More eyes in the skies

With intense competition, firms opt for ‘drone’ cameras to shoot photos of more high-end property listings <br>

For years, the main photo used in listings for suburban homes was a simple street-level shot. Not anymore. Since the market turned and the fight to reel in buyers has intensified, real estate companies are opting for a type of picture once reserved for only the highest-end estates — aerial photographs.

“Everyone wants to do something different than the competition,” said Matthew Leone, the marketing manager of Manhattan-based Terra Holdings, parent company of brokerages Halstead Property and Brown Harris Stevens, both of which began using bird’s-eye images this summer.

Since June, Halstead has shot 15 homes in Connecticut this way, including 65 Rowayton Avenue in Norwalk, a $2.95 million condo, he said.

While a conventional shot might have adequately depicted the property (a vertical home that looks more like a townhouse than a condo), the higher-altitude version shows the extent of the adjacent boat-lined harbor.

Next up for Halstead are Hudson Valley properties, Leone said, adding that Brown Harris Stevens may soon shoot a batch in the Hamptons as well. Strict rules about flying low in the city make using the technology impractical here, brokers said. And the key features in Manhattan homes are often inside, not outside.

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But just outside the city, brokerages are flying high.

For Terra Holdings’ firms, the task of actually taking the photos is given to an outside contractor. The equipment includes a remote-control “drone,” which is about the size of a watermelon with a camera mounted to its underside.

According to Leone, the same drones were used to document the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But until recently they had not been used for real estate. The photos cost about half the price of those taken by standard helicopter cameras, since no pilot is needed, Leone added.

William Raveis Real Estate, based in Shelton, Conn., is also ramping up its aerial shots (with helicopters, not drones) for more high-end listings. In 2005, the firm began paying for aerial pictures for its most expensive listings, said Jamie Zdru, an executive director at the company. But as of a few months ago, it began paying for pictures snapped from helicopters and planes for all homes over $5 million — still clearly a high price point — even though they can cost $1,500 per property, Zdru said. Late last month, the firm had about 45 listings above $5 million.

Some brokers believe so strongly in using aerial shots that they’ve been willing to pay for them out of pocket, like Michelle Genovesi, a Raveis broker who’s been using more of them over the last few years. At first, they were used solely for homes on the water, according to Yamini Lal, Genovesi’s marketing manager. But now that’s changing. “There’s definitely a ‘wow’ factor with it,” Lal said.