We recently had the opportunity to ride along with CoStar Group’s field-research team to conduct aerial surveys on a handful of rural properties recently listed on Land And Farm.
The accessibility of drone technology has accelerated in recent years, and today offers an essential component in the land marketer’s toolkit. Just as impactful photography serves to grab and hold a prospective buyer’s attention, so too can high-quality aerial photography capture a property’s full scenic context.
Better yet, with a lightweight camera-equipped drone at your fingertips, you can survey a property for the fraction of what it would cost to do by helicopter or light aircraft.
Before diving headlong into the aerial-drone game, here are some things to keep in mind as you consider the addition of drone photography to your arsenal of seller materials.
In order to operate a drone—technically an “unmanned aircraft system,” or UAS—for commercial purposes, you will need to obtain an FAA-certified UAS pilot’s license. The process, which has been simplified from the FAA’s more onerous original requirements, involves sitting a remote pilot’s test at one of almost 700 Knowledge Testing Centers around the country.
Once you have passed this certification, you are required to adhere to certain UAS operating standards such as keeping your drone in line of sight and not flying close to certain areas such as national parkland or within range of nearby municipal airports or heliports.
A number of companies offer drone-training classes that cover online certification-test prep as well as in-person courses to allow you to get a feel for the equipment and learn from qualified experts. Check out sites including UAVCoach.com and DartDrones.com.
Read more: Federal Aviation Administration UAS guidelines and requirements (FAA.gov)
Picking the right gear
Before you go and drop ten grand on the latest and greatest drone equipment, consider how often and the ways in which you and your team plan to use this gear. Entry-level drones can cost less than $500 but may not offer the kind of image-capture and stabilization features that your clients and buyers expect. However, first-time pilots may want to cut their teeth on a cheaper model to get used to the controls and features without worrying about losing the unit in some distant stand of trees! Starter kits can cost less than $100 (plus the Supreme Court recently ruled that recreational drone users no longer need to register to fly, something to keep in mind as you get started).
Read more: 17 Drones for Beginners for Under $175 (UAVCoach.com)
Prosumer-level drone models start in the range of $1,000 to $3,000, with the price tag increasing as you start to include add-ons like camera lenses and fittings, battery and charging equipment and casing to store and transport your drone. A model like DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro will run you $1,500 for the basic setup, while DJI’s Inspire 2 ($3,000) is a more advanced rig that includes features like obstacle avoidance and professional-grade image-capture tools.
One mid-priced option that may appeal to land sellers looking to showcase land and property in more rural and rugged areas is DJI’s Mavic Pro. This smaller drone offers powerful image-capture features and flying capabilities but in a portable, lightweight body that’s equipped to fit in a backpack and do the business out in the field.
Flying takes practice—and planning!
The relative ease-of-use for today’s drones belies some incredibly sophisticated technology that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a sci-fi movie ten years ago. Flying a drone requires the ability to maneuver a vehicle at different altitudes and oftentimes far from the naked eye, plus operate a camera to capture your aerial objectives.
With that in mind, it pays to practice your flying skills before you go out in the field to shoot a property or parcel of land. Find an empty parking lot or sports field to hone your operating skills, as well as work on the various types of flight paths and scenarios that you will need when flying “live,” so to speak. It’s also a good idea to create a checklist for operating the drone as well as a shot list for the angles and perspectives you plan to capture.
One important thing to note about drones is that these guys are thirsty, meaning one flight on a fully charged set of batteries may only last 20 to 25 minutes. You’ll need to factor your power needs into your flying timeline, especially important if you are essentially off the grid and reliant on whatever you packed in to shoot your day’s clips. Drained batteries also require recharging, another consideration in planning your time.
Planning also extends to understanding local airspace and where you can and cannot fly. The FAA maintains strict guidelines for UAS operation within proximity to airports, sporting venues and other public areas. The FAA’s B4UFLY app is a free smartphone app that helps UAS operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly. It goes without saying, too, that you should also check with local land and property owners before taking flight.
Be aware of the risks
Drones are powerful tools that will up your marketing game, but they are also aerial vehicles that carry the obvious risks. Accidents happen, so be sure to read up on insurance options for incidents like collisions, equipment damage or loss. One useful option to consider is Verifly, an on-demand insurance provider for recreational and commercial drone flights that covers liability up to $2.5 million for as little as $10 per hour.
Read more: A complete guide to drone insurance (UAVCoach.com)
If all this sounds too much, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of companies offering drone videography services for relatively low costs compared to what it once cost to capture aerial footage for a new listing. Some packages will also include impressive interior drone photography to animate your marketing materials beyond the standard offering!