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The pros and cons of using drones in the real estate business

By Tim Jennings, president, Custom Case Group

Are drones a necessity in the real estate business or are they an extra? 

The clearest and quickest way to answer that question is to present a few compelling pieces of information:

  • When the Federal Aviation Administration handed out its first 1,000 commercial drone operator exemptions a couple of years ago, 35 percent were to operators in real estate marketing.
  • The Multiple Listing Service has reported that properties featuring aerial images sell about 68 percent faster than do properties featuring only non-aerial photos.
  • According to the National Association of Realtors, 73 percent of homeowners said they’d be more likely to list with an agent who incorporates video in marketing their home.
  • In March 2016, Goldman Sachs released a report saying the global drone market is expected to grow to $20.6 billion in the next five years.
  • Many analysts are saying last summer’s FAA commercial drone ruling will result in a dramatic expansion of drone use in the real estate industry this year.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The bottom line is: If you haven’t incorporated drones in your operations yet, it’s time to get the process started. 

3 reasons the industry has fallen in love with drones

Next-level images 

As I mentioned above, one of the greatest benefits of drones in real estate is that drone images mean faster sales. By combining newer features, like GPS-programmed flight paths and automatic point-of-interest targeting, drones can capture angles more dramatic than any other medium.

And because drones are so small and nimble, even expensive, full-size aircraft imagery can’t compete.

For example, drones give buyers a low-level overhead view of important property features like landscaping, back yard areas, pools and local parks and schools, capturing details inaccessible to larger aircraft.

Better footage for less money

Camera drones can capture virtual home tour footage that’s not only cheaper, but arguably better than that of traditional media.

The “better” distinction lies mainly in the camera drone’s ability to create a much more natural virtual tour, thanks to things like programmable flight paths.

In the home-building sector, many companies have begun offering clients regular building progress updates via camera drones – a strong selling point for out-of-state buyers.

More than quicker contracts
Drones speed up a lot more than the rate at which buyers buy. The technology is now saving agencies money by speeding up the entire sales process for both commercial and residential properties.

Camera and remote-imaging drones make elements of escrow, like property appraisals, building inspections and property line documentation, faster and more thorough.

Among other applications, contractors are using drones for roof inspections, thermal roof surveys, all kinds of outdoor surveys and even some indoor inspections.

Your two options

If you haven’t started using drones yet, I’ll assume you’ve realized it’s time. That said, be sure to deeply consider your two main options—hiring a pro or going for DIY. Following are a few pros and cons for both.

Pros and cons of hiring an aerial photography company

Con – the cost: Professional drone photography is pricey. For example, for a one-minute video and about 10 to 12 very high-quality still photos, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $400. A detailed video will cost you around $1,000.

Con – the risk: Drone photography is relatively new, so companies are popping up all over. And it’s not uncommon to run into a company that hasn’t met the FAA’s certification requirements.

Hiring such a firm leaves you vulnerable to all kinds of liabilities if something goes wrong, like if a person is injured or the drone crashes and causes damage.

All this is to say, when you’re looking for a company, make sure its operators hold FAA Part 107 UAV certification. You’ll also want to make sure the firm carries at least $1 million in liability insurance.

Pro – quality: This is a pretty big pro because, assuming you hire a good company, your deliverables will be extremely fantastic.

Pros and cons of DIY

Con – initial investment: If you decide to go it alone, you’ll need to buy a high-quality drone and obtain training and certification – a spendy initial investment.

The right drone will cost you between $1,000 and $2,000, including the camera. And it’s essential that it has a few specific features, such as a 3-axis gimbal, automated object detection and collision avoidance.

Con – registration: This is a pretty weak con, in all honesty. Because flying an unregistered drone could land you a fine of up to $25,000, and it only costs about $5 to register your drone on the FAA website.

However, it’s just “one more thing to do” for those of us living busy lifestyles, so I figured I ought to add it to the list of cons.

Pro – creative control: Assuming you’re committed to learning how to operate your drone the right way, you’ll be able to get the shots you want, the way you want them.

Pro – Fun: If I were in real estate, this would be the clincher for me. Drones are incredibly fun to operate; there’s no doubt about it.

The takeaway

It’s time to get your drone on! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the National Association of Realtors Field Guide to Drone and Real Estate.

It’s a great place to start, and it provides all the information you need to get going. Be sure to share your thoughts on drones and real estate in the comment section below.

I’m interested to know what folks in the real estate industry are doing with drones and how they feel about the future of this technology in the industry.

Tim Jennings is president of California-based company Custom Case Group, creator and manufacturer of the DroneHangar drone case. A self-described drone enthusiast, Jennings enjoys sharing insights he’s picked up working on drone-related projects with the US military and big players in other industries, including film, medicine and emergency response technology.