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Fly drones to increase real estate sales

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Savy real estate agents have found their real estate sales rise after using drones for videography.

Boston-based Neoscape invested in a six-rotor hexicopter and a GoPro DSLR camera and use an Arduino-based board for the brain to get films from the air and over the water of places like Boston's Fort Point area. Previously,videographers either hired a crane with height limitations or rented a heliicopter which was much more expensive and difficult than going to the site with a drone.

For real estate like a developer's empty lots, the drones can get more varied and dramatic angles than a helicopter. Jeff Grant, President of Sand and Sea Investments in Vista California said, "I think this drone is the future of real estate" as his new six-rotor dome captured footage from the bird's-eye view. It covers tree heights, elevation changes, roads and neighboring properties, closeness to stores and schools, and more extensive exterior views of the homes, landscaping and views.

The questionable issue is that of legality. Using drones for commercial use is currently illegal although many real estate agents in the U.S. are doing it. Grant's attorney advised that as long as the videos are not being sold, it is legal. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson told 10News in Vista, California that any drone use "to promote a business would be a prohibited commercial operation."

The FAA is working on rules for small drone use, particularly those under 55 pounds, and expects to have them ready by the end of 2014. Warning letters have been sent to realtors but not cease-and-desist letters. Fines can be imposed by the FAA if the drones are operated in a "careless or reckless" manner. The only publicized case of an imposed fine was $10,000 to Swiss citizen Raphael Pirker for recklessly flying a camera-equipped radio-controlled model airplane around the University of Virginia campus in 2011 for an ad agency for compensation. It is under appeal.

An unidentified man in the San Francisco Bay area operating a drone to get footage of a house going on the market for almost $1.5 million refused to let KPIX 5 film him doing it because of the FAA. His comments about using drones were that "It’s something that’s going to continue to grow. There’s more and more companies that are using it…it’s limitless because it really bridges the gap between something on the ground and a full-size helicopter."

Randy Churchill, Dudum Real Estate, who hired the man said it was very cost-effective spending only $500 for the drone filming versus the price of a hired helicopter. He posts the footage online for potential buyers getting something like 10,000 hits. Churchill said, "This will be something that we do now on every home that we’re marketing in this price-point."

SkyPan International charged $22,000 for drone photos for Alchemy Property's unfinished luxury condominiums on West 15th Street in New York City to show buyers the skyline and window views they would have from the various floors. SkyPan's president Mark Segal said his company did not get FAA approval because the agency did not cover commercial drones below 400 feet. Segal's comment was that most developers believed that as they purchased the air rights over their sites, "view images created by robots, drones or blimps should be allowed without F.A.A. involvement as long as these airships stay directly over the property footprint and follow certain safety procedures."

Halstead Property Connecticut, LLC has used customized drones for over 200 high-end homes since 2009.They have started testing drones inside NYC apartments but do not plan to use them there outside. Their drone operator, Victor Lee, has liability insurance covering possible damage drones might do but so far there have been no accidents.

Mr. Lee went through 18 batteries filming a large $30 million estate in Darien. One battery will keep the drone in the air for up to ten minutes. In extreme cold weather they may not even get off the ground as happened at a $1.4 million Naperville home on an overcast, 19-degree day. Wind and trees are not drone friendly either.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. is concerned about civil liberties and privacy issues. State laws that protect against peeping Toms may need updating for technology abuses and the center has proposed minimum standards federal law. About the exploding drone use, Amie Stepanovich, the center's domestic surveillance project director, said, "People need to (know) that their information is being collected, and people need to be able to amend the information....There are very real concerns."

Despite the issues of privacy and FAA safety rules, drone use in luxury real estate sales appears to be effective and has developed its niche. View Scott Gerami's website to see what he has done with drones. He has been a real estate agent for 26 years and does his own drone videography in Illinois. That's his drone in the picture.

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