Don’t Buy a Drone for Real Estate Videos

Written by Mike Slatton, Drone Pilot for BTGH

8 Reasons Why Not to Buy a Drone for Real Estate Videos

So every real-estate-mogul-wannabe is talking about getting a drone to shoot epic video of their real estate. Well, let me save you some time and energy in your search for the perfect drone.


We did it – We bought a drone for real estate videos – and shot some epic video – but was it worth it? No.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Macro ONLY
This is a tool of macro proportions only. That means that it’s only really useful for wide shots, like aerial views from 100 to 200 feet (or higher). There’s no value to fly this thing head-high around the house. Every breeze from a passing car or the AC unit is going to push it away or pull it down.

If you want to shoot the yard and outside of the house, you’re better off just holding a camera and walking. Even better, get a hand-held gimble stabilizer for a GoPro camera. It’s good for inside and outside of the house.

Of course you’ll NEVER fly the drone inside the house.

2. ROI
These things are expensive.

An average, entry level Quadcopter with GoPro setup, extra batteries, chargers, First Person Viewer and remote control is going to cost you about $3,000. You can hire an independent film maker/drone pilot with a GoPro camera who will shoot some raw footage for you for about $100/hour, which equals about 30 minutes of footage.

How much is an epic overhead aerial shot of your 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom listing in Lake Abbot Estates worth?

What?!?! $100 an hour is too much?

You’ve been thinking about spending $3000 for 4 or 5 aerial shots! (Of course, 4.5 aerial shots is the average number flights a real estate professional gets in before they either lose the quadcopter, damage it beyond repair or just finally give up and list it on Craigslist.)

Honestly. How many aerial shots do you think you need?

3. Deep Lacerations
These things are DANGEROUS! Really.

Google “quadcopter injuries” to get an idea of what’s possible.

Would you dare put your fingers near the weed whacker string? Well the weed whacker has NOTHING on the blades of a high powered quadcopter. The drone blades are like four fully exposed Ninja blender blades. If you’re still willing to take the risk and are fully intent on wasting your money on one of these, then save yourself a little pain and anguish by following this advice:

    • Get blade guards. These will save your copter and may save you some stitches.
    • Do NOT upgrade from 8 inch blades to 9 inch blades. 9 inches is longer than the quadcopter was intended to use, and that extra half inch on each end makes a difference.
  • Do NOT upgrade from plastic to carbon fiber. When you get cut, plastic may break, limiting the injury a little. Carbon fiber WILL NOT BREAK, ensuring that the cuts to your arm or hand are deep and painful.

They use carbon fiber to make knives.

Heck, even if we’re just talking about limiting damage during a crash, plastic blades are cheaper and easier to replace than motors. Hitting a tree or house with carbon fiber blades will not only do damage to whatever it hits, it may bend the rotor shaft.

4. Learning Curve
You may already know how to shoot and edit video, but it’s going to take you about 20 hours just to learn to fly the quadcopter proficiently. If learning new things doesn’t deter you, then here’s some more great advice –

Buy some toy quadcopters. You need to put in the flight time with the toys just to feel comfortable with the controls.

You WILL crash while learning to fly, and you will look like a total idiot if you’re crashing your $3k drone. Instead, learn to fly and crash a toy quadcopter. They’re a lot cheaper ($30 to $80) and actually pretty durable. In all honesty, once you’ve learned to fly the toys, the DJI Phantom and similar quadcopters will be a breeze.

Aside from the actual flying of the drone, learning to fly the quad-copter is not even the beginning of everything that you need to learn!

Here’s a list of things you will need to know in order to fly your drone:

What to Know Before You Fly Your Drone

  • Battery charging. (Sounds simple, and for some models it is, but many models require an electrical engineering class.)
  • Differences between Lithium Polymer batteries
  • The Controller (lots of buttons that do stuff)
  • GPS configuration (Yeah, it’s got GPS)
  • Compass calibration (Yes, it’s got a compass, too)
  • Gimble calibration (What!?! You don’t know what a gimble is?)
  • Rotor calibration
  • Firmware upgrades for the quadcopter
  • Firmware upgrades for the gimball
  • Firmware upgrades for the FPV
  • Quad-copter Maintenance (Bearing lubrication, parts replacement)

That list doesn’t even include the camera! If you’re not familiar with the GoPro or video editing, then those are just more things you need to learn.

5. Time

This thing is a crying baby that always needs attention.

First, you need to be flying it daily, to get good at it and stay good at it. If you just fly it when you have a house to shoot, you’ll always be relearning to fly it, and your video will always be less than adequate.

