A REALTOR’S GUIDE TO DRONES IN CANADA

What REaltors should know about drones in canada

Is a drone the right tool for marketing real estate? If yes, then should you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you? As a realtor in Canada, is it practical for you to capture your own drone imagery? How do the regulations surrounding the use of drones in Canada affect your decision? We will take a deep dive into these questions to help discover the right answer for you. This post will be broken into a few sections below. For ease of reference, use the following links to jump to what interests you the most.

Benefits of Drones for Real Estate

Unique Perspectives

This point is fairly self-explanatory. Drones capture a perspective of our surroundings from a rarely seen vantage point. This unique perspective can serve a variety of purposes, from adding perspective on where the property is with respect to nearby amenities to offering a tangible perspective on the size of a property. Additionally, for commercial properties, drone operators can also create 2D and 3D maps of a property. These maps can be used to calculate very accurate measurements, such as distance, area, elevation, slope (of ground or surfaces like roofs) or even volume of piles of material such as dirt, sand or gravel. All of these features can help a buyer determine if a property will meet their needs, often site unseen. The ability to help people “view” a property remotely is an important consideration during COVID-19.

“Although local (Canadian) data is elusive, RISMedia reports that in the United States, listings with drone images sell 68% faster than listings with standard images. Another study found that there are a lot of advantages associated with drones.”

Fraser Valley Real Estate Board

Highlight the Features of a Property

When done skillfully, aerial photography can help to accentuate the features of a property. It can often show things that would not be seen, even if the buyer was physically on the property. This can help to open a buyers eyes to potential benefits that they may not have otherwise considered.

Realtors turn to drones for imagery to sell homes in Canada.

Demonstrate Proximity

There is certainly a difference between telling someone (textually) about the neighbourhood and showing them. This is another area where drone imagery and video can shine. Imagery like that shown below can help people build a more meaningful vision of a property in their head. Remember that these images constitute your marketing. It’s important to catch people’s eye so they stop and look at your listing in greater detail.

Oblique drone image of real estate showing labels on landmarks in Canada.

Cost and Quality

As drone technology has developed, the price of aerial imagery has dropped significantly. Prior to the evolution of drone technology the primary method for gathering aerial images was by using small aircraft. Traditional aircraft are far more costly as you are paying for the aircraft, fuel, maintenance, hangar costs, pilot and photographer. Using drones offers obvious cost savings, however your mileage will vary based on what your drone operator charges. Having said that, using a drone should cost, at most, a third of what it would cost to hire a small aircraft.

Aside from the cost, drones offer significant advantages to the quality of the photos and video. The reason is that drones are much smaller, and therefore, can get into spots that traditional aircraft could not. The result is that drones can offer far more in the way of unique angles and perspectives at a much lower cost.

Increased Online Visibility

Using any type of visual media will help increase the visibility of real estate listings. Let’s be honest, the vast majority of real estate searches start online these days. Making it easy to digest information that you present to your buyers, will attract more interest to your listings. According to the data collected by the Content Marketing Institute: “B2C marketers who say their organizations are extremely/very committed to content marketing report a higher level of overall content marketing success than their less committed peers.” This sentiment is borne out in the data shown below.

A chart providing evidence that images and video have a large impact with online marketing, and by extrapolation, real estate marketing with drones.
There has been a substantial increase in audio/visual content, as well as written media and images. Image source Content Marketing Institute.

By making your listings stand out, you will increase your odds of attracting more attention to your online listings. Drones are very well positioned to offer eye catching perspectives as well as useful information to prospective buyers. Aerial media has already become very prominent within the real estate industry. Because of this fact, opting out of aerial media when listing properties may leave you at a competitive disadvantage.

Help Create a Narrative

“Whether it be photography or video, drones give a different perspective that allows the consumer to visualize scale and proximity of neighbouring areas and imagine a lifestyle”

RISMedia
Drones can help buyers visualize real estate more effectively.

There are an increasing number of creative ways to market real estate. Catching the eye of potential buyers continues to grow more important. Drone photographs and video offer visually compelling elements. They can capture details that would otherwise go unnoticed. RISMedia described an anecdote in one of their articles where a property had been listed for about a year , under three separate listing agents. The property sold after just a couple of weeks after the third listing agent used a drone photographer to capture a river that runs next to the property. Admittedly, there may have been other factors that led to the sale, however, telling a compelling story when you market a property can give you the advantage.

