In the last few articles we’ve been discussing a few tips, techniques and insights into getting started with real estate photography. Now that we’ve covered shooting and processing, today we’ll venture into the world of add-on services with a look at floor plans.
While one may think good images would be enough, adding a simple floor plan will serve in not only showing off the interior layout and dimension, it will provide an effective overall visual that viewers and prospective buyers will appreciate.
For those asking themselves, How do I make a floor plan? Let’s jump in take a look at one simple approach to the process.
Floor Plan Services
Having 20-plus years experience in the architectural-engineering sector as an AutoCAD design technician, I honestly thought I would never draw another floor plan again. Yet here I am full-circle, shooting and sketching the occasional plan.
The problem with creating a floor plan from a photographer’s perspective is simple: doing so can likely take longer than the shoot itself (at first) when all is said and drawn, and can be tricky when it comes to pricing. Building in value is key in real estate photography and many agents won’t even consider a service without a plan option.
That said, floor plans are an option most owners and agents not only want but need to best represent a given property in regard to overall layout – and we’re certainly in the best position to give it to them.
It’s purely a matter of efficiency. The faster we dial-in the measure & sketch process, the easier it becomes with each outing. All we need is a little patience and a few simple tools.
Pick up a clip-board, a pack of mechanical pencils and a good eraser from a local office supply store. I recommend a longer clip-board in the 11 to 14-inch range and a pack of graph paper. We’ll also need a tape-measure (25 to 35-feet will do) or digital measuring device (preferably) to take-off length and width measurements for the major rooms and livable spaces.
Using a ruler or flat edge for line work will produce a cleaner result with less erasing and re-drawing. Working free-hand can certainly be faster and work just as well, as long as we can decipher our handiwork afterward. I recommend giving both ways a try and go with what works best for you.
As far as overall time-saving, a good digital measuring device is the single best investment we can make. I do recommend avoiding cheap knock-off units as they’re likely to be unreliable. I was able to locate an accurate measuring device at a local box store in the $50 range. Using a tape-measure will do the job well enough, but it can be cumbersome with only one person in certain cases. It’s a good idea to always have one on-hand as a backup to the electronic device, if needed as well.
With clipboard, pencil and ruler in-hand: it’s time to head outside for a quick scan of the building footprint.
Even though we’re not documenting any exterior dimensions, starting outside provides the quickest look at the overall shape of a property – the outer line of our plan, if you will – and visually establishes the confines for our inside work.
From the outside, we can get a solid visual on any changes in structure from level to level (if applicable). For example, Does the second story have the same footprint as the first? If so, the second story will have the same shape as the first. Place a clean sheet over the main level sketch and trace the outer walls for simplicity. If the second story is smaller than the first, lightly trace the overall outline from below and remove what is not needed.
By drawing out the basic shape quickly for each level while outside, we can head inside and document these spaces with confidence. If a plan is included in a job, it’s a good practice to always shoot first and gain a solid visual handle before approaching the measure and sketch process.
To maximize efficiency and minimize visual guess-work, my preference is to always work outside-in.
Keep it Simple
Remember, we’re not attempting to re-design homes and businesses here; we’re merely documenting their existing (room) sizes and layout. We always have our images to lean on for visual reference, so no need to get carried away with detail.
We’re looking for overall length-by-width dimensions for each livable space including master bathrooms, larger walk-in closets and sizable storage spaces present. Non-living spaces such as a decorative alcoves, hallways, small closets and half-baths (etc.) should be shown yet need not be measured.
While the majority of our time here is spent walking each level and sketching a single-line layout of rooms, doors, windows and stairs, the rest is essentially measuring, adding dimensions and (later) creating a final plan for each applicable level. Starting at the main level, I will generally continue on to the upstairs and basement levels, then wrap it up with the garage. It’s always a good practice to measure any sizable patios and outbuildings with suitable access as well.
As we’re not producing a scaled drawing per se, keep it simple by using small tick marks to represent windows and simple curves for door swings. Stairs can be challenging at first. Start by sketching a quick outline of the staircase layout (typically a rectangle or L-shaped figure) and draw in a few horizontal lines to represent steps with two opposing arrows to indicate up and down travel. Take a stroll online and locate a few example plans to familiarize yourself with the look.
Before starting the plan phase, it’s always a good idea to ask the agent or owner if they happen to possess a copy of the building plans. Properties of newer construction are likely to have a set stored away in a closet somewhere and the owner is usually more than glad to let us borrow them for a short time. We do still need to verify and document interior dimensions but this seriously simplifies the drawing process as far as demystifying the general layout of walls, door swings and windows for each level. By no means necessary, but it never hurts to ask.
Building a Finished Plan
Having produced our rough sketches of each level – and assuming we can read our own writing – we can now turn them into finished drawings. For this I would recommend Microsoft Visio or Google Sketch-Up as an effective solution for building a basic floor plan with all the common architectural symbols needed to produce a quality result. From here it’s as easy as drawing a few lines and dropping in door, window and fixture symbols as needed.
When our basic plan is complete, we can save a JPEG copy for delivery to client, or direct upload to a third-party virtual tour hosting platform. My favorite go-to tour service, Tourbuzz.net, provides a useful Interactive Floor Plan option in which the user (us) can assign photos to rooms on the plan, displaying both to would-be buyers if so desired. A small yet significant feature that can separate our services, and one that clients tend to appreciate and find appealing. We’ll take a closer look at these services in an upcoming post on publishing a virtual tour.
To learn more about how to harness these applications to create your own clean and effective floor plans, I would direct your attention to SketchUp for Interior Design and Visio 2003 Essential Training via our friends at Lynda.com as a great primer to each approach. If you’re not already a member, you can always try them free for 10 days by visiting lynda.com/ Photofocus.
Keep in mind that the goal is to document livable space and dimension as accurately as possible. Avoid details, keep it to measurable rooms and spaces. If it’s easy to measure and you have your doubts, measure it anyway. It’s okay to over-record these things at first and write everything down. It’ll take a few tries to dial in the process.
Check out the videos and study the plan linked above, or produce your own hand-drawn plans to scan and upload if you’re inclined. That, too, could be an appealing point of separation for your work. If so, avail yourself of a few basic architectural drafting practices and start using them to your own artistic advantage.
Either way, the key to successful real estate photography is to build-in value. Providing a quality floor plan service can bring a higher level of marketing power to the table over photography and video alone in most markets today. In the next article, we’ll explore a few simple video techniques that can be useful with larger upscale projects and wrap up the series with a look at publishing and a few thoughts in regard to pricing.
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