Realtors have begun to heavily use drone photos and video to better market their properties and themselves. (Joe Atmonavage | NJ Advance Media)
MILLSTONE — Anna Safonova is trying to best highlight the five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom Colonial-style home she just listed for $635,000.
The 3,760-square-foot structure sits on nearly two acres of land, within a charming neighborhood of large, well-maintained houses. Its backyard, she thinks, would be perfect for a pool.
Except it’s impossible to convey the scale of the listing with just typical real estate marketing photos.
Enter Christian Laron, owner of Cinema Flight, a real estate marketing provider, and his 3-pound DJI Phantom 4 drone, along with a controller and an iPad. Within minutes of arriving at the property, Loran has the drone hovering 200 feet in the air. Safonvoa stands behind him, not uttering a word.
“Oh, my god, this is how big their yard is, I didn’t realize that,” Loran says, as he stares into the iPad screen.
A shot from above the Millstone property Safonova is selling. (Trulia)Joseph Atmonavage | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The real estate drone wars are on. When it comes to marketing a listing, agents are forever looking for any competitive edge. Their latest weapon? Drone videos, which agents like Safonova will often pay for out of pocket in order to improve their chances of securing a listing and landing a sale.
And while the technology is still relatively new, Loran says drones have quickly become the “new standard” for agents.
“The drone adds a whole new perspective and level to the way in which a realtor or a homeowner is going to market a property or given space,” he says.
“Even the buyers now, they don’t want to leave their homes anymore,” adds Safonova. “It’s all online.”
Loran started Cinema Flight eight years ago, when drone technology was still new, unregulated and costly. (In 2016, the FAA implemented rules and regulations for commercial drone piloting that has simplified the process of flying legally.) Cinema Flight will now do an aerial photography shoot for $225 or a premium photo and video tour of the inside and outside of home for $575.
Tom Harmon, owner of TomDrone, a drone photography and videography company, was also a drone hobbyist who coupled that with his love of photography and entered the business five years ago.
The pitch these men make to agents is similar: With its swooping shots and elevated angels, drones have the ability to highlight the most about the home and its surroundings. If buyers want to see the neighborhood, a drone can take them for a quick tour or offer a snapshot of where they soon may be living.
“I feel like in the next few years, it is going to be a given that a photographer should have a drone in their bag,” Loran said. “It is a new technology realtors should be learning and incorporating.”
Many of them are, especially for higher-end listings over $500,000 or ones where surroundings are a selling point.
The moment Julian Romero, a RE/MAX realtor in North Bergen, stepped foot on the property of 43 E. Shore Drive in Vernon, he knew drone footage, both photos and video, would increase the odds of selling the home.
“It is a beautiful lake house, which in itself would be beautiful, but it really gives the viewer such an in-depth look, especially when they see the lake and how beautiful it is,” Romero said.
Joseph Atmonavage | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
But do these drone videos really work in getting homes sold? Although 73 percent of homeowners say they are more likely to list with a realtor offering to produce a video, it’s unknown if listings with high-quality drone footage come off the market faster.
Nonetheless, Harmon and Laron’s argument to realtors is that professional drone footage can help build an agent’s brand and get more eyeballs on his or her listings.
“We create value in our artistic ability and our eye. That is what people are willing to pay for,” says Harmon. “You cannot understand the size of the property from ground photos. It is impossible. When we are up 400-feet in the air, you can see the whole property and where it goes. It hammers home the quality of the home.”
Safonova says her portfolio of “cinematic-style videos” heightens the chance of sellers working with her because they know their property will get “maximum exposure.”
Which isn’t to say everyone is enjoying that exposure.
Last month, the Toms River township council introduced an ordinance that would have banned drones from flying under 400-feet (FAA regulations prohibit drones above 400-feet) after neighbors complained of the unmanned aircraft flying over their homes.
The growth of the Orthodox Jewish population in neighboring Lakewood has brought aggressive realtors to surrounding neighborhoods, which has been a source of ongoing controversy in the area. The ordinance would have allowed drones to be flown only “within the boundary lines of private commercial or residential property” with the owner’s consent.
But that ordinance was tabled last week, after more than a handful of drone hobbyists and commercial drone pilots objected, calling it a “dangerous precedent,” “too broad,” “flawed,” and an “overreach” at the Toms River township council meeting.
Loran said being conscious of people’s privacy and FAA regulations is a priority at every shoot. He thinks this is another case of people simply not knowing or understanding the technology — a sentiment multiple people brought up in Toms River.
Loran thinks it would be a mistake to heavily regulate drones anywhere in the state because of how well they can highlight areas and make them enticing to live in.
As for potential sellers, it’s time to get drone literate. While the list of things sellers have to worry about — making repairs, washing the windows, maximizing curb appeal, and so forth — is already high, agents all agree: When interviewing potential listing agents, make certain to ask if their marketing package will include drone video and photos.
Loran said, “Realtors that get the marketing understand that investing the money is worthwhile because it is going to help them sell the property.”