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The Importance of Drone Front Exterior Still Photos For Real Estate Marketing

Published: 09/02/2017

Recently when I ran across J. Hunter Phillips' Drone shot in the PFRE Flickr group next to his more traditional front exterior shot of the same home, somehow, the possibilities of drone still shots for real estate marketing really hit me. We tend to pay more attention to drone video than still shots but drone still photos can make a huge contribution to listing marketing because typically more people see the still photos (especially the front exterior photo of a listing) than property video.

Elevated views of the front exterior of properties have always been important, but now with a drone, you can create a still that shows the complete layout of a property among the surrounding properties!

As a reminder, here is the marketing job of that single front exterior listing photo:

  1. The front exterior photo is always the featured photo in the set of listing photos. Listing websites display this front exterior photo larger than the rest of the listing photos and sometimes only this featured photo and some descriptive text.
  2. The featured front exterior photo must grab the attention of online property hunters scanning hundreds of listing thumbnails and entice viewers to click the thumbnail and look at the rest of the photos of the listing.
  3. One of the most effective ways to grab attention with a single photo is to have unusual or attention-getting colors as present in twilight or sunset photos.
  4. The featured front exterior photo should show as many features of that particular property as possible with a single image. One hundred feet or so of elevation that you can get with a drone really adds to the story of the property.

I submit that Hunter's photo above hit's it out of the park in all of these areas. It grabs your attention at almost any size. It shows the layout of this property and it's relationship to all the surrounding property and the lake. It also gives a feel for the floor plan. Some properties don't have as much of a story to tell as this property but the layout of the neighborhood is always a great story to tell.

In summary, I think there is a huge marketing benefit to using drone exterior photos with still listing photos!

Larry Lohrman

20 comments on “The Importance of Drone Front Exterior Still Photos For Real Estate Marketing”

  1. Recently, I have added a drone into my list of products and services. We are part 107 certified and ready to fly. Yesterday I was talking to the insurance agent and was quoted just under a 1000 a year for a million in drone liability insurance. I think just taking to the sky without the license, training and insurance is a big risk for a little reward. It is a nice photo.

  2. As a Real Estate Photographer and Certified Drone Pilot, I couldn't agree more. The unique perspective of any photo tends to catch the viewer's eye well and a drone provides unique viewpoints that we, as humans, cannot reach without such technology. At first sight, your link to Phillip's drone shot, I said aloud, "Wow!" The more I looked at it, I realized that I focused more on the rear environment than the property, but it's an amazing shot and very eye-catching! With drones and real estate, one thing I've learned is to elevate up around 20 feet altitude above the roof and capture the front and part of the environment, while angled down 30-45 degrees.

    Thanks so much for sharing! Great piece and accompanying links to awesome photos.

    Johnny McLendon

  3. I would agree completely. As much as I personally love to shoot video with the drone, I never leave without shooting stills as well. Often my clients don't want to spring for a property video at all but do want the aerial stills. Since about 50% of my properties are 20 acres and more, often much more and are usually set up as high end ranches with many structures and different varieties of crops from citrus, olive trees to lavender, an aerial shot is the only way to get the whole idea of the property and its location across.

    And yes, generally it is one of the aerials that is then used for RE and other magazine front covers, back covers and inside spreads (and the DJI horizontal images do stand up to a vertical crop and saved to 300dpi, CMYK + a little sharpening). In our area, print ads are still a major part of RE marketing.

    So for me, the aerials are essentially a very tall tripod and not shot necessarily from great heights either but just enough to capture the main dwelling, some foreground and then the view over the house that includes the pool if there is one. I seldom am lucky enough to have a sunset like the one Hunter Phillips was blessed with but I do try to shoot either very early or very late to get the detail created by the cross lighting.

  4. I think a drone shot would be warranted with less than 1% of properties - those with commanding positions and views, waterfront and other frontage properties. Given the investment of money and time in a drone license, the majority of photographers would find it more economical to farm out this work to specialists who can amortize the costs through dedication to this market niche. A real estate photographer's primary job, I believe, is to present potential buyers a coherent, cogent and memorable sense of a property that enhances, organizes and encapsulates the sense that they would get by viewing the property in person. This begs the question as the relevancy of adding drone shots, since the property owner will likely never experience the property from the perspective of a drone shot. Unlike, say a floor plan or cut-away perspective diagram, a drone shot adds little useful knowledge for the prospective owner that cannot be garnered through Google or other mapping/satellite programs that are available anytime. I have joked with other photographers that I would like to take an "Ant's-Eye View" of a property, from millimeters off of the ground. Such a shot would show the Himalayan-scale majesty of a property while framing it in graceful groves of leaves of grass. Such a shot could be as breathtaking as the drone shot shown above, with about as much relevancy to the buyer.

