What is the Cost vs. Value of Hiring a Certified Drone Pilot?

The Cost vs Value of Hiring A Certified Drone Pilot

Hiring a certified drone pilot ensures safety, legal compliance, and high-quality results. Trained in FAA regulations and skilled in various industries, they provide professional services that, while sometimes costlier upfront, offer substantial long-term value and reliability.

In my previous blog “The Importance of Hiring a Certified Drone Pilot: Legal Compliance, we took an in-depth look at why a real estate agent or agency may or may not hire drone photo/videography services. We looked at the legal implications of having a non-FAA certified drone pilot perform the photography and the correlating consequences.

We had a tremendous response to that article, with many bringing questions about further definition to the cost vs value of hiring a certified drone pilot. So, this article will be a continuation of that previous blog and address these questions by conferring with qualified experts, as well as offering my own real world experience and humble opinion.

The Risk vs. Reward of DIY Drone Photography

My Friends Cousins Husbands Brothers Son has a droneMy Friends Cousins Husbands Brothers Son has a drone, how ‘bout we just get him to take some drone pictures of our multi-six-figure real estate listing!?

Yes, I’m being a little facetious for effect, but believe it or not, this is a typical scenario among real estate agents. I promise, it is not my intent to berate anyone, so please stay with me. I understand all about risk vs. reward.

In making calls out to real estate agencies and agents, I have heard many times that they have a a friend or relative who has a drone, or they just do it themselves. Of course, being in sales themselves and me realizing that they see me coming a mile away as a sales guy, I jus maintain a sparkly smile and respond with ah! that’s great! Do you have your FAA certification too?On one hand, perhaps now we have that in common, but on the other hand, most everyone I’ve asked, reluctantly replies that they don’t, or they’re not aware of the FAA part 107 certification, or the FAA requirements.

I will go into more depth on this topic later in this article, but I typically continue these conversations by encouraging them that for a nominal cost, they can outsource this service to a professional, which allows them to focus on the most important tasks at hand in managing their property listings. And I go further to mention this reduces any risk relating to being penalized by the FAA.

The Importance of Professional Expertise

Do I ask my auto mechanic to help me with my dental work?

A more realistic example might be, would I ask my brother-in-law to paint my house? I often ask my clients this question; “what is your specialization?” or “what is your primary role within the organization?” Sure, my brother-in-law can certainly go to the local hardware store and purchase paint and all the necessary stuff to paint my house. But there are some real questions you might want to consider before going with the bro-n-law scenario.

The Cost vs Value of Hiring A Certified Drone Pilot

  1. Cost – the assumption being that your brother-in-law is not a professional painter, is he painting my house for free or am I paying him. In either case, you will be paying a cost. Is he doing all of the proper prep work, scraping, sanding, repairing rotted wood, on and on? There is much more to painting than just buying a brush and slopping on the paint and if he’s doing the work as a favor, he may not be doing you any favors. Have you ever heard the phrase “you get what you pay for”? And then worse, if you are paying him, perhaps as a favor to him, unless he is doing the work properly, you may be looking to pay considerably down the road to have it done again, sooner than you would have if done properly, or even worse, have structural issues due to ignoring the rotted wood, and/or neglecting to make the necessary repairs before painting.
  2. Value – by hiring a professional painter, and yes they can be expensive, but consider the long term value. An honest professional painter will do a proper inspection, make recommendations for repair or detail the steps to prep for paint. This gives you assurance that the house maintains its structural integrity long term and the paint is a true protectant as well as a cosmetic finish. Additionally, a professional painter will provide a warranty to his work that will provide long term value compared to the cost of the project.

Finally, in answer to the above question, I certainly would not hire my auto mechanic to perform my dental work, which leads to the primary topic of this article. Stay with me, I am about to get into the real goodness!

Assessing the Fit for Aerial Photography in Real Estate

real estate agent lots of question marksI understand that these expenses come out of pocket on the front end of a listing. I also understand that if the property you are selling is in a tightly situated neighborhood that aerial photography might not be appropriate. So let me provide some definition to what we are talking about. Ideally, for the cost to make sense:

  1. Your list price should be a minimum $150k and up.
  2. The property should be on its own lot or acreage.
  3. The property should have good landscaping and features to highlight.

Otherwise, aerial photography may be a little overkill or can even be unappealing to your marketing media and content.

The Value Proposition of Hiring a Professional Drone Operator

In the same way that I described the brother-in-law painter scenario, let’s discuss hiring a professional drone operator.

First of all, I am a commercially certified drone operator, so you may consider me biased and one-sided on the matter. You may think that I am gaming for a sale, and perhaps if we’re all being transparent, aren’t we all looking to close more business? But, in the following, I will bring you a mix of industry expertise as well as my own expertise within and outside the drone industry.

Just to highlight some national statistics…as of July 2018, there are more than 95,000 FAA Certified drone pilots across the U.S. The use of drones across industries such as Construction, Transportation, Telecommunications, Power and other Utility Services, and numerous other applications have already become standard practice. Depending on the industry, safety and costs are the driving force bringing the use of drones to the forefront. In the last several years as drone technology began to evolve, there were limited applications for drones in the business market. Real Estate was probably one of the first to see the value of good quality aerial photo and video. But as of today in 2024, that’s no longer the case.

