By John Deans, Central Texas Drones
This article was originally published in August/September 2016 issue.
Scores of vertical UAV markets are now taking off and selling real estate is at the top. Drone-based aerial photography for real estate brokers and agents is not only booming, but is becoming nearly mandatory for properties over 25 acres. Potential buyers from another city, state or even a distant country can take an aerial tour of the rolling hills and see the picturesque rural layout of the house, barn, ponds and external fencing with just a click of the mouse.
Granted, Google Earth can provide a year-old satellite static view of the land in pseudo 3D at no cost, but a drone video is on a completely higher level. Drone videos give the realtor a production quality movie comprised of the most positive aspects of the country estate. Potential buyers see the property in the best light with inspiring music playing in the background. The UAV market for real estate is one of the original commercial industries conceived and is now in full implementation. The question is, “How are you going to get those aerial contracts?” You could have the top UAVs in your hanger, all the FAA credentials necessary and live in hot rural property markets. Yet without a solid marketing strategy and the entrepreneurial spirit to vigorously pursue that goal, your drone services will simply become the best kept aerial secret.
COVER THE BASICS
Let’s cover some basic prerequisites first to verify you are on the correct path for real estate aerial showcasing. It is absolutely critical to have your FAA 333 exemption and to be a private/sport pilot or at least have one on contract. The vast majority of realtors will run from any outlaw commercial drone pilots that could get them into trouble with their state regulators.
The minimum UAS platform should be at least a DJI Phantom 3 Professional with six to eight batteries coupled with a dedicated iPad or Android tablet. Invest in a solid travel case which can serve as both a secure storage for all the remote flight project components and a takeoff platform to get above the tall pasture grass on a million dollar ranch.
At the office you will need a strong computer with video editing software to produce smooth, professional, flowing aerial commercials. Most of your final productions for 2016 will still be in HD 2K since most real estate buyer prospects will be viewing your product on YouTube or Vimeo. As 4K computer monitors and TV’s start becoming more mainstream, 4K resolution recording and delivery will be required.
GATHERING AERIAL MARKETING MATERIAL
So now that you have the ground level experience with the UAS and post production capabilities, it is time to get the sales leads and close some business deals. Your main target audience will be real estate agents and brokers. However, before you approach them, you have to have a sample deliverable you can demo during those initial sales calls.
Your first real estate aerials may be probono flights for buddies with rural property just so you have something to show you can actually do this. One way to profitably perform these early flights is to direct market at a heavy discount to friends, associates or acquaintances who own farms and ranches. This process gives you experience and some compensation as you try to establish yourself in this competitive UAS marketplace. With just a few flown and edited sites, you can put together a montage of aerial showcasing video supported by energetic music to use in your sales calls. Direct sales to private individuals are critical to gather this initial video portfolio, but those deals are hard to sell and are not repeatable. I would much rather make a sales pitch to a realtor that could develop into numerous flights than expend the same amount of sales effort on a ranch owner for one aerial of his estate.
MARKETING MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT
Innovative business cards and trifold brochures are a must for your first aerial marketing campaign. I recommend VistaPrint.com since you can easily design both online. For the business card you need basic contact information with your cell phone number and email address highlighted. Spend a little extra on a glossy finish and a heavy weight card to make that solid first impression. VistaPrint’s brochure editing tools are awesome. Simply upload your initial aerial pictures and sales text in bullet point format to create professional, glossy, trifold brochures. Use an aerial for the background of your card and list all your credentials such as the 333 Exemption number and any other qualifications.
REAL ESTATE PROFESSIONAL GROUPS
Did I mention that one of the prerequisites was to be an energetic extrovert? Like any small business owner, you are the initial sales person. This means you will have to develop the marketing plan and sales strategy. It takes determination and discipline to pick up the phone, make those cold calls and walk into strange new environments.
One critical element for your success is to have a good source of leads. The goal here is to talk to the real estate brokers, AKA the bosses, and get a scheduled appointment with them so you can show how you can make them money by helping to sell their listings quickly.