Drawbacks for Drones in Real Estate

Cost

Although the cost was mentioned as an advantage to drone marketing, it is still an expense. For that reason, it makes sense to consider the cost when deciding if aerial media will help your listings. Costs to hire a drone operator can vary quite wildly in Canada due to a large number of variables. Some of the factors that affect drone photography and videography are airspace restrictions, licensing fees, equipment/software costs, insurance and the time simply spent capturing and editing the media.

Video is more time consuming to plan, capture and edit than photographs, so you can expect video costs to be higher than the cost of photographs. Generally, an edited video clip will likely cost about twice what a handful of aerial photographs would cost. According to the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, hiring a drone pilot can range from about $200 to $400 based on a variety of factors.

Licensing

If you decide to get your own drone, there are fees and training associated with getting your drone licence. One of the first things that you need to know is what type of licence you will need. There are two factors that will help you answer this question. First, what type of drone do you want to fly? Second, where are you going to need to fly?

When it comes to drones, there are a few things to consider. Obviously the price of the drone is one factor. You should also consider the performance of the drone, both aerodynamically and for the quality of it’s camera. Finally, the filming location and drone weight will also play a large role in deciding if you want to hire a professional or capture the aerial media for yourself.

If you decide to get a drone operator certificate, then I highly recommend Coastal Drone. They offer online training across Canada for both the Basic ($95 CAD) and Advanced ($599 CAD) drone operator certificate. Their online training is very thorough and was put together by a commercial pilot.

Drone Price

A complete drone buying guide is beyond the scope of this article. There are several drones available that would be adequate for real estate photos from between about $350 to $1500 USD. At the time of writing, DJI is offering a Mavic Mini for $350 USD, a Mavic 2 Pro for $1499 USD and a Phantom 4 Pro V 2.0 for $1499 USD.

Pricing drones for realtors in Canada.

Each of these drones could get a real estate job done. The Mavic Mini’s camera is more limited than the Mavic 2 Pro. Likewise, the Mavic 2 Pro has some limitations on it’s camera that the Phantom 4 Pro V 2.0 doesn’t. Another factor to consider is that the Mavic Mini doesn’t offer obstacle avoidance, whereas the Mavic 2 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 do. This is certainly something to consider, as the lack of obstacle avoidance increases the likelihood of crashing your drone.

Drone Performance

In terms of the flight characteristics of the three drones that I mentioned above, the biggest difference in the way that they handle comes down to their weight. The lighter that a drone is, the more the wind is able to move it around. Having said that, all three of the drones that I listed above are remarkably stable. Just remember that on windy days, heavier drones will handle better than lighter drones.

Camera Performance

For a complete rundown on the specs for each of these drones and their cameras, check out these links: Mavic Mini Specs, Mavic 2 Pro Specs and Phantom 4 Pro V 2.0 Specs. There are other brands available, and I am not endorsing any particular brand or model, but DJI drones are a very common choice for applications like real estate.

Weight

The location and the weight of the drone that you plan to fly are related to one another in Canada. With respect to weight, Transport Canada currently categorizes drones by three different weight classes and they are, less than 250grams (micro drones), 250 grams to 25 kg and drones that weigh more than 25 kg. The rules for flying drones are the least onerous for those who fly drones weighing less than 250 grams. The regulations for drones that weigh between 250 grams and 25 kg are more complex and require you to get a drone operator certificate.

Drones that weigh more than 25 kg require a drone operator certificate and also require you to get a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) for every flight you conduct. I am not going to say much more about drones weighing more than 25 kg, because for real estate photography and videography they are not really the right tool for the job, although they could get the job done.

Location

Transport Canada has identified locations that are higher risk, such as airports, military bases and special use airspace (often used for pilot training). Although there is increased risk of flying a drone in these areas, you are allowed fly a lighter drone (less than 250 grams) because they are far less likely to cause any serious safety issues. As a result you are also not required to get a drone operator certificate for micro drones.

For drones between 250 grams and 25 kg, either a basic or advanced drone operator certificates is required. These drone operator certificates are intended to mitigate safety risks by ensuring that drone pilots have the required knowledge. The certificate you need to get is based on whether or not you fly your drone in any of the higher risk areas previously mentioned.

Important note, I mentioned that to fly a micro drone, you are not required to get a drone operator certificate. While this is true, as a commercial airline pilot I would recommend that if you decide to operate a micro drone (particularly near any of the higher risk areas, then it would serve you well to, at the very least, get yourself a Basic Drone Operator Certificate. It is not that expensive or time consuming to get this certificate, and it will help to familiarize you with some basic terminology and concepts. Personally, I would look at this as part of doing your due diligence. This way, if anything ever goes wrong, at least you could demonstrate that you were doing your best to understand and operate within the rules.

