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Help Your Sales Take Off with Drone Aerial Photography

More and more real estate agents are turning to drone photography as a tool for both property sales and rentals. A survey by the National Association of Realtors showed that approximately 44 percent of the realtors surveyed use drones. Another 18 percent plan to use them in the future. With recent Federal Aviation Administration approval of the use of drone aerial photography in the real estate industry, the use of drones as a real estate marking tool is taking off. The FAA reports that the top two uses of drones in commercial applications are for aerial photography and real estate.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems, take aerial photographs and videos of a property and its environs from a few hundred feet above the ground. Drones can hover, fly into small spaces and fly over water and terrain that people cannot negotiate easily.

Most real estate listings include visuals and written descriptions that help a buyer get a feel for a property. Although videos, virtual tours and still photography of a property's interior and grounds provide important information to buyers, drone photography adds another dimension. Not only does it showcase the property for sale. It also shows the surrounding environment and setting of the property. If the listing is near a lake, mountain or golf course, the aerials will highlight both the home and the essence of the surroundings and scenery. This gives prospective buyers a unique view of the property and its location.

Benefits of Drone Photography in Real Estate

There are several benefits to using drone photography in real estate sales. Most importantly, drone videos and photography set your listing apart. The visuals catch people's eye and make them want to see more. People are attracted to the visuals and are more likely to follow up on that listing instead of a competitor's.

Drone photography is useful for both buyers and sellers. Sellers can highlight the amenities and strong points of a property that may not be apparent from a ground survey. Buyers can get a better feel for the property's strong and weak points, the neighborhood setting, view and nearby amenities.

Seeing the visuals gives the feeling of being on the spot even if the viewer is thousands of miles away. As an example, drone photography allowed a realtor to show a property to a client who lived across the country and was too busy to travel to the city where the home was listed. In another instance, a client didn't want to spend the time to preview a multiple-acre plot. Instead, the drone did the legwork, and the client viewed the property via a real-time, televised transmittal.

Large estates and exclusive properties have used drones for some time as a way to highlight unusual features or areas that a client cannot easily see. Although drone photography has been primarily used for high-end properties, its moderate cost will make it an affordable tool for use with listings of homes of all prices. Real estate agents who are familiar with drone photography view the tool as a way to showcase ordinary properties to their best advantage.

Drones can go into areas that people can't. Drones can fly over water, over dense thickets and through forested areas, providing photography of the environs and acreage that a person cannot comfortably traverse. They can also give a closer look at the property and its features than aerial photography. Because the aerial view captured by a drone is closer to the ground than traditional aerial photography, it gives a closer, bird's-eye view of the landscaping, rooflines and environs.

Drone photography and videos can also be used as a tool for home inspectors to view inaccessible areas. If a building inspection is part of a real estate sale, drones can be a cost-effective way to document the building's condition. Multi-story buildings with steep roof pitches can be easily surveyed by a drone. Drones can provide a visual image of areas of the exterior of a building that are difficult to access.

Using drones in home inspections reduces risk to inspectors while providing detailed, up-close images of areas a human might not be able to access. In addition, drones equipped with thermal or infrared cameras can detect heat loss or water seepage. This helps both buyers and sellers verify the condition of elements of a property that may come under question during a sale.

A drone pilot experienced in real estate photography should be both a navigator and an artist. The pilot can position the drone to capture architectural detail, vegetation, shadow and light and give an ambience to the visuals. The photography can invoke a mood that captures the essence of a building's beauty and its proximity to desirable features such as parks, mountain views or coastlines.

Legal Considerations

As unmanned aerial systems have become more popular for use in business and industry, the FAA has published rules and regulations regarding who, how, where and when they can be flown. As of August 2016, the FAA authorized the use of drones to take aerial photography for real estate. Here are a few rules that commercial drone operators must follow:

  1. Ask permission of the property owner to take aerial photographs.
  2. A UAS must be registered with the FAA.
  3. The device must weigh between .55 and 55 pounds.
  4. Its flying time is restricted to daytime.
  5. It must stay below 400 feet and not fly more than 100 miles per hour.
  6. The drone must remain in view of the operator and cannot be flown from a moving vehicle.
  7. A UAS must yield to manned aircraft.
  8. Drones must stay out of no-flight areas. These include stadiums, sports events and areas under emergency response operations. In addition, drones must stay more than five miles from airports and away from children and animals.
  9. The FAA requires that users have a remote pilot's certificate to fly unmanned aerial systems.

