Want to Make More Money With Your Drone? Talk to a Realtor

Want to Make More Money With Your Drone? Talk to a Realtor

Drones continue to explode in popularity. The small flying cameras have suddenly enabled thousands to get shots that only a few years back would have required a very expensive helicopter rental. If you're one of many photographers who now own one, there's a market you should look into. 

I absolutely adore my DJI Phantom 4. I've spent many summer nights flying it over Lake Erie, taking shots of lighthouses and the Cleveland skyline. For example, the shot below was taken 4,000 ft from shore. Just a few years ago, doing so would have required renting a helicopter, and even then, it might have been impossible, as this spot lies between the very busy airspace of Burke Lakefront Airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Now, I just drive to the lake, call the airport tower to ask permission (always do this when you're within five miles of an airport), and I'm off. 

Many industries are starting to take note of the usefulness of drones. In particular, realtors are beginning to incorporate them into their work. The ability to quickly show an entire property from above is especially useful, particularly when one considers large, undeveloped rural properties that may be difficult or time-consuming to navigate on foot. The National Association of Realtors reports that 26 percent of realtors currently use drones in their work, with another 18 percent planning to in the future. Of those that do, 42 percent hire a professional. This means that currently, approximately 264,000 realtors are hiring drone pilots, with another 432,000 interested in using them in the future. Now may be a great time to cold call your local real estate office. Just remember that commercial use of a drone requires a certificate of authorization from the FAA.

[via NAR]

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I love my Phantom 4, too. But I do not use it for work because the FAA rules say "non-commercial only". When I registered the rules also say something about not flying it within a certain distance from ANY airport. All the real estate photos around here seem to be done by some guy with a drone, but I'll bet he is not permitted to use it commercially. What's the big deal? Who will know? I think the answer to that comes when you have an accident. Then the lawyers can really whack you for not having the commercial permission. Don't get me wrong I LOVE this incredible Phantom 4. Just saying, be ridiculously careful with what you might open yourself up to doing jobs with it.

I completely agree. This not an area you want to cut corners in.

It IS the best Phantom by far.

Registration of the drone and permitting are a must. And I would advise you to consult your insurance agent as well. Additional coverages are required in most cases. Otherwise you're just going to find yourself in a lot of hot water.

And stay away from other "real helicopters".

Did lots of aerial work for realtors last year, here is my experience. If you are registered, have insurance and are up date legally, most only wanted to pay max $100-200. With all the expenses plus missing out on t.v/commercial gigs due to realtor bookings, I did not find it worth it.

Do people get the 333 exemption? Or is this a "don't ask don't tell" system?
I have heard the 333 is very expensive and has a lot of red tape but haven't looked too far into it. My insurance will not cover any damage or liability, only what they call "hull coverage" which is the cost of the drone.
Many jurisdictions here in CA (Caltrans for example) currently will not issue a permit for any drone use for film or photo.

To fly commercially, you not only have to have a 333 exemption but you must also be an actual pilot. The 333 exemption is not expensive, but it takes over 6 months to get approved in many cases. A pilots license is expensive, and requires manned aircraft experience, obviously.

The proposed rules won't require either of these, but they have not gone into effect and we still don't know when or what form the final rules will take.

In Canada where I am currently...you must have $1M in liability insurance and in addition you must apply for a permit. here is the kicker, you have to request flight access in restricted areas (which most of the major cities are) in advance and there is no guarantee that your request will be approved by the shoot date.

Essentially this is a dead industry in Toronto where I am...at least until the rules which govern drone use are ratified and it's spreading.

I just got back from a trip to Bonaire where the entire island is classified as restricted due to the size of the place. I saw a few drones in flight (illegally) frighteningly less than 1km from the major airport.

This article isn't clear enough...so many current restrictions that I don't think there is much (legal) drone money to be had for the time being.

Hi, Leigh. This article was in reference to flying in the U.S.; my apologies if that wasn't clear.

This advice is particularly relevant to Australia, actually. From 29 September 2016, commercial flying will be allowed for anyone using drones that weigh under 2kg (approx 4.4 lb). No licence or registration of any sort will be required, even for commercial flying.

The DJI Phantom 3 & 4 will easily qualify within the weight limit.

A Realtor I know uses a helium balloon or a kite (depending on wind) to skirt all the absurd drone laws and manages to make decent photos for his listings without having to deal with the FAA.

What US realtor are willing to pay for property photoshoot has not changed much for a long time.
this is lot to do with how majority of realtor agent get paid, and how photoshoot of particular property beyond first 1~3 MLS listing photo are financed.

So, I kind of doubt economic is there for those people with nice drone fleet who are doing all legal and proper.

Rather, like someone pointed out, it seems there are lot like guerilla shoot operators type of business is going on, especially in rural area where risk of accident resulting property loss or injury are less likely.

But if there are structural change on how agent get paid, and how photographer get paid for each property shoot. Then there will be lot of economic justification for people with nice fleet to jump into Drone real estate photography biz.

I'm seeing quite a bit of "fly under the radar" drone filming in my small local market. We're currently one of only two companies in the area doing it the right and legal way. The truth is, clients don't care if you are FAA approved or have a pilots license... they just care about getting the shots as cheaply as possible.

Realtor agent typically got about a 0.015%~ of estimated final property sales value as a budget for photoshoot. Which mean, in the most of rural market you can actually fly drone commercially, 5~10 property you will shoot with realtor total a million dollar in value, what you will get paid is likely around $150~$300 range for whole day worth of driving, shooting and then editing.

And there are general confusion with what you will get paid for commercial shoot hired by advertisement/design firm specialized in real estate property advertisement i.e commercial for development or for management firm versus one you will be hired by real estate agent for listing...

They are both called real estate photography or videography, but they are entirely different thing in practice.

Great Point.

Yes, one has to have their drone registered. However, that is not the only thing that has to be done to sell images to a realtor. You -- the pilot -- still needs to be registered as a qualified pilot with the FAA (not just the drone) and under current rules that means having a pilot's license for a full-size aircraft. And once you have that then you need to apply and be granted certification from the FAA to use the drone commercially. If you shoot pictures of your home or your neighbor's home that's allowed without nothing more than a drone registration. But if there is any money involved -- even a penny -- then that's illegal. If you shoot your friend's home and give him the pictures for posting on Facebook, that's fine. But if later he decides to sell his home and lets his realtor post the aerials as part of the listing, that's illegal because there is money being exchanged -- the sale of the home -- even though you as a drone photographer don't get a dime. The rules are under review and will change, hopefully. But in the meantime, selling your aerial shots to realtors is illegal. And some realtors who shot their own drone image have gotten in trouble and fined.

Good article, but it does beg the question: Why now? Remote control aircraft have been around for a long time. Radio controlled planes have been in the sky almost since aviation began, and I don't recall ever hearing of one bringing a plane or helicopter down, or even of any instance of collision, or of any worry about it. So, why now? I see the risks, but it's still interesting that this issue of hobby craft endangering full size planes and helicopters is now suddenly an issue that "scares" people.

Hobby aircraft have always been confined to flying within approved model aircraft "fields", and it hasn't been a major problem because there was a pretty high barrier of entry to the hobby, with most building their own airplanes from kits or scratch. Also FPV technology hasn't really been accessible either until recently.

Now anyone can go drop a few hundred bucks on a ready-made drone that will fly beyond line of site, and people are flying them EVERYWHERE, not just the model aircraft fields. I'm not a hater, I have a DJI Phantom and I love it, but its an entirely different animal compared to your typical model aircraft.