Why drones are changing the market
would be possible from relying on oldschool ground-level photographs or in shots taken from the upstairs window of a house. The length of a garden, for example, or where outbuildings are in relation to a main house can all be much clearer from a picture or video taken 200ft up. Key for buyers to remember, however, is that a drone is a marketing tool used by agents on behalf of sellers, and its photographs and videos may not necessarily show the whole picture. “One has to be careful to ensure that scruffy neighbouring properties are excluded,” admits Andrew Procter of Hunters agency in Skipton, Yorkshire. Cameron Ewer of Savills’ Glasgow office agrees, adding that increasingly agents must be vigilant of what gets picked up in the images. If the wider landscape is not as beautiful as the house that is for sale, “you could pick up a wind farm, pylons, caravan sites and landfill sites away in the distance, which you wouldn’t ordinarily see”. Nevertheless, the marketing potential for simple drone technology is hugely impressive. “Our international clients find drone footage extremely useful if they’re unable to visit a property,” says John Fisher of another agency, Sotheby’s International Realty. Now drones are increasingly being used for other property-related purposes, too, including surveying buildings or for giving quotes. They can be used to check the quality of a roof from above, for example, saving the cost and delay of installing scaffolding, or avoiding the danger of climbing on the roof.
They are particularly handy for restoration and heritage projects, to assess damage to carvings and roofs. Some drones also have thermal imaging cameras, which can help identify draughts and improve energy efficiency.
Drones are also being used to create 3D models of homes. One drone, the Parrot Bebop-Pro, was able to do this by circling a house for three minutes. It took 80 photos and precise measurements, with 4in precision, enabling it to create an accurate 3D model of the house, which was then used to add a back extension.
They are also being used for a wide range of agricultural purposes. “We can scan an area and see if it’s had different types of pesticide used on it,” explains Alex Dodman, who runs Saffron Drones, one of the country’s leading drone operations.
He creates professional videos not only for house sales, public events, weddings and corporate promotions, but also handles agricultural work including 2D and 3D crop mapping, achieved by the use of infrared signals sent from a drone. “We’re working with quite a lot of vineyards now, too, for which we can monitor crop growth and health,” he says.
Dodman has extensive experience of operating drones, and has a Civil Aviation Authority licence that was granted after three days of training and writing a 40page document outlining how he proposed to use his devices.
Perhaps understandably he is sceptical of some estate agents with cheap drones – you can pick one up for around £60 – and little awareness of the growing rules surrounding this technology. CAA regulations for drones with cameras say they must fly below 400ft, and not within 164ft of people, vehicles or certain buildings without written consent from the council. They must also avoid busy areas such as shopping streets, music concerts or sporting events.
The responsible agents, of course, have designated staff members with CAA licences using more sophisticated devices with higher-spec cameras, stabilisers and even thermal image capabilities. As a result they produce much finer-quality pictures and smoother videos with less erratic judder, which is a key differentiator between cheap and expensive drones.
Some adventurous agents overseas are now using drones inside. They are updating the old “fly through” feature that appeared on property details online; previously an estate agent would hold a camera as they walked room-toroom, but now that is done by drones where ceiling heights allow and when the operator can manoeuvre in confined spaces.