What real estate agents need to know about using drones to get aerial photos of homes

Real estate agents have increasingly turned to drones to capture some of their most captivating listing photos. After all, what better way to showcase a home’s sweet pool, or expansive yard? Or perhaps you want to show its proximity to the beach or other desirable location. Aerial photography using drones is one of the best way real estate agents can make their listings stand out.

While using drones for real estate photography is not super difficult, there is some barrier to entry. Beyond learning how to fly the drone, there are some things you’ll need to know about getting proper licensing from the Federal Aviation Administration, registering your drone, and getting permission to fly in certain areas.

Before you bring a drone into your real estate business, here’s what you need to know:

Decide if you want to become a drone pilot (or if you’d rather hire one)

Using a drone can be an excellent way to showcase homes with unique designs and interesting exteriors.

Real estate agents could certain buy a drone and take photos of homes themselves. But you might also find it easier to outsource — hire a drone pilot to take those photos for you. Here’s what you need to know about either option:

If you’re a real estate agent who wants to become a drone pilot

So you’re one of those creative real estate agents ready to become a drone pilot. Woohoo! This will be a fun journey. However, keep in mind that it is a journey. In order to use drones for commercial purposes (which includes taking real estate photos), you need to get a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation. You might commonly see that being referred to as the Part 107 certificate or a drone pilot’s license.

Fly under Part 107 (you’ll need a license):

If you’re using drones for any source of income stream, you must hold a Remote Pilot Certificate, which is essentially a commercial drone pilot license. That’s all thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107, which mandates that anyone wanting to operate a drone commercially needs to obtain a drone pilot license, formerly referred to as a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.”

You can get that by passing an in-person written exam — similar to the permit test you took when you were 15 before getting a driver’s license. You can take the test, which is a set of 60 multiple choice questions, at one of about 700 testing centers in the United States.

But here’s the kicker for people new to drones: Unless you have pre-existing airspace knowledge, the test isn’t going to be easy without significant studying (and possibly taking a full Part 107 online training course).

Register your drone

Once you’ve passed the test, you’re still not free. You’ll also have to register your drone. It’s a fast and easy process that only costs $5, so this hurdle is minimal.

The Autel Evo Lite drone

Know the rules around where and how you can legally fly

Once you’ve gotten your license and registered your drone, you can fly for commercial purposes — but there are still some restrictions. When you fly under Part 107, then unless you’ve received an FAA waiver then you agree to flying under certain parameters including (but not limited to):

  • You will not operate from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
  • You will keep the drone within your visual line of sight
  • You will fly in uncontrolled airspace, or will have received LAANC approval to fly in controlled airspace (such as near airports)

Don’t panic about airspace though. Most airspace is Class G, which means uncontrolled airspace. However, if there’s an airport within five miles of you, odds are that’s not Class G airspace. You can easily tell if you can legally fly in the airspace you intend to fly in by checking the FAA’s official Know Before You Fly website. Just type in the address of the home you intend to photograph, and the FAA outputs a yay or nay.

Get the right drone

Of course, all that works means you better have the right drone! Luckily, whether your budget is $400 or $4,000, you can get an incredibly high quality flying robot (WITH a camera attached to it!) that fits your pricetag. And often, it won’t cost much more than just a standard digital camera on its own.

The DJI Air 3 costs about $1,000, making for an excellent option if you’re on a budget. For a higher-end drone, the DJI Mavic 3 Pro starts at more than $2,000 but stands out for its Hasselblad dual-camera system.

If you’re really strapped on budget, you could even get away with the DJI Mini 3 or DJI Mini 3 Pro. You can sometimes find the cheaper model, the DJI Mini 3, for less than $500. Check out this photo I took of my parents’ home in Missouri using the DJI Mini 3 Pro:

Check out my guide to the best photography drones to find one that fits your budget and specification criteria.

Plan, log and manage your drone flights like a pro

Image courtesy of Dronedesk

Once you’ve got your license and your drone, it’s time to start flying. And when you do, you’ll want a professional system to plan and manage your drone flights.

Any sort of drone logbook will do. That said, professional use cases demand a bit more professional of a system, so consider a drone logging software.

Tools like Dronedesk can take manual spreadsheets, doc templates, or paper checklists out of the equation, replacing them with an efficient software. Dronedesk gathers data air, ground and weather intelligence data for you. Use it to easily manage your team, fleet, and generate job packs, flight and maintenance log reports. It starts at $12.50 per month, though there’s also a free trial version.

Use a drone to take wide shots that showcase a property’s proximity to other desirable amenities, such as how close it is to the beach as is the case with these luxury waterfront homes in Miami. Drone shots are also helpful to show how close properties run up against their neighbors or against main roads.

If you’re going to hire someone else as your drone pilot

Does that all sound way too stressful and complicated? I don’t blame you for feeling that way. You can always outsource your real estate photography needs to a drone pilot. Just ensure they’re certified as a Part 107 operator.

Find reputable drone pilots

There are a number of services that help connect businesses with licensed drone pilots. Of course, if you do hire a drone pilot, you should always ask to see their Part 107 license to ensure the pilot you’ve hired is compliant with FAA rules.

Understand which rules you still need to be familiar with

While hiring a drone pilot means you get to avoid the burden of needing to be licensed yourself, you still should be familiar with the FAA rules around flying drones. That includes knowing where you can legally fly drones. You don’t want to hire a pilot as a freelancer, only to realize later that the home is located within two miles of an airport and you cannot get approval to fly there.

A drone like the DJI Air 2S can get high-quality photos and video for less than $1,000.