    We have to decide as photographers' what line we will draw between being interpreters of the realities of a property or the purveyors of imagery that are essentially irrelevant to the owners' actual experiences. Do we want to get into the business of selling dreams and airy aspirations, or leave that to the advertisers and marketers?

  5. Perfect. The app is on my phone. The way I calculate it, if I start doing more than 8 drone photo shoots a month I can switch to an annual policy. Fyi, the annual policy will also cover drone damage, not sure what's covered here but I am mostly concerned about liability.

  6. This continues to come up as "important" and "in demand" and "compelling images."

    Basically it just doesn't compute. As has been mentioned it is a very niche market. Maybe 1% of the properties might benefit by them. Almost 0% of the agents are willing to pay what it takes to do a good and legal job. The price benefit does not compute for the average or even the best photographers to take it up.

    Yes there are a few of us that like the novelty of it and have figured out ways to make it pay for itself. I'm not looking for ways to have technology pay for itself. I want to make 50% margins + after all taxes, capital investment and operational costs.

    So my good friends tell me what you have to charge for a shoot using a drone and how many of those you need to do over what period to do that. Then tell me if you have that many properties you are called on that would benefit form those shots and then tell me how much the agents are willing to pay.

    I know there are a few very high end markets along coasts and lakes where the agents selling 10 million dollar properties might be willing to part with a few bucks but they only will do it if required by the competition.

    Nope, this is a very niche novelty and will remain that way because of expense, skills and the limited geography that will benefit from it. Therefore it is not "important" in the grand scheme of things. Just my opinion.

  7. Wondering what people are charging for drone stills. If you were charging $250-$350 for a standard shoot then how much more to include a handful of drone shots?

  8. I just recently bought the P4P pro+, but have yet to even fly it. Partly due to the nonstop rain we are getting right now, and secondly because I'm afraid to crash the darn thing on my first go. I bought a little cheap practice drone off amazon and have been flying it around my house (surprised it still flies after how many times I've crashed it into a wall). Also, I'm studying now for my 107 and will go with the verifly insurance too.

    The problem, like others have stated, is getting agents to pay a respectable amount for drone pics/video. I have been outsourcing any needed drone work to a local specialist who's licensed and insured for a couple of years now. He charges at least $200 to come out and fly one battery worth (phantom). He also has custom rigs to fly gh4's and even red epics for a much higher rate. In the last year, out of about 15 drone requests, I've only had 3 agents willing to pay the $200. The rest expect it to be free or included and scoff at the extra price. There is a company nearby offering drone pics/video, a walkthrough video, 30+ pics, and a single property website for 400-500. All that does is hurt himself and the industry!

    So why did I get a drone? For one, I shoot quite a few large country properties with many acres of land. At some point, I'd much rather be capturing these properties from a drone rather than lugging equipment around, especially in the summer heat. A drone could save me a ton of time. Secondly, I hate being in the position of not being able to offer a service myself. Even if I have to do it for $75-100, I think it just gives my clients one less reason to use another company.

  9. I just lift up my tripod to get elevated shots. I'm not sure breaking out the drone is worth it for just a couple elevated shots of a home when I can get multiple elevated shots with my tripod much easier, and in better quality than a GoPro can provide.

  10. To that end, you can get an inexpensive adapter for a paintes pole and take it up about 12-18 feet. After that it's get's a little hard to control.

  11. Don't own a drone, but I do have a 16 foot painters pole, works pretty good in most cases. A lot of my houses are in subs and agents don't really care to show the neighboring houses too much. I do have a guy who flys a drone, and when I get a water font or a golf course or more expensive housing views he gets to fly his drone. Just really can't justify the expense, my pole works just fine, and I don't have to take a test or have a license.

  12. This market space is one I have closely monitored for about 3 years. I wholeheartedly agree with the observation regarding market viability. Here in SE Michigan, I get about 5 requests a year, mostly just inquisitive as to whether I offer it.

    I decided this past week, to take the dive and acquired a Mavic Pro after a lot of research. It will see use beyond just RE. The key driver, I want to be able to meet the market should it develop (I think it will, albeit not large), not find myself behind the 8-ball.

    Just starting the FAA cert process, I figure there's at least 20 hours of flight time to become moderately proficient. While the drone itself is easy enough to go up/down, left/right, turn, there is -s0- much it can do, raw flight time is mandatory.

    All the same, feel a need to add this to my skill set. And, the price point for the gear itself is at least becoming affordable now.

  13. I use a pole for elevated images and get excellent results. The pole is also very useful for interior photos of homes with high ceilings and upstairs open spaces and landings. Using a UAV inside would freak out too many sellers. I'd also have to use the inferior camera/lens on the UAV rather than my DSLR and only shoot ambient.

    Many of my jobs are in developed neighborhoods where a high elevation photo would just emphasize the density of the homes in the neighborhood. A high school classmate that is an agent in Newport Beach, CA uses drone shots for all of his listings and the density of homes is really tight. Those homes are also very expensive which might be a detriment to his sales efforts.

