So you’re a real estate agent, and you want drones to be a part of your listing photos. After all, what better way to showcase a home’s sweet pool, or expansive yard? Or perhaps you want to show its proximity to the beach or other desirable location. Aerial photography using drones is one of the best way real estate agents can make their listings stand out.
While using drones for real estate photography is not super difficult, there is some barrier to entry. Beyond learning how to fly the drone, there are some things you’ll need to know about getting proper licensing from the Federal Aviation Administration, registering your drone, and getting permission to fly in certain areas.
Before you bring a drone into your real estate business, here’s what you need to know:
Decide who is actually taking the photos
Real estate agents could certain buy a drone and take photos of homes themselves. But you might also find it easier to outsource — hire a drone pilot to take those photos for you. Here’s what you need to know about either option:
For real estate agents ready to become a drone pilot
So you’re one of those creative real estate agents ready to become a drone pilot. Woohoo! This will be a fun journey. However, keep in mind that it is a journey. In order to use drones for commercial purposes (which includes taking real estate photos), you need to get a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation. You might commonly see that being referred to as the Part 107 certificate or a drone pilot’s license.
Flying under Part 107 (you’ll need a license):
If you’re using drones for any source of income stream, you must hold a Remote Pilot Certificate, which is essentially a commercial drone pilot license. That’s all thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107, which mandates that anyone wanting to operate a drone commercially needs to obtain a drone pilot license, formerly referred to as a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.”
You can get that by passing an in-person written exam — similar to the permit test you took when you were 15 before getting a driver’s license. You can take the test, which is a set of 60 multiple choice questions, at one of about 700 testing centers in the United States.
But here’s the kicker for people new to drones: Unless you have pre-existing airspace knowledge, the test isn’t going to be easy without significant studying (and possibly taking a full Part 107 online training course).
Registering your drone
Once you’ve passed the test, you’re still not free. You’ll also have to register your drone. It’s a fast and easy process that only costs $5, so this hurdle is minimal.
Knowning the rules around where and how you can legally fly
Once you’ve gotten your license and registered your drone, you can fly for commercial purposes — but there are still some restrictions. When you fly under Part 107, then unless you’ve received an FAA waiver then you agree to flying under certain parameters including (but not limited to):
- You will not operate from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
- You will keep the drone within your visual line of sight
- You will fly in uncontrolled airspace, or will have received LAANC approval to fly in controlled airspace (such as near airports)
Don’t panic about airspace though. Most airspace is Class G, which means uncontrolled airspace. However, if there’s an airport within five miles of you, odds are that’s not Class G airspace. You can easily tell if you can legally fly in the airspace you intend to fly in by check the FAA’s official Know Before You Fly website. Just type in the address of the home you intend to photograph, and the FAA will output a yay or nay.
Get the right drone
Of course, all that works means you better have the right drone! Luckily, whether your budget is $400 or $4,000, you can get an incredibly high quality flying robot (WITH a camera attached to it!) that fits your pricetag. And often, it won’t cost much more than just a standard digital camera on its own.
Check out my guide to the best photography drones to find one that fits your budget and specification criteria.
If you’re going to hire someone else as your drone pilot
Does that all sound way too stressful and complicated? I don’t blame you for feeling that way. You can always outsource your real estate photography needs to a drone pilot. Just ensure they’re certified as a Part 107 operator.
Where to find drone pilots
There are a number of services that help connect businesses with licensed drone pilots. Of course, if you do hire a drone pilot, you should always ask to see their Part 107 license to ensure the pilot you’ve hired is compliant with FAA rules.
Rules you still need to be familiar with
While hiring a drone pilot means you get to avoid the burden of needing to be licensed yourself, you still should be familiar with the FAA rules around flying drones. That includes knowing where you can legally fly drones. You don’t want to hire a pilot as a freelancer, only to realize later that the home is located within two miles of an airport and you cannot get approval to fly there.
The best drones for real estate photography
If you’re just looking for an eye-catching shot for your Instagram feed then you probably don’t need as high-quality of a drone then if you’re shooting a complicated video of a property for a TV commercial.
Key specs real estate agents need in drones
In general, there are some key specs that every drone should always have, including:
- 4K video
- 3-axis gimbal (allowing for that silky-smooth video aesthetic)
- Live FPV (first person view) of the drone’s camera, allowing you to see what the drone sees
- Automatic takeoff and landing (if it doesn’t have this, the drone will be too hard to fly)
- Altitude hold (this keeps your drone at a fixed altitude, and is essential for easier, more controlled flight)
Beyond that, specs are really up to you and your needs. Do you need higher quality images and photos if they’ll be used in print ads, or is a medium-resolution photo intended for posting in a slideshow on a site like Redfin sufficient? Do you need obstacle avoidance sensors for maximum safety, or do you trust your piloting skills? Do you need 30 minutes of battery life, or are you fine with 15 minutes (and perhaps buying a spare battery)?
Check out my guide to the best drones for photography, which should better direct you to a good drone for real estate photography.
A note for beginners about buying new drones
For real estate agents new to drones, here’s a pro-tip. Always start with a cheap, toy drone (any $30 toy drone will do!). In fact, the cheaper, the better! That’s because cheap drones don’t have features like automatic takeoff, landing and hovering. Therefore, they’re more difficult to fly. Once you get to flying a “real” drone, it’ll be a breeze.
And on the off-chance you crash, you’d rather crash $40 into the pool vs. $400 or even $4,000.
You have a drone. Now what?
It’s not enough for real estate agents to fly under FAA rules and have an awesome drone. Once you’ve taken the photos, it’s important you know how to market and sell them. After all, potential home buyers don’t care about your Part 107 license! They care to see that sweet shot of the drone swooping over the trees, revealing the expansive backyard oasis of the home you’re trying to sell. And sell the shot with the perfect lighting, shot direction, editing, music and more.
To take your drone photography and videography skills to the next level, sign up for an online drone photo course. I recommend something like Drone Launch Academy’s Aerial Video A to Z, which covers topics including speeding up the editing process and workarounds for dealing with (notoriously hefty) 4k footage, salvaging footage you thought unusable (such as being too shaky, overexposed or underexposed), and turning flat and bland footage to video that pops with the perfect color balance.
Whether you look to add drone photography to your skillset, or you’re a real estate agent looking to hire a drone pilot, you’re one step closer to generating listing photos that stand out from the competition. Get those sweeping views of the property, and take prospective buyers on a virtual tour that compels them to make an offer without even visiting.
You’ll also want to make sure you (or the pilot you hire) has insurance. Typically, you’ll have a separate drone insurance policy.
Got more questions, insights or thoughts about how real estate agents can use drones? Leave a comment below!
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