The best drones for real estate photography

If you’re just looking for an eye-catching shot for your Instagram feed then you probably don’t need as high-quality of a drone then if you’re shooting a complicated video of a property for a TV commercial.

Key specs real estate agents need in drones

In general, there are some key specs that every drone should always have, including:

  • 4K video
  • 3-axis gimbal (allowing for that silky-smooth video aesthetic)
  • Live FPV (first person view) of the drone’s camera, allowing you to see what the drone sees
  • Automatic takeoff and landing (if it doesn’t have this, the drone will be too hard to fly)
  • Altitude hold (this keeps your drone at a fixed altitude, and is essential for easier, more controlled flight)

Beyond that, specs are really up to you and your needs. Do you need higher quality images and photos if they’ll be used in print ads, or is a medium-resolution photo intended for posting in a slideshow on a site like Redfin sufficient? Do you need obstacle avoidance sensors for maximum safety, or do you trust your piloting skills? Do you need 30 minutes of battery life, or are you fine with 15 minutes (and perhaps buying a spare battery)?

Check out my guide to the best drones for photography, which should better direct you to a good drone for real estate photography.

A note for beginners about buying new drones

For real estate agents new to drones, here’s a pro-tip. Always start with a cheap, toy drone (any $30 toy drone will do!). In fact, the cheaper, the better! That’s because cheap drones don’t have features like automatic takeoff, landing and hovering. Therefore, they’re more difficult to fly. Once you get to flying a “real” drone, it’ll be a breeze.

And on the off-chance you crash, you’d rather crash $40 into the pool vs. $400 or even $4,000.

Learn more: Drone licenses, registration and more: 5 things to know about incorporating drones into your photography business

If you’ve got a mansion to sell (like this Holmby Hills, Los Angeles home that sold in 2011 for $85 million to Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone), then a drone can show off all the amenities, including the huge driveway, the expansive lawn and the tennis courts.

You have a drone. Now what?

It’s not enough for real estate agents to fly under FAA rules and have an awesome drone. Once you’ve taken the photos, it’s important you know how to market and sell them. After all, potential home buyers don’t care about your Part 107 license! They care to see that sweet shot of the drone swooping over the trees, revealing the expansive backyard oasis of the home you’re trying to sell. And sell the shot with the perfect lighting, shot direction, editing, music and more.

To take your drone photography and videography skills to the next level, sign up for an online drone photo course. I recommend something like Drone Launch Academy’s Aerial Video A to Z, which covers topics including speeding up the editing process and workarounds for dealing with (notoriously hefty) 4k footage, salvaging footage you thought unusable (such as being too shaky, overexposed or underexposed), and turning flat and bland footage to video that pops with the perfect color balance.

Whether you look to add drone photography to your skillset, or you’re a real estate agent looking to hire a drone pilot, you’re one step closer to generating listing photos that stand out from the competition. Get those sweeping views of the property, and take prospective buyers on a virtual tour that compels them to make an offer without even visiting.

You’ll also want to make sure you (or the pilot you hire) has insurance. Typically, you’ll have a separate drone insurance policy.

Happy flying!

Got more questions, insights or thoughts about how real estate agents can use drones? Leave a comment below!


  • Chip Jones says:

    Great article, but missed the liability portion of this. It’s always wise to make sure that your drone pilot has the proper amount of liability insurance or else the agent/agency could be on the hook for any damages. Another item to mention is that certain States require the drone operator to be licensed in their State. Best to find out if that’s true beforehand.

    • Bill says:

      Great point. I’d also add that most general liability policies don’t cover drones and you either need a rider on the current policy or a separate drone insurance policy

  • Ed Bush says:

    Very interesting article. That Holmby Hills estate was incredible.

  • Amazing article. Advantages of Drone aerial photography can also be added that will help realtors understand the importance of drones in real estate.

  • Drone’s are great tools for agents that have the time, ability, and license to utilize them!

  • Kent says:

    Drone image is great as long as the intention of the image is clear to your client. Let’s say, there is a lake 1 miles down from, where your property is in the middle of mountain. If you taking a picture for the lake view, make sure, on site, you CAN show or include the site location and lake. If you show the lake/surrounding only, your customer might expect to see the lake from the property or by cutting a few trees to clear. Cutting may require trees all the way to valley which hopefully doesn’t involves other peoples properties. I’d suggest to set flying height at maximum of 2nd or 3rd floor level for realistic expectations. Your customer could be expect at different level for an arial view from 100ft high. Again if the image includes lake AND site/house, then you can see how far the lake is which is terrific way to show your property. Drone image is getting popular but it is always us to misuse, not drone itself.

  • It was interesting to me when you explained that it is important to check if a drone operator has a Part 107 license. I would imagine that a lot of drone operators are utilized in the film and TV industry. It seems like these drone operators would need to have the right licensing in order to work in the film and TV industry.

  • Sam Andrews says:

    Hey! I hope it would be okay if I show my sister this article so she can help her boss make a worthy deal eventually. If you must know, he’s considering selling his beach house in Florida this summer due to personal circumstances. Thanks, by the way, for reminding us to take note of the local regulations regarding the use of drones when taking images or videos of our real estate property.

  • luke14002
    Luke Smith says:

    It’s nice that you pointed out how drone shots are helpful to show how close properties run up against their neighbors or against main roads. I was checking out some real estate photos earlier and I was quite fascinated with some of the aerial shots. I heard before that you could actually ask for drone photograph services nowadays, which is probably what was used to take the pictures I’ve seen.

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