Eye in the Sky

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If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then real estate agents are right on target in seeking high-class photos of homes for sale. One drawback: the weighty cost of hiring a professional photographer.

The price can be even more onerous for aerial photography. Realtors love these overhead shots that offer broad, detailed views with range and clarity — if they can afford them.

That’s where drone photography comes in. Federal Aviation Administration rules initiated in 2016 opened up the use of “unmanned aerial vehicles” as long as operators hold a remote pilot certificate. Since then, the use of UAVs has taken off, so to speak — especially in real estate.

“With drones, you now have the ability to show potential buyers aspects of your home and neighborhood that were once reserved only for the very high-end market,” says Audrey Zhang, writing for WeTalkUAV.com. “Aerial photography no longer requires an expensive aircraft. For under $200, a decent drone can be purchased and used with very little instruction.”

Zhang spotlights a number of ways that aerial photography in general, and drones specifically, can assist a real estate associate in marketing properties, including:

• An effective means of showcasing larger homes by providing perspective.

• The opportunity to display the entire property including yards, land and acreage.

• A chance to use video all throughout the home, offering details on architecture and landscaping.

• An illustrative approach of showing the home in its surroundings, such as “on a bluff overlooking a lake.” It also shows, for instance, if a park or trail is close by, or the distance to a golf course.

• The ability to include a script for someone to narrate the drone tour to boost interest and tout special features.

“Aerial photography and video are no longer reserved for luxury property listings. More and more agents are seeing the value of drones,” Zhang says.

Financial columnist Ilyce Glink of CBS News Moneywatch notes that “drones are now approved for commercial use. That has opened them up to a host of industries, but they’re especially appealing to real estate pros,” she says.

Professional drone photography can help a home stand out among the sea of listings that potential buyers sort through online. It can also help sell your home faster and for a higher sale price, present your home in the best possible light to attract potential buyers, and encourage buyers to visit and write you an offer.

Costs can vary, depending on the type of drone and the equipment to be transported.

Brian Balduf, chief executive and co-founder of real estate photography company VHT Studios in Rosemont, Illinois, tells Glink his company uses professional drones that are sturdier than some hobbyist models.

“You need them to be able to carry good camera equipment and also operate in all conditions, whether it’s windy or there are power lines or other obstacles,” he says.

According to Glink, drone photography may not be ideal for owners selling their homes on their own. Balduf, she says, notes "it takes a lot of skill to maneuver a $2,000, 4.4-pound machine with four spinning propeller blades, and in the end hiring a pro is safer and more cost-effective.”

With all the interest in drones, the National Association of Realtors has taken a closer look. “The NAR is well aware of this trend, and we will be working with regulators to make sure that people are responsibly licensed to use drone technology," says Bill Brown, president of the NAR, in Glink’s article. “We will also be encouraging our members to use it.”

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