Liability Insurance

Transport Canada does not require drone operators to purchase liability insurance. Although insurance isn’t required, if you ever crashed your drone and caused damage or injury, then it would obviously be to your advantage to have insurance. The cost of an annual insurance plan depends on the cost of the drone that you use as well as the amount of coverage that you are purchasing. You should budget between $400 and $700 CAD per year to cover your insurance costs.

Photography Skills

Getting a drone and taking care of all of the considerations that we have discussed so far can get you to the point where you are ready to go out and start taking your own photos and video. This is great and can potentially save you some money. This also gets you more involved in the creative process of marketing your property.

While going out to take a bunch of drone photos is creative, exciting and fun, you may discover that your photos or video might not be quite the quality that you are hoping for. Having some background in photography can certainly be helpful. Be aware that your skills will develop over time and that means that it may be an uphill battle at the beginning.

Software

Another consideration is the software that you may need to buy and learn in order to make your photos and videos shine. There are some free, high quality video and photo editing software packages to be found. Unfortunately, with free software you may not have access to all of the features that the software has to offer. On the other hand, the paid version of software is a commitment and a cost. Whether you pay for the software or take the free version, the learning curve for editing software is pretty steep. This means that you may spend hours of your time just learning to use the software to make your projects look professional.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

To determine if getting your own drone to showcase your real estate listings is right for you, it is important to be aware of the associated costs. Below are some basic costs that you need to plan for if you decide to start get your own drone. These costs are approximate and will vary depending on the decisions you make.

Time, cost, quality image representing cost/benefit analysis of the drones for realtors in Canada.

Cost Summary

Micro Drone Costs

  • Drone = $450 CAD
  • Extra Battery = $50 CAD
  • Large Capacity Micro SD card = $40 CAD
  • Liability Insurance = $400 CAD*
  • Video software = $380 CAD
  • Photo software = $300 CAD**
  • ND filters = $160 CAD
  • Basic Drone Certificate = $95 CAD***
  • TOTAL = $1875 CAD

250 gram to 25 kg Drone Costs

  • Drone = $1900 CAD
  • Extra Battery = $215 CAD
  • Large Capacity Micro SD card = $40 CAD
  • Liability Insurance = $650 CAD*
  • Video Software = $380 CAD
  • Photo Software = $300 CAD**
  • ND filters = $160 CAD
  • Advanced Drone Certificate = $600 CAD***
  • TOTAL = $4245 CAD

* Insurance prices will fluctuate with the price of the drone and the value of the insurance. Also, these are annual recurring costs.

** For photography software, I have gone with the industry standard (Photoshop) and they price their software as a service, so it is also an annual recurring cost.

*** My assumption is that if you use a micro drone, then you will get a Basic Drone Certificate and if you get a drone between 250 grams and 25 kg, then you will get an Advanced Drone Certificate. You are not required to get a drone operator certificate if you operate a micro drone, so technically for micro drones this cost is not required, however I would recommend it.

In addition to the financial costs of setting yourself up to create your own aerial media, you will also need to commit a significant portion of time to learning how to fly your drone, how to take nice photos and how to edit them. It is difficult to estimate the amount of time that it would take to complete all of these tasks, but it will be an ongoing process and you should likely budget about two to three weeks to get yourself to a stage where you are relatively proficient at these tasks. On top of becoming proficient, you should also budget at least 2 hours of time for each shoot to capture and edit the media.

Benefits

Assuming that drone media delivered from a professional costs approximately $300 per session on average, then you can see that in a strictly financial sense, it would pay off to get your own drone in some circumstances. If you purchased a microdrone, then it would pay for itself after about 7 sessions and if you get a heavier drone, then it would pay off after about 15 sessions. Ultimately, if you can spare the initial cost of getting your own drone and the time that it would take to become proficient at flying, photography and editing, then the benefits of doing it yourself would be the same as all of the topics we mentioned above in the Benefits of Drones for Real Estate section above.

Drones: Canadian Regulations

In this section I’m going to run through most of the relevant rules and considerations to take into account when deciding if gathering aerial media is something you want to do on your own, or if it’s something that you’d rather hire a drone operator for. At the end of this section I will include a list of relevant links to Transport Canada documentation so that you have easy access to authoritative information.

