Use of Unmanned Drones Increases in Real Estate as Agents Seek Higher Ground

They’ve been used by the military for years, but when online retailer Amazon went public recently with its plans to use drones for quick-turnaround deliveries, the country learned that the aircraft — remote-controlled helicopters equipped with high-resolution cameras, image stabilization, GPS and more — are already being used commercially in the Real Estate industry.


A growing number of Realtors, brokers and agents have been using drones — which range from about $300 to well more than $1,000 and are easily accessible — to increase their marketing reach to potential clients. Sweeping images of neighborhoods, rolling hills, distances to schools, shopping and other amenities have been an instant draw.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words; What is a movie worth?” said commercial broker Hal Hanstein, of Cardinal Realty Group in St. Louis, Mo. “Incorporate it on YouTube and you have yourself a home run. I take this thing out and cars are stopping and watching me. They’re amazed by it.”

Hanstein used to shoot aerial video from airplanes before discovering the possibilities with drones. But the federal government is investigating the use of commercial uses of these aircraft and the Federal Aviation Administration may eventually further limit their uses. As it stands right now, drones may not be used for-profit. This is why all Real Estate professionals who use them provide the service as marketing “value-added,” since marketing is provided for free and the profit comes from a sales commission. Additionally, drones can fly no higher than 400 feet and are not allowed near airports. In the next couple of years, the FAA is expected to issue more rules about who can and cannot operate a drone.

“Just because you call it a drone, does that mean that you’re now going to regulate remote controlled airplanes and helicopters?” Hanstein said. “This type of aircraft has been flown all over the country since I was a child. I think the government’s barking up the wrong tree.”

Broker and agents using this technology say it gives them an advantage in their communities. Hanstein said has gotten new listings because of his videos.

“I’m adding value to my listings by providing a service that no one else in my community is doing,” he said. “There’s not one other commercial broker doing it in St. Louis.”

Like Hanstein, Realtor Gene Montemore, of RealLiving Success Realty in Scottsdale, Ariz., bought his drone through Brookstone, which sells them for as cheap as $299. He’s already managed to crash it into a tree, but for that price, the investment is worth it, he said.

“As we get more used to controlling it, we’re going to do some really cool stuff with it,” Montemore said.

The Realtor’s videographer introduced him to the concept and he was immediately sold on the idea.

“It was very head-turning. I sent it out to a bunch of clients and prospects we were dealing with,” he said. “They went crazy for it. The use of drones in Real Estate is a huge plus for my marketing and it sets my partner and I apart from everybody else.”

The commercial use of drones is still to be determined, and the FAA appears to have no plans to drop the issue. Some agents have gotten cease-and-desist letters. If that doesn’t work, it’s the agency’s prerogative to fine commercial pilots. But that hasn’t stopped some, like Century 21, from poking fun at their proliferation. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until every Realtor, agent, broker and developer has her own.

What do you think of the use of drones in Real Estate? Have you tried using one before? If so, how has it helped your business? Let us know in the comments, below.