Commercial Appraisal Drone Photography Q&A

Learn more from Scott Anderson about Drone Photography in this insightful Q&A.
drone photography commercial real estate appraisal


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Drone Photography Q&A with Scott Anderson

Drone photography is a very efficient way for commercial appraisers to do their jobs. Since it is becoming more popular to use drone photography, asking Scott Anderson, a Certified General Appraiser and drone user, to share his experiences seemed natural. He gives insight on where to start, what he’s learned, and where he sees the future of drone photography. Though Scott mentions the regulations of drones, he does not go into detail. For drone regulations, refer to the drone webinar previously recorded back in November 2019.

Question: We know all appraisers like to get drone photography, but most of them hire out this type of work. What made you decide to do it yourself instead of hiring someone?

Answer: First, I have always had a passion for aviation. I earned my private pilot’s license when I was 19. As I became more aware of what drones could do, I also realized it was a great way to scratch my flying itch without breaking the bank. Second, I quickly recognized the potential of drone operations in real estate. There are so many avenues that can be pursued beyond just appraisal inspections. These include photography, construction inspections, agriculture, mapping, etc. So, I saw how this could add other business opportunities as well.

Question: When you first decided to do your own drone photography, what are the first things you did?

Answer: Research, research, research. I started by watching YouTube videos. There are many commercial drone pilots on YouTube who produce good information. I was looking up videos on “drones in real estate appraisal”, “drones in real estate”, “drone business”, “drones in construction”, “best commercial drones”, “getting your drone license”, etc. I contacted a friend who had a drone, and he met me on a land inspection. It only took 5 minutes in the air when I realized the difference having a drone could make. Next, was getting my license. If you are going to use your drone in any kind of money-making venture, you have to be licensed by the FAAWithin a few weeks, I purchased my friend’s drone and I was off to the races. I used that drone, a DJI Phantom 3 Standard, for 3 months, and learned a great deal with it.

Question: Once you had your drone, what kind of experiences did you run into? What were the challenges?

Answer: The legalities of operating a drone are straight forward. For instance, don’t fly above 400 feet. Check the airspace around you. Don’t fly over people and traffic. Don’t fly at night. The real test is figuring out your limitations and what you can comfortably do. A drone can get into some pretty tight places, but do you really want to do that? Are you comfortable putting the drone between a building and a tree where if you move the controls the wrong way, you’re colliding with one or the other? Further, do you really want to take this machine 100 feet out over the river? That still makes me nervous. What if a prop fails? What is the battery fails? Chances are extremely slim that they will, but it’s still in the back of my mind.

Question: How do customers respond to drone suggestion?

Answer: I don’t really ask the customers if they want the drone photography. It’s just part of my inspection process. I don’t use the drone on all of my inspections, but I do if I have flat or large roof areas. If there are large expanses of land such as farms or developments, I’ll definitely be incorporating aerial shots. However, as clients get used to seeing more of the images, I imagine they may start requesting those shots.

Question: Do you run into issues of it being too close to highways/airports where you aren’t allowed to fly a drone?

Answer: I haven’t flown the drone next to any airports as of yet. We do have industrial and business parks surrounding our local airports, so those jobs will be coming. But the airspace you are flying in is one of the first considerations before you launch a drone into the air. Flying in airspace near an airport requires a clearance due to the FAA’s control of that space. Thankfully, the FAA introduced an app last year that makes it a quick process. As for highways, that’s a consideration on just about every flight. The regulations stipulate no flights over traffic or people. So flying a drone around any roadway is the same as walking around it. Make sure you look both ways and don’t cross if traffic is coming.

Question: Have you crashed your drone? What advice do you have in regards to crashing?

Answer: Yes, and it was a very painful lesson to learn. For anyone considering flying drones or is new to flying drones, take these words to heart: You will make mistakes, and you will lose a drone. Most importantly, always fly with insurance.


Question: Share any drone stories from your experience thus far.

Answer: The first case I used a drone on was a tract of what I originally thought was farmland. Access to it wasn’t good. Further, it was difficult to get a good look at the land from any one vantage point due to trees. We launched the drone and as soon as it got above the trees, it became very clear that this was not the ground that I thought it was. The Google map images did not do it justice. It was much more of some prime hunting ground versus farmland. The perspective you get with a drone can change your approach to a case.

When vacationing in Florida, I took the drone up along a lake shore. As I was putting the drone away, a husband and wife approached. We struck up a conversation about drone photography. Turns out, they were both real estate agents. They had commented that they were trying to convince their office to get a drone. I’ve found that a drone is sure to start some interesting conversations.

Within the drone pilot community, there are plenty of stories of confrontations from people angry that drones exist, let alone that one might be flying near them. Thankfully, I haven’t had any of those encounters. For the most part, people are just curious about it and want to find out more.

Question: Where do you see drone photography in the future for Commercial Real Estate? Will it become a necessity vs. an option?

Answer: Drone photography is only going to become more common. The capabilities keep expanding and prices keep coming down. Drone technology is only going to become more accessible. However, the regulations are going to take some necessary effort to employ it. While drone technology is an option today, it is sure to become a necessity in the future. Lenders are going to figure out that the additional information drones provide can reduce liability. And reduced liability means less cost. And less cost means it is going to become standard in appraisals. My recommendation is all appraisers seriously consider getting their license and getting a drone. I would guess that in five years appraisers who do not have access to this technology are going to be at a disadvantage.

Question: Any last considerations regarding drone photography?
Answer: Safety. Around here we deal with a lot of snow and ice in the winter. Sometimes, it becomes dangerous to get around. One wrong step and you could be planted face down in a snowbank or worse. The drone allows me to stay in one place and inspect the whole exterior of the subject. It allows the ability to do exterior inspections from the comfort of your heated truck, and that’s quite the benefit when it’s below freezing outside.

About the Author

Scott Anderson is a Certified General Appraiser, and he holds a private pilot’s license and a commercial drone pilot’s license. Scott provides commercial appraisal services through DataSource Appraisal and aerial imaging services through Regent Aerial Imaging throughout eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois. His education includes an MBA, a Masters in Theology, and a Bachelors in Aviation Management. Scott lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife Susan and the world’s cutest dog, Selima.

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