    A UAV is a tool for specific needs and not a universal bottle of goodness. The agents in may area would love the service but aren't willing to pay for it. The ones I have talked with might pay an extra $20-$30 with several expecting those images as part of the package if I had the capability. There are portions of my coverage area with large properties/estates where a UAV would be very useful but the agents representing those sales still take the stills with their phones and tablets, so step one in my opinion is to get them sold on professional photography first and add aerials later if their competition matches them in image quality. Sellers aren't going to be convinced to list with a particular agent over another just because they might provide aerial images if the stills are sub par.

    100' up is just a way to add photos of the roof (a low value image) if the property doesn't have features like the one at the top of the post.

  14. Yes, of course, drone stills aren't for every situation. Poles do well in many situations. And the cost of using a drone in many situations is more than it's worth. My main point is that in many upper-end situations like Hunter is shooting the benefits are huge. And this is an option that wasn't even a consideration just a few years ago. Plus the cost of shooting it with a drone is dropping rapidly. Right now, the biggest impediment to doing it with a drone is the time and effort of getting a Part 107 registration.

    What this all implies is that those that ARE registered and the DO have a drone are going to have a big competitive advantage in many of these upper-end situations.

  15. We do aerial photos for around 15% of all homes we photograph and that's only increasing as time goes on. It's a huge money-maker but requires a significant time investment to actually do it safely, responsibly and legally. Insurance companies are now offering affordable policies which I believe are absolutely necessary if you're going to fly.

    Whether aerial photos are warranted or not is completely irrelevant. Thinking in these terms is the wrong attitude to have. It's a businessman's job to expand the expectations of things clients want or desire to market their listings. Aerial photos are a big listing tool for brokers and offer a unique, eye-catching perspective of a home. Also, showing lot-lines from above is extremely beneficial in many cases.

    Aerials are awesome! If your clients aren't paying for them regularly, it's probably because you're not selling them well enough.

  16. I think Matt's post really hits the mark and peels the lid on a much bigger topic. Often when I am reading the blog posts on the site, it seems like the tail wants to wag the dog. While I think we as photographers can guide and educate our agents, they are the boss they hire us and they pay the bill. I like many on the site am also a real estate agent. Professional quality photos do far more than sell a house, they create a steam of revenue opportunites for an agent. Agents take listings and sometimes they don't sell but there is no refund on time and marketing dollars. Not long ago there was a post as to whether or not ultra wide angles were realistic. I belive our job is to help an agent get infront of as many people as possible. Let the customer decide if that's the home for them. Should it not be the home, assume your agent is a well trained real estate agent who give great guidance on finding the proper home. Drone photos like regular professional photos, like toll free lines, and text messages and everything an agent does make a big picture statement that the agent is willing to market the home and in a manner that is greater than the other real estate agent down the road. I believe we get hired to help agents maximize opportunities.

  17. @Matt Edington, I market myself to agents as a visual marketing professional and not a mindless tool. I have no qualms telling them that they would be wasting their money and hurting their marketing if using aerial photos highlights aspects of a home/property that aren't as appealing such as minimal spacing of the home to the neighbors or proximity to a busy road or business district. Buyers will certainly see that if they view the home in person, but the agent doesn't want to "talk" them out of calling through a poor choice of photos.

    I'm well aware of the potential of aerial photos, but the agents I have spoken to in MY AREA are not ready to pay a profitable (or even a break even) price for the service. The upfront investment to get the equipment, license and insurance is not peanuts. Like many others, I see potential competitors in the area that aren't licensed or insured. If one is living in the parents basement and driving a 1984 Corolla, financial liability isn't as big of a deal as somebody like me that owns a home, a later model car and some nice things acquired over a lifetime. Agents don't seem to care one way of the other about the operator being legal. Just like so many people that don't mind hiring an Uber cab where nearly all of the drivers are not licensed to carry passengers and their insurance is void while carrying paying passengers.

    Steven brings up UFWA photos which is something else that agents always want but is very problematic. As more people are looking at listings on their phone, wide angle photos don't work as well. If you are not selling your customers on compositions that play well on the small screen, you are just steps away from being replaced by a robot that performs tasks without any expertise.

  18. I think the original photo in this thread is spectacular. An amazing example of what can be accomplished with a drone.

    Having said that however, best real estate photographs in the world in my opinion, and how many aerial shots do you see?...

    They have some of the best minds in the field working on this stuff over there, so I would not sell it short that aerials seem to be completely absent. I don't question the effectiveness of aerials in situations like presented in the original post at all, but they're obviously being overused at this stage, in my opinion. Whether or not it's better to advise a client against the use of a poor marketing imagery will be up to each individual, but I do believe they are poor marketing images in many cases. To me, drones have become a way to quickly increase production value while lowering the desireablity of a home in many cases.

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