Micro Drone Rules – Canada

In Canada, a micro drone is any drone weighing less than 250 gram. If you add anything to your drone that increases it’s weight above 249 grams when it is flying, then it is no longer a micro drone, and is subject to the regulations in Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).

When operating a micro drone, you must:

  • Fly safely — do not put people or other aircraft in danger
  • Avoid emergency sites and restricted airspace (forest fires, first responder perimeters)
  • Follow provincial, territorial or municipal rules that may also apply, including rules about privacy and trespassing

When opeerating a micro drone, you should:

  • Maintain the drone in direct line of sight
  • Do not fly your drone more than 400 feet above ground level
  • Keep a safe distance between your drone and any bystanders
  • Stay far away from aerodromes, airports, heliports and waterdromes
  • Avoid flying near critical infrastructure
  • Stay clear of aircraft at all times
  • Conduct a pre-flight inspection of your drone
  • Keep the drone close enough to maintain the connection with the remote controller
  • Avoid advertised events

When operating a micro drone, you don’t need to:

  • Register your drone
  • Get a drone operator certificate

Micro Drone Thoughts

Although you are not required to get a drone operator certificate if you operate a micro drone, it is your responsibility to avoid restricted airspace. Consider, for a moment, how you would determine if a bit of airspace is restricted due to a forest fire. This is a perfect example of why I recommend that micro drone operators should, at the very least, get their Basic Drone Operator Certificate. Let’s take it a step further and assume you caused an accident and you had to go to court? How would you demonstrate that you avoided emergency sites if you are not aware of how to look that information up and prove that you looked it up prior to conducting your flight? These are the types of questions that you should ask yourself before conducting any drone flight.

Basic Drone Operator Certificate – Canada (250 grams to 25 kg)

If you meet all 5 of the following conditions, then you are conducting basic drone operations:

  • You fly your drone in uncontrolled airpsace
  • You fly it more than 30 meters horizontally from bystanders
  • You never fly it over bystanders
  • You fly it more than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome
  • You fly it more than 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport

For basic operations, these are some of the rules that you must follow.

  • Register your drone with Transport Canada before you fly it
  • Mark your drone with the registration number
  • Pass the Small Basic Exam
  • Be able to show your Pilot Certificate – Basic Operations and proof of registration when you fly

For Basic Operations it is important to realize that if you live near an urban centre (Vancouver is a good example), then you will likely need an Advanced Certificate due to the proximity of the airport if you opt for a drone between 250 grams and 25 kg. Flying in the areas shaded in red is an Advanced Operation. All of the areas that are not shaded in red are considered Basic Operations.

Map showing restrictions for basic drone operations in Vancouver, Canada

Advanced Drone Operator Certificate – Canada (250 grams to 25 kg)

If you meet any 1 of these conditions, then you are conducting advanced operations:

  • You want to fly in controlled airpsace
  • You want to fly over bystanders
  • You want to fly within 30 meters horizontally of bystanders
  • You want to fly less than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or a military aerodrome
  • You want to fly less than 1 nautical mile from a certified heliport

For advanced operations, here are some of the rules you must follow:

  • Register your drone with Transport Canada before you fly it
  • Mark your drone with the registration number
  • Have a drone with the appropriate Safety declaration for the intended operation
  • Pass the Small Advanced Exam
  • Pass a flight review with a flight reviewer
  • Be able to show your Pilot Certificate – Advanced Operations and proof of registration when you fly
  • Seek permissio from air traffic control (Nav Canada or the Department of National Defence) to fly in controlled airpace
  • Fly within the operational limits of your drone

In the map below, all of the red (prohibited) areas have been replaced by orange areas where you are allowed to fly, however there are often conditions that you must be aware of in order to fly in the orange areas. The orange areas are controlled airspace and you require permission from Nav Canada to fly in those areas. Also, you must abide by whatever restrictions Nav Canada requires when they give their permission. Although there are some hoops to jump through to get approval, ultimately having the Advanced Drone Operator Certificate allows you to fly in all of the areas that are prohibited with a Basic Certificate.

Map showing restrictions for advanced drone operations in Vancouver, Canada

Summary

The decision to market your real estate listings using drones is probably a lot less confusing than the decision to create the aerial media yourself. Time and money are the two most significant barriers to becoming a drone pilot. I suspect that most realtors don’t have the time to invest in getting a drone, but this is a personal decision. Remember to do your due diligence and if you consider all of the factors mentioned in this article, you will be on your way to a well justified decision. Please reach out if you have any questions about this article.

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