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Realtors using drones to showcase properties

August 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The U.S. military has been using drones for combat and surveillance operations for years. Now anyone can buy a miniature unmanned aircraft that uses the same technology for a fraction of the cost. Some local realtors are using these drone-like machines to sell homes, even though the FAA says it's not legal.

They're smart, fast and nimble. That's why the U.S. military uses drones for both surveillance and combat.

For example, using the same technology but without the weaponry, a small unmanned aircraft is equipped with a high-definition camera to capture stunning aerial views of a $23-million beachfront estate being put up for sale in Dana Point.

"With this, it allows you to get right in on the house. We could open up these doors and I could fly inside the house and fly out and rotate in," said Scott Magner, Eagle Eye Productions. "And you cannot get that kind of footage any other way."

Scott Magner and his wife Amy operate a remote-controlled "hexa-copter" that captures sweeping aerial views of homes and surrounding properties. It's become another selling tool for realtors who can show prospective buyers how the home looks from the ground and from up above.

"We sold a home in the next neighborhood down to a gentleman from Australia who saw the video of that home and actually flew over here, made an appointment with the realtor and came and bought that house for almost $4 million," said realtor Phil Immel.

This helicopter has six different propellers; the camera is on a gyro; and what's good about that is no matter how turbulent the flight is, the picture is always stable.

These camera-equipped flying machines are ideal for marketing high-end homes.

One realtor used a drone to fly right through a home in Pasadena, and to hover over a sprawling 17-acre hillside estate in Topanga Canyon.

It costs about $400 to $800 to rent these devices. But you can buy them for much less. We found thousand of drones for sale on eBay. One "quad-copter" sells for just $81.

While purchasing a non-weaponized drone is legal, operating it for commercial use may not be.

The government allows people to fly unmanned aircraft for personal use, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says: "If the same person flies the same aircraft and then tries to sell the video, or uses it to promote a business, or accepts payments from someone else to shoot the video, that would be a prohibited commercial operation."

But the FAA has not enforced this ban for commercial use.

"It looks clearly like it's in the gray zone," said Immel. "I've spent some time in the corporate world and it's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission sometimes."