Are Realtors Hiring Drone Photographers?

3 Ways Real Estate Agents Are Hiring Drone Photographers:

  • A Real Estate Agent may contract you directly to provide drone photo and video for a property listing
  • A Real Estate Agent may contract a Commercial Photographer specializing in real estate that offers drone photography as a bundle
  • A Real Estate Agency may hire a full-time staff drone photographer
Gale-Force Drone Aerial Real Estate Photograpahy

The Reality of Real Estate Photography

Real Estate Agencies and Agents, like any other business are focused on the bottom line. There is a general perception that all realtors are wealthy from all the fat commissions they are earning. And while this can be true for a small percentage of agents, the reality is that most agents are doing well to close a handful of listings annually. It’s safe to say that the 80/20 rule applies in that 20% of the agents are thriving, while the other 80% may be surviving. I personally know agents who have other jobs to supplement their incomes between sales. I have a good friend who is very successful in the music industry, but decided to get his real estate license as a backup or secondary income.

You’re asking, “what does this have to do with the drone business?”. I share this to help you understand why a real estate agency does not automatically hire drone photography for every home listing. In fact, in many cases, agents are committing the big “NO NO” by doing their own photography, buying a drone on Craigslist and flying the property themselves. Again, the reality is that the costs of hiring photographers and drone photography will most often come straight out of the individual agents pocket, and with no guarantee the property will sell, or at a minimum, sell in a reasonable time-frame, he or she runs the risk of not re-couping the cost. Sellers may also grow impatient or even change their mind, and cancel the sales contract, leaving the agent exposed of the costs of listing the property.

For every property listing, there are factors involved in deciding if the value vs. the cost of hiring drone photography is feasible. I can offer personal first-hand experience with this. To share an example, I was hired by an agent to fly a beautiful property. This home was a historic house built in the 19th century. Originally it would have been part of a large sprawling property, but by 2017 had been reduced to a small lot in a metro city area. While the $3million price tag on the home listing definitely warranted drone photography, the challenge was that the house was surrounded by massive mature trees, making it nearly impossible to capture the home from a birds view. Being an eager drone photographer and wanting to get paid, I managed to fly the house from underneath the tree canopy and gave him some real nice photos and panning video shots. The agent/client was happy, but this could have been easily justified as “Not Worth It”. The product he received was really not commensurate to the cost he paid me. In any case, the home sold and it all worked out nicely.

While that situation worked out OK, I hope these explanations help you understand some of the challenges a real estate agent faces when determining how much he or she should invest in each of their home listings.

The 3 Best Ways To Get Real Estate Drone Work

Work Direct With The Real Estate Agent

Despite the financial concerns a real estate agent may have regarding the cost of drone photography, be assured, they want the best quality photography for their listings. This will absolutely work to your advantage and there is no need to be shy about pursuing this business. I enjoyed working directly with the agent for the following reasons:

  1. Direct collaboration – most often the agent will want to meet you at the property and observe the operation. I personally loved this because there was no guessing what they might want.
  2. Easy transaction – with direct interaction, they call you, you go shoot the property, and get paid.
  3. Referrals – once you have established a relationship with the realtor, he or she will be happy to boast about their “Drone Guy” and refer other agents to you.

Working direct with the agent can be a lot of fun! You get to experience “being involved” with the process, collaborating on the marketing visuals being used in the sale of the property. When I am shooting a property, I make sure to talk about the selling points of a property, sort of hyping it up with the agent.

Starting out with an agent, there will be the “getting to know you” phase. This is when you will want to ask a lot of questions about the overall image the agent wants to present the property in the sales listings. Once you establish a trusting business relationship, you can count on repeat business. They will get to know your pricing, you will get to know their expectations all making for a mutually beneficial working relationship. As a tip, offer the first project for half-price. Your portfolio should be enough to sell them on the quality of your work, but investing in them is always a positive first move.

