Real Estate Drone Photography: A Guide to Success

Image source: After several years of applying drone imagery to the marketing of real estate, what can we learn about the viability and profitability of this practice? Capturing aerial photographs and video clips for...

Real Estate Drone Photography Image source:

After several years of applying drone imagery to the marketing of real estate, what can we learn about the viability and profitability of this practice? Capturing aerial photographs and video clips for real estate listings is an entire industry unto itself. Let's delve into the realities that typical drone operators can expect.

What does the "Real Estate" market mean to drone pilots?

Before we dive into the details, let's slice the real estate market into a few main sectors and categories. We have commercial, residential, and undeveloped land. We also have the distinction between inside and outside shots. Real estate imagery is mainly about marketing properties, so there are different approaches, including technical shot-list driven, artistic freelance, or a combination of both. Operations can vary depending on the location, weather requirements, and airspace limitations. Additionally, many real estate projects involve multiple sites.

It's important to understand and decide the focus of your operation. Some segments of the real estate market carry more costs than others, so consider which areas interest you the most.

So how much do drone pilots make?

There isn't a simple answer to this question. Factors such as competition, expenses, and market demand play a crucial role. Generating top-line revenue is exciting, but profitability must be considered. With more than 200,000 Part 107 licenses as of January 2021, the competition has steadily increased, causing pricing to stabilize into a market-driven level.

Hourly fees and project pricing have normalized, but there is still some degree of control over profitability. It depends on how many projects and missions you can secure. Let's explore some statistics:

According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a drone operator is $58,280. reports a range from $59,787 to $98,083. Keep in mind that these numbers may include employees who have other responsibilities besides drone operation.

As an owner/operator of your own business, the amount you can make depends on the number of projects and jobs you secure. For example, if you charge $158/hour and complete eight one-hour jobs per month, you can make $14,400 per year. With 20 one-hour jobs per month, you can make $37,920 per year, and with 50 one-hour jobs per month, you can make $94,800 per year. These figures represent top-line revenue, and profitability depends on various factors.

What the real world looks like

To give you a better understanding of what an actual drone operation looks like, let me share some real data. In our two-person drone business, we rely on a fleet of 4 DJI drones and use HERO GoPro and DSLR cameras for ground imagery. We have been steadily growing our client base and revenues since 2017. We primarily work within a 3-hour drive from our home office to keep costs manageable.

Instead of hourly rates, we determine project prices through a bidding system. This approach allows us to maintain a profit margin of over 50% and work at our own pace. On average, our revenue per project is $165. We've found this model to be successful for our business.

The best drones to use for real estate drone photography

Choosing the right equipment for real estate imagery is crucial. Consider your specific requirements and the type of imagery you need to capture. Altitude, orbital shots, indoor capabilities, battery life, and camera quality are essential factors to consider. Here are some recommended features:

  • Collision avoidance: Opt for drones with collision avoidance capabilities, especially when working around buildings and trees.
  • Cinematic flight mode: Look for drones that offer smooth and controlled flight for video shooting.
  • Orbital setting: Drones with an automatic flight mode for capturing perfect circles or arcs at various altitudes and distances are ideal.
  • Indoor aerial capability: Some projects may require steady flight indoors without GPS connectivity.
  • Resulting photo and video quality: Prioritize drones with high-resolution cameras.
  • Battery life: Make sure the drone has sufficient flight time, especially for high-altitude orbitals.
  • LiDAR/Photogrammetry and Thermal Infrared: Consider these supplemental technologies to enhance your aerial services.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Mavic 2 Pro are highly recommended for real estate commercial drone operations. While they have been discontinued, their successors, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 and DJI Mavic 3, offer even better performance. DJI is considered the industry standard for drone work.

How to find real estate drone photography clients

The real estate industry was one of the first to adopt drone technology for marketing imagery. However, the market has become competitive and crowded. To succeed, you need to actively find and win clients. Here are some strategies:

  • Cold calling: Reach out to realtors, both independent and affiliated with large firms, and offer an introductory offer to prove yourself.
  • Establish an internet presence: Create a website, Facebook page, and portfolio to showcase your services. Make sure to track metrics.
  • Local advertising: Work with local mailers and create flyers to target real estate-related businesses.
  • Join an internet bid service: Sign up with websites that match drone operators with drone customers.
  • Referrals: Deliver excellent service to earn client referrals, which will set you apart from the competition.

Cast a wide net across different real estate sectors to find new business opportunities. While residential real estate might be your preference, remember that clients can be diverse, just like the entire real estate market.

In Summary

The real estate market offers vast opportunities for drone services, but it's also a crowded and competitive landscape. Revenue generation is directly related to the number of projects you secure. The average rates fall into $150/hour or $165/project. DJI Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Mavic 2 Pro are recommended for real estate drone operations. To find clients, develop a marketing plan, set competitive pricing, and differentiate yourself from the competition. Utilize cold calling, internet presence, local advertising, bid services, and referrals to land new clients in the real estate industry.

As the market continues to evolve, keep exploring new applications and techniques within the real estate market, such as photogrammetry and thermal/infrared technology. Adapt to changes, provide excellent service, and track your success to continuously improve your business.