Drone photography is taking off as a tool for selling and renting homes.
More than ever, real estate professionals rely on the unmanned flying machines to set their listings apart from the competition. Up until now, drone photos and videos frequently showed up on listings for mansions and properties in spectacular locations. But soon theyâ€™ll be showing up in listings for middle-class homes, too.
Given todayâ€™s fierce real estate markets, some experts say drones are just the thing to rise above the competition.
â€œAnytime you want to differentiate your property from the competition, drone is a dramatic eye-catching first impression thatâ€™s going to get people to look at your property first, as opposed to your competitors,â€ says Brian Balduf, CEO and co-founder of VHT Studios, a visual marketing firm.
Drone photography â€œkeeps people visually stimulated,â€ says Nilyne Saintvil, regional director of marketing and leasing for Fieldstone Properties, which manages apartments across New Jersey. â€œWe put it on our website and it keeps them engaged and it keeps them wanting to see more about your property. I honestly think that it helps sell properties or rent properties quicker because itâ€™s like a real-life you being there.â€
If youâ€™re especially proud of your homeâ€™s architecture, your expansive property or your surrounding neighborhood, Balduf says you canâ€™t list your home without the help of a drone: â€œIf your home backs up to a golf course or a river or a lake, or a wetlands, open fields, a park, you want to play that up, and drone is ideal for that.â€
Balduf says home buyers are beginning to expect to see drone photos in beach communities as well as in scenic mountain areas in places like Colorado and Utah, where â€œitâ€™s not so much about the house itself; itâ€™s where the house sits.â€ Why, he asks, wouldnâ€™t you want to show off how close your home is to the beach?
If your home or property is unusual or unique, drones can provide a visual advantage that ground-level photos cannot.
Balduf says a remote pilot was able to shoot video in Washington state where the drone flew along the coast and then up a cliff to where the house sits. In Florida, Bryan Gonzalez shot a promotional video for a horse farm in which the drone followed thoroughbreds running on a practice track. (The drone flew high enough not to scare the horses.)
Gonzalez is the owner and founder of Drones Unlimited,Â which specializes in aerial photography, in Ocala, Florida. At least two or three times a month, out-of-state prospective buyers hire him to shoot photos and videos of properties theyâ€™re interested in. Itâ€™s a way for them â€œto see a piece of property without getting on a plane and going there.â€ He sends them the footage without meeting them in person.
One time, Gonzalez was hired by a client who was in town but didnâ€™t want to tour an 80-acre property on a humid, 90-degree day. â€œSo instead of us walking that amount of acreage, we were actually flying the drone, and the client was looking at a live feed on a TV,â€ Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez also has been hired by home inspectors who wanted to assess damage to a roof four stories high and by an owner of mobile home parks who wanted photos for damage assessments afterÂ Hurricane Irma.
Homeowners might be surprised at how reasonable drone services can be.
Balduf says drone photos are a little more expensive than traditional, on-the-ground photos. For most clients, drone photos cost between $200 and $500, he says.
â€œEvery job is case by case, so we have to quote them all out individually,â€ Gonzalez says. He might charge as little as $100 for a quick flight yielding 10 photos, to more than $1,000 to shoot a rambling horse farm (Ocala is in central Floridaâ€™s horse country).
Preparing for a drone photography session is no differentÂ from preparing the inside of your home for traditional listing photos. Cleaning and decluttering is always the first step. A dirty roof will look distracting. Pool toys, backyard clutter and cars in the driveway should be moved or put away. Try to identify problems that are visible only from the air.
And hereâ€™s something you may not have considered: Donâ€™t cut your grass the day before your homeâ€™s photo shoot. â€œThere needs to be a several-day buffer after they cut the grass,â€ Gonzalez says. Otherwise, the drone will pick up the brown lawn clippings â€œand itâ€™s going to look horrible.â€
Any house can benefit from drone photos, Gonzalez says. â€œThe drone photos show the location, and it speaks for itself. Thereâ€™s no reason to write up a crazy, detailed description that nobodyâ€™s going to read.â€ When Gonzalez pitches his services to real estate agents, â€œI suggest that the photos do all the talking for you, instead of you having to explain yourself.â€
Holden Lewis is a personal finance writer for NerdWallet. He previously covered mortgages and real estate at Bankrate.