Find and join local real estate groups as an affiliate member (vendor) and start going to their monthly meetings. This will give you physical access to those decision makers during luncheons. Here in Texas I joined both the Texas Land Brokers Network and the Central Texas Board of Realtors. Get business cards and brochures made ahead of time and wear your new company logo embroidered shirt and cap when attending these meetings. You will be surprised at the friendly and curious response you will get from realtors that want your service. It is well worth the membership dues of a few hundred dollars a year for the access to these industry professionals.
Once inside the realtor’s inner sanctum, you can then request to be the speaker by funding the luncheon. Then you will have a captive audience of dozens of prospective clients that will be watching your aerials on a large projection screen as you deliver your sales pitch. Imagine your brochure and business card next to every realtor’s lunch plate in the room while they watch an aerial you produced and think, “I need that to sell a listing we just signed…”
DIRECT MAIL CAMPAIGN
If you are not ready for large group presentations, obtain the membership list from that real estate group. This is a gold mine of localized sales leads. Use that membership list, focusing on the real estate broker and primary agents to hand write envelopes. Put just your name and address without the company name for the return address. This way recipients are more apt to open the envelope rather than immediately trashing it as junk mail. Simply place your business card and brochure in the hand written envelopes, slap on stamps and mail them out.
Give it a week or so, then start making cold calls to those mail out brokers and agents. The goal is to make an appointment to show how your UAS aerial showcasing can help make their phone ring and sell their farm and ranch properties quicker. Ask them if they saw your brochure and tell the broker you would like just ten minutes of their time to explain how your FAA approved drone aerials can benefit them. Set the appointment according to their schedule and be on time for that meeting.
INITIAL SALES CALL
Not if, but when you get appointments to meet with them, take either a good sized laptop or even a large 32-inch LED TV to display aerial video from a USB drive so they can be mesmerized by your product as you deliver your sales pitch. The primary theme you want to convey is how you can highlight the positives of the property from the air. You do this by taking them on a bird’s eye tour with aerial dramatics and discovery reveal videography techniques. Communicate how your marketing production from the sky will impress the prospective buyer with the marketing efforts of their new realtor and the breathtaking views of their homestead.
Your standard deliverable should be a USB drive with a two to three minute HD movie comprised of twelve to sixteen scenes smoothly transitioned with copyright-free music playing in the background. You should also include fifty to seventy-five high resolution photos of the property. Continue to offer hosting of the videos on YouTube and the choice of even faster delivery of the movie and photos from Dropbox.com. My final closing statement is: “show me a listing that could use an aerial photography flight this week,” and odds are they will pull out a flyer immediately and the deal is almost done.
PRICE POINT STRATEGIES
Before you provide a written quote, first verify the size of the property and the features that will need to be flown and filmed. Also take into account the distance of the trip and if any special Certificate of Authorization (COA) needs to be filed with the FAA.
Where your market is located, the property value and the level of the broker will determine your price point. Some UAS aerial photography projects for high end estates in the northeast U.S. are commanding $1,000 to $1,500 just for the outside portion. Some photographers are performing both the aerial and the inside photoshoot for $2,000 to even $5,000 at high dollar properties.
The opposite end of that green rainbow can drop to just a few hundred dollars in the southern US where agents are more ‘frugal’ (and I’m using the nice word). Choosing your price will take market research and maybe even trial and error. If you only get one out of five deals with the other four fussing that your $800 price is too high, they may be right. On the other hand, if all five take your offer of $250 a property right away, odds are you are under-pricing yourself.
Another strategy is to market directly to the property owners. Though this rarely results in repeat business as it should in realtor aerial sales, it could get you some referral projects with neighbors and friends of owners. A technique I use is to put a trifold brochure on the front gate key entry pad with a rubber band to attach it cleanly.
Since I only want to market to pricey rural estates, only placing my brochure on large properties that are secured by an automated gate system helps filter out the smaller ranches that will most likely not be interested in my aerial services.
Avoid taping, tacking or leaving your brochure on the mailbox since that may aggravate landowners. Make it easy for the estate owner to see and remove your advertisement from his keypad pedestal. This way, hopefully they will read it and call you for a flight.
You are not just a drone pilot. You are now a small business person who wears many hats. On numerous days you will be wearing the salesperson hat and like it or not, you have to sell yourself. Be confident, be positive and show how much you love your high flying career of helping to make them money with your eye in the sky!