Even though cities across the country are beginning to ease stay at home restrictions, many Americans remain reticent about frequenting public spaces. In higher density cities, grocery shoppers don masks, gloves, and interact with checkers behind plexiglass barriers. Social distancing has impacted virtually every industry, including the home rental market.

Rental Property Market Affected by Pandemic

Property managers and leasing agents adjusted quickly to this shift towards no-touch alternatives when it comes to rental tours. Some are guiding prospective renters through units via FaceTime video calls, others have self-guided options. A necessary step prior to engaging an interested prospect, is hooking them via a media rich listing. A rental property’s ability to offer a virtual experience now matters more than ever

Very large property management firms typically have on-staff photographers or contract this work through agencies and full-scale real estate photography businesses. Such models are even more important now that virtual tours have heightened importance. But the vast majority of property owners and managers are not very large firms and have not previously needed professional photography in lieu of in-person showings. In the age of COVID-19, that need has become extremely pressing.

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

Alexander Graham Bell, Inventor of the telephone

There is in fact another door that is wide open. 

Local event and portrait photographers across this nation remain ready, willing, and expertly able to lend their services to the emerging demand from millions of mid and small scale property owners and managers. Some of these photographers are already offering exterior and interior expertise to larger firms the real estate and rental property industry. However, this new opportunity to pair talented, yet underemployed event photographers with mid and small scale real estate and rental professionals who have a growing demand, is one of the few bright spots in an economy rife with collateral damage from this global pandemic.

Wedding Industry Affected by Pandemic

Prior to COVID19, an average of 20-30K weddings took place every weekend in the U.S. That’s over 1 million weddings. 

While a wedding event covers a definitive span of time, its memory is captured for a lifetime by photographers and videographers. These artists masterfully collect magic moments and package them into albums that are treasured, digital posts that are shared widely, and videos that allow couples to relive their declarations of love.

In the matter of a few short weeks, wedding photographers watched years worth of bookings completely disappear. With the looming uncertainty, many weddings have been postponed until 2021. This poses a significant financial challenge to those depending on this revenue stream for the remaining 7 ½ months of 2020.

Waiting it out is not a realistic option for many in the wedding photography industry. One prominent New York wedding photographer who is proactively pursuing supplemental  work opportunities is Susan Stripling. Named a Canon Explorer of Light, this badass professional isn’t going to let the Coronavirus win. She’s spent decades honing her craft, she’s got all the equipment necessary, and above all else, she has an entrepreneurial spirit. With one foot firmly planted, she’s pivoting into a new landscape of exterior and interior photography to help supplement her income until weddings and events are safe to hold and attend.

Former Colleagues Team Up

Rosalind Bordo is one of Dwellsy’s founders and our Head of Product. Two decades ago, she was a prominent Chicago wedding photographer and later founded Two Bright Lights, an online publishing platform and image-sharing ecosystem that became the primary pipeline for all published image content in the wedding industry.

Susan and Rosalind met in an online forum for wedding photographers during the days when they were both starting out. Susan shared her aptitude for lenses and lighting techniques. Rosalind offered her expertise around technological innovation, data, analytics, and the importance of tracking business financials. Over time, the two began collaborating and learning from each other in person. The result, a lifelong friendship. 

News headlines surfaced in March about the turmoil unfolding in the wedding industry. The devastation only worsened in April. An idea took root in Rosalind’s mind.

“As a former professional wedding photographer, I empathize deeply with just how badly the industry has been decimated by COVID19. I’ve also seen the pain that property managers are experiencing due to their inability to conduct the typical in-person showings. They’re clamoring for high quality, unit specific images to stave off anticipated vacancies. I realized that Dwellsy had a great opportunity to bring together two groups dealing with extraordinarily painful market conditions. Photographers have a skill and rental property owners have a need. These two fit together perfectly.”

Rosalind bordo

Ten of thousands of rental property managers use Dwellsy to list their vacant units and Dwellsy is in conversation with many on a daily basis. 

“I’ve been hearing from industry leaders and front-line apartment managers about the challenges of switching to virtual listings. The listings themselves now carry more weight than ever before. Prospects are stuck at home and looking at what’s available online. While exploring a unit’s layout, they want high quality pictures of the actual unit they will be renting — not just a model that is similar. This allows for decision making without ever stepping foot on the property which gives them an edge in a rental market that is also facing significant downward pressure on rents.”

rosalind bordo

The Development Phases of Dwellsy Lightbox

Dwellsy is shooting to transform the impossible scenario of lost work to one full of new possibility and opportunity.

“It is really hard out there for so many and when we realized that we had a win-win-win, we knew it was absolutely worth giving it a try!”

Rosalind bordo
Phase 1 – Sign Up Members

Rosalind immediately got to work on an interface that combined the communication of the initiative’s goals and a sign-up form for those interested in becoming members. She also infused an incentive program to encourage those electing to participate to help further build this community.

Susan leveraged her social networks to inform wedding photographers from across the country of this opportunity. This led to an additional partnership with Image Salon; a photography and post-production studio in Montreal, Canada that takes raw professional images and transforms them into showcase pieces that can be used in any marketing collateral. 

The interest has been overwhelmingly positive. Photographers have subscribed from over 33 different states that include the likes of California, Texas, Ohio, New York, and Florida. 

A once hopeless situation has been infused with light and promise.

Phase 2 – Initial Directory Publication & Property Manager Outreach

In the next few weeks the first iteration of the directory will go live on Dwellsy.com! It will be filterable by services offered and location. At the same time, we’ll be reaching out to the over 20,000 property managers listing with Dwellsy to share this publication.

There is no cost to become a member and we don’t charge any fees to property managers for access.

So what’s in it for Dwellsy? 

Rosalind says it best.

“There is so much hurting in the world right now that we can’t do anything about. I just felt like, wow, here is *something* we can do to help. So, I wanted to try. My husband (who is also Dwellsy’s CEO) and I feel strongly that building a company together is only worth it if we can make one that  lives our personal values. So creating Dwellsy Lightbox just felt like a no-brainer.”

rosalind bordo
Phase 3 – Dynamic Directory Refresh & Photographer Education

This is not a one shot deal. We’re building a community. A community of talent accessible to the rental and real estate markets. The photography industry is just the beginning.

Dwellsy Lightbox members are welcome to join at any time. Through automated workflows, the directory will be dynamically refreshed on an ongoing basis.

In addition, Susan Stripling and the Image Salon will provide photographers with educational materials to broaden existing skills, develop new ones, and even provide guidelines on best practices for shooting exteriors and interiors.

Do Well and Do Good

We don’t want to just “do well” as an organization, we also want to “do good.” Dwellsy Lightbox is just one of the many ways we aim to spread goodness into the world.