A Drone used for real estate listing videos?
Once reserved for luxury-home listings, aerial photos and videos are popping up in ads for moderately priced places, thanks to the use of relatively inexpensive drones.
It’s especially popular in the Bay Area, where water, hills, beaches and vineyards can lend drama to even mundane homes.
John Hayes, president of Open Homes Photography, says his firm was hired to photograph a modest home in Foster City. “The regular photos on the ground are not very impressive, but you get in the air and it looks like you are in the Florida Keys or something.”
Although the word drone conjures up images of military spy craft, real estate photographers typically use small remote-control quadcopters (a helicopter with four rotors) with a camera – usually a GoPro – that takes stills and video. The setup that videographer Doug Canning of 3rd Gorilla Productions uses costs about $1,300.
Marika Sakellariou, a Realtor with McGuire Realty in Mill Valley, was sold on aerial photography after it helped put a $1.1 million home in the little-known community of San Quentin Village into escrow. “It gave the potential buyer the opportunity to see the village, the beach front. It’s phenomenal,” she says.
Sakellariou plans to use it on all of her listings. Unless, that is, the Federal Aviation Administration cracks down on commercial use of drones.
The FAA lets hobbyists fly what it calls unmanned aerial systems for recreational purposes, but it bans their use for commercial purposes unless it grants an exception, which it has done only once.
“You need three things for a commercial operation: a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and authorization from the FAA,” says Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA.
The only commercial user that got approval was ConocoPhillips, and only to fly above Arctic waters to conduct environmental studies necessary before drilling on the sea floor.
A lot of drone photographers are trying to get around FAA restrictions “by not charging for the flight but charging for the editing,” says Canning.
Dorr says he doubts that scheme would fly. “The point is, the unmanned aircraft is being used as part of the business. It cannot qualify as a hobby or recreation.”
The FAA, however, rarely goes after commercial drone operators. “We have to prioritize our safety resources for the area of greatest risk,” Dorr says.
“Typically, if we learn of what appears to be an unauthorized commercial operation, our main goal is to get them to stop. We may give them a warning call, a warning letter or even a cease-and-desist order. So far we have proposed civil penalties against only two people. Both were accused of flying in a careless and reckless manner. It had nothing to do with commercial operations.”
One of those penalties was against a man named Raphael Pirker who was shooting a promotional video for the University of Virginia. Pirker challenged the fine and in March, an administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board dismissed it, saying the FAA has no authority to impose or enforce regulations on small drones. The FAA is appealing the decision to the full five-member NTSB.
Congress has ordered the FAA to come up with a plan for integrating small unmanned aerial vehicles into the domestic airspace by September 2015.
Hayes says his drone operations have been “well tolerated, even by the police. We have had police drive by and wave.”
In addition to aerial photography, his firm can take interior and exterior shots of a home, design print brochures and interactive floor plans, and build a website for it.
For aerial photography, it charges $225 for 1 to 10 still photos, $375 for a one- to two-minute video, or $525 for stills and videos combined. He says about 1 in 10 of his clients opt for aerials.
Canning says his price depends on the size of the house, but if the customer wants a short video it’s $300 to $500.
Carmen Miranda, a Realtor with Alain Pinel in Burlingame, has used drone photography on three listings because it’s much more affordable than the alternative – photos from a small plane.
“It’s great, especially if you are trying to market a property that is unique, captivate an audience and convey that it has a lot of benefits,” she says.
Even though homes are flying off the market, Miranda says she’s willing to pay the extra cost – out of her own pocket – because her goal is to “achieve the maximum price.”
Sakellariou also pays for aerial photography herself, as part of her marketing costs. “The beauty of adding that extra dimension, in my opinion, sells the property. It is worthy every penny you put in,” she says.
Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Net Worth runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://blog.sfgate.com/pender Twitter: @kathpender