Cost vs. Value in Drone Operations

Understanding of Airspace and Safety Regulations

Another key aspect of determining the cost vs value of hiring a certified drone pilot involves understanding the legalities. As drone technology continues to improve and the costs decrease, suddenly we have a lot of consumers purchasing drones and looking to turn their hobby into a money making proposition. I for one was one of these individuals who originally bought a drone as a means of recreation and discovered a passion. I like many others who take this craft seriously, invested my time and the cost to go through the course studies, prepared for and passed the certification exam.

This segues perfectly into the initial value of hiring a certified drone operator. As part of the study and FAA requirements to pass the exam, we had to undertake learning aviation charts to understand airspace and how we fit into the scheme of other aircraft, both manned and unmanned. A non-FAA certified pilot may not understand the rules of airspace. There were many components to understanding the requirements and regulations that may not apply to a hobbyist pilot, yet the incidents in the news, are nearly exclusively related to non-certified drone operators flying outside of regulated parameters and causing accidents and even fatalities.

As part of our certification there is a tremendous responsibility to follow the guidelines and regulations to operate safely at all times. We wouldn’t put a 10 year old child behind the wheel of a car for the same reasons. When you hire an FAA certified drone operator, you are engaging a consummate professional who cares about the safety of those in proximity, and respects the airspace and other aircraft.

Creative and Artistic Skills

Especially for aerial photography, videography and cinematography, hiring a professional in the area of expertise that makes sense to you, this pilot will demonstrate a skillset based on his or her day to day experience. The saying “practice makes perfect” is so true in this example.

I’ll give you a personal example. I was out on a real estate shoot where the house was tightly surrounded by gorgeous trees. Earlier in my drone career, I would have certainly played it safe and hovered safely above the tree line which would give us any real shots of the home. However, that not being acceptable to me, much less the client, I have learned by hours and hours of flying how to weave my drone in and out of the trees and get very strategic shots that add remarkable content to the marketing portfolio.

I’m not saying I’m the only guy that does this, but it’s safe to say that a non-commercial pilot may not have these skills at the ready to provide you with a premium quality photo and video content. Needless to say, the client was super pleased and I get repeat business from this agent over and over again.

Professional Gear and Ability to Use It

Also, it is important to mention that the quality of gear that a professional aerial photographer will bring is above and beyond, pun intended, that of a novice or hobbyist drone pilot. I have multiple drones that I deploy to capture various types of photo and video as well as a plentiful assortment of lens types, filters combined with a strong understanding to how to operate and maximize my gears full capabilities to get the best quality output. I realize that I may sound critical, but nothing urks me more than seeing photos in a real estate listing that were obviously shot by an amateur.

The property is beautiful and deserves to be presented as beautifully as it appears naturally. The photos are more often than not, blurry or washed out simply due to a lack of a good camera or the know-how to take good photos. There are substantial costs involved in deploying with the best equipment available. On a given engagement, it is more than typical that a drone operator will have in excess of $10k to $20k in gear alone.

Production Quality

Another key element to the overall cost vs. value conversation is production. When hiring a professional drone operator, he or she will have production resources that will provide beautiful and dramatic content that presents so much better as part of your marketing portfolio. Some organizations have internal production talent while other smaller operators either outsource or perform their own production. In any case, the production value is equally as important as the pilots photography capabilities.

Conversely, a hobbyist may not have the production resources that you will find with a professional or commercial drone operator. I pride myself on the quality of my output, and work tirelessly to maintain the best quality possible. As in equipment, there are also extensive costs involved in performing the production component to the client.

An organization is either incurring the cost of hiring resources and providing production equipment, or the cost to outsource the work, which can save the service provider some, but can also affect the quality of the production. All to say, whether we are performing a 3 minute real estate video or inspection and survey data deliverables, the operation costs are a real cost to doing business.

Understanding the Costs of Professional Drone Services

As we wrap up our discussion on the cost vs value of hiring a certified drone pilot…

What ARE the costs of hiring a pro?

You may be pleasantly surprised to know that the cost of professional drone services, might be more affordable than you think, especially considering the value it adds to your marketing strategy. While pricing can vary based on many factors, I’ve developed a simple rule of thumb for quick estimates:

Estimating Service Costs

List Price – for every $100k multiply by $150 = a good estimate. So for a $500k property listing, you can expect to pay roughly $750 for a standard aerial photography package.

Depending on the provider, this should give you a good set of still photos, a 2 to 3 minute video, very well produced and ready to build into your marketing campaign. I also provide the media with and without your logo and any other information you like to be included.

In Conclusion

Throughout this article we have discussed the cost vs value of hiring a certified drone pilot over a hobbyist. The deciding factors are clear: adherence to legal requirements, FAA regulations, and the superior quality of the content produced. Professional drone pilots, with their experience and skill in photography, create content that not only elevates your marketing materials but also enhances the sales cycle, attracting more viewers and potential offers at or above listing prices.

This philosophy can apply to all of your business. Remember, “you get what you pay for” is such a TRUE cliché. Why short cut to save a few bucks, when you can leverage these services consistently, maintain a competitive edge and continually bring new clients to your door? Real Estate agents are very savvy these days. They have unlimited resources at their fingertips. So, differentiate yourself in the market by providing the best marketing strategies and results.

By investing in professional drone services, you’re not just complying with regulations – you’re elevating your brand in the marketplace.

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