And forget the time it takes to learn EVERYTHING you need to make this thing even REMOTELY useful; How about the time you spend just talking about it to onlookers and homeless people? Everyone has the same dozen questions:

Questions People ask Real Estate Drone Pilots

  1. Is that a drone?
  2. How much did it cost?
  3. Is there a camera on it?
  4. Can it shoot missiles?
  5. Do you see me?
  6. What’s the difference between a drone and that other thing you said? (quadcopter)
  7. How long does it fly?
  8. Does it run on batteries?
  9. What happens when the batteries run out?
  10. How far can it go?
  11. Where did you get it?
  12. Aren’t those illegal?

Of course you don’t want to be rude, but this $3k+ flying food processor needs 100% attention!

6. Stress

Flying the quadcopter is a 2-man job.

Most quadcopters used for filming use a First Person Viewer (FPV) which makes flying feel more like a video game. However, unlike a video game, your view is very limited to what is directly in front of you (only what the camera sees). That means that you can’t see the tree branches that you might be rising or lowering into. For that very reason, you need eyes watching the quadcopter WHILE the pilot uses the FPV to frame the shot.

Flying a drone by yourself is definitely not advisable.

You have two 360 degree toggle controllers that control every aspect of the drone’s flight, and it take months to learn how to operate it perfectly in tight situations.

Think of the stress an airline pilot feels every time he takes off, carrying hundreds of passengers. Now, consider the stress an air traffic controller feels. The pilot is in control of the craft, but the air traffic controller is in charge of making sure no one runs into each other.

Flying the quad-copter without any help at all is like an air traffic controller controlling a plane from the ATC tower.

But even if you’re really good and you have another set of eyes helping you, it’s still not recommended to fly close to buildings and people. Every little breeze from a passing car or an AC unit blows the drone off course by 3 or 4 feet. If you’ve only got 3 or 4 feet of space to maneuver, you WILL crash it.

As it goes higher into the sky, the jet stream can just carry it away!

Yes, the jet stream is a real threat.

But it’s got GPS & a Compass!

Sure, if you manage to lose it in the sky, it’s got tools to call it back, (fail-safe switch) but that shit is MAGIC!

I for one don’t know how magic works, so I’m never fully confident that it will actually come back. When I switch the fail-safe button and the drone DOES come back though, I just chalk it up to good luck.

7. Maintenance
I mentioned maintenance above, but let’s talk about what that actually entails. First, your batteries only last about 10 to 20 minutes. That’s not a lot of flight time, so you’re always charging batteries.

What happens when the batteries die? The drone CRASHES. Period. These things don’t glide safely to earth and they don’t have parachutes… yet.

New Technology

This technology is very sensitive to the elements – especially heat. We’re in Tampa and summer lasts about 8 months. That means that you’ve got about 10 minutes to get the shots you need, because after warm up, the system just gets HOT and nothing works right anymore. There’s always something not right about how it takes off or lands or the gimble isn’t working like it should. However, when you bring it back to the air conditioned office to troubleshoot, everything will work exactly as it should.

Nobody likes working in the hot Florida sun. Not even your drone.

8. FAA

Every time we turn around, the federal government is trying to take our fun away. Drones and quadcopters are the latest target of the FAA.

Why? No reason. It’s just another revenue opportunity.

Government regulation of the piloting of quadcopters and drones will probably mean that people will have to have a “Drone Pilot’s License” to fly one in cities and other populated areas. “Licensing” is, of course, just another form of taxation.

If the North Koreans figure out how we built houses in the 1930’s and 40’s or learn how to tile a roof with asphalt shingles, we’re gonna be in a heck of a lot of trouble!

– Sum Idiot Politician

Of course, they’ll come up with some ridiculous excuse for the regulation like they’re afraid that the raw video footage of your $139,000 frame house in the suburbs listing could end up in the hands of the Russians, or worse – NORTH KOREA!

A Better Alternative

Really, how many listings do you have that could actually benefit from an aerial view of the property?

If you’re the type of person that goes to the night club twice a week and blows $10k on a bar tab, then everyone EXPECTS you to get a quadcopter and hire a video pilot.

However, if you’ve got better ways to spend your capital, hire a video pilot on a per-need basis. Rates are about $100 per hour, which should give you PLENTY of aerial footage for your 2 minute promo video.

Heck, even if you had 20 properties that could sell faster with aerial video footage, you’d save about 50 hours, and $1,000 by hiring someone else to shoot the footage.


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