It seems like drones are everywhere these days. From taking part in international combat missions to delivering emergency medical supplies to filming the latest OK Go video, drones are a major part of our 21st century lives. And recently, drones have become important tools not just for Presidents and rock stars, but real estate agents too.
A drone refers to any type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). These vehicles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, although they usually take the form of some sort of small airplane or helicopter. Drones are operated remotely, and depending on their classification, can have a range of anywhere from 2km to more than 200km. Drones are typically equipped with cameras, but can also be used to deliver supplies, and can even be used in combat missions.
So what do these futuristic devices have to do with real estate? Drones are one of the latest high-tech tools that real estate agents are starting to use, and they represent a major advantage to anyone who has the ability to use them properly.
What Can Drones Do for Real Estate Agents?
In order to get a better idea of how drones can be used to sell real estate, and how a camera drone actually works, we spoke with Shawn Talbot, one of the busiest advertising photographers in Canada and the star of the new documentary web series 1 Stop Closer. Talbot and his business partner Jan Vozenilek have been using drones for the past two years, and have produced some stunning photos and videos for real estate agents using their custom-built 8-rotor UAV.
Through their company, Rubicon Aerial Cinema, Talbot and Vozenilek use their camera-equipped drones for everything from surveying hydroelectric dams to capturing tourism videos. They've also found that drones are becoming popular with real estate agents, especially those focused on the high-end or luxury real estate market.
"Large homes, lakefront homes, acreages – those are the more important properties for this technology,"
says Talbot. With a drone, he says,
"You get a real sense of the landscape surrounding the home."
In fact, many real estate agents, from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island, have come out in the news this year saying that the photos and videos captured by drones have helped them sell more properties.
Why Not Use a Real Helicopter?
In the past, if a real estate agent wanted aerial shots of a property, they had to hire a helicopter to get the job done. But helicopter shoots aren't cheap, and as Talbot explains, drones are better suited for this type of photography than helicopters in more ways than one.
"When you hire a helicopter, you're typically [paying] anywhere from $1,200 to $2,500 an hour depending on the helicopter,"
says Talbot. In contrast, Rubicon's real estate package comes in at under $1,200.
"Our typical real estate package is up to two hours of flying, which is actually a tremendous amount of flying, and that includes all of the stabilization on videos, post production on the photos – you name it, it's the whole package."
Setting up a drone shoot is also much simpler than setting up a helicopter shoot, says Talbot:
"The process of setting up and flying is about four or five minutes."
Then within an hour or two of flying time, you'll be provided with more than enough images and videos to put together a beautiful promotional package for a home or property.
And the price isn't the only place where UAVs beat out their full-sized counterparts.
"Planes and helicopters, if they're in a rural place, can't even go below 500 feet,"
says Talbot. And in cities, it's even more limited, as aircraft have to maintain a height of at least 1,000 feet above any urban area in Canada.
The "sweet spot" for aerial real estate photography, however, is typically somewhere between 100 and 500 feet – unattainable to a plane or helicopter, but an ideal flying height for a drone. This type of range is perfect for capturing both detailed shots of homes and buildings, and expansive landscape shots of large properties such as acreages or vineyards. Even in cities, where aerial shoots were basically unheard of, drones are able to fly where other aircraft can't, although there are certain restrictions to be aware of.
"There's a law which states that you can't fly a UAV within 100 feet of a person or occupied building. When we're within that proximity of a building, then we just have to vacate that building. 100 feet in drone terms is a lot of room, so we always find a way to make it work."
So How Does It Work, Exactly?
These drones, though they may look from afar like toy airplanes or helicopters, are actually much more complicated than they appear. Controlling one of these devices it not like playing with an RC helicopter from Future Shop, and the consequences of making a mistake are far more drastic.
Most camera drones require at least two operators who are trained in the art of drone flying and aerial photography. The first operator controls the rotors and the direction of the drone, while the second operator is in charge of the camera. Both functions are controlled via remote transmitters, and the camera operator also has a monitor screen that allows him or her to see what the camera sees. In Talbot's case, it's up to the Vozenilek, the camera operator, to decide whether to shoot still photos or videos at any given moment, as the cameras their drones use can switch instantly between either function.
For real estate agents, the process of flying the drone from the ground means that they have a lot more control over the whole process, even if they don't know how to operate the drone themselves.
"As the realtor or the client you get to stand next to the monitor and say 'hey, move the drone a little to the left – yeah that's the shot."
Are They Legal?
Camera drones are not without their critics, however, notable among them the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has been clamping down on American real estate agents using drones in recent months. In the US, as opposed to in Canada, it's illegal to use drones for any sort of commercial purpose. But that hasn't stopped real estate agents from trying to take advantage of this technology. In fact, the FAA has issued subpoenas and cease-and-desist orders to several real estate companies in the last year, according to a report from Mashable.com.
In Canada, the federal government has taken a different approach to drones, choosing to regulate the use of commercial drone operations rather than ban them outright. For Talbot and Vozenilek, this means what they're doing is 100 percent legal, but in exchange for that legal clearance they've had to go through a fairly arduous certification process.
"In the beginning, for basically your first year, you're having to apply for every one of your flights, and the application approval can take up to two weeks,"
"That's extremely difficult when you're first starting out. There's a lot of paperwork involved."
According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, any commercial drone operator "must be able to demonstrate that they are adequately equipped to safely operate the UAV in the desired environment, which includes managing any risks associated with operation of the UAV and ensuring the protection of other airspace users and the safety of persons and property on the ground."
Once you've been flying for a year without incident, however, Transport Canada will issue a license which allows you to skip the application process, but still requires you to notify Transport Canada of every flight.
Of course, incidents do happen when you're flying drones regularly.
"They say it's not a matter of 'if' but 'when,'"
says Talbot. But when you're the owner of a custom-built UAV worth over $2,500 which is also loaded up with top-of-the-line camera gear, you certainly do your best to stay incident free for as long as possible.
"We're at over 300 flights in two years and no crashes yet,"
"so I'm actually hopeful we'll be the first to never have a crash."