Previously, the FAA granted Section 333 exemptions that allowed specific operators to fly drones for commercial use. These exemptions are still valid up to their expiration dates.

Many states regulate the use of drones. Massachusetts follows FAA regulations for licensing of drones for business and commercial use and for the pilots who fly them. If you are a real estate agent who wants to fly drones for clients, be sure to check out the rules for pilot licensing and drone registration. The FAA has released a safety app that uses the GPS location of the pilot to provide information about rules and restrictions in the immediate area.

If you are an agent with listings near an airport, you may need special permission to fly a UAS in the area. The FAA has published maps that show areas near airports where drones may fly. In addition, the FAA provides waivers in certain situations that allow pilots to fly drones in restricted areas or with exceptions to the rules listed above.

In addition to federal and local rules, drone operators should observe basic courtesy and common sense. Although a property owner may give permission for a drone to be flown over the grounds, the neighbors may view it suspiciously. Try to allay fears about invasion of privacy. Make sure the unmanned aircraft does not fly over people not involved in the operation.

The NAR has worked with the FAA and other regulatory agencies on rules that govern the use of drones in the real estate industry. The NAR is also developing guidelines for realtors for safe, effective use of drones as a marketing tool.

Cost of Drone Photography

Drone aerial videos and photography are generally moderate in price. The payback in buyer interest can quickly offset the price of the service. The Multiple Listing Service system reports that homes sell 68 percent faster when drone photography is used. In addition, the NAR reports that 73 percent of sellers are more likely to use an agent who provides videos of their property.

Realtors know the importance of the first impression of a home. Although multiple photographs are allowed in an MLS listing, only one photograph is used as the featured image to showcase the home. This image must capture the essential beauty and positive features of the property. A drone photograph can show depth, dimension, the environs and the view around the home.

Hiring a professional drone operator may cost more, but the result may be well worth the extra money. Costs vary based on the number of shots and the complexity of the operation. The cost of using a professional UAS service for real estate photography can be as low as $200 for basic photography. Large estates or complex shoots that require more air time and operator expertise will cost more.

Although prices vary from operator to operator, you can expect to pay something between $150 and $700 for a ½-day shoot. Most services provide a set number of high-resolution images, high-definition video clips and basic editing. This level of service is suitable for small residential properties.

For a full day's shoot, costs may vary between $500 and $2,500. This level of service will provide high-resolution images, a full video tour of the property, high-definition video shots and full editing of photographs and videos. This level of service is ideal for large residential estates and commercial property.

Some operators charge by the hour. Expect to pay travel expenses for those who don't live in the immediate area. Make sure to verify the deliverables that the service will provide. Stipulate the number and type of still images and video clips and the length of time of a video tour. Talk with the service about the format of deliverables, such as jpeg digital images on CDs, printed photographs and MLS-optimized formats.

A drone operator who has experience with real estate will work with the agent to highlight important features that showcase the property to its best. The operator should verify the specific needs of an agent and prepare photography to be compatible with MLS formats. Ask to see a demo of the operator's work to make sure their expertise comes up to your standards. In addition, make sure the operator is insured, has the appropriate pilot's certificate and meets other FAA requirements.

Preparing for a Drone Aerial Photographic Shoot

Sellers should prepare their homes for a drone aerial photographic session as they would for a still or video session. The drone will see anything on the ground or on the roof. All clutter, such as children's toys and gardening supplies, should be removed. If the house has been renovated, make sure that dumpsters and building materials are removed. Cars should be in garages or taken off-site. If possible, clean gutters and roofs before the session.

Take a look at the vegetation around the home. If possible, remove dead tree branches and other eyesores. One agent recommends that the grass should be cut several days before the session because lawn clippings will appear brown and detract from the appearance of a neat lawn.

Real estate agents and their clients should also evaluate the elements of a property and its environs that may detract from a positive impression during an aerial shoot. If houses in a subdivision are close together or a neighbor has a cluttered driveway, work with the drone operator to focus on the positive aspects of the property.

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words certainly applies to real estate listings. Today's clients, particularly younger clients, are more tech-savvy and look for video presentations and images as part of their purchasing research. Marketing research shows that content with images result in 650 percent higher engagement than pure text presentations. Marketing research also shows that buyers are 85 percent more likely to purchase a product if they also watch a video about it. Although text has its place in real estate marketing, images and video can highlight a property in a way that words can never do.

Be sure to talk to your clients about the advantages of drone aerial photography as a way to market their property. Making a stunning first impression pulls a prospective buyer in. Videos also provide access to buyers who may not be from the area and want a first-hand view of what is being sold.

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