Flying is fascinating. Even though I'm not on a drone when it takes flight, controlling it through the air is incredible. Technology has brought us very far and allows us to do things we never would have dreamed of even 20 years ago. However, with all the tools at our disposal, we must choose when to use a hammer and when to use a screwdriver. Not every situation is going to benefit from a hammer banging around.
Now that the FAA has cleared drone flights for pretty much anyone who wants to do so commercially, it is fun to take to the skies and get a new perspective on real estate properties. We can create interesting and compelling compositions that help sell the feel and emotion of a home. We can help families see themselves playing in a huge backyard, BBQing on the deck, or enjoying a walk along a creek. The appropriate use of aerial photography will help push your marketing forward and bring you into a new world of possibilities. The inappropriate use of aerial photography could diminish your position as a real estate professional and actually harm your business.
Let's talk about the best situations to use a aerial photography and when the additional cost is justified. We'll also talk about when using a drone will probably not give you a good return on your investment.
NOTE: Whether flying yourself or hiring someone to fly for you, the pilot NEEDS to have
an FAA part 107 Remote Pilot Certification. Flying without one of these for commercial
purposes is against the law. If hiring out for your drone photos, ALWAYS ask to see
the photographer's FAA Remote Pilot License.
First, the difference between flying recreationally and commercially. Anyone can fly for fun as long as their drone is registered with the FAA. It costs $5 to do this and you get a registration ID number you have to put on your drone. To fly commercially means you are making money from your flight. To do this legally you must be registered with the FAA and pass the part 107 Small Aerial Unmanned Systems test which costs $150 and consists of 60 multiple choice questions. The test is designed to help those unfamiliar with flying understand the safety requirements of flight. The FAA is not interested in keeping your information in a database so they "keep track of you and your drone." They are just interested in everyone being safe and maintaining safe airspace. They have been very vocal about this in many press releases. Drones can take down bigger aircraft and I fear it is just a matter of time before some moron flies his drone at 5,000 feet to get a couple likes on YouTube and it takes down a helicopter. Never, ever, ever, EVER fly unless you know it's safe and you understand the regulations about the airspace.
Alright, so when does a drone photo help and when does it probably not matter? Anytime you have a big, interesting property, the drone photos will probably help. Anytime the surrounding land is an asset to the sale, the drone photos will probably help. Anytime there is interesting architecture or exterior features of the home, the drone photos will probably help. Anytime there are parks, lakes, ponds, walking trails, etc that are part of the neighborhood, drone photos will probably help.
If the home is your typical cookie-cutter suburbia job, the drone photos will probably not help. Drone photos will probably not help sell a basic rambler style home. Drone photos of the surrounding neighborhood may or may not help sell the home. In my opinion, I would not want to see my home lost in a sea of other homes that all look the same. I want to buy something unique and individual and that kind of photo makes me feel claustrophobic. Drone photos that are simply elevated shots of the exterior of the home are probably not worth the cost (or diminished quality) and a good photographer should be able to take elevated photos, no problem.
Aerial Views of Tornado Damage in Moore, OklahomaMoore, OK, May 22, 2013--Aerial views of houses that sustained no damage nearby where a tornado touched down in the area on May 20, 2013. FEMA continues to assist disaster survivors and are encouraged to register for assistance.
However, if the neighborhood looks lovely and adds to the appeal of the house, then let's definitely use a drone. I shot a home in the Layton foothills where the neighborhood has access to private hiking trails in the nearby mountains, which you can see when you make the corner coming up the street. The agent wanted to showcase this so we took to the air to grab the perfect photo.
The price of the listing shouldn't be a factor in whether to use drone photos or not. I recently shot a $130,000 listing that had an empty plot of land next to it that was rented out for commercial storage for $700/month! The agent wanted to include an aerial photo to help show buyers what it looked like.
Drone photos will almost always never be as good of quality as their DSLR counterparts. This is because the image sensor is much, much smaller in a drone camera. There are drones that have pretty good sensors in them, and they are getting better all the time, but those drones are in the neighborhood of $4000. Anyone who flies one of those expensive birds is probably shooting commercials for Nike and has a much higher price point than what would be reasonable for a real estate listing.
However, that's not to say that drone photos are of bad quality. They can look really great in the right circumstances and in the hands of a good photographer. Most drone sensors need lots of daylight to perform at their peak and this is where they will really shine. Twilight drone photos or, heaven forbid, interior drone photos, are not going to look that great because there isn't enough light to make for a compelling image. Remember, just because we can, doesn't me we should. And please, never, ever, ever, EVER fly a drone indoors. Drones work the best with GPS positioning, something that can't happen indoors. It takes a very skilled pilot to control a drone indoors and most drone operators are not skilled enough to do so (including me). If you hire a drone pilot and he wants to take flight indoors "for that really cool shot" tell him no thank you.
Lastly, you can actually hurt your business with the inappropriate use of drone photos. As I mentioned before, unflattering or gimmicky photos of the neighborhood or the house can diminish your position as a marketing expert and if you disappoint your clients you may never get referrals from them. A professional knows when to use different tools. Just because you have a hammer doesn't mean everything is a nail. Also, any drone pilot may cause property damage or personal injury. The risk of this goes way up if the pilot is not licensed and not insured. There will always be risk when anyone is flying what is essentially 4 razor blades spinning around. When you hire a drone pilot who is licensed, insured, and operates responsibly you can have peace of mind knowing that risk is minimized and any damage will be covered by insurance. If you work with a pilot who causes damage or harm and is not licensed or insured you run the risk of being tied up in a lawsuit at the worst, or getting slammed on Facebook at the best.