Americas Multirotor

Drones airborne to sell San Diego homes


By Jonathan Horn

The octocopter’s eight propellers spun more than a thousand times per minute, as the drone slowly lifted off from a sun-soaked backyard in Rancho Santa Fe.

A high definition camera hung from the buzzing unmanned aerial vehicle.

The drone hovered about 12 feet above the grass, adjacent to a polytrak horse trail and green golf course, then went west, getting shots of a ranch house at 17124 Calle Corte, currently listed for $3.975 million.

That’s how a film crew with 3SixtyStrategies spent a recent Wednesday, producing a video that would show the home from angles not seen before. The drone, in flights that lasted about 20 seconds each, flew around the house, over the adjacent golf course, above downtown Rancho Santa Fe and over Del Mar’s dog beach. In all, the unmanned aircraft helped paint a picture of the home and its surroundings to help Coldwell Banker agent Janet Lawless Christ market it beyond the traditional limits of still photography.

“We have to sell the vicinity, we have to sell the location we have to sell how it feels and how it looks and how it sounds,” Lawless Christ said. “That really at this point in time can only be captured through the use of videos and when the drones pull up high in the sky and you see the location and surrounding area … You really get a sense of what it would be like to live there.”

As evidenced in Rancho Santa Fe, drones are no longer limited to military use. In fact, as they’ve become smaller and affordable, they’ve found a home in the commercial world. The high-end real estate market is one of the bigger users because drones can give buyers who have the means to live on large estates a quick overview of the land and its amenities.

“When I can get up in the air and get an overhead perspective, in 10 seconds I can tell that story of the property,” said Brent Haywood, a Del Cerro-based photographer who owns three drones ranging from $1,500 to $15,000.

Jim Young, CEO of RealComm, a Carlsbad-based real-estate technology conference company, said he sees real-estate drones becoming a billion dollar industry in the coming years, as they can fly at altitudes much lower than helicopters.

But there is still lots to be worked out from a regulatory perspective. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently appealing a court ruling that eliminated the agency’s restrictions on commercial uses of unmanned aerial vehicles. Although the case is still pending, John Villasenor, professor of electrical engineering and public policy at UCLA, said he expects the FAA to eventually create rules to allow use of drones in real estate sales.

“I think that drones have the potential to be applied to real estate for properties at many different price points,” he said. “A few years from now, it will likely be common for property websites to include a few pictures taken from a drone.”

Still, the lack of clarity plays a role today. Haywood, who uses drones to film inside and outside properties, said he is concerned about public safety and liability, so he doesn’t accept assignments over heavily populated areas.

“We pick and choose our jobs,” said Haywood. “I know we don’t get them all because I don’t fly them all.”

Haywood said he doesn’t know how many people are using the drones, but imagines the competition to be 10 times what it was just a year ago. He said for the jobs he does choose, the price ranges from about $350 for producing raw video to several thousand dollars for a full product, which includes an agent interview. He’s gone to Jamul, La Jolla, Ramona, and anywhere there’s an estate that could use a high-up view. Haywood said the videos go on YouTube and are compatible with the Multiple Listing Service.

In Rancho Santa Fe, 3SixtyStrategies, a Westlake Village-based company, flew the drone outside, filmed inside with a traditional camera crew, and interviewed Lawless Christ about the home for sale. The package typically costs $4,000. The drone alone would be about half that, but that’s a rare request, said Sergio Gonzalez, who owns 3SixtyStrategies.

“I think the aerial use of the drone is like icing on the cake,” he said. “It just puts the signature stamp on it that says you’re not going to get this anywhere else.”

Gonzalez, who subcontracts the drone from Aero Optics, of Santa Barbara County, said he’s done about 20 homes in the last year, ranging in asking price from $800,000 to $12 million.

Of course, not every house is listed for such a high price, with the median in the county at about $410,000. Some real estate agents just buy a Phantom quadcopter drone for as low as $480 on, attach a Go-Pro, and make their own video. That’s what Lawless Christ did for about five other homes before she hired 3SixtyStrategies.

“It’s part of the jigsaw puzzle,” she said. “It’s another very valuable piece, I feel, of promoting a property, in a way that also encourages other people to promote it.”

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