Drones Are Changing Real Estate Marketing

March 14th, 2017

Steven, a Realtor and real estate photographer in New Jersey recently told me:

The drone stories and questions have been a hot topic lately and every story or question on the site has drawn me like a fly to light. Before I had my drone I was dismayed at the lack of response I would receive when I brought up drones. Now that I own a drone there seems to be a steady but growing small demand for drone flights. I believe that at full maturity it has financial value. More than the drone revenue, it seems to be opening doors for agents who now take notice of my services and comment, “You provide done photos?”. It will be hard to calculate the totals but it does seem like the conversation and the drone are going to grow my regular photo business.

Yes, your comments are what many others are seeing. There is a recent article at cbsnews.com entitled “9 Ways Drones Are Changing Real Estate.” Summarizing the article, the 9 ways they talk about are:

  1. Budget-friendly aerial photography
  2. Buzz for listing agents
  3. Better views of bigger homes
  4. Look at the land (large properties)
  5. A more personal view of the property
  6. Tour of the town (showing the local neighborhood)
  7. Remote viewings (future possibilities)
  8. Increasing privacy concerns
  9. Increasing liability concerns

I think you are experiencing a lot of #2. Agents are drawn to the latest marketing techniques and while drone photos are not important for all properties, for larger homes (like this one), it can have a huge impact.

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21 Responses to “Drones Are Changing Real Estate Marketing”

  • Everyone likes to brag about me using drones to their clients… but still no one wants to pay for it. I’m also in NJ and have not experienced any of this buzz and quite honestly have almost given up. I look forward to a spike in interest since I don’t think I’ve used my drone in 4 months.

  • Dan,

    Where are you located in Jersey? Are you coastal or inland? Have you put out any email or flyers in offices? While I say my drone business is small but growing, I am actively working to make it grow. For me I think the growth is in the higher price point from Avalon North through Long Beach Island.

  • I got my part 107 license back in November and even at the ridiculously cheap $50/5-image aerial photo charge, my DJI Phantom 4 has already paid for itself. And that’s mostly from the new year listing surge. November and December were pretty much dead all the way around. I live in a small town and, at least right now, I’m the only licensed drone operator here. I use this 15-minute add-on to beef up my $125 standard RE package, and I also get a bunch of realtors having me do their listings of empty lots! I did 4 lots yesterday, and I only spent maybe a total of 1-1/2 hrs travel/flying/post processing time on them. What I did to get the word out when I first started was to give each of my agents a one-time free drone session with my standard RE package. That really got the ball rolling, and I now have some agents who can’t/won’t pay for a full RE package, calling me to just do a drone session to get a nice listing shot and a view of the surrounding neighborhood, etc. I still offer the one-time free session to new agents and it’s really added to my marketing.

  • Have to agree with Daniel.
    Everyone asks for drone work but is unwilling to pay for the service.
    “Just throw in a couple of shots (or minutes?!)”
    The true cost of producing competent aerial imagery is not understood by many clients and a large number of photographers.

    Add to that the increasing opposition and local regulation to overflying homes and neighborhoods and you have a headache not worth buying.
    I use a mast for my high viewpoint images and I acknowledge its shortcomings as to ultimate placement of the camera. However, it suffices for 90%+ of my needs for high viewpoint, is silent, is legal and will hold position for multiple images.

  • Mark,

    In many ways I agree, I have a painters pole that I take up about 18′ with a camera mount and remote trigger and it does a great job. The downside to this is trying to get extra money for taking a photo off a painter pole. When I wrote into the site, my comments weren’t really about how a drone has changed my business but how it seemed to be opening doors to agents who use other photographers who don’t have a drone.

    I think we all have to be realistic about our potential client groups. The way I see it: 1) Those who use photographers on every listing 2) Those who use a photographer when the sellers forces the issue. 3) Those who think an Iphone is the greatest thing since the wheel and would never pay a penny for photos.

    In trying to grow our photo businesses, it seems to me the the best target group is those who believe in professional photography. It’s the smallest group and least likely to jump ship from their regular photographer without some justification. So all I’m really saying in my post is that drone in car might just be the justification.

  • I get at least one drone request a week. I have an arrangement with a drone guy to do that part of the job. But the fact that I mention drones on my web site brings a lot of attention.

    Unfortunately, my drone guy may not be working out. So I may have to delve into this myself. I know that we need to get licensed and all that. But I’m curious…how did you folks learn to fly your drone? Just trial and error? I had two earlier drones (basically toys) that I crashed and destroyed. Not sure if I want to risk that with a $1500+ drone.

  • In my case, marry a USAF Pilot with 22 years Helo experience that now works at the FAA as a test pilot. Wait, wait…it’s going to be cheaper to crash a few drones. You should be able to buy a phantom for around 450.00 and it will do the job and do it well. Flying a drone and passing the test are not related tasks. Flying is much easier.

  • @Jesse – Extremely easy to learn to fly. Most now have a flight simulator so you can learn without even taking off. Many takeoff and land themselves. Many have obstacle avoidance built in. Many even have halfway decent cameras.

