of all the ways smartphones have changed the world, the smartphone camera has upended our understanding of videography. In a literal flash we can whip a camera from our pocket and snap, or film, away. We can also upload just as quickly. But while the advancements in smartphone technology make a compelling argument for brokers to simply take videos for their listings themselves, a smartphone video cannot compete with the talent and expertise of a professional who knows how to produce lead-generating shots for the commercial real estate market.

You’ve likely seen one of those Apple commercials that feature beautiful cinematics and end with “Shot on iPhone” appearing on the screen. The ads are wonderfully designed, shot, and produced, implying to the typical broker that they, too, can make their own videos easily on their smartphone, as if to say that the money you save hiring a professional will pale in comparison to the cost of a $2,000 iPhone, so go get in line for one! But what the advertisements don’t tell you is that they were shot on an iPhone with a professional crew of grips, gaffers, boom operators, a lighting producer, an art director, production assistants, a producer, and a director of photography.

It can be tempting to think that panning through the property with your smartphone camera will render a video attractive enough to make that property sell. But quality real estate videography is a skill. A smartphone’s dimly lit footage will not sell a property as effectively as crisp, professional drone footage and DSLR, cinema or even in-depth 3D walkthrough videography will. 

“When you look at the value paying for professional photography and video does for your listings, it really makes you stand out,” says Paul Bongiorni, an associate broker with SR Realty. “When you look at the value it brings to your brokerage when you’re fighting for a listing, it’s a very small cost.” SR Realty is one of the many brokerages that have come to understand the value of hiring a professional to photograph and film their listings, so much so that they have a production company, Seven Roads Media, on speed-dial. 

Real estate videography is a niche industry so there are a lot of misconceptions around how real estate videography works. When people watch footage of a property or even a commercial for that matter, they only absorb what’s immediately in front of them, not what went on behind the camera or in the editing room. There are always hours of physical labor and endless editing that go into making a video as appealing as possible.

James McKenzie, a New York-based cinematographer and commercial videographer, knows this all too well. “It takes the right sensibilities as a videographer to know how to showcase a property when you’re filming it,” he said. “You have to know exactly what lenses, the exact lighting, and camera movement to make the space look its best, and you want the space to look its best because what [videographers] are selling is an effective avenue to reach a broker’s audience and to promote their listing.” And those sensibilities are gleaned from years of expensive schooling and labor-intensive grunt work.” 

When it comes to videography, people can be surprised at the cost. Just like traditional filmmaking, videos of real estate take lots of pre- and post-production to make them really memorable. Even if the end-product only has a run time of a few minutes, it can often take days if not weeks to produce a video. Above and beyond the costs of labor and equipment, videographers also bring in expertise in knowing what to feature and how to make it look its best that can take years, if not decades to develop.

Many videographers encounter a frustrating experience when they bring up compensation. McKenzie has encountered indignant huffs and mutterings of “well I can just take the video myself!” whenever he gives his fair market quote for his services. “When I was starting out in this industry, I would feel the need to quote prices below what my going rate should have been in order to be competitive, and I would still be dismissed as if what I was asking for was ludicrous or exorbitant.” For large deals, this can be incredibly short sighted, as the cost of a good video can pale in comparison to the profit an above market lease or sale of a building can generate. 

Again, as much as smartphone cameras have improved, there’s still a serious amount of work that goes into filming anything, even if there aren’t actors involved. If you hire a professional, you’ll only get quality work if you pay them what they’re worth.

Can you do a real estate videographer’s job yourself? Maybe, if you’re willing to learn some videography basics. The reality is that most brokers and agents don’t have the time to learn this very specific skill. Prospective buyers might not be so keen on a property if it’s not, literally, shown in the best light, which is something that SR Realty recognizes. “When your competitors are, at best, taking some blurry cell phone pictures, who would you go with?” Paul Bongiorni adds. “Hiring a professional is a pretty obvious decision.”

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