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By Nat Daniels

CEO, Angels Media


OTHER FEATURES

Property Natter: talking the secret to good photography and working for Foxtons

Good property marketing photos have arguably never been more important in an increasingly visual and tech-led world. We saw just the other day how the over-use of stock, generic photos can generate headlines and even an industry competition to solve it.

But what makes for a good photograph and why are they so important to agents. Here, I check in with John Williams, sales director and former head of photography at Fourwalls, which since 1989 has been providing a comprehensive range of marketing, architectural and surveying services for professional and private clients within the UK property industry. Before that, he was Foxtons’ chief snapper for 18 years, eventually reaching the position of operational director.

So, if there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about taking a good property photo, it’s John. Below, we discuss Instagram use, how he first got involved with Foxtons, how he views the famously Marmite company now, and some top tips for budding property photographers looking to get into this more niche part of the industry.

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Without further ado…  

How important is good photography when it comes to sales and lettings? 

It is paramount in my opinion with so many agents using professional marketing material these days. If you do not have top quality photography, your marketing will just get lost, especially on the portals.

Do some agents still ignore its merits too much? 

I think only the smaller ones these days. If you walk down the high street there are not many ignoring the benefits, and the ones that do, don’t really totally understand how beneficial it is and how cost-effective it can be.

Is photography now more important than ever, given the advances in technology and sites such as Instagram? 

It certainly is, and especially even more so during Covid times. Video is now being widely used across the marketplace along with other cool technology such as Matterport. Both these mediums give prospective buyers and tenants a really immersive experience of the property.

Over the last few years, we have also seen a massive take up of drone services giving a truly bird’s eye view of the property and its location. Instagram, too, is massive now, as pretty much all the agents have a feed and understand its importance.

Many high-profile estate agents themselves are also marketing themselves very effectively on the Gram. It is also a medium where almost anything goes, and you can really dare to be different with your marketing.

You started your career shooting for some of London's premier estate agents - how did you get that role in the first place? And how good was the technology at that time? 

I was a very, very lucky young man. My dad knew the guy that ran a small property marketing company in Knightsbridge, London. I was a keen snapper at the time, but my dad touted me as the next David Bailey 😊 

I was given the job and started my property photography career. Tech at the time was pretty non- existent as, when I started, I was just a pure photographer, shooting on film with floorplans in their infancy.

When I joined Foxtons, this was the start of the digital era for photography. I was not convinced about it all at the start but as the quality improved and we could print effectively from the files…we embraced it totally for its cost savings and flexibility.

How did the move to Foxtons come about? 

Very simply, I was head hunted by the main man himself Jon Hunt, no less. We did some photography for Foxtons at the time, and I was the person who dealt with them as my boss then had a minor stutter.

I would be sent to go and see JMH to discuss pricing and any quality queries. I spoke my mind, was honest with him and I think he liked that. He could see the future of Foxtons, and knew that to have control of the quality and costs he needed to build an in-house photography team.

He very kindly invited me to do that. He was always very entrepreneurial, though, and my first day was very much…desk, phone, get on with it!

Foxtons has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons lately - with its former boss, Peter Rollings, saying it was too aggressive and nasty. Do you agree and does this tally with your experiences at the company in your 18 years there? 

Times have changed as Pete clearly highlighted. It was a very different era then for estate agency and Foxtons were in it to really shake up the market and take as much market share as possible.

To do that, you had to be a touch aggressive and maybe stand your ground in regard to things such as fees and splitting those fees. Again, as Pete said, they would literally go to war for their clients.

Vendors loved them as they got the property on the market fast, with great marketing and then normally got it sold at a great price.

Why did you decide to move on from Foxtons and join Fourwalls? 

It was not my decision, but I was part of some restructuring that they felt at the time needed to happen. I left after 18 happy years and had a few months to reflect on my next move.

I had known Owen Turgoose from Fourwalls previously as I was sending the floorplans that Foxtons drew to him to get finalised. He was also a good friend of mine as we are both cycling mad.

I think he also recognised that my experience running a photography team would be beneficial as he, too, looked to grow his company. He very kindly did a bit of internal jiggling to facilitate me to join as Head of Photography. During the last few years, I have grown the in-house team from 17 to 40 employed photographers, and have now handed over to my assistants as I take up my new role as Sales Director.

What makes for a good property photograph? And what makes for a good photographer? 

I think many things and it will always be very property dependant. Anything that can really catch the eye though, so colour, contrast and daring to be a bit different. Show the agent what you can do as an individual and try and get the shot that maybe no one else has seen. No substitute for one of those very rare blue skies days too.

A good property photographer needs to be personal and be able to interact with all people. The other key attributes are consistency, passion and they must have massive attention to detail and flexibility.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone considering getting into a career of property photography, what would it be?  

Be yourself, join a reputable and experienced company that can train you and then mentor you well, and hopefully take you on the journey you want to go on. Both Foxtons and Fourwalls have allowed me to do that and as a result my passion and enthusiasm for property photography has never waned.

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Fantastic answers, John – many thanks for the insight!

Events and conferences back with a bang!

At one point it looked like we might never all be able to gather in a room to network, discuss property and have a boogie at the end of the night again, but in recent weeks events and conferences have started to become more commonplace.

And that includes in the property world, with the latest incarnation of Agent Rainmaker LIVE 2021 this weekend.

Speaking of great photographs, check out this one of The ValPal Network team exhibiting at the event yesterday.

Taking place across three days as an in-person event at the Marriott Hotel, Heathrow, the event is billed as the ultimate event for letting agents who want to get more or do more with their business through growth, marketing and optimisation.

The brainchild of well-known industry figure Sally Lawson, this year’s event features motivational speaker Nigel Risner, leading conference speaker Royston Guest, CEO of Einstein Marketer Mat Wilson and real-life case studies of agent success stories, including Tom Soane, sharing how he added over £1,000,000 revenue to his business in just 18 months, and Matylda Nowak, who got herself free of the restraints of running her business day-to-day, built a retreat and moved to Poland.

I’m actually attending the conference part of the event as you read this over your morning coffee, followed by a do in the evening. It’s great to get back, and here’s to conference and event season being back in full swing again! In less than two weeks’ time, the Agents Giving Charity Ball 2021 will be held at Epsom Racecourse, hosted by Phil Spencer. And then, of course, Phil will be back in the saddle for the big one, the ESTAS 2021, in late October. Lots to look forward to.

Until next time!

*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.

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