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Home buyers, sellers sold on drones

Home seller Allen Tyson of Kinnelon said that when his real estate agent, Lynne Bigica of Prominent Properties Sotheby's International Realty in Franklin Lakes, suggested drone photographs, "I thought it was a great idea."

"After I saw the pictures, I knew it was a great idea," added Tyson, a retired trucking company owner whose home recently went under contract. "With the drone, you can see the whole property. You get a better, bird's-eye view of everything."

With views like this, demand for drone photography is taking off in real estate. Agents say the photos offer buyers a strikingly different perspective that is especially useful with larger properties, unusual architecture or elaborate landscapes.

"More and more sellers, whether high-end homes or average-priced homes, are asking for them," said Emilia Freitag of Keller Williams City Views Realty in Fort Lee.

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates drones, requiring that owners register the aircraft and banning flights over 400 feet or within five miles of an airport. Officially, commercial use of drones — including for real estate photos — is banned, unless the operator has received an exemption from the FAA.

To get that exemption, the FAA requires that the operator obtain a pilot's license, though it appears that many North Jersey drone photographers haven't done that. Instead, they're flying below the radar, hoping to avoid the FAA's notice by keeping their flights short, low and as safe as possible.

The FAA is considering rules that would allow wider use of drones, and set out new safety regulations.

Drone photos for real estate listings typically start around $150 to $300, according to North Jersey photographers and real estate agents. That's much less expensive than alternatives like using helicopters. The drones themselves generally start around $1,000, but can easily go for $5,000 or more.

Real estate agents say that drone photos are especially useful with listings of one acre or more, because they do a better job of conveying the scale of the property.

For example, Tom Johnson, the broker at Liberty 100 Realty in Waldwick, said he hired a drone photographer to take video of a six-acre Saddle River property that included a pond and a soccer field. Lisa Sammataro of Keller Williams in Ridgewood said drones made for "stunning" photographs of a lakeside house on a large lot in Franklin Lakes.

"When properties are secluded or set back from the road, it is often difficult to market some of the home's best features, such as the privacy, seclusion and setting. The drone allows us to capture this from the air," said Randy Douglass of Keller Williams Valley Realty in Woodcliff Lake.

Ken Freiberg, a photographer in Ridgefield, has sent a drone flying off the Palisades to get a shot of a Cliffside Park home that's perched on the cliff's edge.

"The view you get, it's as if you're hovering in space," he said.

He said drone photography can also be useful for home inspections and appraisals — for example, to check the roof without climbing up there.

"We use it on every listing possible, even on smaller properties," said Scott Breyer of Walter R. Breyer Real Estate in Oradell. "Buyers really seem to love it."

Bob Funabashi of Terrie O'Connor Realtors in Saddle River said he plans to use drone photos for a house that's hidden by tall evergreens.

"I would need [a photographer] to go up and hang on top of the trees" to give buyers a sense of what the house looks like, he said.

Kyle Ferreira, owner of Bergen County Aerial Media in Wyckoff, said the photos' unusual perspective can catch the eyes of buyers who are quickly scrolling through websites full of real estate photos.

"Every one of the houses, the picture is of the front of the house. Now, the camera is elevated 50 feet to get that different perspective. Someone clicking through will give that house extra attention," said Ferreira, 28, who got his pilot's license to operate his drone, to qualify for the FAA exemption on the commercial use of drones.

Occasionally, a drone shot isn't useful.

Real estate agent Susan DiDonato of Coldwell Banker in Wyckoff recalled getting a drone photo of an Oakland home sandwiched between the Ramapo River and Crystal Lake. The photos highlighted the natural beauty of the setting — but DiDonato realized it would also make buyers fret about the risk of floods."It was too much of a reminder that you're on top of water," she said. So she didn't use the drone shots.

Most real estate agents hire outside photographers for drone work. But some take it a do-it-yourself approach. Breyer decided to buy his own drone because he felt it would be more cost-effective than hiring an outside photographer or videographer for each job. He said he had no problem figuring out the drone."Anybody that has used remote-controlled cars or planes is familiar with the controller layout," said Breyer, who used remote-controlled cars and boats when younger.

Then again, real estate agent Marie Petikas of Coldwell Banker in Closter bought her own drone, but tried it only a couple of times.

"It would fly into the street, and a car would be coming, so I just gave up on it," she said.

Email: Twitter: @KathleenLynn3

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