Drones in real estate are now a reality

Professionals using unmaned aircraft to show buyers the views from future condo units
Monday, June 16, 2014
By Ilan Mester

A select number of real estate agents are taking a cue from sci-fi movies by using drones in real estate as a marketing strategy. There’s no denying the cool factor of manning a compact drone to snap one-of-a-kind pictures and videos. However, the type of property will ultimately dictate whether they come in handy or not.

Drone is simply another word for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is exactly what it sounds like: an aircraft that’s controlled without a human pilot aboard. Realtors use a more compact, less sophisticated version of the technology than drones more commonly associated with military use.

Toronto-based broker Ilan Joseph first witnessed the technology in use in 2010 and has since adopted it himself, including for a current listing of a 22,000-square-foot estate home.

The benefits of drones 

“When trying to sell a home on a vast amount of land, shooting it from the air gives the buyer the ability to see what it is they’re buying,” he says. “Shooting from the air also gives a far different perspective of a property than touring it at ground level. You really want the buyer to leave in awe.”

Joseph attributes the still rare take-up among brokers to the cost of the technology (a popular model capable of filming in full HD retails at approximately $2,200)  and the relatively nominal benefit of using it to sell a single-family home on a small lot. However, high-rise developers and their prospective customers see greater benefits.

“These days, condo builders are flying a drone straight up and snapping shots of proposed views to show pre-construction buyers at the sales office,” Joseph says.

Industry insiders point to other advantages in one of Canada’s hottest real estate markets.

“In West Vancouver a lot of the homes are on really steep hills so it’s usually hard for a photographer to get a shot of a house,” notes Simeon Garratt of Lift Marketing, which specializes in drone operation for the real estate industry. “For things like that, we definitely add a lot of value because nobody’s ever seen the house from those angles.”

Similarly, drones can give prospective homebuyers and/or commercial tenants a sense of the vista from waterfront properties, getting at unique angles that photographers on the ground can’t manage.

“It’s a very interactive way for you to see the neighbourhood and the area and what the house looks like from the top,” Garratt says. “It gives a very different feel than just a Google Maps shot and a couple of images.”

Tough regulations 

Canadian regulations require drone operators to submit a Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) with Transport Canada and prove that the drone meets ‘equivalent’ levels of safety as manned aircraft. Liability insurance is also mandatory.

Realtors who simply purchase a drone and start shooting risk hefty fines.

“There’s sort of a weird gap in the market right now where a lot of people are doing that, but I don’t think they understand that it’s not legal yet,” Garratt warns. “Those things can fly up to 5,000 feet in the air and they’re actually quite dangerous if you were to lose control of them.”

Companies like his or Toronto-based SkyMotion Video, an aerial cinematography company that specializes in drones, are an outsourced option, albeit a costly one.

“It’s still an expensive tool and wouldn’t fit in most marketing budgets,” Joseph acknowledges.

Lift Marketing’s services costs around $1,200 to $1,500 because the company focuses on real estate rather than complex shoots. SkyMotion Video caters primarily to television and film producers, and typically charges about $3,500 per day.

Nevertheless, SkyMotion Video’s Gabrielle Nadeau maintains drone technology is more cost effective than the traditional alternatives.

“Our service is still cheaper than a helicopter once you count pilot fees and a camera rig for inside the helicopter and camera operator,” she says.

Ilan Mester is the online editor of Canadian Property Management. 

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