What To Do When you Get The Call

Here’s a few things to think about when you receive a quote request.
  1. Location of the property
  2. Size of the property
  3. Has the agent signed the seller agreement or contract
  4. Agent requirements in terms of the actual photo/video the agent needs for the listing.
  5. Ask them who does their standard photography in case they would like to have your drone photo and video data processed by them.

These items will help determine how you scope and price out the project. If the client has a photographer that can process your photo and video with theirs, then you can remove that component from your proposal. The seller agreement is particularly critical in that you do not want to commit to a project if they have not officiated the seller agreement with the seller. Also, when asking about their standard photography, there is an opportunity to refer a photographer, thereby adding value to your proposition and the business relationship.

I highly recommend that whether the agent is a new or long-term client, you should always invoice and require payment for your services prior to delivery of the photo/video data. In some cases, I will often require a retainer fee before I even go to the property, but I generally only do this with new clients that I have not worked with yet. You can determine the amount you are comfortable with, taking into consideration your time and expense for going out to shoot the property. I then invoice the retainer as part of the proposal. Remember, you are doing this work for pay, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement (especially in the beginning) and forget this important step. It is unfortunate, but it is a must to always protect your time. For instance, you get a call, you go out and do the work, then the agent or seller changes their mind. By requiring the upfront retainer, your time is paid. And by asking for the balance before delivering the product, you minimize the risk of non-payment, or the payment being delayed.

As an additional tip, always do a little more than required. I will often get shots to the property from the street leading to the property, and/or some of the surrounding landmarks. This can also serve as stock photos and video for your portfolio. I have found that agents love this added value, and it only takes a few more minutes to shoot.

Working With A Commercial Real Estate Photographer Or Photography Studio

Over the course of my career, I have found it to be extremely effective to establish strategic partnerships. By doing a quick google search in your local community or market you can identify at least 2 or 3 photographers that specialize in real estate. These may be individuals or independent free-lance photographers, or a professional photography studio. In some cases they may already own a drone, or have a drone pilot on staff, however while this is certainly possible, I actually found this to be non-existent. They will inevitably know somebody with a drone, a friend or relative, but I found them to always be open and welcoming especially since I represent myself as a passionate peer photographer. As a Certified Part 107 Drone Pilot, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask if their drone pilots are certified for commercial drone operation, and if not, or unknown, just offer a friendly explanation of the FAA regulations regarding commercial drone operation.

Below I list a few benefits to establishing partnerships:

  1. Expand Your Reach – by joining with a photographer or studio that has an established clientele, your opportunities increase.
  2. More Business – your drone services can be “bundled” with their photography which again increases your work base, and your reputation.
  3. Imagery Processing – the photographer will be likely to want to process the photo and video along with theirs, making it a quick and easy project.

I enjoy a few of these type partnerships and I truly value them. There are some “give and takes” that you should be prepared for and expect. The main issue will be pricing. Since they are bundling, essentially reselling your services as part of the package deliverable to the client, they will almost always ask for aggressively discounted pricing. In the beginning, this ruffled my feathers a lot, but now I look at it this way, if they are handing me business that I would have otherwise never gotten, then I just consider the difference in price a commission or finders fee of sorts. I also give consideration to how much these partners have helped me grow my business in the community. I may have performed my services at a lower price, but I have also enjoyed staying busy with bookings as a result. Another give/take item is that they will want to process your drone photo and video data along with theirs to provide a consistency to the client deliverable. So by removing this component also lessens my time involved in a project and leaves me to just flying the job which is the most fun part of the job anyway!

For the billing component, I treat these clients differently than I do my direct-agent transactions. There will still be the beginning “get to know you” phase, but once pricing is agreed upon, I do go out and shoot the property without the retainer. I have accounts that I bill on a monthly basis, and others who pay me on a per project basis. For this, my recommendation is to find a comfortable arrangement for between you and the partner/client. These relationships have proven to be fun and lucrative.

Another type partnership that I have enjoyed is DroneBase. You can sign up with DroneBase as a free-lance drone operator and they will deploy you on projects at their set rates. Just click HERE to go register as a drone pilot.

