Drones taking off in real estate

The unmanned aerial vehicles, no longer employed exclusively for military applications, are increasingly being used for all manner of business, including commercial real estate.

When it comes to marketing and selling property from Vancouver to Halifax, realtors, developers and other CRE specialists are finding new uses for the pilotless robots.

Skyline AerialRealtor brothers Russ and Jordan McNabb have been using a drone to capture aerial footage of Vancouver homes they have for sale.

On their website, the brothers say that thanks to their Quadcopter drone “our videos now have a crazy unique angle and an unlimited amount of options. Pictures do say ‘a thousand words,’ but our videos can now say ‘a million bucks.’”

Real estate drone video in Halifax

While drones are a relatively new trend in real estate, they’re quickly becoming part of the landscape. In Halifax, childhood friends and business partners Craig Kennedy and Matt Hudson purchased a couple of drones in October 2013.

Kennedy and Hudson used to pilot remote control helicopters together as kids and quickly recognized the potential the new technology offered. They have been keeping tabs on the technology and waiting for it to be ready for commercial use.

Now the friends own and operate Skyline Studio Aerial Media, which they describe as a full-service production company specializing in aerial video and photography using unmanned aerial vehicles. The company is unique in Nova Scotia.

In early May, they made a drone-enabled video fly-over for their biggest development client, W.M. Fares.  A prominent multi-residential, condominium and commercial developer in Halifax, the company is building a 23-storey residential tower on the Bedford Highway.

For that kind of development, Skyline will pilot the drone up to certain heights corresponding with different floors of the development, allowing them to showcase the views in advance of the building.

“The development can go and try to pre-sell units with the potential view well before it’s finished,” Kennedy says.

Golf courses

The company is also finding a strong client base with golf courses, which hire Skyline to do fly-overs from the greens to the tees of the holes. The videos are then put on the golf courses’ websites  to promote the course.

Depending on the job, Skyline charges anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $10,000.

Currently, Skyline owns two drones. One weighs about five pounds and with the customization Kennedy and Hudson have done to it is worth about $15,000. It gets about 15 minutes of flight time before it needs a battery change. It’s also heavier than the other drone, so is less likely to be buffeted about in the wind.

Like the McNabbs in Vancouver, Skyline uses a Gimbal system on its drone. The system stabilizes the digital, high-resolution cameras in winds and reduces shakiness in the images. While the drone is in the sky, real-time footage is transmitted to a ground station, allowing the drone operator to see what the drone sees.

Transport Canada rules

Before Skyline can even put a drone into the air, it has to apply to Transport Canada each time for a Special Flight Operation Certificate. The permit informs Transport Canada where Skyline intends to pilot the drone and the purpose of the flight. One stipulation is Skyline must not fly higher than 400 feet over other peoples’ property without their permission.

As well, the company carries $1 million in liability insurance.

Even though Kennedy and Hudson piloted remote control helicopters when they were younger, they spent weeks in open fields practising for hours on end with the drones. “That’s why we bought the equipment before we launched the business,” Kennedy says, “to become comfortable and professionals flying before we starting charging our clients money.”

To gain their first clients, who were luxury home realtors, Skyline did some pro bono work to show off what they could do. Now they’re trying to convince realtors to take samples of their work along during presentations so homeowners can see how aerial photography might help sell their home.

Kennedy said currently they don’t face a lot of competition in the space. “We do expect competition, but at this point we’re just kind of riding the wave.”


A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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