Real estate drones get their moment with coronavirus restrictions

Can’t tour your future dream home in-person due to local limitations on real estate showings — or because you just don’t want to travel to see a potential home? Real estate drones can help.

45% of homebuyers said they made a bid on a home without first seeing it in person, up from 28% in 2019, according to a July 2020 survey from real estate site Redfin.

“I predict that by the end of the 2020 homebuying season, the majority of homebuyers will have made a sight-unseen offer,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather in a prepared statement. “The pandemic has changed the way many people view homes, and on top of that, the market is highly competitive. If you aren’t using this strategy, another buyer who is could beat you to the punch.”

Fairweather doesn’t have any specific, public opinions on drones. But drone industry experts say that one of the best ways to show off a home sight-unseen is via drone photos and videos.

“Drones matter more because videos matter more,” said John Castle, an investment real estate agent based in Ottawa, Canada. “To minimize exposure, buyers want to get a fuller sense of a property before visiting. Photography, virtual tours, 3D floor plans, and video help the buyer get a better sense of the property without having to see it in-person.”

“No video is complete without an overhead drone shot of the house and the
neighborhood to put the house in context,” he said.

Pittsburgh-based real estate agent Michelle Goetzinger has been using drone photography and video for the past three years. For her, coronavirus-related restrictions have been an opportunity to showcase her skills with using drone images to show off properties. Meanwhile, she said her competition is playing catch-up.

“There is an entire group of agents just getting beyond still photos who are
starting to use drone photography and video,” she said. “Buyers are demanding that realtors use better technology to highlight homes.”

And real estate agents who don’t yet have drone photography in their marketing toolkit, she said, are forced to play catchup right now.

Goetzinger, whose practice offers an 100% virtual home-buying experience, said even if buyers might not necessarily buy sight unseen, they’re being more targeted in which properties they ultimately visit based on online tours. She said drone photography can help buyers a better understanding of the property — and can be a key factor in whether or not they see the property in-person.

What kind of homes benefit most from drone real estate photography?

Jersey Shore-based real estate Michele Irizarry has long used drones to highlight the proximity to the ocean in many of her listings. Real estate agents have often turned to drones to show off proximity to the ocean, as well as to other features like pools, farmland or lakes.

“People always want to see the interior of the properties, but getting a true sense of the surroundings and location of a house through drone photography has really helped filter out buyer showings,” Irizarry said.

Major real estate companies like Redfin have typically reserved drone home tours for their highest-end properties.

Homes listed via Redfin Premier, an offering for homes listed at more than $1 million, receive drone photography, along with a number of other high-end marketing services.

But real estate drones might be trickling down to most homes, not just the luxury, million dollar listings.

Technology provides safer, cleaner tours than traditional open houses

Using drones to show aerial views of properties for sale has been somewhat of a trend in the real estate world for years. But this year, real estate drones have gone from a novelty that might help catch a buyer’s attention, or a plus on large, luxury estates to a must-have item when it comes to selling properties in a pandemic.

Most states have some sort of restrictions around how property tours can be conducted. Some real estate agents offer zoom tours. Technologies like Matterport, which create virtual, 3D walkthroughs of homes, show off interiors. But it’s up to drones to give the ultimate tours of exteriors.

Irizarry said she suspects drones have helped funnel listings down to just serious buyers — useful especially now in reducing the spread of coronavirus through unnecessary, in-person contact.

“There are less questions about the areas and more confident buyers coming through when inquiring about the property,” she said. “This is important during these times to cut back on the “looky-loo” showings.”

Real estate agents look to tech to show off houses — and drones are on the table

When it comes to showing off homes, high-tech is in high demand. What’s more, a basic Zoom video tour might not be enough.

“Three-dimensional scans are beating out video-chat tours as the way to tour a home virtually,” Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman said in a tweet thread about the changing real escape landscape.

Redfin agents often create 3D walkthroughs of homes for Redfin clients using Matterport technology.

And while most Redfin homes don’t come with drone tours (yet, at least), they certainly have parallels with other tech like Matterport.

“Drones are able to capture landscape and scenic pictures that would
otherwise be impossible,” said Brad Clark, the owner of 401 Homebuyers, which purchases homes in Rhode Island. “If you have a water or skyline view, these pictures greatly enhance your listing. Buyers have an idea of whether they want to buy a home before they even enter by just the pictures alone.”

What about drones for indoor home tours?

Most drone tours revolve around the drone showing off a home’s exterior. But some drones are giving interior tours as well. No one — not even the agent has to enter the home. Small drones flown by expert pilots can navigate through door ways and down hallways, providing a realtime view of what gliding through the home looks like and given the buyer a better sense of the home’s layout and size — something still images traditionally don’t provide.

Companies like Indoor Drone Tours, a Chicago-based drone piloting agency, provide indoor flight tours of both commercial and residential real estate. Here’s one of their tours of a multi-unit building:

Indoor Drone Tours doesn’t currently offer live tours, but says it typically can fly in the building within 1-2 days after being contacted, and can put together a reel of home footage within two days of that. They said their videos are best used for digital marketing by way of social media, emails, and text messages, and their videos can also be uploaded to the MLS.

The drones serving indoor tours typically aren’t your big DJI Phantoms that you might expect to fly an outdoor home tour. Indoor Drone Tours says their drones, which are flown via FPV, fly just 0.33 pounds.

What are the best drones to use for real estate photography?

The best drones for real estate photography aren’t necessarily any different than the best drones for photography as a whole. The best drones for real estate photographers start at $400 on the budget end — but expect to spend closer to $2,000 if you’re looking for professional image quality.

The Mavic 2 drone has a Hasselblad camera for superior image quality.

For most real estate agents and real estate drone photographers, we recommend the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, which launched in 2018 featuring a new 1 inch CMOS sensor and Hasselblad 20 megapixels camera. It’s great for photographers who want a portable, lightweight drone (it folds up to the size of a water bottle).

At just $1,499, the DJI Mavic 2 packs incredible tech into a reasonable price tag too.

If you’re broadcasting home tours like or otherwise need to record at even higher quality, look to the DJI Inspire 2. It’s much bigger (and more expensive) than the DJI Mavic 2, so we genuinely don’t recommend this for everyone. But ultra-serious real estate drone photographers will go crazy for the DJI Inspire 2’s image processing system, which records at up to 5.2K in CinemaDNG RAW, Apple ProRes and more. The drone’s video can also be broadcast live using its dedicated 1080i50 and 720p60 transmission signal. The DJI Inspire 2 goes for $2,599.

Both the DJI Mavic 2 and DJI Inspire 2 have obstacle avoidance on at least the drone and back which is a useful safety tool.

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