The Complete Guide to Drones for Real Estate

Incorporating new technology is an important characteristic of sustained success in the real estate industry. Classified ads, flyers, yards signs, and other traditional methods for selling properties are still effective, but considering that 94 percent of millennials use websites and two-thirds use mobile phones in their home search, the purchasing path in the present has clearly evolved.

Drones are becoming an increasingly popular tool for real estate professionals. Annual commercial drone sales are expected to reach 2.5 million units in 2017, an increase of more than 300 percent over 2016 estimates. Real estate is projected to be one of the largest industries to capitalize on drone technology, as experts predict it will account for 22 percent of total commercial drone use by 2020.

Drones are used in real estate for two key purposes: to create superior marketing materials and as a tool for home inspection. As a real estate professional, it’s important to understand how drone technology enhances your skillset, impacts the way you connect with consumers, and helps you stand out from the competition.

Using Drones for Real Estate Marketing

One of the main advantages of the industry’s transition to the web and mobile is the ability to showcase properties with beautiful photographs, videos, and other digital assets. Not only do quality images and video improve the research experience for prospective homebuyers, they also provide tangible benefits to those in the real estate industry – most notably, higher sale prices (more on this later).

Here’s an overview of how real estate professionals use drone photography and video to enhance their marketing materials and better inform potential buyers:

Create compelling aerial views of the home and property: Traditional real estate photography is helpful, but prospective buyers still need to piece photos together to get a holistic view of the home and property. Supplementing standard photos with aerial photographs or video enables buyers to gain a better understanding of the relationships between the home, garages, sheds, and other features of the property.

Drone providing aerial image of home and property.

Drones provide a unique aerial perspective that helps prospective buyers better understand the features and layout of the entire property.

Demonstrate proximity to important locations: You can boast about walkability in the property description, but demonstrating how close the property is to key locations is far more compelling. For example, you can use drone photographs and video to:

  • Capture what the walk to school will be like for the kids.
  • Point out the nearest restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and other essential amenities.
  • Showcase how close the home is to the ocean, a lake, river, mountains, park, or other desirable outdoor attractions.
View of neighborhood from drone.

Drones can be used to highlight positive attributes of the neighborhood and demonstrate proximity to amenities.

Highlight the neighborhood: Prospective homebuyers tend to have a lot of basic questions about the neighborhood. Are homes well-maintained? Is the property close to busy roads? Are there steep hills that will be dangerous in the winter? Are there sidewalks? Before connecting with a real estate agent, prospective homebuyers are relying on Street View in Google Maps to answer these questions, when they could be watching your drone video as it highlights all the best features of the neighborhood.

The Benefits of Drones in Real Estate Marketing

As a real estate professional, using drones to enhance your marketing enables you to:

Directly impact the selling price. As explained previously, one of the biggest benefits drones bring to real estate marketing is the ability to create high quality photos. One study found that listings with the sharpest photos sell at or above the list price 44 percent of the time. The study also found that homes listed between $200,000 to $1 million sell for $3,400 to $11,200 higher than their list prices when professional photographs are used.

Stand out from the competition. Most real estate websites allow you to upload several photos of a property, but only one image is displayed when buyers are browsing search results. Selecting a compelling aerial photograph from a drone as the featured image can be a great way to stand out from other listings, increase share-ability, and lead to faster sales.

“The drone helps me stand out from the competitors. It gives a wow factor, a different angle, that you can’t get on the ground.”

Mike Holden, Real Estate Agent, John L. Scott Real Estate

Generate new business opportunities. One of the biggest benefits of utilizing drone technology is that you demonstrate to potential customers that you’re willing to go the extra mile. Impressive drone videos and photographs will drive more customers to your websites, listings, and social media, and increase opportunities for generating new business.

Make aerial imagery affordable. In the past, the only way to get aerial photographs was by paying thousands of dollars to hire a small plane or helicopter pilot to fly you around. Because of the expense, aerial photography was limited only to the most high-end properties. But with drones, price is no longer a barrier, making it possible to capture aerial assets for all types of properties.

Using drones for real estate marketing provides unique value to real estate professionals and prospective homebuyers. The key takeaway, however, is that drones lead to more informed purchasing decisions – which is the shared goal for all parties involved in any real estate transaction.

Drones and Home Inspection

Home inspections are an essential part of real estate transactions. In fact, 77 percent of homes sold in the US and Canada are inspected prior to purchase today. An inaccurate or incomplete report can have major financial consequences to the homebuyer. For example, one study of more than 21,000 properties found that the average cost of replacing a roof was just under $7,000. Home inspectors are increasingly turning to drone technology to complete safe, accurate, and fast inspections.

As a home inspector, utilizing a drone in a home inspection enables you to:

Increase your reach. No matter how many ladders you have at your disposal or how brave you are up on the roof, it’s only a matter of time before loose shingles, icy conditions, or an awkwardly placed chimney prevent you from completing a thorough roof inspection. With a drone, those previously inaccessible rooftop areas are now well within reach. You can easily scan the entire rooftop, identify problem areas, and capture detailed video and photographs to support the inspection report.

