Drone Tech Comes to Real Estate Marketing

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The Ups and Downs of Drones

Real estate marketers are finding that drones have many advantages. Still, they’re not the answer for every situation.

Ask anyone in the field about their favorite drone usage, and you’ll most likely hear about a bold and dramatic feat, like a video where the drone camera glides down to the front door of a two-acre estate from a starting elevation of 200 feet, even continuing through the front entryway to the living space. These are the one-of-a-kind video shoots possible with drones.

In the past, high-end real estate marketers could rent a helicopter to survey a property from above – but you can’t fly a helicopter into the living room. Drone expert Andrew Nixon notes that new drones are letting real estate agents create home marketing materials never before imagined. Video and still photography from an elevation, sweeping across the grounds, or floating effortlessly through an interior are all possible.

However, drones still aren’t a catch-all solution. Standard photography should still be utilized for traditional street-level shots preferred by homeowners as a first impression of the home’s curb appeal. Drones aren’t best for small spaces, like the interiors of most condos or apartments, and they have difficulty with exteriors shots crowded by neighboring buildings or tree coverage. Traditional camerawork is also better suited for those focused shots where the marketer wants to crop out an unsightly feature, like garbage cans, light poles and so on.

Uses in Real Estate Marketing

While any residential home listing could potentially benefit from drone photography, the technology naturally lends itself to those listings with a lot to show off – the luxury listings.

This 6,700-square-foot residence in West Vancouver, British Columbia is already breathtaking. But real estate marketer Jason Soprovich’s drone footage highlights the luxury property’s one-of-a-kind 200-foot private water bluff setting.

“[Drone photography] works great on large properties with a lot of acreage,” Jason Gonzalez, a manager with First Team Real Estate in the Los Angeles area, recently told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. “Sometimes, it’s the only way to get a really good idea of how big a property is.” Gonzalez also noted the technology could be used to show how close a home is to a beach or harbor, and can similarly help entice long-distance buyers.

Nixon, the drone expert, also notes drones are finding uses in commercial real estate. The technology can be used to sell commercial properties as well as for inspection or surveying. One high-rise project used the drone-shot footage to give Portman Holdings stakeholders a sense of the future 360-degree views of Charlotte, N.C., from above the planned development.

Erik Vik, senior vice president of engineering services for JLL Properties, noted in a recent company article that drones have the potential for both maintenance and leasing of commercial properties. “You can get a 360-degree viewpoint of a building if you want to look at the roof or a difficult to reach spot,” he explained. “We had one high-tech client looking for office space in Atlanta and they had very sophisticated demands, in terms of what the site contained. They were interested in lakes, baseball fields, where staff could go for a little workout,” he added.

What to Keep in Mind 

For agents, marketers, service providers, and homebuyers who are interested in getting into drone technology, there are some important factors to consider.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has embraced drones and supports the application of the technology to the real estate business. NAR has also compiled a field guide for real estate drone novices.

Regulation remains an evolving factor and continues to impact drone operations. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has done away with an earlier requirement that commercial drone operators have a pilot’s license, strict regulations and insurance requirements remain to protect people and property on the ground. Still, the sector is booming, with more than half of the Association of Unmanned Aerial Videographers, a 6,000-member organization for commercial UAV operators, working in the real estate sector.

Beyond regulations and licensing, real estate agents interested in drones will have to decide whether to buy equipment and learn how to use it, or hire a professional. Suitable drone setups now cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, while an aerial and interior photography shoot reportedly runs between $2,000 and $5,000 in Southern California. It can be money well spent, considering the cost of renting a helicopter for a couple hours of less versatile shooting can be $2,000 or more. A traditional photo package is less expensive, at reportedly less than $500, but so too is the marketing return on investment.

Other important but less obvious considerations include mapping out a flight plan ahead of time, flying with, not against, the wind, and getting multiple takes of footage, which can then be edited down to the best selections.

Real Estate Drone Use Spreading

Even though drones first found use in real estate for marketing purposes, the tech is by no means limited to it.

A recent article in Inman details how one home inspector has gained an edge in his local area. “Buyers get a more in-depth inspection, sellers get a unique view for marketing or pre-inspections,” Brian Persons, an inspector in Greeley, Colo., told the news outlet. “I inspect a lot of rural properties as well and can get a better view of fence lines, grading, ponds, etc.”

Meanwhile, Lamar Ellis, an appraiser from Atlanta, wrote in Working RE last year that drones may prove useful in the appraisal and title company industries. Beyond standard aerial photos, thermal imaging could be used to determine heat loss, appraiser safety could be improved while continuing to thoroughly inspect rugged terrains, and the tech could be used in litigation situations or commercial applications.

The most recent innovative application of drones was just last month, as Slate reported “fleets” of drones were dispatched to the Houston area by home and flood insurance firms hoping to expedite claims from Hurricane Harvey storm victims.

One thing’s for certain – drones are becoming ever more popular in real estate, as agents, marketers, and other service providers explore how such technology can help them do their jobs easier, faster, and cheaper, and help homeowners and landlords get the best possible price for their properties.