For drone pilots and the real estate market, the sky’s the limit

The view from 150 feet up can sell a house

By Ted Hayes
Posted 2/18/21

The property is spectacular, even from the ground.

A quick turn onto a private drive along Warrens Point Road in Little Compton leads soon to a large shingle-style home, with a charming and …

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For drone pilots and the real estate market, the sky’s the limit

The view from 150 feet up can sell a house

Posted

The property is spectacular, even from the ground.

A quick turn onto a private drive along Warrens Point Road in Little Compton leads soon to a large shingle-style home, with a charming and substantial outbuilding to the left. Trees line the entrance, and one is immediately immersed in quiet.

A gentle sea breeze blows in off the water, just beyond a salt marsh that you can’t see from the drive in. By almost any standard, the property is a stunner. But send a drone up 150 feet, and its true beauty comes into view. To the west is Long Pond, beyond it Round Pond, and just south and east lies Buzzards Bay, where it meets Rhode Island Sound.

At properties like 82 Warrens Point Road, which sold last November for $7.3 million and was marketed by Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty, the ability to see a property from above has become almost a necessity. At high end homes that owe much of their value not just to the buildings but the land on which they sit, drones — remote controlled aerial cameras that can shoot video or still photos from almost any angle — have become big business. More and more realtors are using the technology to their advantage, and good drone pilots are in high demand here.

“It offers a different perspective that you just can’t see otherwise,” said Mott & Chace’s Phyllis Ibbotson. “It’s a great tool to have.”

Ms. Ibbotson has been working as a Realtor for eight years. She focuses on higher end homes in the southeast region, particularly Westport, Mass., Little Compton and other East Bay coastal areas.

In her early days, drones were still a novelty, and it could often be an expensive proposition to hire a pilot and get quality footage. These days, it has become a lot easier, the quality is top notch and the price has come down to the point where spending $600 on aerial shots is an investment well-made, especially for multi-million-dollar listings.

Commercial drone pilots must be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and Ms. Ibbotson keeps a list of many across the state and into Massachusetts with whom she regularly works to help augment and improve her listings. One of them is Matt Celeste, of Blueflash Photography in Cranston.

Mr. Celeste got into drone flying about four years ago, using it at first to help provide additional options for customers of his wedding and event photography business. These days, real estate projects have become a larger part of his business, and he enjoys the work.

“It keeps us very busy,” said Mr. Celeste, who has worked with more than 100 Realtors and shoots more than 100 properties per year. Though most of the listings he photographs are higher end, he does a fair bit of shooting at more modest properties as well. Drones are very useful at looking at the condition of roofs, what the neighborhood is like and other features that might be hard to spot from the ground.

“There are some that don’t lend themselves to aerial photography,” he said. “If it’s a dense neighborhood, it’s not the same. But on a lot of mid to higher end listings, especially near the water, it can show views that you just can’t get from ground photos. That’s where aerial photography and video shine. You can get a taste from the ground, but you can’t get a real sense until you see it from above.”

After crashing his first drone in his parents’ yard the day after buying it, Mr. Celeste has come a long way, he said. He is licensed by the FAA to fly drones as high as 400 feet, but he said 100 to 150 feet usually offers the best vantage point and angle.

“People love that question,” he said when asked how many drones he’s destroyed. “It’s difficult at first; it takes a while to get your brain adjusted to the joystick controls. It feels very awkward for a while, and then you get it. At this point, I’m very comfortable doing it.”

Many options

While drone photography is essential to getting a look at a property from a wider perspective, Ms. Ibbotson said it and other innovative photography techniques have become more popular over the past year, as the Covid-19 pandemic has curtailed the ability of out-of-town buyers to travel and see a property in person.

Many of her listings these days contain not just drone footage and aerial and ground-based still and video photography, but also tech-heavy techniques many might be familiar with from Google Street View.
That technology, which uses 360-degree view cameras that allow the viewer to interact with the video by selecting which way to look, has found its way into real estate.

Many of her listings now have virtual tours, in which the viewer can start off in, say, the foyer and work his or her way through an entire home, choosing which way to turn and where to look.

“They’re pretty cool,” she said of the virtual tours. “You get a dollhouse version of your house, and you can walk through it and go into any room in the house.”

Though the technology is not cheap, “just because of the price point I work in, you want to provide as much information as you can.”

As technology evolves and more options present themselves, Ms. Ibbotson said she will continue to use those that help present her properties in the best, most comprehensive light.

Though she said many of the properties she has could sell themselves, it can only help to show how they fit into the land around them.

“The technology is amazing.”

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