Drone inspecting a rooftop.

Drones enable home inspectors to capture detailed photographs and video and avoid risky rooftop situations.

Limit rooftop liability. Walking a roof is an important part of a traditional inspection, but if you’re not careful, you can end up causing damage to the home. Concrete or slate tiles can easily crack and break, corrugated steel and other metal roof coverings can be bent, and if temperatures are too high, it’s not uncommon to leave footprints in asphalt shingles. Any damage to the roof materials can cause moisture and water intrusion, which leads to bigger problems down the road.

“In this day and age, with technology the way it is, you’d be crazy to be in the inspection industry and not utilize the tools to be able to perform the inspections in a way that’s safe for you, and the homeowner.”
Breton Woodford, Director of Marketing, AmeriSpec Inspection Services

Avoid risky situations. Whether it’s steep rooftop slopes, an aging rooftop, or a sagging structure, there are plenty of red flags that should alert you to potentially dangerous circumstances. If it’s not safe, you shouldn’t be walking the roof. But as mentioned, the roof is such a critical element of the home inspection that it may be tempting to push the safety limits to get a complete report. With a drone, you still get that up-close, personal perspective, without ever climbing a ladder or putting yourself in risky positions.

Purchasing a home is the largest financial investment most people make in their lifetime. Utilizing drone technology to complete home inspections enables you to provide potential homebuyers with the documentation they need to make informed purchasing decisions, regardless of challenging environmental conditions or home hazards.

Purchasing a Drone for Real Estate Professionals

Whether you’re interested in purchasing a drone for real estate marketing purposes or for home inspection, there are six key features you’ll want to prioritize:

  • Camera: A good camera should be at the top of your priority list. You could spend thousands of dollars outfitting a drone with an expensive camera, but 4k cameras come standard on some of the best quadcopters, and are more than capable of producing the high-quality photographs and video footage you’ll need.
  • 3-axis gimbal: A gimbal is a mechanical device designed to keep the camera level. More specifically, gimbals minimize vibration and provide camera stabilization that enables higher quality video and photography to be captured. As implied by the name, a 3-axis gimbal is able to adjust in three directions: up/down, left/right, and forward/backward, giving you complete control of the camera movement.
  • Long battery life: Look for a drone with flight times of at least 20-25 minutes. Some drones have built in batteries – which means you have to charge the entire unit every time you fly. Drones with a removable battery are a better alternative, as you can pack multiple charged batteries and get more time up in the air.
  • Autonomous flight features: Some of the top drones have autonomous flight features such as Orbit, Follow, and Waypoints that make it easier to perform specialized shots. Orbit allows you to designate a flight radius and capture smooth circling footage around the point of interest of your choosing (e.g. a home or property). In Follow mode, the drone automatically follows the remote control, which is a useful feature if you’re demonstrating the walk to a nearby school, park, or other outdoor attraction. Using Waypoints, you can set waypoints (GPS locations) that designate the flight path you want the drone to take, and then let the drone take over for an autonomous flight. Waypoints can be useful if you’re trying to map a property, provide an overview of the neighborhood, or if you want to survey a large tract of land.
  • Protective case: Camera drones are more durable than ever, but a good protective case can help keep your drone safe as you visit different properties. Hard cases also provide safe storage at the office, and are especially useful if you need to take the drone on a flight for a business trip.
  • Customer support: The best drones are easy to use, but if you have questions or run into an occasional problem, you want to be sure that you can get someone on the phone to help you find a solution. Before you buy a drone, research the manufacturer’s reputation for customer support and make sure you‘ll have access to assistance when it’s needed.

What You Need to Know Before You Fly

Any drone that weighs between 0.55 – 55 pounds needs to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Registering a drone is straightforward: You create an account with the FAA, provide some basic information about your company and the drone, and pay a $5 fee (per drone). You can manage all your drones from a single account, but each drone you plan to use for commercial purposes requires a unique registration number. Drones need to be labeled with the registration number in a place that’s accessible without tools.

Other requirements include:

  • Part 107 certification: As of August 29, 2016, any pilot flying for commercial purposes needs to be Part 107 certified. Requirements to earn in the certification include:
    • Be at least 16 years old
    • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
    • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS
    • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center
  • Background check: Pilots need to submit to a criminal background check through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) before obtaining permission to fly.

After you’ve completed the registration, certification, and background check, you are then legally eligible to fly for commercial purposes, but that doesn’t mean you can fly wherever and whenever you want. To give you a brief overview of the basic FAA operating rules:

  • Keep the drone under 400 feet above ground level (AGL) and within visual line of sight
  • Fly during daylight hours or civil twilight hours (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time)
  • Do not operate over people
  • Do not fly near airports, stadiums, or in other restricted areas

For a more detailed overview of all operating rules, visit the FAA’s Summary of Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107).

The Bottom Line

Sustained success in real estate requires incorporating new technologies. Whether you’re looking for a drone for real estate marketing or home inspection, the right drone enables you to create compelling photographs and videos, stand out from the competition, and generate new business. Most important, the aerial perspective drones capture provide unique insights that helps consumers make more informed real estate decisions.