When you're ready to sell your commercial property, it is a wise idea to hire a professional photographer. What should you look for when hiring a professional commercial real estate photographer? What are some technologies that could be useful in marketing your properties visually? We are interviewing Brian Balduf, CEO and co-founder of VHT Studios, a visual marketing company with over 1,000 photographers and videographers, focused in real estate.

How can photography and videos improve the value of a commercial property?
Visual marketing has the power to impact people and make an effect, create a perception. We like to say it has the ability to affect, move and motivate people to take action because real estate in general is a very visual sale. People need to see it. They need to be able to envision themselves in a space where they're doing business or sitting up in an office. And nothing does that better than stunning, striking photography. Anybody can push a button on a camera and take a picture, but what you're really looking to do is get results and get a return on your investment and get people to either have a perception of the property, the value of the property, or to take the next step. People are so busy today and they see so many things. First impressions are so critical. They're looking at 6, 7 or 60 or 70 different places. What is it that it's going to get them to spend more time on yours, or take the next step and request additional information, or visit in person. And we've seen over 21 years - visual marketing has the power to do that.

I can see that, pun intended. Do you have some statistics of the benefits of professionally shot properties vs. nonprofessionally shot properties?
I don't have specifics, but I can tell you what we've seen in different studies and analysis. To me, one of the most exciting or interesting is the increase in perceived value of a property when people are looking at things online. The better the visual representation, the more they think that property is worth, which is a great place to start with a potential buyer or renter. You want them coming in from the beginning thinking this is a great place. The reason for that is picture a, pardon the pun, grainy, blurry, maybe out of focus shot of a location, or a property. And the perception that it creates with the buyer, if it even registers with them or do they just skip it. Versus something that's well lit, clear, crisp, bright and just attractive, gets their attention right out of the gate. They're going to feel that that property is worth more. And that's a great place to start with any new potential client. We've also seen it shorten sales cycles. Get sales price is closer to the asking price. Both of those are really by exposing the property to a much wider audience that is much more engaged because of the impact that the visuals have on them.

You know what comes to mind? And I don't know if this happens with professionally shot real estate, is sometimes when you're looking at someone's picture, they are going to be giving a presentation and the picture is obviously professionally shot and completely edited. And then the person shows up and they're absolutely not what they actually look like on their picture. Does that happen in commercial properties? And how do you balance making it look stunning versus the person actually walking in and get impressed, or not?
Generally, when a person looks much different than their photograph, it's because the photograph is old. And we see that a lot in this industry where people don't update their photographs. Generally, anytime you do improvements to a property or you change something, you want to get it photographed and recorded right then and there when it looks great as opposed to after tenants have moved in or after a few years. So they generally use photography to try and trick buyers, but leaving photographs up that are 10 years old, the experience when they come to visit the place probably is going to be different. I think nowadays people expect photography and video and drone and such to be more recent. What does this place look like today?

How do you keep up with technology such as drones and other things in the photography world?
That's a good question because there's a lot of changes in the technology for visual marketing, especially in the last two or three years. Drone is a big one. 3-D tours are big one. Virtual staging is incredibly popular right now. We can talk about all three. Drones is exciting because it's different. It's a different view than people are used to. It's dramatic, eye catching, it gets people's attention and it's useful. It's useful to be able to fly above a property, see the roof, fly around a building and see the surrounding area, a parking lot, the grounds or even the area that the property's in, is it close to transportation or other things that are important to potential buyers or renters? Drones are relatively a new technology. We were one the first to roll it out nationwide for our clients.

There were a lot of issues with the FAA and getting licensing to use drones for a variety of purposes, registering the drones, but we worked through all of that and it has become a very popular service nowadays. We view it as our responsibility to our clients and our business partners to stay on top of the technologies, the laws and the other factors that go into them being able to market their properties this way.

What are some tips for screening a good photographer and videographer that has focused in commercial real estate?
I would say the most important thing in screening or choosing a partner or provider for photography or video is look at their experience. Anybody could push a button on a camera and take a picture. But that's not the point here. The point is you want to impact, make an impression, create a perception and sell or rent the property. So you're really looking for a return on your investment. The best way to do that is to see what they've done before that's similar. Not just their work, not just photographs of weddings, or puppies, or things like that. Show me what you've done with properties that are similar to mine. Whether it's a hotel, a retail location, or a manufacturing location. I want to see it. You also want to work with that photographer on what are you trying to convey? What are you trying to present to potential buyers and renters? What's the story of this property? What are the highlights or features of this property that should be focused on and make sure that they understand that. That they're not just coming through and taking pictures to take pictures. You want to show it in its best light, make great first impressions and appeal to certain audiences.

Third, I would say, is understanding your licenses and rights to use those photographs. The way it works in the United States is the producer or creator of the visual assets or the intellectual property owns it and owns all the rights. Unless they give rights to you, and you always want that in writing so it's very clear. Here's what I can and can't do with these photographs. It's a very big topic in the industry today because I think a lot of people assume that once they have the photographs I can do anything I want, but that's not necessarily true. The license could be restricted to just print, just brochures in magazines, or it could be restricted to just the Internet. If it's not in writing, you really don't have it. You need to ask for it and have that agreement. So I think those are three important things in screening a photographer: the quality of their work experience, their ability to understand your story and your audience, and getting those licenses in writing.

How do photographers charge for commercial properties? Is it per square foot? Per room? How does that work?
That's a good question. Generally, it's per photograph. So you'll have a rate for the artist, photographer, a pilot to come out to the property. Think of that as a session fee. So you pay them to come out and shoot everything that's applicable. Everything that makes sense. And then on the back end, you proof those photographs and get to choose the ones that you want to license.

And it's just a per photograph license fee. So it's a combination of those two. The range could go anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple of thousand dollars depending on the size of the property. How many photographs are being taken and the mix of services. If you get photography, drone and something like virtual staging, it may be more expensive. It really depends on the type of property marketing. If it's a simple, small, single use space, or is it a hotel, an office park or retail complex? There's a solution for that entire range of properties.

Is there anything else that our audience should know in regards to commercial photography?
One of the other big changes recently is what we refer to as virtual staging. It's a newer technology that's really popular now and it's basically a studio that you can digitally edit your photographs to provide a better presentation to buyers or sellers. Empty buildings aren't super sexy, attractive, and it's a lot of times hard for people to envision themselves and their business in that space. What do you do for sellers today is you help them digitally put in furnishings, furniture, and other setups to really help a prospective buyer understand not just what the property is today, but what it could be, what the potential and the possibilities are for them. So it's a huge leap and advance in visually marketing properties and helping buyers envision what it will look like when they're there, as opposed to what it looks like today.

Would you go ahead and hire an interior designer to do that or would you guys just put the furniture yourselves?
We have galleries of furnishings that a client can choose from. A lot of them do have interior designers or decorators provide consulting or advice and say, here's how we want to show this property. We want this property to be appropriate for startup and tech companies. So let's show it with this kind of furniture and look to it. Or this property is more appealing to a bank or an investment firm, so let's show it with these types of furnishings. We can definitely help with that, but a lot of clients who have interior designers that are doing their marketing for them or representing them would have input on: here's the story we want to present and how we think that looks. So it's very exciting.

Brian Balduf