Drones taking off as real estate marketing tool

Mark Pires, a realtor with Coldwell Banker used technology and his custom built quad copter to provide aerial photography of the homes he brings to the market. Photo: Contributed Photo / Connecticut Post Contributed

If a home is for sale in your neighborhood, don’t be surprised to hear some buzzing overhead. It might be a remotely controlled, camera-equipped miniature aircraft sent aloft to photograph the sale property.

Videos and photographs set marketing of the property apart from the competition, said Mark Pires, a real estate agent with the New Canaan office of Coldwell Banker who uses his miniature helicopter, or unmanned aerial vehicle, to capture aspects of a property that cannot be seen from the ground.

“I can change the trajectory of the camera to shoot at all angles. I’ve got a few properties where I’m shooting on daily basis. The film quality is amazing,” said Pires, who spent months training himself to use the aircraft. “The ceiling limit is 400 feet, according to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).”

But the FAA might have other concerns.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said Tuesday that agency regulations prohibit commercial operations of unmanned aircraft.

“If it’s a commercial operation, we want you to stop,” Dorr said, adding that because of the proliferation of inexpensive remotely controlled aircraft (commonly called UAVs) it is difficult for the agency to control their use. “We don’t have the resources to go out and look for people doing this commercially.”

If the commercial operators are located, the FAA orders them to stop using the devices.

“Normally they agree to stop. We only pursue a civil penalty if they were operating in a careless and reckless manner that would endanger people or aircraft,” Dorr said.

The FAA is writing regulations involving commercial operations and the issuance of permits, he said.

But Pires argues he isn’t violating FAA regulations because he doesn’t charge his clients for the aerial photography.

“They aren’t paying for it. It’s just part of my marketing service. I don’t see an issue,” he said. “It’s gratis. It’s just added value for my clients. There is no additional charge for my aerial, no commercial application.”

Halstead Property, which has offices in Fairfield County, uses an insured, contracted vendor to provide aerial photography services for high-end properties in Connecticut, New Jersey, the Hamptons and the Hudson Valley for about four years.

“We’ve used it on properties as low as $1 million, as well as a $30 million home on the water in Darien,” said Halstead spokeswoman Robyn Kammerer. “The buyers think it’s great, and the sellers think it’s a lot of fun. We’ve been a firm believer in it. We’ve sold houses with it. It works.”

Like Pires, Kammerer said Halstead believes it is working within FAA regulations because it does not charge clients for the service, and the UAV avoids heavily populated areas, normally flying no higher than 50 feet.

“We incur the cost, and we do it on personal property,” she said, adding local police occasionally have stopped to investigate and departed satisfied that nothing was wrong.

Whether or not FAA regulations prohibit real estate agencies use of UAVs, their arrival on the scene is another signal the marketing of houses continues to go through rapid technological advances.

While home buyers still scan newspapers’ real estate sections to gain a sense of the housing market and the availability of properties, they now can use their computer to take virtual tours of a home.

“Today, Realtors think outside the box. It’s not like when I started — with the Sunday paper,” said Mary Ann Hebert, president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors. “Our goal is to expose a property to people any way possible. They want to take a good inside tour before they pick up the phone.”

For sale signs now include QR codes that people can scan with their smartphones or tablets, bringing them to a website that describes the property, she said.

The technology supersedes the “talking house” that featured recorded messages about a property that could be heard on a car radio.

Ariana Benesova, an agent with Keller Williams in Stamford, was a pioneer user of the “talking house” more than five years ago.

A nine-year real estate professional, she said it led to her getting listings.

“I tried it because it differentiated me from other agents,” Benesova said, adding the popularity faded with the rapid evolution of technology. “I tried it for a few years, but now everyone can go to their smart phone to learn about a house.”

Now Benesova, working with her husband, Jerry Wagreich, also is incorporating aerial photography into her marketing plan for the homes she represents.

“This is cutting edge. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve with technology,” Wagreich said.

Pires said he has seen a steady increase in clientele since he started using the UAV more than three months ago.

“It’s really cool. My properties area getting new interest as a result of the aerial photography,” said Pires, 35, and a New Canaan native. “I don’t charge my clients for this service. It’s part of the marketing.”

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