    That said, I find insurance is tricky. Verifly seemed like a good thing but they are very restrictive in my (and your’s I think) areas.

    It’s funny, seems like every time I launch the thing someone comes running out yelling: Either how cool it is, or that they’re going to call the cops. Sellers think that the drone will help a so-so view property but in fact it’s just the opposite; generally the wide angle helps views vanish into the distance. They don’t fly in even 1 drop of rain, so that’s another concern where (we) live: Suddenly shoots that include drones become weather dependent…

    They’re a hassle.

  • Dave Spencer hit on something that I am seeing a lot of now. That is the issue of neighbors coming out and screaming at you to get that dammed thing out of here!

    The honeymoon is over for flying your drone anywhere you want and now there is a lot of push back from a majority of bystanders. You need to have a flight plan prepared, with only a short time to accomplish before you get complaints.

    The last thing an agent wants is angry neighbors hounding their new listing, not to mention that they will remember the “Jerk” that caused the issue… Of course the agents will just say “hey, not me” turn to the photographer and say “Him!”

  • Quite a while back, I started having clients ask if I did, or was going to start, offering aerials. To answer one persons question about learning to fly, I went through 4 models of drones, flew them for hours practicing and learning the photo/video capabilities and settled on the 3DR Solo (Yes, 3DR is out of the consumer drone business but, with the “Smart Shots” the Solo has, it beats everything else available. A plus is that there are still plenty available and reduced pricing). I tested/passed my 107 the 1st day it was available.To echo what a couple others have said, advertising that I now will add drone shots/video has helped business. Like Ronald I received several calls about shoot lots and even a nice gated new development. For those of you looking for a little business boost, this is something to consider. Everything you need to learn is available free in downloadable form on the FAA site. The test is hard (IMHO) but just prep well.

    Weather is a big factor but, so far, my clients have been very understanding about the fact I have to pick a day with reasonable wind. Just an FYI, I am using a new app on my Android phone called “eWeather”. It gives very detailed daily and 10 day forecasts with regular weather, wind,and magnetic interference (important for drone flying).

    One thing I do tell clients and note on ads: I reserve the right to NOT fly on a listing where I think 1) it is too dangerous/violates any FAA rules and 2) I don’t think the listing is a good candidate. Most realtors already know whether a listing is right for aerials but, for some, you might need to explain that aerials will just show the wrong stuff (lots of roofs of homes on postage stamp lots, etc.)

    Last, I use Verifly. Seems to be the best thing available at the moment and I wouldn’t do this without specific ins.

    Happy (and safe) flying.

    Last….again. I would really like to see a survey of what all are charging for adding aerials and where. I’m in Albuquerque, NM. I surveyed a couple clients before deciding and now only charge $59 to add a few stills and up to a minute of video to a regular shoot. Albuquerque is a great place but realtors seems to be pretty tight about photo costs. Considering equipment, time to shoot/process and insurance, I think $100 would be reasonable. I’m still trying to decide what’s a good charge for just lots.

  • @Jessie… While I have resisted, and all my drone work has been given to me by the owner or realtor to include in tours, am finally deciding to pursuit a license and drone purchase. Before you plunk down $300 for a study course, check out YouTube with key word search “Part 107 exam or study guide”. Tony Northrup (a photographer with huge YouTube presence) among others have hour plus training videos for free. I had an active pilots license several decades ago before dropping it (not renewing medical) so some of the concepts, sectionals, NOTAMS and weather, were not that difficult for me but is comprehensive with good points on test taking. Best of all it is free, and if you feel you need more can always do a formal $300 course. Also while on his site, noticed he had a video on learning to fly. This was a step by step assignment of about 8 different maneuvers. The first being take off and landing without climbing high, repeating until battery is exhausted – which one battery charge is typically enough for that exercise, but several battery charges may be required for other more complex exercises, like reverse controls as the drone rotates and left becomes right and forward becomes back, etc.

    As Jerry correctly noted attitudes are becoming less forgiving with angry neighbors. I know I have seen some news reports with supporting video of 3rd parties assaulting recreational hobbyist in public areas. Licensing raises an interesting question. You are not a hobbyist, but a licensed pilot in control of an aircraft in flight. 3rd party interference when flying in legal airspace takes on a whole new dimension, and as a former active pilot I wonder to what level Federal hijacking laws would apply.

  • Wow, thanks for the info, guys. Larry, I checked out the Tony Northrup stuff (https://northrup.photo/free-faa-part-107-suas-drone-certification-study-guide/). Looks pretty detailed. I think I’m a little more encouraged by this now, especially since it seems drone prices have come down. But if I go through all of this, it will be a little frustrating if I have to deal with neighbors screaming at me. 🙂 Plus, I’ve found that agents are really cheap, so I question whether they would want to pay for it. But I suppose an investment of under $1000 might pay for itself within a year.