Another firm that I joined is HouseLens. HouseLens is focused on Insurance and  Real Estate performing on-demand photography and they pay good rates for free-lance drone operators. Click HERE to register as a drone pilot for HouseLens.

Photo And Video Processing

I would be remiss if I did not offer some insights into the processing of the imagery. Aside from being a licensed skilled drone pilot, the most important part of the job is the data. In this article, we are discussing real estate, but whether we are flying a solar inspection, or flying a wind turbine inspection or other type services, it’s really all about the data, Real estate photo and video is equally important, especially to the client. For me personally, I had to do a very quick deep dive and educate myself. I do not say  this to boast, but I do have a good eye and I can generate good quality photo and video. You can look at some of my content on my gallery, or on my youtube channel.

I will provide more tutorial info on processing in a separate article, but I’ll just mention here that I use Adobe Creative Cloud Creator products such as Photoshop, Premiere Pro and others to produce my photos and videos. Just click HERE to view pricing and details for the subscription I am using. I have found these tools to be super intuitive and there are limitless free tutorials on YouTube and other online resources.

As another option, you can outsource this part of your service. Personally I enjoy this too much to send it out, but you may be someone that just wants to focus on flying and capturing the data. I can certainly relate to that! In that case, I recommend utilizing services such as Upwork and Fiverr to hire free-lance photo and video editors. These resources can be found all around the world and at extremely good rates. If you are not already familiar, you hire these personnel over the platform and pay upon the delivery of the work to your satisfaction. I have built websites, including my Gale-Force Drone website using these platforms.

As I mentioned, I will write a fully comprehensive article on this topic for a later posting, but hopefully this provides you some good direction for processing the client deliverables and getting paid for your good work!

Data Transfer Method

As a final consideration to your new and finely-tuned real estate drone photo/videography business, you need to determine the best means for delivering your final data to the client. Your data deliverable will usually be in the GB’s and not do well over email. So. with that, I use the 2 following methods:

  1. In-Person Delivery of a thumbdrive.
  2. Cloud delivery (recommended)

In some cases, it may make sense to go personally and hand off the data on a thumb drive. It’s not the most convenient method necessarily, but does allow for that personal interaction with your Agent/Client.

The preferred and recommended method is cloud delivery. There are so many options for this these days that I could write another article on this topic only. But I have enjoyed using DropBox for the most part. The subscription is very affordable and the user interface is exceptionally easy to manage. I simply upload the data to a specially named folder and then share it to the client email address. They click on the link and can access the data and download it to their own laptop.

I also use Google Drive because they offer decent capacities for free with your google accounts. Google drive is not as user friendly as DropBox, but is not that difficult to manage.

Recommended Equipment

– DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 –

– DJI Phantom 4 Pro Batteries (2-pack) –

– DJI Phantom 4 Pro Propellers (2-pairs)

– Apple iPad Mini (4G/LTE) –

Before you head out on any project, be sure to complete your project checklists. I have provided you access to my Pre-Flight Checklist as a FREE download.

How To Get Your FAA Part 107 Pilot Certification

If you are serious about making money with your drone, whether it be Real Estate, Aerial Inspections, etc., then you will need, from the FAA a 14 CFR Part 107 certification.

The best source for your training can be found by clicking on RemotePilot101. Jason Schappert is a pilot and author of 8 best-selling aviation flight training books. While studying and taking tests is not the most fun, Jason breaks it down into 10 easy to follow (at your own pace) video lessons. These lessons are straight and to the point giving you the exact knowledge, nothing less, nothing more than what you need to pass the exam. Additionally, he is continually updating the training to keep it relevant to any changes to FAA regulations. This membership is a 1-time subscription – for life! So when you’re 24 month renewal comes around, just sign in to RemotePilot101 and refresh your training.

Just remember, if you are flying commercially, you will need your Part 107 certification. It’s not hard, you can do it!

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