Drones take listings to new heights
Airborne images showcase sprawling estates, highrises and waterfront properties
Buzzing like a giant mosquito, the black and white YUNEEC Q500 rises up 20 metres, then 30, in front of the lake house and then heads out over the water.
With photographer Murray Hadfield at the controls from the ground below, the drone moves up and down, and arcs across the property taking pictures as it goes.
Minutes later, Hadfield shows Royal LePage agent Kim Letto the results on his tablet.
“This is priceless. That’s amazing,” says the sales rep in Buckhorn, Ont. “You can see the granite, you can see the beach and the duck habitat — brilliant!”
Consider Letto an instant convert to real estate’s hot marketing tool. She hired Hadfield to do videos and photos for three listings after seeing the number of hits received by a “very amateur” video of a house done by a kid with a drone.
“For this kind of property with more than 1,000 feet of shoreline, and this kind of view, clearly this is the way to go,” she says of the $950,000, all-season home on a peninsula in Little Bald Lake, about two hours northeast of Toronto. “Most of the buyers are from the GTA and the more information you can give them online, the better.”
Cottages, waterfront realty, rural homes, large estates and highrise condominiums are the focus as a small but growing number of realtors and developers take property promotion to new heights using professional UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operators.
Hadfield, a commercially licensed drone operator based in Whitby, Ont., is doing “huge” business in Durham Region and the Kawartha Lakes with his two, $2,500 quadcopters. He charges $400 for a half-day to provide stills and a video taken by the 2.2-kilogram aircraft.
Photos from the ground don’t show context, scope or proportion, says Hadfield. He’d been a real estate pho- tographer for three decades when he started Ontario Drone Photography more than a year ago. Aerial images “always look nicer” and give a much better idea of size, he says.
Project size prompted Vancouverbased Onni Group of Companies to hire a drone pilot for its Westlake Village development on the Etobicoke waterfront.
“We also wanted to highlight the view and heights of each tower,” explains marketing co-ordinator Mike DiGirolamo, referring to the three 42- to 48-storey highrises adjacent to Humber Bay Park.
Made during construction in the summer of 2014, the video gave real estate agents and purchasers a sneak peak at the panorama.
“People have been blown away by it,” DiGirolamo says of the footage, done by Sky Eye Media, in Barrie. “They had no clue how big Westlake Village really is.”
A fourth tower, Westlake Encore, is wrapping up construction at the site, and includes a Metro grocery store and Shoppers Drug Mart.
Nothing rivals a UAV to show off landscaping, proximity to water, natural features, shopping and amenities that add value to a property, according to Chris Bacik.
Since founding Sky Eye Media in 2011, the entrepreneur has shot more than 600 properties and $1 billion worth of residential real estate ranging from Hamilton to Muskoka.
Five years ago, most people didn’t even know what a drone was, recalls Bacik, who has degrees in mechani- cal engineering and business. But he discovered a demand for the technology after taking a picture of the family home from 50 feet up, then following up by going door-to-door to sell $20 photos of neighbours’ homes. “That’s what triggered the whole thing.”
He says his biggest challenges are weather and travelling, and most of his work is done May to November, with a starting price for a typical residence of $400 for photos and a oneto two-minute video.
Bacik credits his success to creating “the whole package” with editing and evocative music that agents can use “as a kind of teaser.”
His permit from Transport Canada allows him to fly in the GTA whenever he wants and in controlled airspace as long as he stays below 400 feet and away from people or roads in use, he says, adding that safety regulations make it difficult to shoot in built-up areas. (Transport Canada regulates drones, imposing certain restrictions determined by such factors as UAV size, use and flight area.)
But in wide-open spaces, the oversized insect-like machines are more free to roam. Listings with a large acreage or “nice outdoor amenities” are prime candidates for a high-flying camera, says Ilan Joseph, a broker with Sutton Group Admiral Realty Inc. in Vaughan.
“Showcasing a home from the air adds a completely different perspective than what most people are used to,” says Joseph, who switched to drone technology from the more costly services of a small plane or helicopter three or four years ago.
Most properties don’t need aerial photography, he says, “but if a home backs onto a pond or ravine, or otherwise has a great view, shooting it with a drone really sells the dream of living at that home to a prospective-buyer.” One such home is an equestrian estate in King City, where Joseph’s video showcases water fountains, sweeping views of the countryside and thoroughbreds cantering through lush green fields.
But with an $18-million price tag, the horse-lover’s paradise, captured by an eye in the sky, is just pie in the sky for most home buyers.