  • In my area there are a few “photographers” offering drone aerials that are not licensed or insured. It’s equal to licensed and insured taxi drivers competing with Uber’s unlicensed and uninsured drivers. How can one compete with somebody that isn’t paying for a license and insurance where the agents couldn’t care less either way? Another question that only time will tell is whether aerial images are going to be fad or if they will become an expected service. Most of the compositions I see are more gimmick than value. I was looking at one yesterday that showed just exactly how “cookie cutter” the home was nestled in with all of its clones. Another image was the standard 100′ up and looking straight down image. I don’t see any value in that image. It’s not a view that anybody not in a helicopter is going to see and, in this case, highlighted how tightly packed all of the home in the tract are.

    It’s another piece of equipment that needs maintenance and takes time to deploy on a job. I’m trying to find a reliable, licensed and insured operator in my area to partner with for properties that can benefit from a higher POV. I’ll continue to discourage agents from spending extra money on aerials for run of the mill tract homes and opt for having professional images made of more of their listings. I’m picking up more work with my mini package for small/less expensive homes that I can do when I’m in an area. I can knock out the 10 or so photos quickly and sometimes make more per hour than on the full shoots since the homes are usually vacant.

  • I have to agree with Ken, et al., with regard to gimmick vs. value and about cost vs. benefit. There’s no doubt as to the value of aerial photography for certain properties, they’ve been employed for decades. But prior to drones, you had to hire a helicopter (at great expense), so aerials were used sparingly. Fast forward to today, with the relatively low cost of entry, and perhaps we should be looking carefully at whether an aerial helps, or hinders, the marketing of a property.
    I’ve considered the purchase of a drone, but I’ve concluded that I would probably use it more for elevated shots (that could be shot with a mast) than for true aerials. With the start up (and ongoing) cost of a good mast at roughly half of that of a good drone, minus the added licensing and insurance, I’m probably going to stay with the low tech approach.

  • Hey guys – long time reader here, but I’ve never commented. Just wanted to weigh in. For those looking to build their drone business, there is a site that I just found, that might help you do that. It is called Drone Base. They have a website and app. From what I can tell, they have drone job requests, where they match the drone pilot, with the client and take a fee for it.

    I would think you could use this to get started and/or supplement your drone business. Then go straight to your source (the Realtor), after you’ve done one job for them, to get repeat business.

  • I feel like drones are a fad and nothing more. The only thing drones are worth using for is large acreage lots and luxury homes. I’d rather get into property video; it may be just as hard, if not harder than drone work, but it’s in demand in my area of Texas. I’m still, of course, going to get my part 107 and offer drone services, but I’m going to do my best to be discerning about what jobs I take. I don’t care if it gets me money, if it takes me a ton of time to set up for a tract home on a zero lot line when I could be shooting still for other properties faster, I’ll take the latter when given the choice.

  • After some trial and error the Fotokite Phi (https://fotokite.com) looks like it’s going to do the job. It allows me to get the GoPro 100′ in the air. It’s not a drone, but a drone on a leash which does not require FAA flight rules. The neighbors can see who is flying since I am at the other end of the Fotokite. It assembles in 3 minutes, up in the air in a couple of more, picture shot, Done!
    I charge a very low price so it’s not hard to talk an agent into it.
    I have even flown it on a breezy-to-windy day in what is called ‘follow me’ mode. The only problem is that the kite string and me have to photoshopped out. Not a great problem if you take multiple shots and use a slightly different angle to paint in over the string and me.

  • @Tom Zaczyk, having a tether doesn’t obviate needing a license or adhering to FAA flight rules. I’m not sure where that bit of misinformation came from, but my good friend that manages the west coast of the US for the FAA/AST assures me that just tying a bit of string to your aircraft doesn’t change anything. A kite flown for fun is one thing, but as soon as it is for a commercial purpose, the rules change.

  • @Ken – I’m skeptical that a tethered device requires a part 107 to fly commercially. Do commercially operated kites and tethered balloons require a certification too? I can’t find anything online in writing one way or the other. Can your friend supply a written reference to verify what he says or is it just his opinion? Perhaps it’s an issue that hasn’t been addressed officially. This could very well be a new situation.

  • @Larry – perhaps this is why you can’t find anything

    Reviewing the FAA regulations, the key to tethered balloons is the FAA’s definition of Unmanned Aircraft (UA) and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in their regulations. The UA definition specifically EXCLUDES free balloons, moored balloons, tethered aircraft and unmanned missiles from the definition of an unmanned aircraft. Likewise, UAS – the total system including remote ground control (which basically defines drone operation) doesn’t specifically exclude anything but only applies to Unmanned Aircraft which does exclude. That said they do have some regulations as all aircraft, including balloons, tethered aircraft and rocket/missiles, are not allowed in prohibited airspace – such as in Washington DC.

  • For what it’s worth, I get request for Drone work all the time, and they’re happy to pay the extra $200 I charge for it. (That’s a basic – Fly up, take a few shots, get some video – price. Obviously, the more involved the shoot, the more $$$ I have to charge.

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