How can real estate agents get prospective buyers to take another look at a house for sale? One Fallston Realtor says the key is to give them a radically different view.
Robert McArtor, who works with RE/MAX Components on Route 1, decided to offer customers a 360-degree view of his properties by launching a new technology – literally.
About three years ago, he bought a drone, put a camera on it and took it for a spin in the Harford skies.
"I saw the real estate market moving in that direction when it comes to mid-size and luxury homes," McArtor, who became a Realtor in 2007, but was a licensed agent for years earlier, said. He sells homes in Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties, as well as Baltimore City.
The Federal Aviation Administration has grown increasingly concerned about the spread of unmanned aircraft, better known as drones, in the skies.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday that recreational drones will need to be formally registered, noting they have had near misses with commercial and military aircraft.
McArtor said he received an FAA exemption in May to fly his drone because he produces an aerial video tour for each home listing.
"That is part of my marketing plan, so my name has been out there quite a bit when it comes to aerial tours," he said. "I wanted to make sure that I received the proper certification from the FAA to continue doing that."
"I wanted to be one of the first Realtors in the Baltimore metro area to start doing it," he said of the drone videography, explaining the technology offers "a marketing edge."
"It's not going anywhere. This technology is increasing month by month and year by year," McArtor said. "It's going to give you a nice, 360-degree, panoramic view of the home."
To meet the new federal guidelines, however, users like McArtor would have to give their model, serial number and other personal information for each drone. McArtor has two.
He said he respects the federal government's safety concerns, but worries they are "throwing a large blanket" over all drone owners and over-stepping some private rights.
McArtor's current FAA exemption lets him do videography and take photos for the purpose of capturing real estate videos and anything community-oriented, he said. It forbids him from sending the drone higher than 400 feet or out of his line of sight, although his drone can go 3,000 feet in the air and a mile away, he said.
He was not a technology buff to begin with, McArtor said, and learning to use the drone was tricky.
"I have no experience with a drone. I purchased my first drone at a hobby shop in Bel Air, and I went out to a field and started flying it in figure eights," he said. His preferred drone is the DJI Phantom 2, although he also has Blade 350. He noted the drones can cost up to $1,000 to $3,000.
"You don't want to be a novice purchasing these drones," he said.
Mike Brey, president of the local Hobby Works chain and co-owner of its Bel Air store, said he hopes regulators would ultimately be able to distinguish between the smaller, less powerful toy drones and the hobby drones.
"We are going to reserve judgment until we see them," he said of the federal regulations being planned.
Brey noted he and his brother and co-owner, Kevin, have been flying hobby aircraft for more than 20 years and want to do help educate people on the technology.
"As hobbyists, we are used to following pretty restrictive rules for our entire lives," he said, adding he does not believe it makes sense to lump all such aircraft together.
"What we are concerned about is sort of the larger camera drones that we sell. They are perfectly safe when they are used properly but they do require you to pay attention to, say, where the nearest airport is," Brey said. "We are kind of assuming that somebody at some point is saying, 'We need to separate it out.'"
McArtor does not believe his device has attracted too much attention, at least not the negative kind.
"Every once in a while, I will have a neighbor that is very intrigued with what I am doing," he said, but added: "I am very safety-conscious."
He goes through a pre-flight checklist that involves compassing the area. If the drone runs out of power or has some mechanical problem, it will automatically fly back to its starting point, he said.
Before he the FAA exemption, McArtor once flew the drone over a crowd during a 5K run where County Executive Barry Glassman was taking part. He said he cannot do that any more.
"You want to make sure there is no one around you. You can't fly over crowds of people," he said.
McArtor thinks the federal government eventually may need to scale back any registration process.
"What concerns me is how they are going to implement the process and what kinds of rules they are going to implement, because you have drones that can reach 3,000 to 5,000 feet," he said. "Where is the regulation going to begin and end from the FAA with registering these drones? That is the homework that the FAA has to do with this."
He said he hopes to keep his drone flying for a long time.
"I am hoping in the future to maybe teach a couple of classes through the real estate association in Harford County for those who want to implement air tours," he said.