Aerial Photography Takes Off in Real Estate with the Help of Personal Drones


As drones become increasingly common and more affordable, some real estate agents are using these aircraft to help market properties, and experts expect the trend to grow. Aerial photographs are increasingly common in real estate marketing. These images are ideal for sprawling estates and expansive luxury homes, but they can also help showcase a beautiful home with a pool or exquisite landscaping. A few agents are even using aerial photographs and videos to offer a sense of a property’s immediate surroundings, such its proximity to schools, shops, and more.

Dawn of the Drone

Part of the reason aerial photography is becoming more common in real estate marketing is that it has become more affordable with the dawn of the personal drone. Piloting a helicopter or airplane to take photographs of a property does not often fall in the marketing budget for an individual residence, but putting up an upfront investment of a few hundred, or even a thousand, dollars on a drone and a few hundred more on a camera can be an affordable way to gather revealing and eye-catching images that set your marketing apart from competitors’.

However, before adding drone photography to your personal list of to-dos for all your properties, be sure to consider the legal components of the task, and weigh your options. Just as you can hire a photographer to take pictures from a helicopter, you can also hire a professional drone photographer—and usually at a much more affordable rate than chartering that helicopter.

Legal Matters

In June, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its first operational rules for commercial use of drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which go into effect at the end of August.

The FAA has already handed out more than 5,300 permits for commercial use drones, and about 2,100 of those went to real estate-related companies, according to Zillow.

When used for commercial purposes—such as real estate marketing—the individual operating the drone must be at least 16 years old and pass an aeronautical test at an FAA-approved testing center to obtain a remote pilot certificate or be supervised by someone who holds one. Privacy issues are not directly addressed in the FAA’s new rules, but registered drone pilots will receive a list of recommended privacy guidelines.

Additionally, “The FAA strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography,” the FAA stated when it announced its new operational rules in June.

In addition to holding a remote pilot certificate, drone operators must:

• Keep unmanned aircraft in their visual line of sight. The drone must be visible without visual aids such as binoculars.

• Limit flight to daylight and twilight hours. The exception is that with the aid of anti-collision lighting, a drone may fly 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.

• Avoid flying over people not participating in the flight operation.

• Not operate an unmanned aircraft from a moving aircraft and may only operate from a moving vehicle in a “sparsely populated area.”

• Conduct a pre-flight inspection before each flight.

• Keep the unmanned aircraft within 400 feet of the ground.

Obtaining Your Remote Pilot’s License

The FAA expects it will cost $150 to obtain a UAS license. Unmanned aircraft pilots must pass a test at a nearby center. Training materials and more information can be found at

In general, applicants for an unmanned aircraft system will be given a temporary remote pilot certificate after their TSA security check is complete. The FAA expects most applicants will receive their temporary certificate within 10 business days of completing their application.

Handing Over the Controls

If you’re not interesting in jumping through the new regulatory hoops or learning to man your own small aircraft, you can always hire someone to do it for you.

As little as $100 can get you an aerial photo of a property, or you can spend a few hundred for a few photos or a video.

While not all agents may be ready to pilot their own drone or hire a drone photographer, Zillow predicts this is the way of the future.

“Using drones for real estate photography will become increasingly common as agents ask the FAA to issue more permits and hash out the guidelines for commercial use,” Zillow stated in a recent article.